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Taking the High Road to Scotland

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(NewsUSA) - "Braveheart" or "Brigadoon"?

Depending on your age, either the Mel Gibson drama or the Gene Kelly movie musical, respectively, probably piqued your interest in Scotland. And why not? A country that battled England for its independence long before we did (it may finally get it this year through the ballot box), and one so gorgeous it makes grown men sing of "the heather on the hill" (at least on screen) will have that effect.

Today's Scotland, though, is what one writer calls "an eclectic blend of old world charm and new world glitz." And with the latest, all-inclusive Scottish Isles and Glens package from CIE Tours, which just received the prestigious Scotland's Heritage "International Tour Operator of the Year" award, your stay isn't limited to just the two major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Not when there are all those grand castles, picturesque lochs, and friendly villages waiting to be explored.

Among the tour's highlights:

* The Isle of Iona. One word: otherworldly. That's the sensation you're left with from this holy place famous for its Celtic crosses and fully restored cathedral where 50 Scottish kings were buried during the Middle Ages.

* The 5,000-Year-Old Village of Skara Brae. The BBC calls it "one of the most remarkable discoveries in modern archaeology." What no one seems to have the answer to is this: What were the farmers who once lived in the intricate maze of dwellings hiding in the secret spaces found under stone dressers?

* The Scottish Highlands. Here's where Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Highlanders were defeated by King George II's forces at the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. It's also where dogs still herd sheep. You'll see that and more after driving along the stunningly scenic shores of Loch Ness. (Monster alert!)

* The Ghost Tour. Tax collectors and bootleggers once clashed beneath the now-famed Royal Mile thoroughfare in the capital city of Edinburgh, which might explain why so many spots are said to be haunted. Your tour guide provides what we'll call "energetic accounts" of the alternately horrific and hilarious details.

* The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Don't let the title throw you. With the world-famous Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop, this is really a huge international festival featuring bagpipes, highland dancing and military bands.

IF YOU GO: The respected CIE Tours has escorted millions of Americans on motorcoach tours of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales for more than 83 years. For more info on this and other packages, contact your travel agent, or call CIE at 1-800-243-8687 or visit www.cietours.com.

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