Scotland conjures up a wealth of powerful images - shimmering lochs and mountains shrouded in mist, vast purple swathes of heather, weather-beaten cliffs and broad, sandy coves. The landscape is dotted with dramatic fairy-tale castles, ruined abbeys, fascinating historic cities and picturesque villages.

Or maybe you think of colourful Scottish customs and traditions: swirling kilts and noisy, whining bagpipes; orderly Highland reels and chaotic ceilidhs; steaming haggis and bottles of fine malt whisky lined up behind the bar of a busy Scottish pub.

No larger than the US state of Maine, and with a population only one tenth that of neighbouring England, Scotland manages to cram into its tiny frame some of the most spectacular scenery and most engrossing historical sites on earth - an irresistible combination. Add to that mixture a culture that has spawned some of the world's greatest writers, architects, artists and inventors (Scots were responsible for such innovations as TV and the telephone) and you can see why Scotland makes such a fascinating travel destination.

The capital city of Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most charming cities on Earth, rated along with Venice and Rome on the European tour. Every August it comes to life with the world's most fascinatingly eclectic festival of the arts, comprising the Fringe - the world's premier comedy and alternative theatre event. To the west, resurgent Glasgow has grown into one of Europe's most exciting cities for culture and recreation.

And few natural experiences can compare with a trek across the heathered hills of the lowlands or scaling the rocky peaks of the Highlands and islands. Inverness and Aberdeen are ideal gateway cities to access these areas. Britain's highest point, Ben Nevis towers above the town of Fort William at the head of the Great Glen and climbing this monster of a mountain via some of the more arduous routes is one of the best high level walks in Europe.

But whether on the low or the high road, there's plenty to see and do in one of the world's most accessible and civilised wilderness.

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