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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The 10 ultimate trips in Scotland for a 2022 getaway

On the little island of Raasay off the coast of Skye there is a gravel road spiralling between sea and sky that defies imagination.

It was built by Calum MacLeod, a postman and assistant lighthouse keeper, after local councils ignored years of appeals to connect his crofting community with the nearest paved road three kilometres away. So he built it himself with a homemade wheelbarrow, a pick, an axe, and a DIY manual on road building. It took him more than 10 years of backbreaking labour, but at least he enjoyed spectacular views. At every turn there are panoramas of heart-stopping beauty, of the craggy mountains of Skye and the stark, lonely hills of Wester Ross on the mainland.

For me Calum’s Road epitomises what makes Scotland special, an independent spirit fostered by rugged landscapes that cry freedom. In the dramatic chiaroscuro of rain and sunshine the brooding hills seem to come alive.

But if you know where to look, the land of the Celts has more to offer. Scenic railways, cruising sea lochs and hiking wilderness trails with expert guides, vibrant cities reinventing themselves as hubs of culture and cuisine, and festivals celebrating art, literature and tossing cabers.

And there are the people. Years ago I took a French girlfriend on a driving tour of Skye, and after a week of mist and rain brightened by friendly islanders she said: “You know Gavin the sunshine of your people is its people.”

Sums up the place really. Here are 10 ways to sample the best of Scotland.

Islay

For lovers of fine whiskies and tranquil islands of huge skies and sweeping landscapes, Islay is utopia. It has no fewer than seven distilleries producing millions of bottles of spicy, smoky single malts every year with machinery and methods that have hardly changed since the Napoleonic era. All of them offer tours and tasting of what each claims to be the finest drams in the world.

The sparsely populated island is a haven of peace and freedom, with trackless hills rising above peat bogs that give its whiskies their distinctive pungent flavours, and a shell-sand beach six miles long. It serves as a bird sanctuary with over 180 recorded species.

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