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Plockton Scotland

The Tropical Highlands

The map says you're in the Highlands, but the picturesque seaside village of Plockton, kissed
by the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, looks like something else entirely.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

There’s one sure way to win a bar room bet; ask "Does Scotland have palm trees?" This question is usually greeted by mirth and flustered exasperation -- palm trees are about as likely as flamingoes in the far north of the Sceptred Isle. Ah, but do I have news for you. There is a Gulf Stream-drenched nook on the northwest coast that could just about work as a stand-in for Palm Beach.

Hamish Macbeth, the BBC’s avuncular arm of the law in the mid-90s drama of the same name, walked his beat in this place, whose landscape included a white beach punctuated by the arching fronds of verdant palm trees. The houses in this exotic outpost sat behind the waterfront like the uniform white keys of a piano.

Idyllic Plockton is nothing less, but also much more, than the picturesque, shortbread-tin town conjured into existence for Hamish Macbeth's patch. Highland cattle graze in the village green and public benches look out to a reverie-inducing bay. In a single flash, those tawny "Hielan' coos" bring the McCowan’s Highland Toffee bar package treasured in my childhood into the here and now. The village has gazed upon Loch Carron in Wester Ross since the 1700s and its beauty owes as much to its beginnings as its mild climate; it was a "planned village," built by the Earl of Seaforth (a title once held by a family of the Clan Mackenzie) as a fishing port.

The drive north from Glasgow was simply glorious. After a summer in which a thick, dirty-white duvet of cloud had settled over the central belt of Scotland like an ominous alien saucer from Independence Day, dictating that July and August were little more than a litany of cold, grey, sunless days, it was a delight to experience an autumn so golden that it could have been pulled from an advertising campaign for VisitScotland. Unseasonably high temperatures in September had given way to a sharp drop in October, but accompanied by clear, cobalt blue skies and bright sunshine. There are few pleasures as rare, and memorable, as reaching into the glove compartment for Ray-Bans as if you are driving up the west coast of California instead of Scotland.

Eating alfresco is uncommon in Scotland, but on our first evening we sat at trestle benches, ordered oysters and ate them while watching the golden light slowly fade from the sky, leaving the clouds a dark purple-black with hints of fading gold.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2016 issue of Scottish Life.

Photo © Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint

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