Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The country has a lot of hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. From Scottish Borders rich history to remote Handa Island. From amazing geological scenery in Knapdale to secluded Plockton Coral beach, 7 guides compiled a list of favourite hidden gems in Scotland that they think are worth visiting. These places show Scotland at its best and they will not disappoint you if they are on your bucket list.
The Most Impressive Hidden Gems in Scotland as Revealed by 7 Tourist Guides
Borders Journeys and Scottish Borders
One of Scotland’s best-kept secrets is the Scottish Borders in the south east of Scotland. Three of my favourite gems to visit in the region are:
Traquair House – The house dates from 1107 and is Scotland’s oldest continually inhabited house. Originally a hunting lodge for Scotland’s kings, it has hosted 27 Kings and Queens including Mary, Queen of Scots and her infant son, the future King James VI of Scotland (King James I of England).
The cradle used by Mary for James is on display in the house along with a fabulous collection of Stuart and Jacobite artefacts.
It was at Traquair that Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) visited his distant kinsman, the Earl of Traquair, in October 1745 to recruit support for the Jacobite cause. As he left the house, the Earl promised the gates would not be reopened until a Stuart king was returned to the throne, the famous Bear Gates have been closed ever since.
Stobo Kirk – The kirk dates from the late 500s when it is said to have been founded by St. Kentigern (also known as St. Mungo) when he was Archbishop of Strathclyde. It is also said that St. Kentigern converted Merlin to Christianity and baptised him at nearby Alterstone. The kirk dates from around 1120, however there have been many additions and reconstructions over the centuries – most notably in 1863 and 1929. The stained glass in the kirk is stunningly beautiful.
The kirkyard has many interesting headstones, the most notable is the stone of John Noble who died in 1723 – he is carved full length as a soldier complete with his musket.
Attached to the porch is a set of jougs which were used as a punishment for ecclesiastical or criminal offenders. The collar was put around the offender’s neck, fastened with a padlock then fixed to the church door or a tree. It’s not recorded when these jougs were last used.
Yarrow Valley – The beautiful Yarrow Valley with its rolling hills along with St. Mary’s Loch and Loch of the Lowes is Scotland’s best-kept secret. Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’ and William Wordworth all have literary connections to the valley. A statue of James Hogg overlooks both lochs near the former Tibbie Shiels Inn
Marion Rodger and Plockton
Take the train westwards from Inverness on the Kyle line and enjoy one of Britain’s most scenic railway lines.
Rattling across the bridge over the Caledonian Canal you rapidly leave the city behind & after Dingwall the mobile phone signal disappears leaving travellers free to admire the stunning scenery.
The landscape becomes increasingly wild with shimmering lochs, craggy hills and remote moorland. At certain times of the year red deer can be seen grazing on the summits, their antlers silhouetted against the wide expanse of sky.
Disembark a couple of stops before the Kyle of Lochalsh terminus and discover Plockton, one of the prettiest villages in Scotland.
Along the shore whitewashed houses face onto Loch Carron, a sea loch where a short boat trip virtually guarantees a view of seals lazily basking on the rocks, one summer a pod of dolphins followed our boat treating us to a fabulous aquatic display.
Skye, “The Misty Isle” doesn’t always live up to its name, & the jagged Cuillin Mountains on the island are often visible from the water, as is the Applecross Peninsula.
From the boat tiny cars, motorbikes or even cyclists en route for Applecross can be seen labouring up Bealach na Ba, (Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle), the steepest road in the UK.
Back on land stroll around the village where palms and other exotic species thrive in well-tended gardens thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. Walk past the village hall and through a set of white gateposts at the end of the village to access a lovely woodland walk leading to a dramatic viewpoint at Rubha Mor or follow a track to the peaceful & secluded Plockton Coral beach for a swim in the sea.
Feast on freshly caught seafood and watch the stunning sunset over the harbour then stay a few days in one of the local B & Bs, to explore the wider area or simply relax in this beautiful Highland village.
Grampian Escapes and Tolquhon Castle
We are very lucky to be based in Aberdeenshire as there is so much to see and do in this region. It is very diverse with easy access to the coast, mountains and forests.
I sometimes try and describe it as taking parts of the central belt landscape, mixing in a touch of the Highland mountains with a pinch of the far north and what you get is the east coast. We have elements of all areas mixed into our own unique landscape.
One of my favourite places is a castle managed by Historic Environment Scotland, Tolquhon Castle. The structure was commissioned by Sir William Forbes, 7th Laird of Tolquhon who began a large building program in 1584 to extend the castle into a magnificent building.
It took a mere 5 years to create the quad and buildings stretching from the original tower house, Preston Tower which dates from the early 1400’s.
The architect Thomas Leiper created the castle with many “modern” conveniences of the day and some architectural firsts for Aberdeenshire, many of which you can see today. Although the family fell on hard times and ultimately lost the castle, when the family was embroiled in the 1715 Jacobite uprising.
The 11th Lord Forbes was forced to forfeit his estate and the family was evicted in September 1718. The castle was taken over by the Earl of Aberdeen and used as farmhouse until the mid-1800’s after which it fell into disrepair until it was purchased by the Earl of Haddo in 1929 and given to Historic Environment.
With lots of nooks and crannies to explore this is certainly worth getting off the beaten track to find. You’ll fall in love this Tolquhon as much as I have
Heathery Heights and remote Argyll
From sea to summit Argyll is steeped in history, ancient culture, fascinating geology and a wealth of landscapes and wildlife.
Its richness is accentuated by the lack of light and air pollution, allowing for amazing night skies and a rich tapestry of lichens, mosses, flora and fauna.
There are so many special places that to point a finger at any particular favourite would be impossible. There are incredible beaches down the west coast of Kintyre and hiding in Cowal’s southern reaches.
And anyone visiting the community led Island of Gigha and the beautiful Achamore Gardens is in for a treat. Head up the east coast of Kintyre and its multi-folded rocks make one pause for thought at the tremendous forces that created them.
To the north, within the heart of Argyll, lies the wonderful Kilmartin Glen. A mesmerising array of ancient monuments hark back to a different era and the old Kingdom of Dalriada; here you can stand in the footsteps of Kings.
And to the southwest the fjord like geography of Knapdale, with its ‘knaps’, lochs and lochans, are home to beaver, otter, deer and red squirrel alongside a diverse range of birds and other wildlife.
Visiting the ancient Atlantic oak woods and the National Nature Reserves of Taynish and Moine Mhor gives pause for thought at the importance of nature’s place and fragile ecology.
Stride northwards and the higher hills beckon from the dramatic slopes and ridges of the Ben Cruachan massif and the Etive Hills to the iconic outlines of ‘The Cobbler’ and Arrochar Alps. Their reaches dip quickly to the sea and the long lochs, small islands and castles that adorn this area. Exploring these hills requires hill skills and determination but the views gained are superb. In Winter their mantle of white make them a serious but worthy undertaking.
Slipping seawards finds the wonders of Argyll’s islands of slate, history and rugged hills and coasts. The wild west coast of Jura with its raised beaches, pink granite of Erraid off Mull and The Slate Islands are further reminders of the huge changes that volcanic intrusions and changing sea levels have made on the landscape.
And Jura’s Paps and Mull’s only Munro, Ben More, can be seen from many a viewpoint on mainland Argyll. Taking to the water there are some wonderful paces to kayak or explore by boat too.
The islets of Islay’s southeast coast are fascinating and the Gulf of Corryvreckan, site of the world’s third largest whirlpool, makes for an exciting visit.
Argyll has a rich past and its geology and wildlife are, really, something quite special.
Highland Perceptions and Handa Island
Going off the beaten track in Scotland opens up a whole new world to those who might otherwise choose to sit in a bus following the same standard routes around the Highlands, and part of a massive convoy of vehicles which transports tourists from one iconic site to the next…
Some of the places which tour buses visit are justifiably famous, and are definitely worth a stop, but there are dozens more which make it on to thousands of people’s bucket lists, courtesy of the fact that they are located on main roads, are easy to access with a big vehicle…and which usually have huge car parks and large entrance fees.
I’m not going to name any specifically, but social media is awash with cliched views of these “honeypot” sites, snapped from popular roadside viewpoints, and confirming their status as iconic, must-see destinations…
The difficulty facing many would-be travellers to the Highlands is how to sift through the myriad of recommendations, tours, and opinions available to find the perfect itinerary…. Without showing all my cards, I’m going to use Handa Island as just one example of a magical and remote place which is both stunningly beautiful and easy to access.
Situated in the spectacular NW Highlands, amidst some of the oldest rocks on earth, Handa has enormous appeal to anyone interested in wildlife, seabirds, cliff scenery, or wonderful white sandy beaches…
A ten minute ferry ride will land you on a perfect white sandy beach, and a short stroll over the machair will take you to the office of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, who manage the island. A short introductory talk, and you’re free to explore…only a couple of miles across, it’s home to over 100,000 birds, ranging from puffins to guillemots, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes…and arctic terns who WILL divebomb you in breeding season!
Handa is a fantastic place to spend a day…and if you don’t want to join the Birders on their single minded mission to get that perfect Puffin shot, then spending your time on the beach in perfect solitude is an inviting alternative!
The beautiful Isle of Arran is less than an hour from Scotland’s West Coast. Often called Scotland in Miniature, this grand moniker is because the Highland Fault line neatly divides the island in two, creating stunning granite peaks in the north and lush undulating pastures in the south – reflecting the topography of mainland Scotland.
This landscape offers a rich archaeological and geological heritage and Arran is recognised as one of the best locations for geological fieldwork in Europe.
Arran is an island fit for adventure. Whether you enjoy the adrenaline of galloping a horse along a beach or off-road mountain biking, or the more relaxing experience of kayaking or segways, Arran can find something to suit your tastes. Adventure providers offer everything from guided walks to gorge walking to archery.
Golf is also popular, with seven (yes, 7!) courses to choose from. The first Scottish all-island snorkel trail was launched last summer on Arran and snorkelling equipment can be hired through COAST if required, from their base in Lamlash. Also on the water, SUPs will be available for hire from summer 22 in Brodick!
Arran’s wonderful and varied landscape makes the island a haven for wildlife. All of Scotland’s Big Five can be found on this amazing island.
Cheeky red squirrels (there are no greys on Arran) frequent the woodlands and trip across roads; golden eagles soar high above the peaks; red deer roam the beinns and glens; otters play along shorelines, and seals bask on rocks.
There’s an abundance of birdlife on Arran with hen harriers, sparrow hawks and other raptors, sharing the skies with seabirds such as plummeting gannets, and even the occasional white-tailed eagle.
The Gulf Stream warms the waters around the island which are popular for dolphins, porpoise, and even minke whale and basking sharks.
Skye Jeep Tours and Isle of Skye
Here’s our list of some of Skye’s top hits. We really enjoy taking our Skye Jeep Tours to these locations but we also know plenty of the quieter ‘hidden gems’ which really capture the atmosphere of this magical isle. We don’t want to broadcast them here – you’ll have to let us take you on a tour.
1) The Cuillin mountains. The best way to get up close is to take our South Skye tour. We can drop you at Elgol where you take The Misty Isle Boat Trip to Loch Coruisk, right in the heart of the mountains. The views are simply stunning. Check their website www.
2) The Old Man Of Storr. Quite a steep hike, but well worth it.
3) The Quiraing. Amazing landslip topography which inspired Tolkein. Easier walk than the Old Man Of Storr as you hug the contour
4) Dunvegan Castle and grounds. Amazing seal-watching trips where you get reallllly close!.
5) Talisker Distillery (you’ll have to book the tour). This is the most famous distillery, but the new Torabhaig distillery in South Skye is more personal and has a great tea shop
6) The Fairy Pools. The hottest ticket in town! It’s a walk alongside some waterfalls and cascades that run down the slopes of the Cuillin Mountains.
7) The Fairy Glen. Weird lumpy-bumpy landscape inhabited by fairies. Great for family hide and seek. Parking has been much improved.
8) The Coral Beaches. A 20 min walk to get there. Lovely spot. However, the parking can be an utter nightmare at busy times.
9) Portree. The capital of Skye. Best pizza on planet earth from the back of a trailer on the outskirts: Lunchtime best. Gets busy in the afternoons and is only cooking pre-orders at that time.
10) Torin Pools. A small, charming place similar to the Fairy Pools.
11) Fantastic curry at The Taste of India right near The Skye Bridge and fish and chip at Arnie’s too.
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