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10 Day Highland/Islands Itinerary - too ambitous?

My wife and I are planning a 10 day trip from the US to Scotland (10 days on the ground - not counting flights in and out). We don't care much for cities and usually travel to see natural wonders/landscapes. In Scotland, we'll also add in a bit of history (castles and the like) and perhaps a distillery or two.

The plan is to fly into Glasgow (morning flight) and grab a small motorhome, 6-7 meters. My wife has a genetic immune disorder so being able to control the environment and the food is important.

Here's a rough itinerary I've put together for the 10 days on the ground. I should add that my wife has some mobility issues that make walking long distances (or even short ones if slopes are involved).

I'd love any feedback on the plan including alternatives. This is a rough. We like to have a plan but be able to improvise on the specifics where possible in case of bad weather or we need a lower energy day.

Day 1 - Early flight in, grab the motorhome & provisions, see Glasgow Cathedral & Necropolis. The head toward Oban via Garelochhead to avoid the infamous A82 through Loch Lomond. Stops at Kilchurn Castle, St Conan's Kirk, Dunnstaffnage Castle along the way. The goal is to be on Mull by day's end, camping near Lochbuie. I imagine we'll collapse by day's end, this might be a bit much unless she can sleep on the plane.

Day 2 - Iona & a Staffa/Treshnish tour. End the day somewhere along the shore of Loch Creran. We'd like to see the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary but not sure if end of Day 2 or beginning of Day 3 would be best.

Day 3 - Glencoe & Fort William, gondola up Ben Nevis, Glenfinnian Viaduct, end near Mallaig.

Day 4 & 5 - Cross from Mallaig and explore Skye incl the Fairy Pools, Kylerhea Otter Haven, the Trotternish Peninsula, Eilean Doonan.

Day 6 - explore the coast between Skye and Durness. This would most be a driving day but wanting to see Inverewe Garden, Corriesaloch Gorge, Ardvreck Castle. I'm thinking this day may be too ambitious. Google says 4 1/2 hours on the road but I'm guessing 6+ in a small motorhome, not counting the time stopped to sightsee.

Day 7 - Catch the first ferry from Thurso to Orkney. Spend the day exploring Orkney, likely camp on the island.

Day 8 - Grab the first ferry back then northeast Caithness (Wick, etc) following the A9 to roughly Inverness. The goal is to get to Loch Ness or slightly beyond. Cairn o'Get & Dunrobin Castle along the way.

Day 9 - Cairngorms NP, Funicular Railway, RSPB Osprey Centre

Day 10 - Falkirk Wheel, The Kelpies, Stirling Castle, Dunfirmline Abbey

Day 11 - fly home


Posted by
1639 posts

It is probably too ambitious at the moment. You are not going to be able to have a good look at the bits of Glasgow and get to Oban for the ferry on the same day realistically. Regarding Mull, it is a beautiful island, I prefer it to Skye, but the road network is single track, so in a motorhome you will be pulling over all the time to allow people to pass.

Both Mull and Orkney you will need a full day/2 nights, to stand a chance of doing them justice, and doing justice to the cost of the ferry tickets, which, especially for Orkney are not cheap for a car. For next week Cal Mac for Mull is £52 return, Northlink for Orkney close to £200.

I would look into narrowing down the destinations. One thing to remember, though it probably does not help a Texan, is Highland Council area is the size of Belgium, but with narrow roads, and you are crossing more than just Highland.

Posted by
47 posts

I was initially planning to see more of Mull but I knew we wouldn't be able to keep other parts. We could cut the trip around the northwest coast but, after seeing photos and a few spots from Google Street View, we would rather not. Besides, we like the idea of going where few (even few Scots) ever visit.

We may cut Glasgow entirely save for what is necessary owing to the size of the vehicle. I would love to see the Cathedral and the Necropolis (as well as her Whovian treat) but I'm weighing the cost of missing the countryside. Depending on when our flight leaves, we may be able to see that area of Glasgow on the day of the flight.

I just checked the cost of the ferry to Orkney to verify. Scrabster-Stromness ferry is only 59 pounds even in the high season, 55 mid. I am glad I checked the rates, though, because I didn't realize they also charge per person on top of that rate so that brings our mid-season crossing closer to 91 pounds.

Gah, what to cut, what to cut?!?! We could probably thin out Fort William/Glencoe and move the Day 8 stops to Day 9 to give us more time on Orkney.

I had almost forgotten our previous chats. Yeah, driving that far is not a big deal to us and we've discussed the size of Scotland. Once we saw map overlays and saw the size, the plan seemed less crazy. In August, we'll be spending a week in the Santa Fe/Taos area of New Mexico and virtually everything we want to see is 30-60 minutes away from where we are staying but we will be in a central location with few neighbors and that is what we like. Plus we'll be driving nearly 11 hours just to get there! (Roughly Plymouth to Inverness). That is probably the biggest difference between European and American travelers, our perception of distance.

Thanks again for your input.

Posted by
1639 posts

Remember that Northlink fare is each way, hence my £200, and at that amount with ferry costs adding not far from £300 for you I would seriously look at cutting the islands down, if not out. I still suggest finding somewhere around Glasgow for the first night to get over the jet lag before trying the driving.

One thing to remember, outside towns you may be subject to different speed limits to cars depending on the size of the vehicle. Worth checking with the hire company.

Posted by
47 posts

Excellent point regarding the ferry, thank you.

I think my wife would rather cut Falkirk/Stirling than the islands, older trumps newer.

Posted by
459 posts

Greetings, I agree with the previous posters and suggest you narrow down you destinations a bit. We went Edinburgh, Glencoe, Ft. William, Glenfinnon viaduct, out to skye, and then back via Caringorms area. We were there for 10 days and stayed at three stops. For your planning know that you will not be able to keep up the driving pace that most map sites say are reasonable. You will go MUCH slower than planned so I would suggest you limit the number of stops to a few you are really drawn to. We had what they call an intermediate car over there and it felt way too big for the roads for me. You will have a real adjustment period for the roads with a small motor home. As we were leaving I was finally comfortable with the left side driving, narrow roads, and stone fence/curbs as a shoulder. Just go slow, carry great insurance, and pick the spots you just HAVE to see. We loved Glencoe (the A82 drive thru there was great and we returned for two hikes up the mountains there, road narrows often lol), we enjoyed Ben Nevis gondala and other Ft. William area sites and on a "rest" day we did the short hike to the viaduct and watched the train chug thru, it was cool. We also visited the spots you have named on the Isle of Skye and once again know that travel on Skye is slow. The fairy pools, Trotternish Peninsula (quirang, fairy glen) are beyond description. I would recommend you pick out the roads you intend to travel and give them a look on a street level view map site online to see what you have instore. I loved the highlands and plan to return but caution against being overly ambitious with your road travels. Have a blast!

Posted by
47 posts

What else did you see in Fort William area aside from Ben Nevis and Glenfinnian?

We figure that having a motorhome will make driving harder but no need to eat in restaurants (necessary - my wife has a genetic immune disorder which causes her to be allergic to a LOT of foods, controlling meals is essential to be able to travel). It also gives us more flexibility in where to stop for the night and when, at least that is the hope.

We both have been thinking about this trip for so long that we will have a really hard time making cuts but we always have things on the list we don't make it to when we travel. We always have things on the list that are "must sees" and the rest are see if we can.

At this point, the must sees are -
Iona + Staffa/Treshnish tour
Trotternish Peninsula
Dunfirmline Abbey
there's also a border collie demo in Cairngorms my wife really wants to make

Mountaintops are not a priority as we'll be in Santa Fe/Taos this summer, that's plenty of high mountains for a while, so we could skip Fort William and maybe most of Cairngorms. She also can't make long hikes so that will keep us mobile - we won't need to spend long stretches of time hiking for miles on end (were I solo, I'd be in a tent & a driving a Mini at best).

Posted by
1639 posts

See if you can take an organised tour from Oban for Iona and the small isles.

Orkney you need a full day minimum to even scrape the surface and justify the ferry. So this needs if Orkney is a 'must' it must be three nights. Though check with the ferry company, Northlink allows you to turn up at the end of the day and sleep in a cabin for the morning crossing from Scabster. This might help.

Realistically I think in your timescale you are looking at 2.5 centres. Orkney, Oban and another. I would scrap Skye, but in terms of the the islands I am a Muilenach, so opinions may vary.

Posted by
47 posts

No need to sleep on a ferry, we will have a motorhome.

You're the first to say to skip Skye. Everywhere else I read seems to say Skye is a must but it may simply be echo chamber.

Iona is top of the list and we've already picked a Staffa/Treshnish tour.

Posted by
3122 posts

I feel for you, as my husband has food allergies and intolerances as well as some other health conditions limiting his mobility. Luckily he's still able to travel in a regular car and eat in most restaurants. If your main concern is food restrictions, you might consider staying in regular hotels or B&Bs and just buying your own food at supermarkets. You could picnic for lunch and dinner. Many tourist sites have picnic tables or open-seating café areas where bringing your own food wouldn't be frowned upon, especially for someone with special needs. For breakfast, explain to the hotel what your wife can/can't eat when you book ahead.

Personally I'd be a nervous wreck driving a motor home on the left side of narrow, winding mountain roads. As others have mentioned, you'll be pulling off frequently to let others pass -- and the places to pull off are not always large enough to accommodate a motor home comfortably. Also, on UK 4-lane highways ("dual carriageway") the etiquette is that you pull out to pass, then pull back in to let others pass; it's not like US highways where you pick your lane and stay in it. The driving will be stressful, even if you're a really good driver. Doubly so given the many ferries you plan to take, meaning you've got to reach the ferry dock by a certain time or else miss your desired boat.

BTW, I've heard many Scottish and English people refer to a motor home as a "camper," which has a slightly different meaning in the US.

Lastly, I'm not sure what's infamous about the A82 along Loch Lomond. I've driven it 3 times now and I don't see much difference between it and other major routes in the highlands.

Posted by
3122 posts

P.S. even driving a regular car (we rented a small SUV with built-in SatNav), I found I needed to almost double the estimated driving times from one point to another. Between taking a wrong turn (even with SatNav) or wanting to stop for a bathroom break or an unforgettable photo opportunity, and having to pull over to let people pass, and simply wanting to stop and clear my brain for a few minutes, a 50-mile drive could easily take an hour and a half.

Posted by
47 posts

The food allergies is one of the main reasons for the motorhome - so we can buy food at supermarkets and cook our own meals. Thankfully, I'm a pretty good chef.

I'm not as nervous as many would be about driving a motorhome on narrow Scottish roads as I regularly drive a large pickup with a even larger gooseneck trailer on rural Texas roads (often dirt or caliche surface) due to my graduate work. I know it will be a little nerveracking but likely not as much as someone who is only used to driving cars in cities.

As far as the A82, the heavy traffic and sharp, blind curves are what I've been warned about.

Posted by
3122 posts

@losthiker, you opened the topic asking if your itinerary is too ambitious. I'll just say yes, it is.

If you had 22 days instead of 11, it might make sense. That is my 2 cents worth, anyway.

Posted by
47 posts

We're going to go clockwise around the country starting in Glasgow so Stirling will be near the end.

We don't want to skip Mull because we are planning on taking a trip to see Staffa and the Treshnish islands that leaves from Fionnphort. However, that will likely be the extent of our Mull explorations. We debated exploring the rest of the island but

We hadn't planned to get to the Outer Hebrides. Is it worth it? We would have to cut elsewhere.

You mentioned Stalker - have you visited Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary near there? A lot of places like that here in the States are cruddy tourist traps, wondering if that one is worth a stop. How about the Dolphin and Seal Centre in Inverness?