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5 Things You Didn't Know: Scotland & the Inner Hebrides

If you hear “Scotland” and think whiskey, castles, and golf, you wouldn’t be wrong, but you’d also only be getting the opening pages of a much more complex story of this incredibly diverse nation. Scotland comprises nearly 800 small islands, and around every bend are magnificent ruins, serene lochs, medieval monuments, and enchanting wildlife. Here are a few facts about this bonnie land that just might surprise you.

 

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You Can Visit the Real Inspiration for Outlander

No time travel is required to visit a star of the popular Outlander’s series: Craigh na Dun, the fictitious stone circle, was inspired by Clava Cairns in Inverness. On the show, the ancient rock circle acts as a portal to the past. Although you won’t be physically transported the same way, Clava Cairns does offer a window into prehistoric times with its well-preserved 4,000-year-old Bronze Era circular burial mounds and standing slab stones. Extra insider bonus: The Culloden Battlefield, an integral part of the first few seasons of Outlander, is just one and half miles from the cairns.

There's Much More to Loch Ness Than Monster Myths

Loch Ness may be known the world over for its fantastic sea monster. But have you ever wondered why Nessie could evade capture for centuries if she was simply living in the loch (or lake)? In many ways, the answer is more fascinating than the myth. The narrow 23-mile-long loch holds 2 trillion gallons of water—that’s more than every other water source in the entire U.K. put together. It even plunges 800 feet in spots, twice as deep as the North Sea. Altogether, it would be enough space for every single human on Earth to fit inside … times 10! The water is so deep, in fact, that Loch Ness never freezes over. Even during the coldest winters, as the chilled waters descend, warmer water rises up from the depths, keeping the ice at bay (a process known as the thermocline effect).

It's Home to a Very Special Pod of Orcas

As you sail through the Hebrides, there’s a chance you’ll spot a school of orcas. These massive creatures, technically known as Atlantic type 2 killer whales, can grow to 32 feet in their 90-year life span. Although you’ll be firmly in the northern reaches of Europe, Scotland’s killer whales—who are native to the U.K. coast—more closely resemble Antarctic type A killer whales in thteir behavior and feeding habits than whales who are closer geographically. As opposed to herring and smaller fish that other Atlantic killer whales feed on, both Hebrides and Antarctic orcas hunt mammal prey—preferably baleen whales—and are part of one of the rarest ecotypes on the planet, meaning they’re genotypically adapted to specific environmental conditions. There are only two orcas that fit the profile currently in the Hebrides, named John Coe and Aquarius. If you're one of the lucky ones to spot these individuals, you'll be witness to something pretty special.

You Can Raise a Pint at the British Isles' Most Remote Pub

Traditional hand-pulled pints of ale, fresh caught seafood, lively music, and great company—it all adds up to a quintessential British pub experience at The Old Forge. But this is not the kind of pub you can just “pop into.” Located in Scotland's tiny village of Inverie, The Old Forge is the most remote pub in all the British Isles, a distinction backed up by the Guinness Book of World Records. There are no roads in or out, and to reach its door you must either hike 18 miles or undertake a seven-mile sea crossing (happily Lindblad Expeditions does the latter). Despite its far-flung locale, the pub attracts visitors from as far away as Australia, many of whom pick up the instruments hung on the walls and jam along with the music.

You Can Trace Your Lineage on the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye will pull you in with its stunning natural beauty and Armadale Castle's 20,000 acres of romantic gardens and fascinating medieval ruins. But it’s not just the scenery that’s of interest here. For those in the know, the castle’s Isles Museum and its research library offers a treasure trove of materials for amateur genealogists. If you’re looking for help researching ancestors from Isle of Skye or Clan Donald/Macdonalds, the library team can help with tracking down info. Note, however, that the extensive archive will yield better results the more details you have to start, so come well-prepared with background information (i.e., just having a family name, especially “Donald,” won’t be enough for a deep dive into the files).

See, do, and learn more on an expedition to Scotland's Highlands & Islands. Explore the itinerary aboard Lord of the Glens.