Highlands and Islands
The Highlands and Islands comprise of the administrative areas of Highland and the Western Isles. The most northerly coastline of Scotland and Britain offers a surprising variety of scenery, from the predictably storm-swept high cliffs and headlands to amazingly calm and unruffled sandy bays, protected from the worst gales. Inland too, the contrasts are no less dramatic - low-lying windswept bogs, multitudes of tranquil tiny lochs, soaring frost-laden mountain peaks. Off the northern coast, a tour of Orkney's 18 inhabited islands transports the visitor back through Man's history - scattered across these fertile flat islands are countless reminders of past occupation by our ancestors. The Shetland Islands, Britain's most northerly point, are home to numerous wildlife of all description - here also, sheep and diminutive Shetland ponies outnumber their keepers.
The West Highlands are dignified by red sandstone peaks that rise above a landscape of wild moors and a multitude of lochs - fortunately, traditional ways of life have been retained here in crofting and fishing villages. The Central and Eastern Highlands are strewn with the remains of man's endeavours - tumbledown Iron Age brochs, ruined castles, stones carved by the mysterious Dark Age Picts.Memories too, are stirred by bitter recollections of the 19th cent Highland Clearances of glens, with the resultant desolation and poverty. A sad testimony to the violence that marked the slow decline of a traditional Highland way of life in these regions.
Very few places in the world enjoy so harmonious a marriage of landscape and seascape as does Orkney, and very few can boast such a profusion of archaeological wonders and variety of wildlife. Orkney consists of some 70 islands in total, of which only 17 of them are inhabited. However, they have been inhabited for more than 5000 years and can boast Northern Europe 's greatest concentration of prehistoric monuments. For the lover of archaeology Orkney is paradise, offering an uninterrupted continuum of mute stones ranging from the Neolithic period of about 4500 BC, through the Bronze and Iron Ages unto about AD700. The following centuries continue this line providing us with evidence for successive occupation of the islands by Celts and Vikings. Skara Brae, for example, is one of the best-preserved Stone Age settlements in Europe, and scattered across the islands are literally hundreds of chambered tombs, stone circles and Iron Age brochs.
Sixty miles to the north of Orkney, the remote and mysterious Shetland archipelago contain Britain's northernmost islands. For more than 400 years the islands were governed by Norsemen and they still retain strong links with Scandinavia. Many of the place names are pure Norse, and the ancient Norse language was still in use on Shetland until about 100 years ago. In fact, Shetland is closer to Bergen in Norway than it is to Edinburgh , and to this day the local accent is much closer to Scandinavian rhythms and inflections than it is to Scottish English. The name Shetland is derived from the Norse word Hjaltland meaning high land.
The sea is a part of everyday life on these islands, and such was the reputation of the Shetlander's seafaring prowess that 3000 of them served with Nelson's fleet during the Napoleonic wars. Of the 100 islands only about 20 are inhabited, strung over 70 miles of swelling seas; over the centuries the ferocious winter seas have battered the coastline into a ragged hem of dark caves, gushing blow-holes and stark rockstacks. Despite this relentless pounding, heavy rainfall and frequent gales, Shetland enjoys the benefit of the warm Gulf Stream, which creates a temperate oceanic climate.
Shetland is best visited between June and September when long dry sunny spells contribute to almost continuous daylight, indeed, there is just a dimming of the sky around midsummer, a phenomenon known as the Simmer Dim making it possible for midnight golf tournaments to be held. The islands' northerly location is rewarded with one of the most spectacular light-shows on earth, the Aurora Borealis , or Northern Lights, which shimmer across the night sky in September and October. These particular climatic conditions emphasise Shetland's northerly distance from mainland Britain .