The Highlands may lack great mountains, rivers or lakes; but they are heir to a landscape of great wealth and stunning beauty. It is a landscape that owes much to Scotland's varied geology, its changeable weather and climate, and its remoteness which has helped keep it unspoilt.
Mountains and hills dominate the landscape. Over 70% of the Highlands & Islands are mountainous. Nearly 250 peaks rise to over 1000m, with Ben Nevis, at 1344m the highest in the UK. Sharp and rocky in the west, the mountains are a rock climber's paradise with Glencoe and the Cuillins among the best. Further to the east the hills, while appearing more subdued, still rise to 1000m on the plateau area of the Cairngorms.
Where can be found a coastal landscape to surpass that of the Highlands & Islands? A myriad islands set in an azure sea: deep sea lochs all but enclosed by mountains: golden beaches left to the ebb and flow of the tides: cliffs and stacks rising sheer from the waves, a home to the vast numbers of seabirds that nest on them; broad firths where dolphins play.
Rivers and lochs
The sea itself is fed by rivers that plunge down waterfalls and cut through deep gorges to it. The wetness of the climate ensures abundant water. As much as 10% of the Western Isles are covered by freshwater lochs and rivers. The Highlands can boast the deepest (Loch Morar at 372m), the longest (Loch Ness) and arguably the most beautiful (Loch Maree) inland waters in the UK. Salmon and trout abound and give much sport for anglers.
Peat bogs and moorlands
'Useless bogs'? Far from it! The greatest expanse of peatlands, the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland, is the most extensive area of natural blanket bog in the northern hemisphere. They are now recognised as natural water management systems and havens for wildlife. Elsewhere the bogs have provided fuel for crofters and distilleries.
Scotland's famous 'purple heather' clothes the drier moorland of the eastern Highlands. Grouse shooting thrives here and is responsible for the criss-cross pattern seen on heather clad hillsides.
Woods and forests
Remnants of the Old Caledonian Forest are still to be found with their gnarled pines, oak woods and birch. But most forests are of recent origin. Planted to provide timber, they cover the sides of most glens and give shelter to much wildlife.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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