The Road to the Isles begins just outside Fort William, opposite the Ben Nevis Distillery and visitor centre at the foot of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, where the A830 heads west for Mallaig.
Your next stop must be at Banavie, a small village which lies alongside the Caledonian Canal. Here, in a major feat of engineering, you will see Thomas Telford's Neptune's Staircase, a series of 8 lock gates which span the 64-feet height difference between sea-level and the canal. The canal, which took 20 years to build, was completed in 1822 and was the first to carry ships from one coast of Britain to the other.
The next village you will come to is Corpach. Corpach marks the spot where Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil meet, and as you travel along the shores of Loch Eil, you should look back to enjoy some of the finest views of Ben Nevis and her sister peaks.
At Glenfinnan the long reaches of Loch Shiel are veiled by steep mountains, and the rallying there of some 1,200 Highlanders must have been an awe-inspiring sight when the Prince arrived from Loch Nan Uamh on 19 August 1745. The imposing arches of the famous viaduct carry the railway across the glen to Glenfinnan Station. The line is all the more remarkable for its world famous concrete viaducts at Glenfinnan and Loch Nan Uamh, designed by the famous rail and road engineer, Robert McAlpine, who became known as Concrete Bob. The viaduct at Glenfinnan carries the train across a 1,000-feet span, 100 feet above the ground. The Loch Nan Uamh viaduct holds the remains of a horse and cart which fell into the concrete structure before it set.
After passing through Lochailort you will see Loch Ailort which cuts its way in from the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The loch is one of the many sea-lochs that stretch in from the Hebrides - clean and sheltered waters where Scottish fish farming was pioneered. As you approach the viaduct at Loch nan Uamh, you will be rewarded with your first exciting views of the Hebrides. From here the scenery changes dramatically. The western coast of Scotland is touched by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and in the sheltered gardens of Beasdale and Arisaig House exotic plants grow. There are some lovely local walks you can take in this area.
Arisaig is the area where the renowned west coast sunset can be enjoyed at its best. There can be no more magical sight than the sun as it disappears behind the islands in a riot of pink, red and purple, setting the mountains of Rum and Skye ablaze with colour. Until the early part of the 19th century, the shores around Arisaig bay to Rhu were home to a thriving community. Then in 1801, over 1000 crofters were cleared off the land and shipped to Nova Scotia to make way for sheep as part of the dreadful Highland Clearances. Take a walk around here and amongst the bracken, you will see the stones and turf walls which are all that remain of their homes.
Guided walks are available with a local Ranger during the summer. Contact Angus MacIntyre (Arisaig Ranger) on 01687 462983. Also don’t miss another exotic garden at Larachmhor on the outskirts of the village on the Fort William road.
At Morar, the Atlantic Ocean rolls in past the Small Isles, its azure shallows tumble onto sparkling white beaches which have long lured photographers and film-makers.
The new road sweeps past Morar, but the wise traveller will take the old road as it passes the rapids of River Morar, Britain's shortest river and following it further take time to explore the village and Loch Morar which is the deepest fresh water loch in Europe. It is said that in its dark depths 'Morag' the monster patrols her domain.
The Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna all have pristine natural environments.
On Eigg, the dramatic Sgurr in the south of the island can be reached by a variety of routes and gives superb views. Near its base is the Massacre Cave - scene of an infamous slaughter by clansmen from neighbouring islands during the Clan Wars. In the North is Largs Bay with its famous singing sands. Golden Eagles live on the high basalt cliffs to the North-East and the waters round the island are home to seals, whales, dolphins and otters. The Italianate Lodge built and rebuilt by a previous owner - rather like an adult Wendy House - is surrounded by magnificent gardens.
Rum is one of Scotland's finest National Nature Reserves. The island is a haven for a variety of birds and animals including sea eagles, deer, goats, otters, seals and many others, and provides a superb opportunity for detailed research. SNH offer guided day walks in the summer, looking at the nature and wildlife of the island. Visitors are also welcome to follow the 2 simple nature trails laid out around the village of Kinloch. The Cuillins of Rum, with their Norse names - Askival, Hallival, Trollaval, Orval - lend an air of mystery to an island that was known as the Forbidden Island. These mountains are the remains of a huge, ancient volcano and attract geologists from all over the world. Rum was the site for the reintroduction of sea eagles in Scotland. The red deer research by Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities is one of the longest running studies of a population of large mammals anywhere in the world.
Canna has been a bird sanctuary since 1938 and the 157 different species of birds have been monitored annually since 1969. Canna has many sites of archaeological interest, including nine scheduled monuments, and has links to the Neolithic, columban and Viking eras.
For stunning photographs have a look at our gallery.