Lay of the Land
There are several ways to define the Highlands and Islands. The historical definition differs from the current administrative region, and the geological demarcation lines are different again. This guide stretches in a wavy line from Argyll in the southwest to the Morayshire coast in the northeast. The West Coast is a fractured patchwork of sea lochs and islands with the Inner Hebrides islands of Skye, Islay, Mull, and Jura leading to the Outer Hebrides islands of Lewis and Harris. The mainland is characterized by several mountain ranges and is split by the Great Glen, which runs from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east.
WHEN TO GO
April to October offer the best odds on good weather, with average temperatures of around the low 60s. Winter in the mountains can be bitterly cold and feature long weeks where the thermometer never gets above freezing. Due to the Gulf Stream, the West Coast tends to be warmer, but it is also wetter. The Highlands' northern location means long days in the summer and correspondingly short days in winter. Beyond that, it's hard to generalize. West Coast islands such as Tiree get more sun than anywhere else in the U.K. On the East Coast, Dornoch is one of the driest places in the U.K. In general, expect rain and you won't be disappointed.
HOW TO GET THERE
Inverness is the main airport in the Highlands. You can fly there direct from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London. Continental flies nonstop to Edinburgh from Newark, while Delta plans to fly from JFK from May 2008. Glasgow Airport takes nonstop flights from a number of American cities, including Newark, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.
From Edinburgh, First ScotRail runs regular trains to Thurso in the far north. From Glasgow, First ScotRail has a regular service to Mallaig. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have a train service to Inverness (44-8457-48-49-50). In reality, renting a car is the best way to get around. The usual operators are available at the airports. Caledonian MacBrayne operates all the ferries to the Western Isles (44-8705-650000).
Tel: 44 845 22 55 121