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Scotland the Best 100 - It's Only the Best!

17/10/2014 13:01 BST | Updated 15/12/2014 10:59 GMT

NOT easy being a travel writer, for ever stuck with trying to breathe life into these fantastical places, and only words, words, words with which to describe them. To do a decent job, you really need pictures.

With pictures, you have a chance, a slim chance, of conveying some of the wonders of the world.

Which rather brings me to Scotland.

Scotland may be small, but it is very, very difficult for a mere travel guide to do justice to this beautiful country.

The veteran author Pete Irvine has been doing his best over the last two decades with his definitive Scotland The Best guides. These are far and away the best guides to Scotland. (It staggers me that no-one has ripped off this style of travel guide to do the same thing with England, the UK... The World.)

But although Irvine has done a decent job of recommending, say, the best beaches in Scotland, they all tend to sound, well, a bit samey. With words alone, it's difficult to set one beach apart from another. Epic views all sound the same; castles, also, are much of a muchness.

Now he's made amends (and some) with his fantastic new book Scotland The Best, 100 Places. It's Irvine's Top 100 in Scotland, but now with beautiful pictures to conjure up the sheer grandeur of all of these places that he's been for ever banging on about.

For instance...

Stac Polly, a jagged dorsal fin of a mountain in Wester Ross. This great Highland landmark has been described as many things from "preposterous" to "great fun", but none of these descriptions even comes close to matching one single gorgeous picture - and then there it is, over two pages, and in under three seconds you can understand a little of why Stac Polly has come to be labelled one of the world's most magnificent mountains.

The Hill of the Kings, overlooking the prehistoric sites and stones of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll. It's a big old hill, steeped in history, and where for hundreds and hundreds of years the Kings of Dalriada were crowned. That little detail is, I suppose, a bit of a clue why this place is rather special - but when you've seen the picture, with its views out over the sea to Jura, you suddenly realise that this is a place that you would really, really like to visit. In fact it looks so extraordinary that it'd probably be worth making a detour for..

And Kiloran Beach, on Colonsay, where words alone will never capture why this is such a gem of a beach. The whole island of Colonsay was once bought as a picnic spot; Kiloran is probably the reason why. It's a beautiful crescent, backed by dunes. We were there in the summer. A herd of cattle wandered down to the beach in the afternoon to have a paddle.

The Birks O' Aberfeldy may have been immortalized by Robert Burns -

"Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,

And o'er the crystal streamlets plays;

Come let us spend the lightsome days,

In the Birks of Aberfeldy."

But it's the beautiful photograph that is going to make you want to go there. Great place for a picnic - and, if you take Burns' word for it, also a great place to take your lover.

I live in Edinburgh, am cycling around it every day - and yet sometimes even us locals needed to be reminded of this city's beauty. Places like Arthur's Seat and the Botanic Gardens and St Margaret's Loch, which I see on a daily basis but which I all too often fail to appreciate.

At the back of Irvine's book are all the details on where to stay and eat when you visit these wonders - and where to walk when you get there.

It's way more than a mere coffee-table book. It is also a guide for dreamers, an incentive to travel, a reminder of everything that is most magical about Scotland. It is the definitive Scottish Bucket List.

But this book only scrapes the surface. Won't be long, I hope, before we get Irvine's sequel: "Scotland The Best - The 500 Places To See Before You Die".

* Scotland The Best 100 Places by Peter Irvine, published by Harper Collins, price £25