The Highlands of Scotland are one of the least populated parts of Europe. Within this small area you will find all manner of wildlife, some terrific scenery and a sometimes unique culture. Travelling by bike is an excellent way of taking this in as you can really feel the atmosphere and stop wherever takes your fancy without worrying about blocking roads or finding somewhere to park.
The wide open landscapes of the Highlands are home to some fantastic animals and birds, many of them rare. It would be impossible to list them all here, but we’ve suggested some highlights.
Red Deer are our largest land mammals and wander all areas of the Highlands. You will quite often seem them in large herds. Roe Deer are also quite common and can be found in many forested and woodland areas. Red Squirrels are making a bit of a comeback and can be spotted scurrying up trees, usually Scots Pine. If you are very lucky you might catch sight of a Pine Marten or even a Scottish Wildcat, but don’t worry, we have no large predators so you are always safe. Eagles and Buzzards are now quite common with Ospreys slowly recolonising the area. There are some great Osprey watching facilities, especially at Loch Garten on Speyside.
On the coasts you will find many seabirds, often in massive colonies and you might catch sight of Sea Eagles with their massive (over 2 metre) wingspan. Various Gulls, Tern, Gannets and other seabirds nest on clifftops all round the coast but especially in the North West. Seals can often be found on beaches or small rocky outcrops, sunning themselves between feeds. Findhorn Bay and Portknockie are two good vantage points on the mainland. Slightly further out to sea you can spot Dolphins and various Whales. Some companies offer sea cruises but one of the best viewing areas is at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle, an easy cycle from Inverness.
No mention of Scottish wildlife is complete without the Midge. These are small biting flies that are common in June - August and, though small, can be very annoying. We recommend a good insect repellant such as Smidge.
The Highlands of Scotland pack a lot of landscape into a quite compact area. That means that as you cycle around you get to see lots of variation.
The mountainous areas range from the Cairngorms in the South East, a vast Arctic plateau often holding snow all year ,to the more jagged and rugged peaks of the North West including Torridon and Assynt and down to Ben Nevis, our highest mountain near Fort William. Assynt is also home to Scotlands only Geopark. Here, the bones of the planet are laid bare with some of the oldest rocks in the world and many features showing how the Earth has been sculpted over the millennia by such as volcanic activity and glaciation.
The mountain areas all collect Scotlands abundant rainfall and channel into a selection of beautiful rivers, often famous for salmon, and into our many Lochs (lakes) including the world famous Loch Ness. There are a number of waterfalls worth visiting including Rogie, Shin and one of Europes highest falls at Eas a Chual Aluinn in the far Northwest. This has a drop of 200 metres, three times as high as Niagara Falls.
There are lovely beaches on all of our coastlines. On the Moray Firth you should visit Culbin and Findhorn. On the West Coast there are lovely silver sands at Arisaig and Morar and further North you will find some of the finest beaches at Gairloch, Achmelvich and remote Sandwood Bay.
Many areas of the Highlands are now forested, mostly with Spruce. However, there are still remnants of the vast Caledonian Pine forest that have survived since the last ice age and these are best found at Rothiemurchus in the Cairngorms and in Glen Affric.
The Highlands were once a very wild and difficult area over which to travel and sometimes developed or retained a culture quite distinct from the rest of Scotland. You will still meet people speaking Gaelic, the native language of the Highlands, especially in the Outer Hebrides. Of course, no visit to Scotland would be complete without sampling the Whisky and those really interested in it’s story should head to Speyside where there are many distilleries to be toured.
After a hard days cycling, you might want to visit one of the Highlands many fantastic pubs where you will often encounter musicians of all styles as well as a selection of local beers and some good food. If you are very lucky there will be a ceilidh on nearby. This is a gathering featuring traditional dancing. Don’t be nervous about joining in, the locals will be only too happy to help you out.