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The Inner Hebrides, off the western coast of Scotland, are the country's most accessible and bewitching islands.
Jura lies near the coast of Strathclyde, yet it is magnificently wild and lonely, with desolate walks, breast-shaped mountains (the Paps of Jura), a whisky distillery and a lethal offshore whirlpool its prime attractions. Islay is the most southerly of the Inner Hebridean islands, and is best known for its smoky, single-malt whisky. The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte relates the island's long history, while the 8th-century Kildaton Cross is one of the finest surviving Celtic crosses. Castle ruins and over 250 species of birds add to its attractions. The Isle of Jura is roughly the same size as Islay and its name is believed to originate from the Norse “Island of the Deer”. Despite its size Jura is only inhabited by approx. 200 people, who are outnumbered by the huge population of deer. Latest counts by gamekeepers show that Jura has almost 5,500 deer, making an encounter with one of these majestic animals inevitable when visiting Jura. The Isle of Jura can be reached by car from Port Askaig. A small ferry runs at approx 30min intervals daily from 7.30am till 6.30pm. Other means of transportation are a small boat from Colonsay to Loch Tarbert and there is a water taxi from Crinan to Ardlussa, but this mainly for visits to the Corryvreckan Whirlpool.
Further north, Taransay, where BBC TV marooned a community of volunteers for all of 2000, is one of the Inner Hebrides' most remote islands, an unspoilt place of cliffs, rocky coastlines and sandy bays. Grey seals and wild goats are the most commonly glimpsed inhabitants. Mull is one of the most popular islands, with superb mountain scenery, castles, a railway and small-town charm. The island's capital, Tobermory, is a particularly picturesque fishing port. The spiritual retreat of Iona, an early Christian centre founded by St Columba, lies off the southwestern tip of Mull. Further north, Coll has a popular walking trail, good sunshine, lots of wind, few people, two castles and a bird sanctuary. Tiree, just southwest, is a low-lying island with beautiful, sandy beaches and one of the best sunshine records in Britain.
Skye attracts lots of visitors and has very changeable weather. However, the large, rugged and convoluted island is ringed by spectacularly scenic coastal walks, and inland the rocky Cuillins attract serious climbers.
An extraordinary symphony in grey, almost everything in Aberdeen is built of granite - even the roads. When drenched with sun and rain, the silvery stone has a fairy-tale shine; when suffocated by cloud it can be a wee bit depressing. A spotless place, brimming with civic pride, Aberdeen is the service port for one of the world's largest offshore oilfields. Its already large population is mixed with multinational oil workers and a vital student population - a heady mix! An evocative fish market and important maritime museum cluster around the busy harbour. In the vicinity of the city's main thoroughfare, Union St, there's historic Castlegate, late-medieval Provost Skene's House and the Aberdeen Art Gallery, which houses an important Pre-Raphaelite and modern art collection.
The Highland resort town of Aviemore is the stepping-off point for the hiking and skiing paradise of the Cairngorm Mountains. Lying on the only arctic plateau in Britain, the area attracts rare animals such as pine marten, wildcat, red squirrel, osprey (particularly around the Boat of Garten) and deer. Fishing for salmon is popular in the pure mountain water of the River Spey and surrounding lochs, while the Rothiemurchus Estate and Glenmore Forest Park preserve acres of pine and spruce, with guided walks and trails and a range of water sports.
This beautiful and unusual town melds the heady concoction of medieval ruins, a golfing mecca, windy coastal scenery and a schizophrenic university. Once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, today golfing is the town's religion.