Distilleries, golden eagles … and Macbeth: seven slow adventures in the Scottish Highlands and islands | Spirit of the Highlands and Islands

Push those pedals on the Isles of Arran and Cumbrae
Get on your bike. Seriously, that’s the best way to see the small – yet accessible – island of Cumbrae, just off the Ayrshire coast near Largs. At only four miles long and two miles wide, anyone can enjoy a gentle cycle around this island. We say “anyone” because it’s completely flat, so there are no excuses, really. Sleep it off in one of Jack’s Alt-Stays’ eco-cabins, opening this autumn and, in return for your booking, the business will plant five trees to offset its carbon footprint.

Across the water on Arran, you can tour the island without pushing any pedals. Jump in one of Mogabout’s 4×4 trucks and be driven through forests and on to deserted beaches before pulling up at the Lagg Distillery for a well-earned dram.

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Get camera ready in Argyll & The Isles
Amateur photographers are spoilt for choice in this beautiful region that has no fewer than 23 inhabited islands. But if you want to take pictures in peace – and for a chance to capture the northern lights – spend a night or two at Eco Nature Holidays in Clachan of Glendaruel, just north of Loch Ruel. Guests at the self-catering accommodation are free to use the wildlife photography hides, set up so you can take shots of elusive creatures such as red squirrels without disturbing them. Just remember to wrap up.

If you can pull yourself away from squirrel-snapping for one moment, take a trip to the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, near Cairndow, to sample the local seafood, including langoustines and hand-dived scallops. Just a mile down the road, you’ll find Fyne Ales, a brewery on a 1,820-hectare (4,500-acre) estate in a corner of rural Argyll, which is open seven days a week.

Find out more about visiting Argyll & The Isles

Foraging with Wildwood Bushcraft on the shores of Loch Moidart, in the West Highlands.
Foraging with Wildwood Bushcraft on the shores of Loch Moidart, in the West Highlands. Photograph: Wildwood Bushcraft

Go foraging in the Highlands
You don’t have to be Bear Grylls to find your own food in the wild. Head west to Moidart in Lochaber for a Highland foraging experience and lunch on the beach. Mussels, wild garlic and seaweed are on the menu as part of Wildwood Bushcraft’s Coastal Foraging Day, where experts will teach you how to source and prepare wild food responsibly.

Slow down even more when you reach Skye and let local tour guide Bill Webster do the work for you. His Real Scottish Journeys offer full-day tours of the island, so there’s no need to rush as you take in the sea cliffs and misty mountains of this wild and beautiful island. If you want to do your bit for the future, you might even opt to take part in one of Skye’s many conservation projects.

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Moray Speyside is for history and whisky lovers
Welcome to the home of the two legendary Ms: Macbeth and malt whisky.

Shakespeare fans should start in Forres, a town once ruled by the actual King Macbeth nearly a thousand years ago. Local guides Airts & Pairts will take you on a walking tour leading to Macbeth’s hillock, said to be the “blasted heath” where Macbeth – in the Shakespeare version, anyway – encountered the three witches. Macbeth runs so deep through Forres that there’s even a family-run butchers named after him, where you can pick up some award-winning black pudding.

Over a third of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries are based in the Moray area. One of the best ways to appreciate some of the whiskies in this region is by following the Malt Whisky Trail at your own pace. The two-day coastal route – covering part of the trail – starts at Benromach and ends at the Copper Dog Pub, in what is said to be Scotland’s oldest whisky hotel, the Craigellachie, in Aberlour.

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Stars and sustainability in Orkney
Orkney has Leonardo DiCaprio’s seal of approval – and it’ll soon have yours. The Hollywood star singled out the islands’ renewable energy revolution in his documentary Ice on Fire. Now, we can’t promise you’ll meet Leo, but you can meet two of Orkney’s green pioneers for a delicious adventure. Local couple Jane Ellison and Paul Hudd’s Spirit of Orkney tour will show you around in an electric van, while feeding you local produce along the way.

A celestial outdoors adventure for the autumn and winter is aurora borealis hunting in Orkney, where the lack of light pollution makes it the perfect location for watching breathtaking displays of the northern lights. Don’t miss the Isle of North Ronaldsay, which has recently been recognised as a Dark Sky Island and an International Dark Sky Community.

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Outer Hebrides for secluded winter walks
You’ll find some of the world’s most stunning beaches on these remote and wild western islands. If it’s not too windy, then there’s no more beautiful way to enjoy them than on a spray-splashed, brisk winter walk, where you’re more likely to spot a seal than a person.

The Outer Hebrides is a paradise for wildlife lovers. The islands are home to the highest densities of golden eagles in Europe. Take a walk on the Isle of Uist along the different sections of the Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail, a self-guided journey with handy signposts along the way, and you’re more than likely to catch sight of one. Look out for snow buntings and wading birds too.

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A couple sit on a top of cliff and admire the landscape w Hermaness National Nature Reserve, Unst Island, Shetlands.
Dramatic scenery at the Hermaness National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Unst. Photograph: Nirian/Getty Images

Shetland: so much more than ponies!
With 1,700 miles of coastline combining dramatic coastal scenery with quiet inland lochs, Shetland’s winter walks are unsurpassed. Visit Shetland.org to tailor your walk – but remember a Shetland walk is always invigorating, so appropriate clothing and a sturdy pair of boots are a must.

Shetland is also a knitter’s dream. These islands have an incredible history of wool, with Fair Isle knitwear – named after the small Shetland island where it originated – known around the world. If you fancy having a go, get in touch with local tutor Janette Budge who offers knitting classes for small groups. She’ll have you in stitches.

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Where will your next slow adventure take you? Discover the Highlands and islands this winter

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