A delightful mix of smugness and lack of surprise is being felt across Scotland at the news that a Rough Guide readers’ poll has named ours the most beautiful country in the world. Is the feeling intensified by the fact that England came a mere seventh? Of course not. We have no time for such petty rivalries, being too busy admiring the lochs and castles and sunning ourselves (well, perhaps not) on the wild beaches that Rough Guide praised. There is beauty all over Scotland, but here are five sights for which eyes – and the word “jings” – were invented.
Perhaps Scotland’s – and therefore Britain’s – best beach. A swoosh of white sand on the west coast of Mull, Calgary Bay is hugged between two headlands with views over to the island of Coll. The pale-blue water is gorgeous, but terribly cold. Still, you should swim, if only to feel the tingling afterglow on your skin. Such Calvinistic pain-before-pleasure is what Scottish holidaying is all about.
Turner painted it as a dark, bewitched presence above which mountains crested like frozen waves. He did not exaggerate. Loch Coruisk, in the heart of Skye’s Cuillin range, has no road in, but the boat trip from Elgol is magical. If going the seven miles by foot, you will have to cross the notorious and totemic “Bad Step” – a large, rocky outcrop above the water, which one must steel oneself to climb.
Edinburgh’s charms are obvious and soon spent. Glasgow’s beauty – like single malt – takes time to appreciate, but goes deep. A starting point: stand on Partick Bridge, looking back towards the gothic spire of the university as it rises above Kelvingrove park, a steampunk rocket set for blast-off. Alternatively, one sunrise, when the river is flat and calm, stand on the bridge outside the BBC and gaze east past the Finnieston crane to admire the arc of the Squinty Bridge making a halo over the Clyde.
The Whaligoe Steps
One of Scotland’s secret treasures, an industrial relic with a fairytale air, the Whaligoe Steps are way out there on the Caithness coast. Built in 1792 to allow fishwives to carry the catch to market, there are 337 stone steps zigzagging down the steep cliff at Ulbster to a sandstone amphitheatre of a harbour. It’s impossible to take a photograph that conveys the enchantment of this place. You can only experience it, then take it home in your heart.
Rannoch Moor and Glencoe
A double-whammy, since one leads to the other and relies on the contrast for full impact. Rannoch Moor is a glorious wilderness, all bog, rock and antler-shaped lochs. It’s even worth seeing in the dead of night, when the only illumination is headlights reflected in the eyes of deer at the sides of the road. Glencoe takes this eeriness and intensifies it to an ache of dread. One needn’t know that the glen was the scene of a historic massacre; the feeling of brooding beauty bounces off every looming peak. The romantics called this sort of place sublime. They were right.