Looking at a map, see how much land there is above skinny waist of Scotland (as drawn from west to east from Glasgow and Edinburgh). This belt across Scotland, as far down as the English border, contains the majority of the population and business. As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh has become a busy, bustling city with the country’s leading art galleries and museums, historic landmarks, and the best shopping in Scotland.
(On 11th September 1997, the people of Scotland voted in a referendum in favor of a Scottish Parliament with tax-varying powers allowing Scotland more control over its own country), and new construction of a Parliament building began in Edinburgh. That building was finished in 2004.) As an aside, it is in the historic castle precinct, and the architecture in no way fits in with its surroundings.
Over the past couple of decades, Glasgow has been transformed into a city rich in the arts and historical treasures, a far cry from the shipping and ship building industry which had fallen onto hard times earlier in the century creating a lack of jobs, poverty, depressed neighborhoods, and a growing crime rate. Glasgow still is a shipbuilding center, though a much smaller economic force than it once was.
Other large towns, important for their own reasons, also fill in this belted area, for instance Stirling, just off the main south/north motorway, has grown in prestige because of its university and its rich historical past, creating a vibrant city. It boasts one of the finest functional castles in Europe, cobbled city streets, fine medieval and Renaissance churches and mansions. Another city also prominent in Scotland’s history is Dunfermline, just to the north of Edinburgh. The 900 year-old abbey is in ruins, but archaeologists have preserved it well, and it is possible to imagine it’s medieval grandeur. In the 12th century it was home to King Malcolm and Queen Margaret, later Saint Margaret. The town was the capital of Scotland for more than 500 years and the ruins of the ancient palace adjoin the abbey complex.
It is in going north that one realizes the vastness of the country. Only Aberdeen and Inverness are cities, and both are a good drive from Edinburgh. The central part of the highlands has become a skiing destination for many, but certainly all outdoor sports are popular with abundant resources in the Country’s expansive north. When looking back at a map, it’s amazing to see how many lakes (lochs) appear throughout the north. Obviously it is Loch Ness that has the greatest notoriety, but Loch Lomond within the Trossacks National Park is more recreational. Here many people boat and fish, camp and backpack, and play golf. To my surprise, there are around 60 islands in the loch, some very small, one large enough for a hotel. A water bus takes people around the lake, to more easily reach different destinations and adventures. (I’ve got to visit this place!)
The train journey from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh also sounds well worth the time. Reviewers of the journey have nothing but praise for the beauty of the area it passes through: a two-and a half hour journey of unparalleled sightseeing. So what does one do at the Kyle of Lochalsh? It appears there is a great deal to do both inside and out, but the natural beauty of the area, including the country’s highest waterfall near Plockton, a sheltered historic village on Loch Carron, mountain walks, pony trekking — lots! Apparently Gaelic is still spoken here, and in the summer months especially, there are ceilidhs and festivals. The mountainous setting of the village must be spectacular. (I’ve got to visit this place!) There’s also a website on what to do with kids in the Lochalsh/Skye area.
It is here that the bridge to the Isle of Sky begins (toll-free), making one of the most popular, and populous islands off the coast accessible. Some may prefer a water crossing. Once on Sky there are endless possibilities. At least in Scotland, a lot of public transportation is available, but in the case of Sky there are personalized tours, water tours around the island, and much to do while there. No personal recommendations — it’s on my list! But with the multitude of islands off both the west and north coast of Scotland, that list could get pretty long!