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Considering its breathtaking natural beauty and abundance of destinations for activity-based holidays, it's surprising that Scotland has only just got around to implementing a national parks system - the first, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, only opened in 2002. This delay was due to the tradition of unrestricted access to open country. The 95-mile (153km) West Highland Way takes walkers through spectacular Highland scenery, leading all the way from Glasgow to Fort William - very handy for those aiming to climb Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. The Trossachs, in the heart of Rob Roy country, are also popular with walkers.

Cyclists in search of the wild and remote will enjoy the Highlands and islands of the northwest. The Hebridean Islands in particular provide superb cycling opportunities. Less intrepid cyclists will favour the lochs and glens of the central and southern areas. Britain's biggest skiing centre is in Aviemore, but there are also skiing opportunities in Glencoe, Nevis, Glenshee, The Lecht, and Nevis Range. Golf is a major attraction in Scotland, where there are more courses per capita than in any other country in the world. Britain's best surf can be found in the north, particularly around Thurso.

Fishing is expensive and heavily regulated; the Spey and surrounding lochs in the Cairngorm area present good opportunities to catch a couple of trout or salmon. On the west coast and in the islands, birdwatchers will find the marine-bird-spotting opportunities of their dreams. Finally, many trips to Scotland are complete without a visit to Loch Ness for a bit of Nessie-spotting, but, hey, if you've got the time, why not? It's a lovely, eerie place, and the perfect lair for a monster.


The highlight of Scotland's calendar is the Edinburgh Festival, held every August. This is one of the world's most important arts festivals, and its Fringe claims to be the largest in the world, with over 500 performers pushing the boundaries every year. The city's Military Tattoo is held in the same month, as is the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival and Glasgow's World Pipe Band Championships. September's Braemar Gathering is attended by the queen in Braemar, with other games held all over the country. All Scotland hits the streets for Hogmanay, the Scottish celebration of New Year, and you can expect a better party than you've had for some time. For some truly unruly rugby, try the Ba' in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, which has been held on Christmas Day and New Year's Day for centuries. It consists of two teams and some 400 alcohol-fuelled players, who turn the entire town into a giant rugby pitch for the day. The game starts at the cathedral and the harbour is one of the goals. Puritans should steer well clear.

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