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Top 5 natural wonders of Scotland

Mist-covered Munros. Legendary lochs. Ancient pine-wood forests in every shade of green, gold and purple. It’s hard to put the sheer splendour and variety of Scotland’s natural wonders into words. You just have to be there. So, pack your hiking boots and pick up some inspiration on where to go – starting with these five must-sees, created by nature and steeped in Scottish history.

1. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

While the legendary Loch Ness grabs the ‘Nessie monster’ spotting headlines, the beautiful Loch Lomond takes the crown as the largest expense of water in the UK. With 153km of shoreline, it straddles the Highlands and Lowlands border.

Begin your day with a cruise to one of the many picturesque, wooded islands on the loch. Or hire a sailing boat or kayak and join the hundreds of ducks, swans and waders. As the breeze whips up the waves and tree-lined beaches fade into the distance, it’s hard to believe you’re actually on a fresh-water lake, not out at sea.

For a dramatic birds-eye view of the whole loch, head for the rolling moorland and pine forests of the Trossachs. From here, you can walk to the top of Conic Hill, or follow the rocky paths up Ben Lomond. You could also take to the sky, flying over the trees, valleys and waterfalls of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park strapped into the UK’s longest zipline.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs are only a 40 minutes’ drive from Glasgow and the boutique luxury of the historic Crossbasket Castle hotel.

2. The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

The Fairy Pools near Glenbrittle on the Isle of Skye are one of the most mysterious places to visit. Sitting at the foot of the Black Cuillins and fed by a cascading series of waterfalls, the crystal-clear pools are filled with eerily vivid hues of blue and green.

Folklore is awash with tales of resident fairies and visiting seals that turn into humans. Today, wild swimmers from across the world are spotted braving the waters that look invitingly Caribbean-like – but rarely get above seven degrees centigrade. A 40 minutes-walk will take you comfortably there and back with plenty of time to capture some mesmerising photos of this magical spot.

3. Fingal’s Cave – Isle of Staffa

 “…as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, baffles all description.”

Formed around 66 million years ago by lava flows and violent storms, Sir Walter Scott’s quote on the extraordinary Fingal’s Cave vividly sums up what you’ll witness today. Regular excursions from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull sail far inside the cavern, under a 72-feet-high arch filled with almost manmade-looking, hexagonal basalt columns.

The mythical name ‘Fingal’s Cave’ is believed to be inspired by the awesomely powerful Finn MacCumhaill (or Fingal), the Celtic leader of the Gaels who originally migrated into Scotland from Ireland in 250 AD.

Just a short flight from The Isle of Skye, the baronial 19th-century Inverlochy Castle at Fort William is a suitably majestic retreat.

4. Ben Nevis – north-west Highlands

‘Mountain with its head in the clouds’, or ‘venomous mountain’. Both these Gaelic phrases sum up Ben Nevis – Britain’s highest mountain at 1,345 metres. Its extraordinary landscapes also turn it into a satisfying, if tough, ‘bucket list’ challenge for both enthusiastic beginners and hard-core rock climbers.

For the easiest route, begin at Achintee, near Fort William. After an initial steep ascent, a zig-zag mountain track snakes up to the summit. It usually takes nine hours to get there, depending on the weather. The wraparound panorama of Ben Lomond and Morven at Caithness – and even Northern Ireland – make next-day stiff legs worth the effort.

If climbing’s not for you, take the wheelchair-accessible and dog-friendly Nevis Range mountain gondola ride. Each 15-minutes journey glides past the north face of the Aonach Mor. So, keep your camera ready for the Great Glen and Inner Hebrides.

5. Corryvreckan whirlpool – Argyll and Bute

In a narrow strait off Scotland’s West Coast, an infamous whirlpool in the Gulf of Corryvreckan lies waiting. This bubbling, swirling spectacle is the world’s third largest whirlpool. And the only safe way to get up close to it is by going on a specialised boat tour that departs daily from Crinan, a few miles away.

As huge waves crash all around, it’s easy to imagine how close the author George Orwell came to drowning when his boat got too close to the Corryvreckan whirlpool and capsized. Fortunately, George was rescued on the isolated island of Jura – or his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four may never have happened.