What it's like
Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, must surely be the smallest capital city anywhere – even if its football team, Caledonian Thistle, has got into the habit of defeating Glasgow's Celtic (2000 and 2003). The old town lies above the wide River Ness (itself the shortest river in Scotland), and a pleasant town walk links its islands and bridges with the Pentland shore and the Caledonian Canal.
You'll certainly want to visit Loch Ness to view the monster. The Loch Ness Monster does not exist, but that doesn't stop her loch from being beautiful with its wooded shores. One good way of not seeing the monster is to walk the Great Glen Way which runs along the loch on its way to Fort William 120km away. The path is well-built and easy, though some find its long stretches of canal towpath unstimulating.
Well, if you feel like that about the Great Glen Way, simply head west. Three long glens - Affric, Cannich and Strathfarrar - run up from the village of Cannich into a huge tract of empty mountain ground boasting 37 of the 3000-ft mountains listed as Munros. The summits are linked by long, steep-sided grass ridges, topped with rocky moments for scrambling. It's country for multi-day through routes, whether along the wide valleys or up on those high, swooping ridges. From Beauly you can walk to the west coast over a dozen mountains without touching a tarmac road.
If even that's not wild enough, east of Loch Ness is the country called Monadhliath. Low, rounded peaks rise out of miles and miles of bleak peaty moorland. If you seek solitude, then head into the 'grey moorland' of Monadhliath.
- Inverfarigaig Forest Quite steep woodland walk on the quiet, wooded side of Loch Ness, with first-rate monster-spotting supposing there were one
- Loch Affric Two beautiful lochs with waterfalls and ancient pines
- Cannich to the Coast Trek westwards from Cannich or Affric to emerge two or three days later at Kintail or Falls of Glomach. Big-country backpacking at its best
Must see and do
- Grieve at Culloden The battle led to the destruction of the Highland's clan culture and an attempt at genocide. From whichever side of the Border, it's an essential and sobering history lesson.
- Stay at the remotest youth hostel Glen Affric youth hostel is 12km from the nearest road, surrounded by huge mountains. Bring your own foot and bedding.
- Watch the boats going upstairs through the locks of the Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus.
Destination County : Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn