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Theme two: Immersive landscapes, ripe for exploration

Cuspair 2: Àite Eireachdail son Tàimh no Turas-dùraigidh

Our landscapes and seascapes are extraordinary and diverse: draw-droppingly, car-stallingly beautiful.
Immense skies full of weather roll over the island-speckled sea and our ancient, hulking hills. The sun and clouds play on the water and on the bare rocks: black gneiss; soft pink sandstone; white quartzite and lemony limestone. Light and colours change constantly through the day and with the seasons.

Rainwater trickles down sodden hillsides into ever-playful burns, that tumble over waterfalls and splash through enticing peaty pools and out to sea.

The deep dark lochs lining the base of glacier-sculpted glens are sometimes mirror-calm, quietly reflecting the majestic peaks around them. When the wind whips up, spindrift tornadoes riot on the surface. Amongst the hills and hummocks, 800 smaller freshwater lochans freckle the landscape, lined with reeds and laced with water lilies.

Many hillsides may seem brown and bare, but look more closely at the boot-sucking bog or ankle-snapping tussocks and scree for micro-delights. Ruby-and-emerald sphagnum moss; sundew with its crimson fringe and the podgy leaves of butterwort – both of which are insect eaters (there are a lot of midges to feast on!); the bright stars of bog asphodel and the nodding heads of cotton grass.

Fragments of precious native woodland cling on – often along ravines and craggy shores. These are some of the finest remnants of Scottish rainforest, where the limbs of ancient oaks and hazels are crammed with life: a riot of squashy mosses and internationally rare lichens. The earthy aroma of decomposition fills the nostrils, whilst peace fills the heart. A cosy place to shelter from the weather.

Throughout this landscape there is evidence that this wild place has been home to humans for millennia: you’ll find ruined brochs, croft houses, sheilings and fanks. What must life have been like when these buildings were inhabited?

Not only the people have left us clues: in a large patch of limestone hide caves that have disclosed secrets about the animals that have lived here over the last glacial period. The bones of many animals have been found including Brown bear, Northern lynx, reindeer and even Polar bear. Some reindeer bones have been dated to 47000 years old, whilst the lynx was stalking the glens ‘only’ 1700 years ago. Perhaps they will again …

From the magnificent to the minute, this place inspires a sense of space and freedom. Everyone is welcome to enjoy a wild adventure of any kind: gentle walks on well-made paths; thigh-burning hill climbs, or explore with binoculars, a camera lens or paint brush. Ask a professional to guide you or bring your own kit – fishing, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, sailing or kite-surfing … or simply dive straight in. Or just sit peacefully, fill your lungs with fresh air, and be captivated.

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Back to sense of place Next: Theme three – Beautiful beaches and wild shores