Taste of Scotch life a heady experience

Soaring peaks, beautiful cities and choice whiskys - Scotland is sure to delight the senses. And its many good universities make it a sensible option, writes John Izbicki
Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh - if you say these names slowly, it is just like sipping Scotland's national drink and allowing it gently to swill around the mouth and caress the tastebuds. It is here, in the most northern part of Britain, that we find the delightful valleys of the Dee, the Don, the Tay and the Spey, as well as the Trossachs and Loch Lomond on whose shores Rob Roy acted out his many adventures.

Further south stand Edinburgh and Glasgow, among the most handsome of Europe's cities.

And if you travel north and west to the Highlands and islands, you will experience a thrill the likes of which you have not had since that first kiss. Here are the highest peaks, the loneliest moors and the most spectacular lochs and waterfalls that you are ever likely to see and treasure in a lifetime.

At regular intervals in this sensationally beautiful country, there is a seat of learning. Scotland has no fewer than 22 institutions of higher education, 13 of them universities.

Dundee, Scotland's fourth-largest city, squats on the northern shores of the Firth of Tay. The University of Dundee, whose roots go back to 1883, became one of the first to promote "the education of persons of both sexes". And the University of Abertay, also at Dundee, is just four years old - the UK's youngest university. Both were known under various titles before they settled down to their well-deserved university status. The University College became Queen's College, Dundee in 1954 and a fully fledged university in 1967. Originally, Abertay first opened its doors in 1889 as the Dundee Technical College and developed gradually into the Dundee Institute of Technology.

Just 67 miles north of Dundee lies Aberdeen, its buildings sparkling as the light strikes the silver granite which forms them. Thanks to the exploitation of North Sea oil, it has become one of the most prosperous (and expensive) regions in the country. The University of Aberdeen has notched up 503 years,which makes it older than any Sassenach university, other than Oxbridge. In Scotland, only St Andrews, founded in 1410, is older. The Robert Gordon University, also in Aberdeen and affectionately known as Bob, was opened as the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology in 1881 and stretches across eight sites, each within little more than three miles of the city centre.

Go some 63 miles south of Dundee, and you will reach the "Athens of the North", which was the name sometimes given to Edinburgh, capital of Scotland since the 16th century. This city can only be described as elegant. With its 11th-century castle, sweeping esplanade which saw the execution of many an enemy of the realm and those suspected of witchcraft, and world- famous Royal Mile connecting the castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it is certainly among the finest examples of architectural design and planning in the UK.

Out of a population of 421,000, 50,000 are students, which makes Edinburgh a true university town. There are, in all, seven higher education institutions as well as four FE colleges. Youngest of the universities is Heriot-Watt (1966), whose campus is spread across 380 acres of wooded parkland some three miles outside the city.

Next in age, but only just, comes Napier (1964), one of the so-called "new" universities. It has seven sites, all close to the centre and most of them in a pleasant, middle-class area - the exception being its Sighthill business school, a tower block which peers out over a housing estate.

And then there is the University of Edinburgh itself. Founded in 1583, its main campus is slap in the middle of the city, its buildings having retained the architectural style and beauty which give Edinburgh its magic.

Cross the country from Edinburgh to Glasgow - no more than a skip of 46 miles - and you enter Scotland's largest city (population: 655,000) and alternative capital.

Tobacco and cloth first brought it prosperity, but it was shipbuilding on the Clyde which transformed it into the nation's premier industrial centre.

The last century's industrial explosion resulted in the development of many ugly tenement buildings, but there are just as many fine old houses, which have been restored to their original glory. The city's vitality brought it the 1990 title of cultural capital of Europe.

Seven institutions of higher education, four of them universities, and 12 further education colleges make this one of the UK's most thriving academic centres. There might well be some dispute about one of the universities being in Glasgow. The University of Paisley is, in fact, in Paisley, a town with a 100,000-strong population, that was once famous for its weaving industry (do you remember the Paisley pattern?) and lies just seven miles to the west of Glasgow.

But the rivalry between the two urban areas is such that a Paisley resident would take it amiss to be thought of as a Glaswegian.

The "baby" among the four universities is Glasgow Caledonian, formerly Glasgow Polytechnic, which was opened in 1971 and whose main campus stretches across the very heart of the city. There are two other sites from two to four miles outside the centre. The University of Paisley (the former Paisley College) dates from 1897 and, like Glasgow Caledonian, gained university title in 1992.

Apart from the main campus at Paisley, there is another at Craigie in Ayr, once the home of Robbie Burns. It lies 30 miles away and teaches mainly nursing and education studies.

The University of Strathclyde is more than 200 years old and sits on top of some of the hills that stretch along the centre of Glasgow.

It does not enjoy the most attractive architecture and recently took over Jordanhill College of Education, now the university's faculty of education.

The University of Glasgow itself is the oldest in the city and the fourth oldest in the country, having been founded in 1451.