Scotland - Land of the Brave

If you' re not afraid of the weather, Scotland can be one of the most beautiful and fascinating of travel destinations. The stunning landscape and rich history could keep a holidaymaker happy for months, so long as he or she isn' t the type that likes doing nothing but lying on the beach. Even so, Scotland does have more than its fair share of sea and sand; it' s just a little short on the sun. So if you' re brave enough to weather the land of the brave, read on!

A great way to see the highlands and islands of Scotland is by bike. Scottish roads are reasonably free of traffic, especially if you keep off the main routes, and because it' s not a vast country you can get around quite a lot of it by bike in a couple of weeks. A friend of mine and I did just that at the age of sixteen, and though it rained for ten out of the fourteen days we were there, we had a marvellous time nonetheless. But the weather isn' t always so bad. We made the mistake of going in August - the height of the 'rainy season' - apparently the weather' s generally better in spring and early summer.

The route we cycled along was more or less the same taken by the historic rebel Bonnie Prince Charlie when he escaped after his army was defeated by the English at the battle of Culloden in 1746. But instead of finding refuge in peasants' crofts we stayed in campsites or youth hostels. And instead of deliberately taking a circuitous route across the highlands as Bonnie Prince Charlie had done to avoid capture, we took a pretty straight course along the roads. And finally, instead of dressing ourselves up in women' s clothes so no one would recognise us, like the ingenious prince, we spent most of our time wearing waterproofs to keep out the incessant rain.

We began our journey as Bonnie Prince Charlie had done at Culloden battlefield, now a museum, and we gradually pedalled the length of Loch Ness, to the town of Fort William, passing Britain' s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, on the way. It' s not actually such a high mountain (1,392 m) and we wanted to climb it, but we didn' t because it was raining.

At Fort William we turned west and soon came to the charming village of Glenfinnan on the edge of a loch. There is a famous statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie here because this was the place where he actually arrived in Scotland and started the rebellion against the English that ended at Culloden. The history is rather complicated and dates back to 1688. This was the year when Prince Charlie' s grandfather, the English King James II, was exiled from England because he was a Catholic. James II and his son, also called James, wanted to return to their kingdom and fought long and hard against the new Protestant royal dynasty. Bonnie Prince Charlie was continuing that fight and had come to Scotland because many Scots supported him. Perhaps Prince Charlie got his rebellious spirit from the Polish blood that ran in his veins - his mother was a Polish princess.

At some point Bonnie Prince Charlie went to the Isle of Skye. So, with our bicycles, my friend and I did the same. I don' t know what Charlie thought of Skye, but I remember thinking it was rather like a wet sponge. Whenever I walked off the road my feet sank into the sopping peat. I had wet shoes for the entire four days I was there. But it really is a beautiful island. The Cuillin Mountains are particularly popular with hikers and climbers.

Since this bicycle tour I' ve been back to the highlands of Scotland many times and I look forward to my next visit. The weather may sound threatening, but it' s very suited to the dramatic scenery, and the mist and the mountains together can really set off your imagination. And anyway, the sun does come out sometimes.

Barnaby Harward