Beyond the obvious tourist attractions, Scotland offers some magical travel experiences, from swimming in fairy pools to drinking in the remotest pub on the British mainland.
Isle of Skye – swim in fairy pools
Walk to the series of pools and waterfalls near Glenbrittle on the Isle of Skye. Look through the clear emerald water for the underwater arch between the two top pools. If you are feeling energetic, continue into Coire na Creiche on a five-mile circular walk that takes you into the magnificent Cuillin Mountains without any difficult scrambling or climbing. Start from the signposted forestry car park on
Loch Lomond – Take an eagle’s-eye view of the west coast
Take to a seaplane run by Loch Lomond Seaplanes, the UK’s only commercial seaplane tour service. Routes include the “West Coast Explorer” on which passengers may see the Isle of Bute and Rothesay Castle, and the “Loch Lomond Discovery”, as well as a new tour over the Isle of Skye for spectacular views of the Cuillin. From £119 per person.
Angus coast – pink sand beaches
The white sands of the west coast are renowned, but Lunan Bay is a lesser-known spot on the Angus coastline, in the east of the country, which has pink sandstone hues. The two-mile stretch is overlooked by Red Castle, a crumbling 12th-century fortress.
Orkney – see a 5,000-year-old village
Sophie Campbell, Telegraph Travel’s Britain expert, recommends visiting Skara Brae on Orkney, a neolithic village that was uncovered when a storm disturbed a sand dune in 1850. It is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, alongside other ancient constructions on Orkney, including two stone circles.
Isle of Staffa – visit Fingal’s Cave
This sea cave formed of hexagonally jointed basalt columns, similar to those that make up the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, is on the uninhabited isle of Staffa, reached by small vessel from Mull off the west coast of Scotland. It’s said that Felix Mendelssohn, the Romantic composer, wrote a composition after his visit to the cave in 1829, such was the inspiration he found in the eerie echoes in the cave’s belly. Get there with Turus Mara, an excellent family-run boat trips operator, which runs excursions to Fingal’s Cave and the nearby Treshnish Isles from Mull.
Knoydart – drink at mainland Britain’s remotest pub
It’s 18-mile walk from the nearest road to The Old Forge pub, or take it easy and arrive by boat. Considered the most remote pub in Scotland, it is the beating heart of the Knoydart community on Scotland’s west coast. Drink microbrewery ales, eat langoustines creel-caught on the doorstep and enjoy the live music (bring your own fiddle). Bothies, bunkhouses, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation are all available nearby.
Fort William to Mallaig – take the Jacobite Steam Train
A glorious six-hour return journey starts at the foot of Ben Nevis in Fort William (sit on the left hand side of the train for the best views). You will then cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct (featured in the Harry Potter films) and pass the silver sands of Morar before arriving in the fishing port of Mallaig – just over the sea from Skye.
Cruise the Crinan Canal on a vintage steamship
Vic 32 is a traditional coal-powered steamship on which would-be sailors can voyage, taking in Scottish gardens heavy with greenery and dew, alongside craggy castles, along the way. Sam Llewellyn joined 11 other passengers on board for Telegraph Travel and described the vessel’s steam whistle as emitting a “huge sound [that] rang in the ancient mountains around the bay, a raucous thing from the past bringing joy to 21st-century hearts.”
Capital – see the coffins found in central Edinburgh
The National Museum of Scotland, in Chambers Street, Edinburgh is home to art and design memorabilia , a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, and coffins found on Arthur’s Seat. Exhibitions on this year include “Ming: The Golden Empire”, until October 19, and the museum is due to open 10 new galleries in 2016 following an injection of Lottery funding.
Traverse Scotland on horseback
Gallop on sandy beaches, swim with your horse in a highland loch and canter across heather-covered moors on a seven-day coast-to-coast trail ride from Brora in Sutherland to Loch Inver on the west coast with Highlands Unbridled (£1,180 per person, all inclusive, excluding travel to Scotland). This trek is for experienced riders only but the Brora centre also offers shorter rides and treks for all ages and abilities, including beginners.
Glasgow – visit House for an Art Lover
Gavin Bell, Telegraph Travel’s Glasgow expert, describes this Charles Rennie Mackintosh house as a place in which “light and space abound in stylish interiors designed for lavish entertaining and appreciation of fine art.” It holds masterclasses with local artists, as well as exhibitions displaying their work, and a programme of art, design and architecture courses are in development. Visitors can stop by at the cafe where they might find served poached fillet of smoked haddock, crumbed risotto cake of asparagus and soft poached egg with wilted spinach.
Explore the most north-westerly corner of mainland Britain, travelling via 10-seater boat across the Kyle of Durness and then taking a 12-mile mini bus ride to the tip. Caroline Shearing, who has written about Sutherland for Telegraph Travel, said that from here can be seen the Clo Mor cliffs, and recommends looking out for Kearvaig Bay and its “cathedral-shaped sea stack”, on the return journey.
Isle of Mull – stay in a castle
Glengorm Castle, on Mull, occupies a glorious position surrounded by ruined stone circles, cobalt blue sea, and white sandy beaches against dramatic black rock on Mull’s north coast. Fiona Duncan, Telegraph Travel’s hotel expert, was highly complimentary about the service: “Warmly welcoming Pam, who is owner Tom Nelson’s assistant, and whose husband is the farm manager, is likely to take your booking and greet you when you arrive; a niece, local resident or family friend might serve your breakfast, smartly dressed in navy blue. In between, you make yourself completely at home.”
Shetland – witness a fire festival
The last Tuesday in January sees the fire festival of Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland, attracting thousands to witness and take part in its torch-lit processions, and galley burning. Expect the chanting of Viking songs, and lots of grizzle-factor.
Wester Ross – enjoy Inverewe Gardens
Visitors to these expansive gardens overlooking Loch Ewe will find sub-tropical species, which grow in this chilly corner of the earth thanks to the forgiving warmth of the Gulf Stream. Included in the collection are rhododendrons from China, Nepal and the Indian subcontinent; you may also spot pine marten and otters.