Historically, the English will tell you, nobody has successfully invaded their kingdom in almost a thousand years. The last time it happened was in 1066, William the Conqueror landed on the Channel coast with just 7,000 men and secured the crown after he defeated King Harold at Hastings. But in telling this story the English overlook the fact that over 70,000 people invade the UK each day – as tourists!
England remains one of the most popular destinations in the world for international travel. Millions of people each year are drawn to the compact, frenetic charm of London, the capital, the historical attractions of places such as Salisbury, York and Chester, and the rural splendour of the Lake District.
Then there is the traditional England of rolling green fields, quaint villages and tweed-wearing locals. Here the English still spend their days in endless and unfathomable games of cricket or taking tea in the garden. It might not be a true reflection of modern English life but it is the idyllic image that the thousands of visitors who flock to the rural towns and villages of Dorset and Somerset each year are left with.
The country may no longer be the world’s premier imperial power, but England still has a place in the imaginations of millions. The English Royal family are revered world-wide, the top football teams have more fans who live on other continents than they do in their home towns while London remains one of the leading international centres of commerce and culture.
Scotland conjures up a wealth of powerful images – shimmering lochs and mountains shrouded in mist, vast purple swathes of heather, weather-beaten cliffs and broad, sandy coves. The landscape is dotted with dramatic fairy-tale castles, ruined abbeys, fascinating historic cities and picturesque villages.
Or maybe you think of colourful Scottish customs and traditions: swirling kilts and noisy, whining bagpipes; orderly Highland reels and chaotic ceilidhs; steaming haggis and bottles of fine malt whisky lined up behind the bar of a busy Scottish pub.
With a population only one tenth that of neighbouring England, Scotland manages to cram into its tiny frame some of the most spectacular scenery and most engrossing historical sites on earth – an irresistible combination. Add to that mixture a culture that has spawned some of the world’s greatest writers, architects, artists and inventors (Scots were responsible for such innovations as TV and the telephone) and you can see why Scotland makes such a fascinating travel destination.
The capital city of Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most charming cities on earth. Every August it comes to life with the world’s most fascinatingly eclectic festival of the arts, comprising the Fringe – the world’s premier comedy and alternative theatre event. To the west, resurgent Glasgow has grown into one of Europe’s most exciting cities for culture and recreation.
And few natural experiences can compare with a trek across the heathered hills of the lowlands or scaling the rocky peaks of the Highlands and islands. Inverness and Aberdeen are ideal gateway cities to access these areas. But whether on the low or the high road, there’s plenty to see and do in one of the world’s most accessible and civilised wilderness.
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