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One week trip

If you only have a week and you want to see some Highland scenery, you can head straight for the hills from Glasgow and Edinburgh. A short distance north of Glasgow is Loch Lomond, gateway to the Western Highlands and a beautiful introduction to the spectacular sights which lie in wait farther north. From Loch Lomond you should head north through Glencoe, one of the main highlights of a visit to Scotland, to Fort William, the main tourist centre for the Western Highlands. From Fort William there are two routes to another of Scotland's most popular attractions, the Isle of Skye. The quickest route is by road and bridge, via Kyle of Lochalsh, but by far the most romantic and scenic route is by train from Fort William to Mallaig, and by ferry from there to Armadale. You should then leave at least three days to explore the island, or more if you plan to do any walking.

Two/three week trip

Alternatively, or if you have more time at your disposal, it's only a short drive north from Edinburgh to Perthshire. Though not as dramatic as the northwest, the mountains, rivers, lochs and glens of the Perthshire Highlands are very beautiful and easily accessed. If you also want a slice of history thrown in, then you could make a round trip from Perth to the historic town of Stirling, with its important castle, and return via Callander and the Trossachs. Also near Perth is the medieval town of St Andrews, home of Scotland's oldest university and the world's most famous golf course. From St Andrews, it's an easy day trip to the charming fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife. An alternative to Fort William and Skye, or in addition if you have more time, would be to head from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Oban, the main ferry port of the west coast, and make the short trip to the beguiling Isle of Mull, which tends to be attract fewer visitors than Skye in the summer months, and from where you can pop across to its divine neighbour, Iona, or explore the amazing Fingal's Cave on Staffa. Or you could head south from Oban, through Argyll, with its many prehistoric sites, and take a ferry to the little-visited islands of Islay, famous for its malt whiskies, and Jura. Both are great places for walking holidays. Also within reach of Argyll, or Ayrshire, is the island of Arran, described as 'Scotland in miniature' and ideal for walking or cycling.

Three/four week trips

If you have three or four weeks at your disposal then you can make the stunningly beautiful trip north from Kyle of Lochalsh, along the coast to Ullapool. Most visitors don't make it north of Ullapool but those who do are rewarded with the most spectacular landscapes of the northwest. You can sail from Ullapool across to the Outer Hebrides, a long, narrow archipelago stretching from Lewis and Harris in the north to Barra in the south. But note that most of the islands are fiercely religious and transport is non-existent on a Sunday. Alternatively, you could include a trip to the Orkney Islands, with their many Stone Age ruins, or the culturally-distinct Shetland Isles, which are so far north of the mainland that they can only be included on maps as an inset.

Getting off the beaten track It is easy enough to visit the main towns and tourist sights by bus or train, but getting off the beaten track without your own transport requires careful planning and an intimate knowledge of rural bus timetables. Even if you're driving, getting around the remote Highlands and Islands can be a time-consuming business as much of this region is accessed only by a sparse network of tortuous, twisting, single-track roads. Be sure to allow plenty of time for getting around the Highlands and Islands, especially for the countless impromptu stops you'll be making to admire the views, and book ferries in advance during the busy summer season.

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