There’s never enough time to see all of Scotland, but take the sleeper train to enjoy a prime slice of mountains, forests and lochs in a long weekend
When wilderness was being handed out, Scotland undoubtedly got given an oversized portion. From lochs to mountains, forests to glens, you can’t seem to go for more than 30 minutes without running into another chunk of camera-ready, wild landscape, just waiting to be explored. And even more so when you head north.
Inverness sits at the mouth of the River Ness, which feeds into the Moray Firth and forms part of the 100km-long Great Glen that cuts diagonally across Scotland. The city is a portal into the Highlands, with varied wilderness available in every direction.
And it’s not just visitors who are discovering the appeal of the UK’s most northerly city. Since 2001 the population of Inverness has risen by nearly 10%; it has also been ranked as the top Scottish city in terms of quality of life. It’s easy to see why.
From boat trips and kayaking on the Caledonian Canal, to the tempting hills and forests that rise nearby, to the Cairngorms National Park (only a short drive south), the opportunity to get outside is on the city’s doorstep.
Getting outside is practically mandatory when you come up this way – the main problem is deciding where to go first. Head south-west along the Great Glen and you’ll hit the 37km-long expanse of Loch Ness, the freshwater loch famed for its alleged resident plesiosaurus… But whether you believe in monsters or not is unimportant – it remains a spectacular spot. With tree-covered hills flanking the loch on both sides, the area really justifies its ‘Great’ Glen moniker. Lace up to best experience it – there are routes along the shoreline and amid the peaks above.
If trees are your thing, visit the National Nature Reserve of Glen Affric, 50km from Inverness. Home to the ancient Caledonian pine that would have covered most of Scotland’s Highlands 5,000 years ago, it offers a glimpse into an ancient wilderness. While away a day by strolling one of the many well-marked tracks to take in waterfalls and look out for osprey, otters or red- and black-throated divers.
For more birds and wildlife at altitude, head further south-west from Inverness to Britain’s biggest national park, the Cairngorms. Here, mountains (including five of the six highest peaks in the country) sprawl in every direction. It’s also home to the renowned RSPB reserve of Abernethy Forest as well as a host of comely villages and whisky distilleries.
To truly discover the Scottish wilderness would take months. However, if you only have a few days, the best way to get a bitesized portion is to catch the train to Inverness on a Friday night. This allows for a mini break that packs a big wilderness punch.