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Millions of people visit Scotland every year from all around the world. While it is, of course, understandable, it is in many ways regrettable that the vast majority of those people visit only the most famous tourist attractions and population centres. This means that a high percentage of visitors miss out on seeing the lesser-known gems which Scotland has to offer in abundance.
This page is dedicated to taking a step back from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loch Ness, and the like, and it takes a look at alternative destinations which may very well be of wider appeal in Scotland. It will look at four very different parts of Scotland, which are diverse not only geographically, but in terms of accessibility and population density. There are unlikely to be any coach tours or packaged trips which will take in all of these locations, but each can be accessed via public transport or by renting a car.
Inverness, Capital of the Scottish Highlands
Inverness is the most northerly city in the United Kingdom and is often referred to as the capital of the Scottish Highlands. While a great many visitors to Scotland will visit Loch Ness with the hope of seeing one very particular Scottish visitor attraction, a high proportion will not take the time to visit Inverness and see what the city has to offer.
Inverness Castle can be found in the very centre of Inverness on a hill overlooking the river. The castle serves in modern times as the Inverness court building, and is not open to the public. It is possible to freely wander the grounds and admire the views of the city and beyond. The present Inverness castle dates back only to the early 19th century, but legend has it that MacBeth killed King Duncan in a 11th-century castle in Inverness, as made famous in "The Scottish Play." It is rumored that Duncan's ghost still patrols the banks of the River Ness to this day.
It is possible to walk a great way along both banks of the River Ness, exploring the city in stages and using the river as a landmark guide. One site which can be seen almost immediately across the river from the castle is the city's Anglican Cathedral, St. Andrew's.
The village of Killin in West Perthshire is often referred to as the Heart of Scotland. This is not for any sentimental or romantic reason, but simply due to the fact that it is geographically located in almost the very centre—or heart—of Scotland. Although it is possible to get to and from Killin by bus, the services are extremely infrequent and vary depending on the time of year. Hiring a car is, therefore, an excellent idea not only for getting to Killin but for exploring the beautiful surrounding scenery.
Entering Killin from the West along the banks of the River Dochart, visitors will cross the narrow bridge at the Falls of Dochart, pictured right. Also on the bridge, access can be obtained to what is the traditional island burial grounds of the Clan MacNab. The key for access to the grounds can be obtained from the Breadalbane Folklore Centre, across the bridge and to the left, which also serves as the local tourist information centre.
Turning onto Killin Main Street, The Tarmachan Ridge is one of the mountainous features which can be seen to the north and north-east and Loch Tay is only a few hundred yards beyond the far edge of the village, where a variety of water sports can be undertaken.
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The Royal Burgh of Lanark
The town of Lanark was formally made a Royal Burgh by King David in the year 1140 but predates that period by several centuries. It was actually the location for the first sitting of a Parliament in Scotland in the year 978.
Lanark is a market town and is perhaps best known in Scotland as such but it has a great many attractions likely to be of interest to visitors. Just outside the town is the World Heritage Site, New Lanark, close to the Falls of Clyde. New Lanark was first built as a mill operation in the 18th century but has today been fully restored as a visitor attraction.
Lanark Loch is a couple of miles outside the town of Lanark. As well as fishing in the loch, there are a number of other activities in which to engage, including scenic walks and pitch and putt golf. The restored boathouse at the entrance to the site, The Inn on the Loch, is now a licensed restaurant and music venue.
At the bottom of Lanark High Street stands St. Nicholas' Church. There has been a place of worship of some form on this site for many centuries, but during the lifetime of arguably Lanark's most famous ever resident, it would have been very humble. Immediately across the narrow street that is The Castlegate from the church, an unobtrusive stone block stands with a metal plaque attached. This site marks the precise spot where it is believed once stood the marital home of a gentleman by the name of William Wallace.
A common story is that William Wallace, when already an outlaw, was in hiding in Ettrick Forest, near Lanark, when he met and married Lanark woman Marian Braidfute. Following the execution of Marian's brother on the orders of the English Sheriff of Lanark at the time, Wallace and his men killed several English soldiers in the town in an act of revenge. Hazelrig, the sheriff, who was unable to get to Wallace, had Marian executed. Overcome with rage and grief, Wallace and his men stormed the English garrison and castle which lay at the bottom of The Castlegate where the bowling green is now situated. They killed not only Hazelrig, but every soldier in the garrison and every Englishman in the town, sparing only women, children, and clergymen. It is these events which are believed to have inspired the masses to take up their swords with Wallace and fight for real against the English occupation of Scotland.
Below is a photo of the plaque on the memorial to William Wallace.
The Isle of Islay
The Isle of Islay is famous for many things, from its fresh and delicious seafood to its wonderfully warm and friendly people. There can be no doubt, however, that above all, Islay is famous for its single malt whiskey. This small island presently has no fewer than eight working distilleries, producing single malts of many types and to suit many tastes, from the intense peaty varieties of Laphroaig, to the beautiful smoothness of Bowmore.
Islay can be reached by air from Glasgow, but traveling by road to Kennacraig and from there by ferry to either Port Ellen or Port Askaig, allows the visitor to see firsthand some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of Scotland.
Bowmore is the capital of Islay, and holds many attractions apart from its distillery. There are a number of hotels at which to stay and sample the local hospitality. There is a leisure centre and a curious sight is the small round church at the top of the Main Street. As the story goes, the church was built round so that there were no corners for the Devil to hide in!
There is a bus service between the main villages on Islay and taxi services on the island, but either taking a car across on the ferry or hiring one when there allows access to places where the buses don't go and to which taxis would be extremely expensive. One beautiful drive is to take the coastal road around Loch Indaal, from Bowmore all the way to Portnahaven. Do not forget to stop off at a distillery or two along the way!
The Isle of Jura
The Isle of Jura is accessed from Islay via Port Askaig. The ferry crossing only takes a few minutes over the narrow channel but the currents in the Sound of Islay can be so strong. You may find the route taken across to be decidedly elliptical!
There are only a couple of hundred people live on the Isle of Jura. There is only one road and one settlement of any real size, Craighouse. It is in Craighouse that the Jura Distillery can be found and the only hotel on the island, The Jura Hotel. The bay at Craighouse affords some stunning views and the palm trees are real. This is possible due to the fact that Islay and Jura lie on the Gulf Stream and receive warmer air from more southerly climes.
The Paps of Jura is a formation of three hills which can be seen from much of the island, as well as from the sea approach to Islay. The island is also famous for its red deer population, which outnumber the humans by more than twenty to one. A car is really essential to see much of Jura, though there is a passenger ferry from the mainland direct to Craighouse. Those arriving on the Islay ferry without a car can be met by the small, private bus service at the terminal.