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The County of Fife still likes to call itself a kingdom. Even today, its name suggests the romantic episodes and pageantry during the reign of the early Stuart kings, and some 14 of Scotland's 66 royal burghs lie in this shire, which is north of the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh. You can visit many of the former royal palaces and castles, either restored or in colorful ruins.

Legendary Loch Lomond is the largest and most beautiful of the Scottish lakes. At Balloch, in the south, it's a Lowland landscape of gentle hills and islands. But as it moves north, the loch narrows and takes on a stark, dramatic Highland character, with moody cloud formations and rugged, steep hillsides.

The Trossachs is the collective name given to that wild Highland area east and northeast of Loch Lomond. Here you find Scotland's finest scenery -- moor, mountain, and loch -- which was immortalized by Sir Walter Scott's vivid passages in The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy.

Many sections of this region lie on the doorsteps of Glasgow and Edinburgh; either city can be your gateway to the central Highlands. You can easily reach Dunfermline and St. Andrews by rail from Edinburgh. (St. Andrews also has good bus connections with Edinburgh.) By car, the main motorway is M9, the express highway that starts on the western outskirts of Edinburgh and is linked to M80 from Glasgow. M9 passes close to Stirling. M90, reached by crossing the Forth Road Bridge, will take you north into the Fife region. Stirling is the region's major rail center, with stops at such places as Dunblane, and much of Loch Lomond has rail connections. The towns and some villages have bus service, but you'll probably find the connections too limited or infrequent. For bus connections, Stirling is the central point.

Your best bet is to rent a car and discover -- at your own pace -- hidden towns, scenic lochside roads, and quiet fishing villages.