Winter Sports, Summer Walks and Nessie, of course

One of the largest areas of the United Kingdom where the full majesty of nature can be seen, the Highlands offer the visitor space to explore, with a wealth of wildlife you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere.  This article focusses on area around Loch Ness from Inverness to Fort William, taking in Aviemore on the edge of the Cairngorms and, of course, Nessie herself.

Did you know that this region sometimes offers spectacular night skies during which the Aurora Borealis is visible from the northern shores?  Aurora Watch UK monitors the conditions and will even send you a text message alert.  Click here to visit their website.

Winter visitors need no introduction to the Cairngorms National Park, and its many winter sports activities.  The Cairngorm Mountain itself is the centre for snowsports with many lifts and pistes to choose from.  Conditions vary daily and their website  is updated daily to show the latest conditions and runs available.  Disabled skiers are welcome here.  The centre works closely with Disability Snowsport to ensure the safety of disabled sportspeople.

The ski school in Aviemore offers a wide range of instruction for all ages and all abilities wanting to learn to ski or to snowboard.  Full details of services and prices are listed on their website where you can pre-book your lessons and find out exactly what you need to do before you arrive.

In summer the area has plenty to offer the energetic including a guided bike ride running at certain times of the year.  The ride descends the mountain taking in some spectacular scenary that you will want to capture on camera.  The ride is not for novices and comes with a charge that includes the hire of specialist bikes and safety equipment.  Details here  Don't be tempted to try the descent without a professional guide and equipment.

A mountain railway takes less athletic visitors to the top of Cairngorm Mountain, where a cafe provides refreshment.  Or you could join a guided walk at the top.  The walk, at 3,000 ft is supervised by an expert guide who will share local knowledge during your walk.  It is also possible now to walk from the visitor centre to the top of the mountain, making the return journey on the mountain funicular railway.  More information here.

The region is home to many wild animals and you will be amazed at the variety to be seen in the wild within the Cairngorms National Park.  This is the largest national park in the UK and has plenty to offer everyone at all times of the year.

The Highlands are rich in history and much of the heritage is open to the public.  Readers and filmgoers, both young and old, will enjoy finding locations for their favourite stories, perhaps Braveheart or Brave.  Visit some of the castles and imagine life in the past.  As an example, why not try a visit to an estate where activities are provided for all ages.  Rothiemurchus just 5 miles from Aviemore offers plenty of choice from canoeing and kayacking on its own loch to browsing its farm shop or enjoying fresh cooked local food in its own restaurant.  More details and prices click here.  There is plenty of walking and the rangers will be pleased to help you choose the best options to suit you.

The capital of the Highlands is Inverness.  Situated at the northern end of Loch Ness, it offers the range of shopping you would expect from a large town. The award-winning Eastgate Shopping Centre offers indoor acces to a whole variety of shops with easy parking. 

Take time to stroll as far as the historic Victorian Market  where you are sure to pick up some souvenirs of your visit. The market is divided into three areas; the Arcade, Inner and Outer Halls each with its own unique blend of shops each offering its own specialities ranging from chocolates to tartans.

The building itself is well worth a closer look.  Stop and look carefully at the clock where you will see the coats of arms of the councils which have been responsible for the area over the year.

The city centre is close to the waterfront and a walk along the River Ness offers a tranquil contrast to the hustle and bustle of the shopping area. Or, why not take a tour of the city on an open topped bus?  The trip travels down both sides of the River Ness, taking in landmarks such as Inverness Castle, St Andrews Cathedral and Muirtown locks.  Hop on and off the bus - but don't forget your camera!

Both the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness run through Inverness. Loch Ness is approximately 20 miles long, up to 1 mile wide and reports of its depth vary.  It is the largest lake by volume in the UK and forms part of the Caledonian Canal which now runs from the east to the west coast of Scotland, following the line of lochs.  It is not surprising that from Inverness you can enjoy a cruise down the Caledonian Canal into the 'top half' of Loch Ness, down as far as Urquhart Castle.  There are several options to choose from.  Click here for full details and prices. 

If you did not quite manage to see Nessie from Inverness, you can to travel to the southern end of the Loch towards Fort William where the bravehearted can join a cruise around the southern part the loch.  Click here for dates, times and prices.

Still looking for Nessie?  Perhaps you need to visit the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition at Drumnadrochit, where you will find straightforward and interesting explanations of the science behind the search for Nessie.  Entrace fees are very reasonable and young and old alike will find the exhibition well-worthwhile.

As you continue to travel south along the A82 around Spean Bridge, towards Fort William make a detour to view the Commando Monument on the top of the mountain. At the heart of the memorial is a statue depicting three commandos, each looking out at the peaks.  It is a magnificent spot to consider the bravery of these men, both past and present, but also to admire the splendour of the highlands, with Ben Nevis as a focal point.

Whilst continuing towards Fort William, you have the opportunity to climb Ben Nevis, or perhaps visit the distillery at the base of the mountain.  Regular visits are available but check here to check opening times.  Entry charges are very reasonable, and the tasting not to be missed.  There are three other well-known distilleries in this area.  Check here for details of tours and locations.

Fort William is the 'other end' of the Caledonian Canal which on its journey from Inverness cuts through the Great Glen linking Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.  Fort William provides a good base for exploring Ben Nevis and its surrounding Glen Nevis where much of the film Braveheart was shot.

Fort William is a fairly small town, nestling at the end of the Great Glen where the mountains meet the sea.Take time to stroll along the pedestrianised shopping area, which at the very end bumps into the harbour.  Relax in one of the pubs or cafes and just watch the boats go by.  It is a lovely town to walk through with surprises just around the corner.  The town's own website gives details of the many stunning places to visit in the area and how to get there. 

Wherever you go in this part of the Highlands, whatever you want to see or do, you will find a warm welcome and a helping hand.  Visit Scotland is the official tourist organisation for the country, and can help you to plan your holiday in detail.  Visit their website

Last updated on 19/02/2013 1:23pm by
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