Guest post by Dinah Burke
People have a firm image, if they have any concept at all, of what they imagine the Highlands to be- remote, climatically challenging, sparsely populated apart from a few domesticated farm animals and solitary soaring eagles, immense areas of moorland reserved for shooting parties from the so-called metropolitan elite – ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Somewhere in the mix might be formidable and imposing castles, a smattering of whisky distilleries, country estates owned by absentee landlords and shaggy-haired cattle with enormous curved horns.
All of these are partly true but there is much more to the Scottish Highlands than these random impressionistic notions. To begin with, the area is relatively accessible, using a combination of rail and local bus services- do your research, book early and you can travel cheaply. You can even travel aroundthe perimeter of the Highlands, enjoying spectacular views or both sea and mountains, by train and bus quite easily with forward planning. The weather can be inhospitable (or some may say character forming), but a still bright sunny day in the Cairngorms is the equal of anywhere else in Europe for lifting the spirits. You might even catch ‘the northern lights’. If it’s outdoor pursuits that you’re after then how about the challenge of ascending the Munros-the 282 peaks in the Highlands above 3,000 feet? Or ski-ing in Aviemore and the surrounding resorts?
The relatively new telecabine can whisk large numbers of enthusiasts up to the higher slopes in double quick time. Despite the prejudice against absentee landlords, many of the estates are inhabited by conscientious and environmentally-aware owners who work hard to manage the land and properties in ways that benefit the local communities. Tasting a locally distilled peat-infused single malt whisky in an isolated Highland pub with accompanying views of stark granite hills is a moving and almost spiritual experience.
Visit the Highlands and prepare to be surprised, sometimes challenged and certainly uplifted