Farther south lies the island of Arran in the Firth of Clyde with its Brodick Castle, ancestral home of the Dukes of Hamilton. As with many castles, this one too is now owned and maintained by the National Trust of Scotland. Arran, also reached by ferry, is alive with summer visitors.
North and west, out in the Atlantic, are the Outer Hebrides. To the northeast are the Shetlands, home of the Shetland pony. It was bred to be no higher than forty-two inches at the shoulder so that it could work in the mines. They are now most popular as pets. Of the more than one hundred Shetland islands only twenty-four are inhabited. It is easy to see why less than twelve thousand people live there. Short summers and constant wind prevent most farming. Sheep, however, thrive and provide the wool for the Shetland woolen goods. Tourists enjoy the Viking celebration of Up-Helly-Aa. A festival with that name has to be good!
Off the northeast coast of Scotland are the Orkney Islands. Of the sixty-seven outcroppings that can be accurately called islands, twenty-six are occupied. The island, Mainland, boasts two towns, Stromness and Kirkwall. Fly from London, Edinburgh or Aberdeen if you like, or take a P & O steamer for six miles from Scrabster, Scotland.
The islands, warmed by the Gulf Stream, seldom see snow, but there are more than enough gale force winds, usually from mid-September until May. Winds and ocean salt spray are blamed for an almost treeless environment similar to that of Iceland. Londoners are more likely to know Miami than their own Orkney Islands. It is cheaper to fly on a package for two to Miami than to travel to the Orkneys. The islands still share traces of Viking invasion and habitation. Even a few Norse words creep into an islander’s conversation.
A favorite auto tour of Scotland heads north from Prestwick Airport, Scotland’s major International Gateway, to Fort William, loops around the Highlands to Inverness and south, ending up at Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital.