Just beyond the remains of Ardvreck Castle is the shell of the more modern Calda House. It was constructed in 1726, apparently by recycling some stones from the Ardvreck Castle. ©John T. Andrews
Surrounded by the bracing waters of the North Sea to the east, and the North Atlantic Ocean to the west and north, Scotland is a place of rugged coastlines, of mountains and valleys, and of rolling hills and green fields. The nation encompasses close to 800 islands, mostly in groups to the west (the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides) and the north (the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands). It’s also a locale of incongruous numbers.
At 6,158 miles, Scotland’s coastline is inordinately long compared to similarly sized countries. But at the other end of the numbers scale, another kind of “line” threads through the land. In the wild and remote Highlands, you’ll find “single track” roads, with one lane only for both directions of traffic to use. On my recent trip there, I felt as though these single tracks alone were a big part of what made Scotland my kind of spot: this is a country where there aren’t enough cars to justify a lane each way.
That wasn’t the only highway anomaly that delighted me. The wording on posted signs was often a slight bit different than it is here in the United States. Rather than “Passing Lanes” or “Turnouts,” Scottish routes had “Passing Places.”
Between Loch Kinellan and Stathpeffer, we found rolling green hills, dotted with sheep and a bit of a Scottish “haar” (cold sea fog). ©John T. Andrews
Another figure found on the fringe edge of the number scale is the count of historic gravestones here, which are an icon of Scotland’s rich and long-standing culture and heritage. In fact, The Scottish Association of Family History Societies lists more than 3,500 known burial grounds in Scotland. To stand in any of them is to feel a documented history that stretches back further than anything we can approximate in the U.S.
In round numbers, I found Scotland to be a land of single tracks and single malts. Of far too many domestic sheep and, hopefully, widening numbers of wild cats. It’s the realm of singular standing stones and of seal-like selkies; of peculiar Passing Places and of those who passed.
Take a few moments, now, to ponder these statistics and stellar scenes from the Scottish Highlands. Next week, I’ll bring you another number from Scotland: Part Two from this integer and astonishing adventure, Scotland’s Wild Islands.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,
Only a fragment of its former glory, Ardvreck Castle sits on a promontory that projects into Loch Assynt. The castle dates back to about 1490. Here, we enjoyed a picnic. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
On the Black Isle, the newly restored, 15th-century Kirkmichael Church is surrounded by a graveyard. The oldest date on a headstone is 1600, but many ornate, medieval stones here are from a much earlier time. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
Heilan’ coos are a Scottish cattle breed. They originated in the Highlands and Hebrides Islands and were first mentioned in the sixth century. Their long hair helps them withstand harsh conditions and the cold, Highlands winters. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
Built in about 1880, the Arnol Blackhouse on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides was once the residence of a crofting family and their animals. For hundreds of years, it was the norm in rural Scotland for people and animals to live under the same roof. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
Today, the Arnol Blackhouse is preserved almost as the family left it when they moved out in the mid 1960s, and the peat fire in the heart of the house is never allowed to go out. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
In the Outer Hebrides, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, are The Callanish (Gaelic: Calanais) Standing Stones. This extraordinary cross-shaped formation was constructed 5,000 years ago and predates England’s famous Stonehenge. For 2,000 years, this was an important place for ritual activity and, perhaps, astronomical observations. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
The Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides is actually joined to the Isle of Lewis by a short border, shown as a dashed line on a map. Harris has a wide range of landscapes, all of which have their own charm and intrigue. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
The Scottish blackface is the most common breed of domestic sheep in the United Kingdom. Tough and adaptable, these animals can withstand exposed locations, such as those in the Scottish Highlands. ©John T. Andrews
The Isle of Skye is connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by bridge. The largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, Skye has a coastline that is punctuated by peninsulas and narrow lochs, radiating out from a mountainous interior. ©John T. Andrews
At the Seumas’ Bar in the Sligachan Hotel on Skye, we enjoyed “a proper drink,” as our Scottish guide called it. The bar is renowned for its impressive collection of more than 400 malts from every corner of Scotland and is a haven for climbers who have earned a well-deserved pint after a day in the jagged Cuillin Mountains. I felt it only “proper” that I have a wee dram. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
Those visiting Glen Cannich in the Northwest Highlands of Scotland for the first time are often struck by feelings of great solitude and remoteness. Red deer thrive here and are present on the lower slopes for most of the year, giving travelers a close-up glimpse into their lives. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
While walking the grounds at the Aigas Field Center, a locus for nature studies, in Inverness-shire, Scotland, not only will you find numbers of birds, deer and countless other wildlife but a horse that may ask to join you on your hike. ©John T. Andrews
The Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) is larger than its continental cousins. It looks like a large and muscular tabby with a broad, flat head and distinctive brown-and-black stripes. Since 2011, the Aigas Field Center has been working to bring back the Scottish wildcat from the edge of extinction. ©John T. Andrews
This is One-Spot, a pine marten I photographed from an Aigus Field Center blind. A cat-sized member of the weasel family, the pine marten is now expanding its range south and east out of its Highlands stronghold. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews