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Scotland
Scotland

In a land of clans and castles, it seems like there’s an incredible piece of history, legend or ghostly intrigue around every corner. Travel enthusiasts will not be disappointed in Scotland, where hundreds of castles dot the countryside, along with ancient archaeological sites, literature haunts, battlefields, whiskey trails, tartan mills, pubs and—of course—golf courses. Hard-pressed to narrow it down, we selected some of our favorites to stimulate your travel spirit..

Clans and Castles

Clans & Castles

Scottish clans form a distinct and integral part of Scotland’s heritage. Clans include not only blood relatives of the chief and those who share his name, but families and residents of the territory who the chief has adopted. Often associated with a particular castle, each clan bears its own corporate identity, official chief, individual crest and tartan. Glamis Castle — seat of the Lyon clan since 1372 and the setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth — basks in a dark glow of medieval legend and intrigue as Scotland’s most haunted. Known as the Grey Lady, Janet Douglas is rumored to have haunted the castle since she was burned at the stake in 1537 for plotting to poison the king. Guided tours recount the history of kings, nobles and apparitions who have walked the hallowed halls, while glorious fall foliage adorns 14,000 acres of grounds.

For sheer fairytale splendor, Dunrobin Castle reigns majestically in the Northern Highlands against mountains, moors and the North Sea. Stronghold of the Sutherland clan, the 189-room Scottish Baronial palace once ranked among the largest hunting lodges in Scotland. Today, peregrine falcons and golden eagles take flight on the castle lawn under the tutelage of the resident falconer.

If you’re in Edinburgh and short on time, see the magnificent Stirling Castle, an easy day trip from Scotland’s capital. Perched high on a volcanic rock, it has hosted royal baptisms, coronations, battles, murders and such illustrious Scottish figures as William Wallace (Braveheart) and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Distinctly Scottish – Golf, Whiskey, Checkered & Plaid

Distinctly Scottish

Whiskey—or the “water of life,” as it is known in Gaelic—runs like a fiery river through the country’s blood. Remotely tucked away in the Scottish highlands, the Glenlivet Distillery offers a flavor of the liquor’s illicit past on three historic “Smuggler’s Trails,” where owners bootlegged their treasure with armed guards. For a taste, take a free tour of the distillery, or a course at its Guardians Whiskey School. Otherwise, head to nearby Dufftown and indulge in A Taste of Speyside, serving local, home-cooked fare and hospitality at its finest. The amiable owners welcome guests like old friends and offer a stellar selection of Speyside whiskies.

Further south lies the fabled home of the world’s oldest and most prestigious golf course. Host to over 600 years of golf and the sport’s greatest legends, the Old Course at St Andrews is open for public play but requires a certificate of handicap (Men, 24; Ladies, 26). On Sundays, when the course is closed, anyone can walk the fabled fairways in the footsteps of golfing greats.

And what of the famous plaid, tweed and cashmere? As the world’s leading tartan manufacturer, Scottish stalwart Lochcarron has more than 700 designs in stock and proudly dresses celebrities such as Sean Connery. Their tour guides run you “through the mill,” explaining the production process and legacy of these unique pieces of Scottish fabric.

History with Pleasure

History with Pleasure

Jump into the rich legacy of UNESCO’s first City of Literature via the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, a colorful foray through 300 years of writing and carousing in classic author’s haunts like the Jolly Judge. If you need a midday boost, drop into the quirky Artisan Roast, locally heralded for its knowledge of coffee and the unmatched taste of its roasts.

Heading north to Britain’s largest loch (or lake), hop aboard the Margaret at the Balmaha Boat Yard to help deliver mail on Loch Lomond. The glistening, 63-year-old Royal Mail vessel continues to deliver letters and parcels to four of Loch Lomond’s islands, and takes daytrippers along for the ride. You’ll be helping Captain Sandy Macfarlane, grandson of the first mailman commissioned in 1948.

To see the best of Scotland in old-world luxury, book a journey on the Royal Scotsman. Described as one of the world’s great travel experiences, this grand rail expedition features sumptuous dining, observation and sleeping cars that whisk you past heather glens, forested peaks, mirrored lochs, ancient castles, wild countryside and stellar coastline. In the evenings, relax with fellow guests and a dram of whiskey as local clansmen recount Scottish tales and legends.

Mystical Skye

Mystical Skye

Skye is legendary for its ethereal beauty and mystical folklore. Home to the MacLeod clan for more than seven centuries, Dunvegan Castle is populated with the group’s heirlooms, including the magical Fairy Flag. Said to have the power to fulfill three wishes, but only in time of great need, the ancient flag has been used twice, but has yet to be used a third time.

Craftsmen inspired by the island’s deep mystique also inhabit Skye’s vivid landscape. Tucked into misty vales 12 miles off the road to Elgol, Duncan House and Castle Keep are the respective workshops of master goldsmith and knifemaker Garth Duncan, and master swordsmith Rob Miller. The studio and gallery showcase exquisite custom designs, offering a remarkable glimpse into the traditional crafts of Scotland, still forged by hand.

To experience the essence of Skye’s magical spell, set off to find Fairie Glen, a serene valley hidden at the north end of the island. Also called the Faeries’ Meeting Place, this mysterious geological formation gives the effect of a miniature landscape with grassy knolls, a glassy loch, looming branches and conical mounds—purportedly the home of fairies. Be it truth or fairy tale, this is a place of surreal enchantment.

Megaliths, Knights & Battlefields

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Scotland virtually oozes history in every corner of the country. Featuring more than 350 ancient monuments, Kilmartin Glen is packed with the vestiges of the past, which include standing stones and rings, rock carvings, burial cairns, early Christian crosses, castles and gravesites. The impressive Kilmartin House Museum provides an overview of such gems as the fortress of Dunadd and the Kilmartin Parish Church, which houses burial stones believed to belong to the crusading Knights Templar.

Just east of Inverness, you’ll find Culloden Battlefield, where over 1,000 perished in just under an hour in Britain’s last major battle. Armed with headphones and GPS-guided technology, visitors can walk the open moor where England quashed the Jacobite rebellion, and hear the moving tale of Bonnie Prince Charles’ revolt and the armies’ tactical maneuvers. Live-action demonstrations feature the weapons, dress and food of the time.

Spectacular archaeological sites on the Shetland and Orkney Islands overlook the North Sea like ancient, windswept warriors. Tucked into and on top of grassy knolls like a prehistoric outdoor museum, Jarlshof features structures and artifacts excavated from each of the Bronze, Iron, Viking and Medieval eras. Maeshowe, a fantastic chambered tomb, predates the Egyptian pyramids. Dating back to 3100 B.C., the Skara Brae stone village includes a life-size re-creation of an ancient house in lived-in condition. Visit Historic Scotland website for information about these locations and more.

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