The Isle of Arran, in the Firth of Forth off the coast of Ayrshire, is often called "Scotland in Miniature," primarily because its geology mimics the country at large. But increasingly locals involved in tourism (www.visitarran.com) prefer to call it "Arran, the Island." Either way, it is a fine place to visit. There's a castle and some great hiking up to the top of craggy Goat Fell (874m/2,867 ft.), or in the majestic valley of Glen Rosa, near the main port of Brodick. Along the rugged southern coastline near Kildonan, you're almost guaranteed to see seals and perhaps even a dolphin or two and on the west side of the island you can see standing stones at Machrie Moor. There are also some excellent food producers on Arran, including the Island Cheese Company and Creelers smoked Scottish seafood. The primary ferry services depart (5-6 per day) from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to Brodick (50 min. crossing). A single passenger pays about £6 and about £40 for a car. There's a seasonal ferry from Claonaig near Skipness (on the Kintyre peninsula) to Arran's northern port of Lochranza. For ferry information, contact CalMac (tel. 0870/565-0000; www.calmac.co.uk). Call tel. 0870/608-2608 for linking public transportation information.
Arran's Outdoor Activities -- In addition to the many hiking possibilities in the area, you could try archery, kayaking, sailing, rock climbing, and more. Arran Adventure (tel. 01770/302-244; www.arranadventure.com), based at the Auchrannie Spa Resort in Brodick, can arrange the works for you. If you fancy a unique golfing challenge, then head west across the island from Brodick to Blackwaterfoot and try your luck at the Shiskine course. It has only 12 holes, but between the driving winds and diverting scenery, it has become a legendary challenge. A round costs about £18. Contact the Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club (tel. 01770/860-226; www.shiskinegolf.com).
Loch Lomond, Stirling & the Trossachs
One of the benefits of Glasgow is its proximity to wild, open spaces. While a diverse region, Loch Lomond, Stirling, and the Trossachs offer the largest inland body of water not only in Scotland but all of Great Britain (Loch Lomond), as well as the historic burgh of Stirling and its great castle, plus the towering hills and forests of the Trossachs (which are linked to the Highland mountains further northwest).
Loch Lomond -- Loch Lomond is only about a half-hour drive or train ride from the city limits of Glasgow. At the southern edge, on the outskirts of the otherwise unremarkable if pleasant town of Balloch, the Lomond Shores development (www.lochlomondshores.com) was opened in 2002. The complex includes a shopping mall and an information center (daily 10am-5pm; tel. 01389/722-199). The National Park Gateway Centre has guidance on using the adjacent national park - Scotland's first - that extends up the eastern shores of the loch.
If you're hiking, the trails up the eastern shoreline are preferable. This is the route that the West Highland Way follows. If you are a canoeing or kayaking enthusiast, the Lomond Shores' visitor center has rentals (tel. 01389/602-576; www.canyouexperience.com) for £15 per hour. Up the western shores, before the notoriously winding road at Tarbet, where the train from Glasgow to Oban stops, visitors can take loch cruises. Golfers will likely be attracted to the Loch Lomond country club, which hosts the annual Scottish Open professional golf championship, near the pleasant resort village of Luss.
Stirling & the Trossachs
North-northeast of Glasgow some 42km (26 miles) is historic Stirling, with its castle set dramatically on the hill above the town. During the reign of the Stuarts in the 16th century, royalty preferred Stirling to Edinburgh. Stirling Bridge is believed to be the crucial site of a 13th-century battle between English invaders and the rag-tag band of Scots led by William Wallace (forever immortalized - if fictionalized - in the movie Braveheart). High on a nearby hill north of the city center stands the prominent Wallace Monument (tel. 01786/472-140; www.nationalwallacemonument.com), which is open daily; admission is £7.50 for adults, £6 for seniors and students, £4.50 for children, and £20 for families. On summer weekends, the story of Wallace is reenacted in costumed dress.
Just outside of the city to the south is another famous battleground: Bannockburn. In these fields, a well-armed English-led force was nevertheless routed by Scottish troops led by King Robert the Bruce in 1314. A heritage center operated by the National Trust for Scotland is open daily March through October; admission is £5.50 for adults, £4.50 for seniors, students, and children, and £15 family.
Northwest of Stirling are the Trossachs, a mountain range distinct from the Highlands - appealing for its wooded forests. Two villages that provide gateways to the more mountainous regions north are Callander and Aberfoyle. They can be over-run by bus tours in the high season but offer places to rest, eat, and shop during the day.
First ScotRail trains run frequently to Stirling from Glasgow's Queen Street Station. The same-day standard round-trip fare is about £10 and takes 30 to 45 minutes depending on the train and the number of stops it has to make in between.