Where to start? At the border. Where else?
|Looking north from Carter Bar|
Heading north and west of Glasgow (stop off at Loch Lomond if you must) you come to Crinan - a pretty place, marking one end of the canal of the same name built to avoid a long trip round Kintyre. Here, yachts and fishing boats and the occasional restored 'puffer' head out along the West Coast, after negotiating the locks that separate sea and canal. There's a hotel, a tearoom, often art exhibitions at both, plenty of boats to watch as you idle away a pleasant afternoon - maybe a fisherman landing seafood for the hotel, maybe holiday-makers who aren't too sure about how to handle a boat - and if you're feeling slightly more energetic you can walk along the canal or venture into Knapdale forest, where you might spot recently reintroduced beavers.
|Temple Wood stone circle|
Just up the road is my third must-see place - Kilmartin Glen, a valley floor filled with prehistoric remains. There are cairns, stone circles, and standing stones, all waiting, well, not to be discovered because that's already done, but puzzled over.
The cairns must have marked the burial spots of important people, the standing stones maybe formed some sort of monument, the stone circles marked the passing of the seasons, but the reasons for choosing this specific place are lost. Walk round the glen, clamber inside a cairn, and try to guess why. It's particularly eerie at dusk, if you can stand the midges.
Onward, north up the West Coast to Glencoe. Most tourist guides will send you off up the glen itself, looking at towering mountains and gushing waterfalls, or checking out the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre where you can learn all about the violent history of the area, but, while all of these are definitely worth a visit, the first place I'd head to would be a small loch near Glencoe village. This lochan and surrounding area were deliberately engineered and planted in the late 1800s to look like British Columbia so the landowner's native Canadian wife wouldn't feel homesick.
You'd possibly already thought about heading to John O'Groats or Dunnet Head (which is further north) but be original and go west.
from Sanna beach
The spot where Ardnamurchan lighthouse stands is the furthest westerly mainland point in Britain. It's a long, exciting, often single-track drive across some wild countryside to reach it but there are wonderful views out to the Hebrides, whether you go up to the top of the lighthouse or not, and you might see whales and dolphins passing by. And there are wonderful beaches nearby, so pay them a visit too.,
The logical route onwards from Ardnamurchan is north to Mallaig to catch the ferry for Skye, and as you're zooming along (the road's now two-way and reasonably fast) you might catch a glimpse of white beach out of the window. Turn round and investigate. These are the White Sands of Morar. There are lots of these exotic-looking beaches with white sand and turquoise sea scattered around Scotland's West Coast (Calgary on Mull is particularly nice) but I like this one because of its odd juxtaposition with the A road - and because once, heading home after a wet fortnight on Skye, we stopped there on an unexpectedly sunny day. Also it's one of the few beaches you can sit on and watch a steam train go past.
Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness, is possibly the most popular and regular touristy place on my list. All because it's a fantastic place for dolphins! We stayed just down the road in Rosemarkie once, and every evening we walked to the point just as the tide was turning and were amazed to see dolphins swimming past.
To be fair, it was probably luck more than judgement, but it was a wonderful sight. Standing on the sloping shingle beach by Chanonry lighthouse it feels like the dolphins are almost within touching distance.
While you're on the Black Isle, visit the Clootie Well, outside Munlochy. Now Kilmartin was slightly strange with its multitude of prehistoric remains, but those remains are definitely things belonging to the past; the Clootie Well feels like a place joined to those prehistoric times. In essence, it's a spring where water bubbles out of the ground, and long accepted belief credits the water with healing powers.
Traditionally a personal item - say clothing or shoes - belonging to an ill person would be hung on branches by the well in the hope that their health would be restored. It still continues today, though visitors may just be hoping for good luck. It can look tatty and tawdry, but look beyond the non-degradable nylon and polyester rags and try to enter the mind set of the person who left them, someone who believes that this place really does offer hope, perhaps when nothing else does. It's a strange, weird, and, I find, moving place.
Ten random places don't quite make a holiday though, so join them together with roads like this,
|Spot the Outer Hebrides on the skyline|
and lots of random stops in lay-bys to take in the view
|Cuillins from near Torrin, Skye|
|Kyles of Harris ferry leaving Leverburgh|
if you've time take a ferry trip or two or three
|Stornoway ferry arriving|
and don't forget to catch a spectacular sunset