The romantic glens and rugged mountain landscapes of the West Highlands are timeless and pristine. Deer graze only yards from the highway, and, at a secluded loch, you can enjoy a picnic or fish for trout and salmon. The shadow of Macbeth still stalks the land. (Locals will tell you that this 11th-c. king was much maligned by Shakespeare.) The area's most famous resident, however, is said to live in mysterious Loch Ness: First sighted by St. Columba in the 6th century, "Nessie" has cleverly evaded searchers ever since.
Centuries of Highland invasions, rebellions, and clan feuds are now distant memories. The region isn't as remote as it once was, when many Londoners believed that the men of the Highlands had tails. Fort William is a major center for the West Highlands, surrounded by wildly beautiful Lochaber, the "land of bens, glens, and heroes." Dominating the area is Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. This district is the western end of what is known as the Glen Mor -- the Great Glen, geologically a fissure dividing the northwest of Scotland from the southeast and containing Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and Loch Ness. The Caledonian Canal, opened in 1847, linked these lochs, the River Ness, and Moray Firth, providing boats a safe alternative to the stormy route around the north of Scotland. Eventually, larger steamships made the canal out-of-date commercially, but fishing boats and pleasure craft still use it. Good roads run the length of the Great Glen, partly following the line of Gen. George Wade's military road. The English general became famous for his road and bridge building in Scotland, which did much to open the Highlands to greater access from the south. From Fort William, you can take steamer trips to Staffa and Iona.
Aviemore and the villages and towns of the Spey Valley offer visitors many activities. In the Spey Valley you're at the doorway to the Malt Whisky Trail. Aviemore is the winter-sports capital of Britain, and Aviemore Centre offers such outdoor pursuits as golfing, angling, skiing, and ice skating.
Inverness and legendary Loch Ness, the most popular West Highlands attractions, are overcrowded in summer but surrounded by villages and towns that make good stop-offs -- especially if you're driving. If you're dependent on public transportation, make Inverness your base; it has good rail and bus connections to the rest of Scotland and also to England.
Finally, if you have time, visit the loneliest part of Scotland, the far north. This section of the Highlands, Sutherland and Caithness, isn't for everyone. Crumbling watchtowers now stand guard over sheep-cropped wilderness. Moss-green glens give way to inland lochs and sea fords. Summer is the best time to view these deep-blue lochs, towering cliffs, and gentle glens. Many relics of Scotland's turbulent past dot the landscape, with castles left in ruins. Today, visitors come to get away from it all and enjoy outdoor activities in a wild, pristine setting. Craft centers have also sprung up, with silversmiths, glassmakers, and weavers deriving inspiration from their surroundings.