Our holidays let you explore Scotland’s natural beauty, tumultuous history and rich culture which gently arouse the senses. Explore the mountains that spring out of moorland fringed by sparkling lochs. Wander along seascapes with wide skies, turquoise sea and white shell beaches. Rest and recuperate afterwards in a comfortable hotel or guesthouse where you will always be offered a warm Scottish welcome. Sample fine food, drink ales from the local brewery and of course experience a Malt Whisky while listening to local musicians perform. Join us and we’re confident you will go home inspired and restored, brimming with your own stories to tell.
Good to Know
- The area's where we operate our Holidays
- North West Highlands
The north west highlands of Scotland are remote but hold some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Famed for it’s geology and home to the North West Highlands UNESCO Geo Park; some rock formations are 3000 million years old. The oldest rock Lewisan Gneiss, creates a landscape of low hills and scattered Lochs. Torridonian sandstone mountains such as Stac Polliadh and Suilven rise majestically from this landscape. From our base in Ullapool, we explore Assynt and Sutherland which are spoiled for extraordinary mountains, remote glens holding dark lochs and tumbling rivers flowing to the sea; walking is exhilarating. This area provides habitat for rare wildlife such as Pinemartin and Otter. The far northwest is tranquil and inspiring combining mountain and seascapes, walking from Cape Wrath to Sandwood Bay gives you a great sense of space where sky blends into the sea. Steeped in history there are many reminders of Neolithic, Picts, Vikings and mighty clans that once ruled the country.
- West Highlands
The West Highlands is home to the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. The major town in the area Fort William is a great staging post to access the delights of this area. You can take a steam train over the Harry Potter bridge situated in Glenfinnan, the village associated with Bonny Prince Charlie. Leaving Fort William by vehicle can take you further afield, to the most westerly point in the UK, the wild, beautiful and romantic Ardnamurchan Point. The glens of the West Highlands feature strongly in the dark history of Scotland’s Clan wars. The west Highlands include the towering cliffs of Glen Coe, the wild and remote Knoydart and the stunning white sand beaches of Morar. This area has many sea lochs extending far inland giving a fjord like feel. The west offers an incredible contrast of mountain and water landscapes providing some of the most varied places to explore.
- East Highlands
The landscape of east Highland Scotland offers something a little different but no less grand than the west and northwest. The Cairngorm mountains rising like an inland island, is a high Arctic landscape. Containing 5 of the 10 highest mountains in Scotland, they have steep and sculptured corries, evidence of Scotland’s glaciated past. This area contains the remains of the ancient Caledonian Pine forests providing cover for rare wildlife such as Pine martin and Capercallie. The great salmon rivers of the Spey and the Dee drain and flow from this vast upland area. This contrasts delightfully with the wonderful colours of the Perthshire hills. Also, perhaps just as famous, are the malt whisky distilleries of the Spey valley; the east has plenty to whet the appetite.
- Northern Isles
Heading north, away from mainland Scotland and towards the Arctic Circle, lie Orkney and Shetland; made up of over 170 islands. With their distinctive geography, history and culture, they differ not only from mainland Scotland but also from each other. The sea has sculpted and shaped the life of these stunning islands. The dramatic coastal scenery; secluded bays, sea stacks and towering cliffs are home to an incredible array of bird life. Orkney and Shetland are famed for their archaeological sites such as the Ring of Brodgar and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, these islands offer a real sense of history and invite exploration. In the early 8th and 9th centuries the Vikings arrived in the Shetland Islands looking for land and for the next 600 years or so the Norsemen ruled both Orkney and Shetland. Surprisingly, although the Vikings had a reputation as fearsome warriors, they settled down and became farmers.
Fair Isle lies between Orkney and Shetland. First populated around 6,000 years ago, evidence of early inhabitants is still visible today, including Neolithic land divisions, Bronze Age ‘burnt mounds’, and an Iron Age fort at Landberg. Later, the island was an important location to Vikings and features prominently in the Orkneyinga Saga, written around 1200AD. Today Fair Isle is world famous for breeding seabirds and birdwatching in the observatory, and for knitting and knitware. Traditional Fair Isle patterns and knitting skills continue to be passed down and practiced, and it is still possible to buy authentic garments from local knitters.
- Outer Hebrides
There are other Islands in the Outer Hebrides, but, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis form the main chain of islands. Also known as the Western Isles they stretch 200 kilometres along Scotland’s northwest seaboard; each island unique in character. With dazzling beaches such as Luskentyre (Harris), turquoise sea water and rising rocky hills like the area around Uig on Lewis; it is an archipelago that will leave you wondering if you really are, still in Scotland. The islands have a long history, from Neolithic hunter-gatherers, Viking invasions, Clans wars, and the very close association with the Jacobite uprisings has led to the islands have a very rich cultural identity and highlights are never far away. Every view is a picture postcard, be it the ancient standing stones of Callanish, or the sheer cliffs of St Kilda island. With an incredible array of flora and fauna, the Outer Hebrides are celebrated for machair, Birds of Prey; particularly Eagles and Marsh Harriers, Waders, Ducks, and sea life such as seals, Dolphin, Whales and otters. These islands offer some of the most alluring scenery in the world.
- Skye & The Small Isles
Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebridian islands with the town of Portree it’s capital. Skye is rich in history from dinosaurs through to the Highland clearances and a close connection to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebellion. Yet, Skye is famed for its spectacular scenery, mountain ranges and mystical landscapes which together with a rich island culture, create a unique ambience. The Cuillin mountains are undoubtedly Britain’s most spectacular mountain range and dominate the skyline around Sligachan. This mountain range provides world class climbing and hiking. However, Skye has many great walking areas due to a complex geology that has produced a variety of scenery like the Trotternish ridge, MacLeod’s Tables or a multitude of coastal walks that contrasts with the high pointed Munro peaks. Skye offers plenty of walking for all levels and abilities.
The Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna are peaceful, wild and unspoilt and great for bird watching. They are distinctive from each other in profile and agronomy. Viewed from the road to the Isles – West Lochaber, provides one of the finest views in Scotland. Eigg has the dramatic Sgurr, and is home to the Massacre Cave – scene of an infamous slaughter by opposing clansmen during the clan wars. Muck the smallest isle has a population of 40 and has wonderful quiet beaches, stunning landscapes Including Beinn Airein. Rum the biggest isle, has it’s own cuillins with their Norse names – Askival, Hallival, Trollaval, Orval they lend an air of mystery to an island that was known as the Forbidden Island. The other attraction is Kinloch Castle, rumour and legend abound about the island and the Castle which was built by the Bullough family who had made their money through engineering. It was here on Rum that the sea eagle was reintroduced to the UK. Canna is the most westerly of the four Small Isles and covers 3000 acres. The island is farmed and has several working crofts and a small population of less than 15. The island has been a bird sanctuary since 1938 with 157 different bird species recorded.
- Islay & Jura
These two inner Hebridean Islands couldn’t offer a greater contrast of landscapes. Jura, known as island of Deer; meeting one of these majestic animals is highly likely – current deer population 7000! A major draw of Jura is the isolation and tranquility, the landscape gives a real sense of remoteness encouraging exploration. The island population is less that 200, mostly based in the South of the island. The quartzite peaks of the Paps of Jura, are a magnet for the hill walker, with the Corryvrekan whirlpool in the north another major draw. The Island has one single track road running around the south of the island and two thirds up the east side ending near Barnhill. Barnhill is also known for the cottage where George Orwell lived from 1946-48 while writing his novel 1984. The west coast is more difficult to access but provides good walking and world famous raised beaches.
In contrast, Islay, known as Queen of the Hebrides , is fertile, offers good farming and is far more populated, it was once the principle island in all the Hebrides. Islay’s main industries are farming, fishing, tourism and the whisky industry which attracts many visitors to the island. Steeped in history, christianity arrived 500AD, the Kildalton cross is a major relic of theses times. Vikings arrived AD900 and settled, leading to Ranald naming himself King of the Isles. Today Islay is world famous for whisky with 8 distilleries yet, Islay offers walkers more than this. Its dramatic coastline has been ravaged by the pounding of the Atlantic Ocean and offers stunning coastal walking. With a wide variety habitats, including wild open moorland, salt marshes, mud flats, mountains and mixed woodland. All these habitats offer amazing birding, Islay is incredibly rich in bird life with over 180 recorded species.
Arran immediately draws your attention due it’s magnificent Mountain outlines dominating the open waters the Firth of Clyde. Known as Scotland in minature, the southern half of Arran is low lying hills and fields and pasture whereas the north is Mountainous. As a result Arran has a lot to offer the adventurer. Challenging mountains with classic ridge lines around Goat Fell and wonderful walks in the glens such as Glen Rosa and on forest tracks and paths. Being an island, there is dramatic coastal areas to explore such as those around Lochranza offering amazing sea scapes. Arran has been inhabited for over , 5,500 years and traces of Neolithic communities remain particulary around Machrie Moor and Blackwaterfoot. with the rise of Christianity, St Molaise lived in a cave on Holy Isle for 20 years. The Vikings arrived in 759 and left Norse placenames such as Goat Fell. Arran like the rest of Scotland has a rich heritage of feuds, battles, and complex politics. Legend has it the Robert the Bruce stayed in the Kings Cave which gave rise to the story of the spider!
- Useful Country Information
Within the UK
Travel by train
NWF try to operate in the most sustainable manner possible therefore, our guided trips begin at railway stations. We think travelling by train is the easiest way for you to get to and from the start point of your holiday, in a sustainable manner. We also believe that train travel is the most relaxing mode of travel. Moreover, the Highlands has some of the most spectacular train journeys in the UK.
Booking in advance will get you the cheapest train tickets. However, it is usually possible to book tickets on the day without making a prior reservation. For train timetables, costs and reservations follow these links.
Travel by bus
It is also possible to travel to the start of your holiday by bus. Buses are usually less expensive than trains in the UK. For Scottish bus timetables, costs and reservations follow these links;
Travel by car
If you decide to travel by car to the Highlands then long-term parking in Inverness can be found in Rose Street car-park directly behind the train station. You may even think about car sharing with other holiday group members?
Travel by plane
If you need to fly, Inverness airport is only 10 miles east of Inverness. The city centre train station can be reached by bus or taxi from the airport. The airlines currently (2018) flying to Inverness are:
From mainland Europe
The principle airports in Scotland are Edinburgh, Glasgow International, Glasgow Prestwick, Aberdeen and Inverness.
If you are booked on one of our guided tours the most convenient aiport to fly to is Inverness. There is a daily (sometimes twice daily) service between Amsterdam and Inverness operated by www.klm.com
Inverness airport is located 8 miles east of the city. Bus or taxi takes about 20 minutes to reach Inverness train station.
Edinburgh airport is situated 8 miles west of the city centre, which can be reached by tram, shuttle-bus or taxi. Edinburgh airport provides a good starting point for your holiday with good rail links north to Inverness where we start our holidays; journey time about 3hrs. Glasgow is an hour away to the West with frequent links by rail of bus widely available from Edinburgh city centre.
Glasgow International airport is also a good choice, this airport is also 8 miles from the city centre which can be reached by taxi or shuttle-bus. Again, journey time to Inverness takes about 3 hours from the city centre and Edinburgh is an hour east.
Glasgow Prestwick is situated 30 miles from Glasgow but has a direct rail link to the city centre from the airport terminal; time to city centre approx 40 mins. Although not as well situated as Glasgow or Edinburgh, this airport is good for budget flights into Scotland using for example Ryanair and others.
Aberdeen airport is situated 10 miles north of the city centre which can then be reached by taxi or bus. A train connection to Inverness from Aberdeen city centre will take around 2 hrs.
There are many airlines offering direct flights to Scotland. However, if you are holidaying in other parts of the UK before travelling to Scotland, direct flights to Inverness are only available from a small number of cities in England. These are London, Birmingham, Manchester, Belfast. Direct flights can be had from Dublin in the Irish republic too.
From North Amerika
A number of airlines are now flying direct to Scotland, mainly to Edinburgh and Glasgow International airports. Once you have arrived in Scotland, proceeding to Inverness is relatively straightforward. Just connect to the city centre and take a train right into the heard Inverness.
If you can’t get a direct flight to Scotland you may have to fly into London. However, it is possible to fly from any London airport to Scotland. It is also possible from London to catch the sleeper train to Inverness! Additionally, it is possible to fly to Ireland and connect to Inverness from either Dublin or Belfast.
The weather is a common topic of discussion in Scotland, and ‘4 seasons in 1 day’ is an oft used phrase, and often an accurate description of the weather you can experience in Scotland. The weather can change quickly, but, it is also very localised; one glen can be sunny & bright, while the one beside it can be the complete opposite! Generally, the climate is quite mild, considering that Scotland lies at 57 degrees north which is at the same latitude as Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, and parts of Alaska. Our milder weather is due to the prevailing south-westerly winds, combined with the warm Gulf Stream flowing in from the Atlantic seaboard. So, armed with this information, it helps you to be prepared for all weather eventualities, especially if you are heading for the outdoors.
The north west Highlands and the Hebrides are generally wetter but also slightly warmer than the central and eastern Highlands. Spring and Autumn are good times to visit, with wild flowers blooming in Spring while in Autumn, tree foliage is bursting with beautiful colours. Temperatures are generally mild – on average in their mid-teens – with May and September often being the driest months.
In summer temperatures are often slightly higher – with 20+ degrees on a ‘good’ day. A big bonus in the summer months is the endless lingering days, with long daylight hours; in the more northerly parts it rarely goes completely dark during June and early July.
Winter temperatures seldom drop below freezing along the west coast – although winds can make it feel bitterly cold. Further inland, snow is much more common on the hills and in the glens. Apart from dedicated skiers on the slopes in the Central Highlands, you will find few visitors in the north west Highlands in the winter months, and consequently many places close.
The topography of Scotland is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault line, a geological rock fracture that traverses mainland Scotland from Helensburgh on the west coast to Stonehaven on the east coast. The Faultline separates two distinctively different physiographic regions; namely the Highlands in the north and west and the Lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland’s mountainous terrain, including the highest peak, Ben Nevis. Scotland is very diverse with the flatter lowlands home to the majority of the population and the busy cities of the central belt. While the dramatic mountainous Highlands in the north, with as many as 790 surrounding islands including the major archipelagos of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland isles; are only sparsely inhabited. The country can be divided in three main geographical regions: The Southern Uplands, The Central Lowlands and the Highlands. The Highlands [covers] the north, west and north-east of Scotland. There are two main mountain ranges, the Grampians and the north-west Highlands, which are divided by the Great Glen fault.
Scotland inhabits the northern part of the United Kingdom and covers 78,770 km2 (30,414 square miles), which equals 32% of the UK landmass. Mainland Scotland has 9,910 km (6,160 miles) of coastline, and its only land border is with England. Scotland was formed by the action of tectonic plates, and subsequent erosion arising from glaciation. Scotland has an incomparable variety of geology for an area of its size and has some of the oldest rock on the planet, Lewisian gneisses, which were formed in the Precambrian period, up to 3 billion years ago. Northwest Scotland is also the origin of many significant discoveries and important figures in the development of the science. During the Silurian period (439-409 Ma), the area which became Scotland was part of the continent of Laurentia. Across the Lapetus ocean to the south, was the continent of Baltica. The two continents gradually collided, joining Scotland to the area which would become England and Europe. This event is known as the Caledonian Orogeny, and the Highland Boundary Fault marks this stitching together of continents. Silurian rocks form the Southern Uplands of Scotland, which was pushed up from the seabed during the collision. The highlands were also pushed up as a result of this collision, and may have been as high as the modern-day Alps at this time. The old red sandstones (Torridon/ Assynt) were laid down in low-lying areas during this period. Volcanic activity occurred across Scotland as a result of the collision of the tectonic plates, with volcanoes in southern Scotland, and magma chambers in the north, which today form the granite mountains such as the Cairngorms.
So much of what is written above has shaped Scottish culture. There is a long history dating back to Mesolithic and Neolithic times, evidence of these cultures are still seen on the landscape; Callanish stones – Isle of Lewis and the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney are but two such sites. However, modern culture is shaped from the Clans of Scotland. Due to the rugged nature of the landscape highland folk separated into groups called clans. Each clan was led by a chief and members were descendants from a common ancestor. Each clan also had a colourfully weaved cloth called tartan worn as a kilt! The kilt is the national dress of Scotland and is now more commonly worn to special events such as weddings. The clans however remain, yet not as waring clans. There are over 500 registered clans from all over the world that help to retain Scottish traditions.
There are around 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, mostly confined to the Gaelic Heartland, the Outer Hebrides, and the other Hebridean islands along the north-west coast. Although the language has been in decline, there are many efforts to keep the Gaelic language and culture alive.
It is thought these originated in the 14th century where clan chiefs would find the strongest, fittest men to help fight against other clans. The games were encouraged by Queen Victoria as means of keeping music, dancing and the Scottish culture alive. Despite the name, the games are played throughout Scotland with each area holding games. The most distinctive event is tossing the caber which requires prodigious strength and skill. Tossing the caber is when the athlete must run carrying an entire tree trunk and attempt to heave is end over end in a perfect, elegant throw.
Music & Dance
Just as important as the sporting events are the piping competitions for individuals and bands and dancing competitions where you will see young children tripping the quick, intricate steps of such traditional dances as the Highland fling. Scotland is associated with bagpipes but the interesting fact is that bagpipes aren’t originally from Scotland. Bagpipes originate from southern Europe and appear in Scotland around 1400 AD. The Scottish Bagpipe, or Great Highland Bagpipe, became established in the British military and achieved widespread prominence. The Great Highland Bagpipe is also used for a solo virtuosic style called pibroch. Each August the annual Glasgow International Piping Festival is held. There is a strong folk music culture in Scotland which involves traditional instruments like the fiddle, lowland bagpipes, flutes, accordions, drums. Each January -February sees the Celtic connections festival held in Glasgow where musicians from around the world play concerts throughout the city of Glasgow. However, you are as likely to walk into a bar or village hall in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and see virtuoso performances from local musicians playing for fun and because, this has always been the way!
Scotland has a diverse landscape which creates many habitats for wildlife, and although some species are habitat specific, climatic factors dictate that those species will not always be found in those habitats. Particular habitats rich in wildlife are coastal areas and coastal cliffs; estuary and saltmarsh; rivers and burns (streams); Lochs and Lochans; moorland; forest and woodland; and upland -mountains.
Key animals likely to be seen on our walking holidays are as follows.
Walking in coastal areas you may spot marine mammals such as dolphin – Common and Bottlenose; Porpoise, Minkie whale, Common Seal and Grey Seal, sea Otters and American Mink.
Upland areas contain habitats such as burns, rivers, lochans, lochs, moorland and mountains where the key animals you may spot are as follows.
The majestic Red Deer; the largest land mammal in the UK. These imposing animals are a joy to watch in the upland environment. Other deer to be seen are Sika Deer and Roe deer. Feral Goats are occasionally spotted as are Fox, Otter, Stoat, Weasel, Mountain Hare and if you are really lucky the elusive Pine Marten. It is also possible to see Salmon and Trout jumping in Lochs rivers and burns in upland areas. There are reptiles too; lizards & snakes yet, Scotland has no life – threatening species the only poisonous snake being the reclusive Adder which has venom of little danger to the healthy adult.
There are many species of birdlife in the north and north west of Scotland, too many to mention and yet, some of the bird colonies such as Razorbill and Gannet are of global importance. However, some of the key birdlife often associated with Scotland and seen on our holidays are Grouse – Black and Red, Ptarmigan, Snow Bunting, if you are really lucky the Capercaillie (formerly extinct, re-introduced 19th century in the Caledonian pine forests) and the rare mountain bird Dotterel. Birds of prey include Osprey, Sea Eagle, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Hen Harrier. Sea birds – Puffin, Auks, Skua, Eider Duck, and lots more ducks inland on river and wader birds along coastal strips.
Again, there are many varieties of wild flower for you to look out for in the Scottish Highlands. The flower most associated with Scotland is of course the Scotch Thistle. One not to forget is Bog Myrtle, a natural repellent to the dreaded midge! Gorse which produce a lovely coconut fragrance when in full bloom (Spring); Bell Heather and Ling Heather, found all over the Highland mountains; Bluebells in the woodlands in Spring; Butterwort and Sundews two carnivorous plants feeding of insects Orchids particularly the Heath spotted Orchid, the Hebridean spotted Orchid; Scottish Primrose endemic to Orkney and the North of Scotland and many more.
- Food & Drink
To many people, Scotland is renowned for its poor diet (which is true to some extent). So you might not expect that the nation actually has a rich tradition in some of the most beautiful food available, which can make eating out a delight. Scotland is fortunate to have a landscape that provides a wealth of treats, such as salmon and venison. However, the Scots also produce an excellent range of other fresh meat, seafood, cheeses and vegetables. The islands in particular – notably Arran, Orkney, Bute and Mull – provide the best range of cheeses.
Unquestionably, the most famous meal and national dish is Haggis, comprising of sheep’s minced liver and other meaty offal , mixed with oatmeal, spices & salt, and traditionally boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (mashed swede or turnips and potatoes), and is surprisingly tasty. Many Scots start their day with a hearty bowl of porridge, made from oats, a grain that grows well in Scotland’s climate. Porridge is tasty AND nutritious, being packed full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Traditionally, porridge is boiled in water with a pinch of salt (rather than using milk / cream and sugar). Bannocks – (oatcakes), are also a very traditional part of the Scottish diet. They were cooked on a griddle (a flat iron pot placed over the fire) but nowadays a heavy frying pan is used.
Other traditional dishes include venison (red deer), served in many forms, from steaks to burgers and sausages; Cullen skink, which is a broth of fish and potato; Cock-a-leekie, a soup of chicken, leeks and onions; whereas Clapshot is a mash of turnips and potato.
Favourite, not to be missed puddings are Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert of oats, cream, whisky and raspberries; Clootie dumpling which gets its name from the cloth it is boiled in, cloot being Scots for cloth. This traditional steamed Scottish pudding is made with dried fruit and spices. And last but not least Sticky Toffee Pudding – which is basically lots of calories.
Scotland – home of whisky, spelled without the ‘e’, if Scottish. This is arguably the nation’s best- known product, and is one of the UK’s overall top 5 export products. It was first distilled in Scotland in the 15th century, and many hundreds of brands are still being produced– with new distilleries being added to this day. Historically the main areas are Speyside and the Isle of Islay, but also the Isle of Skye, Easter Ross and Orkney. Newly opened whisky distilleries benefit from the recent rise in popularity of gin. Both whisky and gin are made using grain mash; however they differ in terms of aging. After the distillation process, whisky is aged in charred oak barrels to give it a certain colour and flavour, while gin is flavoured with juniper berries to give it a certain aroma and taste. So whilst waiting for the whisky to mature, distilleries can already start selling gin.
Scotland is also blessed with a thriving brewing industry with local ales becoming very popular. Beer has been produced here for approximately 5,000 years. The Celtic tradition of using bittering herbs remained in Scotland longer than the rest of Europe. Most breweries developed in the central Lowlands, and at their peak, there was 280 breweries in 1840. However, by 1970, they had dropped to just 11. At the end of the twentieth century, small breweries begun to spring up all over Scotland and the decline was reversed. There are now an estimated 80+ breweries, many of whom create world-class and award-winning beers.