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13 day Itinerary from a novice trip planner for your consideration (July 2021, otherwise May? 2022)

Hi there, my friend and I (both just out of college) have been working on planning an early July Scotland vacation. I've actually just finished booking the flight and accommodation for this trip (fully refundable, as is the times). I then stumbled upon this forum and found a lot of helpful stuff. I thought I would post my current itinerary and a couple questions.

As for our interests, nature certainly tops the list, closely followed by food. The two most important nature/hiking days I have planned, Trotternish Ridge and Bidean Nam Bien/Lost Valley, I have given an alternate day in case the weather is really drab on the first day and projected to be better the second day. I have done some research about the weather and it seems like it can vary greatly in one day, and that generally the best method is to just wait it out for a half hour or so. Any wisdom here is appreciated to get the best hiking weather (and views of course!)

I think seeing some castles would certainly be cool, ruins and intact ones alike. I have heard that once you've seen one castle you've seen them all... and I have at least 10 castles on the itinerary. I don't plan to spend a significant amount of time at any except perhaps Edinburgh Castle. So... Is Castle fatigue a real thing?

While everything is fully refundable, if Scotland is allowing foreign tourists in very late June/early July I would feel bad cancelling on BnB owners who have undoubtedly been struggling for the past year+. With that said, I wouldn't want to change the ending location for the days.

If this doesn't work out, then we will re-plan a similar trip for perhaps April or May of 2022. If that were the case I could make plenty of changes to where we were staying. One I would look at immediately is adding another day in Glencoe and maybe spending a night in Oban. After looking at the itinerary, is there any insight you might have? and what is the best time to visit the Highlands for a dry and less busy experience? (cold is fine, deep winter preferably not)


Day - Itinerary [Ending Location] - other notes

Day 1 - Flying from Chicago [Above (hopefully!) Atlantic Ocean]

Day 2 - Arrive at Edinburgh around 2pm, Get SIM cards and some cash, wander around [Edinburgh]

Day 3 - Edinburgh: Castle, Arthur's Seat, University of Edinburgh (Will likely be attending in Fall 2022 for my Masters) [Edinburgh]

Day 4 - Rent a car from city center, drive to Glenlivet, go for a hike, go to a distillery [Tomintoul]

Day 5 - Hike Ben Macdui or perhaps just Cairngorm, Urquhart Castle [Fort William] - no real plan if the weather is bad

Day 6 - Drive to Skye, Eilean Donan, Armadale (Dun Scaith Castle, Rubha Phoil), Elgol (Spar Cave), pick up some stuff in Portree [Dunvegan]

Day 7 - Trotternish Loop (Storr, Brothers Point, Quiraing, Fairy Glen), Neist Point if time [Dunvegan] - will flip with Day 8 depending on weather

Day 8 - Southern Skye: Oronsay Island, Carbost, Talisker Bay, Fairy Pools [Dunvegan]

Day 9 - Drive to Fort William, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Old Inverlochy Castle, Steall Waterfall [Glencoe]

Day 10 - Hike Lost Valley and Biden nam Bian, Clachaig Inn, An Torr [Glencoe] - Will flip to Day 11 depending on weather

Day 11 - Drive to Oban, Do an all day boat tour of Mull, Iona (or Treshnish Isles), and Staffa
OR Spend another majority of a day in Glencoe [Aberfoyle]

Day 12 - Hike Ben Aan, Doune and/or Stirling Castle, Dunmore Park, Return Car [Edinburgh]

Day 13 - Fly out of Edinburgh @ 8am


Thanks a lot and any insight is appreciated,

James

Posted by
17858 posts

Thanks to our poster, SkyeGirl, I now know that May and June are less rainy on her island than July and August. I haven't checked to see whether the same pattern prevails on the mainland. Western Scotland is a very wet place, in general. You can check the Wikipedia entries for the places you plan to spend the night. Most of them have climate charts showing rainfall.

In my (rather wet) experience, you're being smart to plan enough time at your key stops for outdoor activities to give yourselves some flexibility. In addition, if this is an all-Scotland trip, you should be able to pack adequately for foul weather. I'd suggest a pair of waterproof pants, for one thing.

As for castles: I'm not a big fan in general (having even skipped Edinburgh Castle), so I wouldn't plan very many at all, but I did really enjoy the two or three castle gardens I went to while my travel mate saw the interiors. I believe she went to five castles over the course of 19 days, and she didn't complain about being castled out. However, I think when you do the same sort of thing day after day, there is a risk of diminishing returns. The fifth cute little fishing village just doesn't have the same impact as the first. I think you'll find the castles have good web sites with enough information and photographs to give you an idea of which may be most interesting to you. Since you're expecting to spend more time in Scotland as a student, you don't have to see all the castles on your list on this first trip.

There are many people on the forum who've spent a lot more time in Scotland than I have and at least two residents, so I'm sure you'll get more detailed advice from other folks.

Edited to add: Armadale Castle has a very nice, museum-like section on the history of the Clan Donald, which covered a lot of Scottish history. I checked with my travel companion and she thinks Armadale was the castle whose garden she really liked, and she doesn't usually care much about gardens.

Posted by
4335 posts

The U.K. government is to make an announcement 5 April (brought forward from the 12th) regarding what foreign holidays we can or can’t expect this year. Presumably this will give clues as to who maybe allowed in too. At present, we are banned from going abroad until at least 17 May and draft laws published indicate that this will be extended until 30 June.

You say you have booked accommodation. In normal times, accommodation on Skye is often booked a year ahead, so you have been lucky to find somewhere. The last time I was on Skye was a late May and the fog covering the Cuillins didn’t lift for days! Hope you have better luck.

I get castled out, but they are a useful option if the weather isn’t great. You don’t have time for one of my favourite drives in Scotland - the Ardnamurchan peninsula near Fort William via the Corran ferry.

Posted by
647 posts

Hi James -

Hope your planned trip comes off, even if not this year. Some good choices in there and I applaud your decision to explore the Scottish Hills. Make sure you take a map and compass - either the Harvey’s Mountain Map or the Ordnance Survey (not sure if Yellow publications do maps of the area, but if they do they are good and based on the OS maps). You can also download a free app onto your phone ‘OS Locate’ from the Ordnance Survey site which will give you your position as a six figure grid ref (so you need to learn how to take one of those, it’s easy enough) your height above sea level and also there is a compass facility so you know which way you are headed - I’d still back this up with a ‘real’ ye olde compass to ‘belt and braces’ it.

You are probably aware of the ‘walk highlands’ website which gives rough guides on the ways to go on the mountains. I have climbed Bidean Nam Bian by the walk highlands route and it is an excellent day out. It takes a very well made path up between Gear Aonach and Aonach Dubh (two of the three sisters) and climbs Stob Coire Nan Lochan en route to Bidean. The descent from Bealach Dearg is loose and steep and snow can be a factor even in early summer. Once into Coire Gabhail the going is easier until the exit which is over a potentially ankle breaking and, as I recall it, unpleasant scramble through a Boulder field. It can’t be avoided and is potentially the most dangerous part of the walk. A word of warning - I climbed Stob Coire Nan Lochan with friends once on a poor weather day and Coire Gabhail was dry as we ascended. When we returned the same way it was flooded and we had a waist deep wade across the rapidly flowing waters, which given the time of year, was perishingly cold. We’d parked a car in the car park on the Glencoe road and while those driving by might have been disappointed to find no piper in the car park their journeys may have been enlivened by the sight of us (two males, two females) stripped to their sodden underwear by the side of the road, desperately pulling any dry clothes we had out of the back of the car! Which goes to show a bad weather day needn’t curtail your walking (always travel hopefully) but be prepared!

Speaking of weather the Mountain Weather Information Service posts detailed and localised forecasts every day for the area you are in and these are usually displayed in hostels, hotels, pubs, information service points, hiking shops and the like. Take note of them! Also if you can get a mobile phone signal try the Norwegian Weather forecast service. We’ve found them to be extensive, detailed and almost scarily accurate! (Their forecasts are not limited to Norway - used them in France when ski-ing).

No visit to Glencoe is complete without a visit to the Clachaig Inn, more good planning! The entrance to the hikers bar is at the back of the place down an unpromising back alley, as if heading for the kitchens. The small door opens into a large but dark-ish room with a heroically sized bar at the back, a tiny stage for live music and seats and tables. The food is excellent but again, be warned! The place gets rammed and getting a table can be a bit of a lottery. I believe on one recent trip we retired to the much more up market (but less interesting/fun) front bar to eat because we couldn’t get tables for all of us in the back.

I’m almost out of space but if I can be of further help feel free to ask me here or by direct message. Hope your trip comes off, whenever it might be.

Ian

Posted by
647 posts

P.S. James -

Rather than An Torr, if the weather is fine and clear and you have the time (3-5 hours) consider the out and back route to the top of the Pap of Glencoe. Sensational viewpoint, absolutely breathtaking.

Ian

Posted by
489 posts

Hi James,

Touring castles is similar to visiting museums. How does your travel partner feel about visiting ten castles?
Also, what airport(s) are you flying in and out of?

Posted by
1147 posts

Part of the reason to visit Castles is to climb high enough to enjoy the view. Since the best view around was one of the reasons to build a Castle. Have you thought of renting an RV Van? There are plenty of campgrounds that provide Bathrooms and Laundries; especially in or near the national parks. We had nice weather in September, October started to rain. April was rainy, May was better. Summer weather is warmer; it is more crowded. Your tour does a good job of covering the Highlands but maybe is too tightly planned. Don't worry about seeing everything; go slow enough to enjoy yourselves.

Posted by
4444 posts

I can't contribute much but want to commend your careful planning and flexibility. I've been to Edinburgh and certainly would recommend that castle, which will surely have the most other people around you of all those you see. I'd suggest skipping the crown jewels unless you're really into crown jewels, it was a long line and slow progress inside the building to see them briefly, and your time is limited.

I've been "chateau'ed out" after a week in the Loire Valley, but I think the only way to tell whether you'll be is to find out from experience. I love castles though I no longer try to scamper up those narrow spiral stairs to the very top (I'm 3X your age). So go for it. And be glad you'll have more time in Scotland next year at the university, a chance to see more of the country and perhaps beyond on the longer breaks. In your case, our host's advice to "assume that you'll return" isn't just a helpful mindset, it's an actual fact.

Posted by
7963 posts

"Is Castle fatigue a real thing?"

I laughed out loud because yes...I've been castled out in Scotland. Just could NOT look at another ruined castle. That, however, was at the end of a 5 week trip to England and Scotland. I suspect you'll not get castled out in under 2 weeks!

Good for you for thinking of it and fingers crossed you do go for your Master's there...what an awesome experience!

Posted by
2 posts

Wow thanks everyone for all of the insight and information!

Responding to a few specific things...

The U.K. government is to make an announcement 5 April (brought forward from the 12th) regarding what foreign holidays we can or can’t expect this year. Presumably this will give clues as to who maybe allowed in too. At present, we are banned from going abroad until at least 17 May and draft laws published indicate that this will be extended until 30 June.

That is very useful information Jennifer. I'll be looking forward to that report from the Global Travel Taskforce. Our trip is planned to start at the very end of June so perhaps a few adjustments could be made for most of the trip to still happen.

You are probably aware of the ‘walk highlands’ website which gives rough guides on the ways to go on the mountains.

Yes indeed I have been using this website a lot in planning. Thank you for all the information regarding trail finding and weather, Ian. Both are very much appreciated! The Pap of Glencoe hike has also been noted.

Touring castles is similar to visiting museums. How does your travel partner feel about visiting ten castles?

Also, what airport(s) are you flying in and out of?

Point noted. I think I may be more interested in the actual structure and view from the up high. Certainly I want to get to know some brief history about the castle and area, but to someone (well two people) who grew in the Midwest US the idea of a castle is very exciting. Maybe once there I'll be very engaged in the history. It's quite hard to say from my desk chair.

We are flying in and out of EDI.

Part of the reason to visit Castles is to climb high enough to enjoy the view. Since the best view around was one of the reasons to build a Castle. Have you thought of renting an RV Van?

Climbing up and having a great vantage point across the land is certainly one of the main draws to me. I've never thought of an RV Van. Frankly that sounds a bit daunting. I was already somewhat nervous about driving a Sedan down the windy roads! But I will keep that in mind for future trips.

In your case, our host's advice to "assume that you'll return" isn't just a helpful mindset, it's an actual fact.

Great point, thanks Dick!

fingers crossed you do go for your Master's there...what an awesome experience!

Indeed. I am simply waiting for other programs here in the US to respond with their decision, but I think it would really have to blow my socks off to beat the program at UOE (and the prospect of spending more time abroad)!

Posted by
4117 posts

I can’t say where I first heard it, but a popular saying is, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing.”

First time in Edinburgh, when you were likely a very wee laddie, it was just overcast. I summited Arthur’s Seat in the afternoon, but it started pouring rain on the descent. The heavy rain kept up all night, but by morning, it was fair again.

More recently, in August, it was raining when we picked up our rental car in Inverness, but the weather cleared up by the time we reached the bridge to Skye. It was sunny, but the hills were spewing cascades of water, which looked spectacular! Those impromptu waterfalls weren’t there the next day, so I imagine that the ground must be like a sponge, and heavy rain soaks it beyond its capacity, and leaks gush out. The next day, it was sunny in the morning as we started a drive up Trotternish. Starting a hike about noon, a rainstorm developed in 15 minutes, and it was another gulleywasher. By mid-afternoon, the rain had ceased and it was cool, but dry from that point.

Driving thru Glen Coe a few days later (took the short, tiny Kylerhea-to-Glenelg car ferry ride to get from Skye back to the mainland), it was nice weather when we’d left the B&B an hour earlier, but then rained so hard the wipers could barely keep up, and a line of traffic crawled through the downpour. That stopped just before noon, and we pulled over for a lunch by a fireplace. Weather stayed dry the rest of the day, which we finished with a visit to Doune Castle, where they locked the door behind us as we exited.

Speaking of castles, they’re like sunsets. Do you get tired of a sunset, evening after evening? Or rainbows? Starry skies? Some ruins are just a pile of stones to some, but I’ve yet to get castled-out. Same goes for Greek temples or Neolithic sites in Ireland, Britain, Brittany, and Portugal.

Oh, Edinburgh Castle - be there for the One O’Clock Gun - the cannon shot off at 1PM Mon- Sat!

Posted by
1600 posts

hey hey james
your trip sounds fabulous and you have done your research. when you plan things you want to do and see it helps you when you get there, instead of now what? glad you found this forum, people here will give you good bad and ugly
couple things for you to know: not knowing your age except you just got of of college, read the fine print of renting car under age 26. there may be an extra charge for you and extra driver, what types of cars are available, what insurance you will need, if you need an automatic or standard transmission car, the locations and hours of operation station is open, IDP (coincides with your driver's license) available at AAA $30 and two passport photos obtained same day and good for 1 year. some countries say yes or no, it's the rental car company that makes their rules. better to have just in case. if you have, bring you GPS and download the city, towns you'll be going to. ask others here on forum about the rental company, zero deductible insurance, more expensive at airport P/U, credit card will put hold for how much. whatever you decide, print out your voucher from email from rental company and carry it with you. make sure you read and understand all of it
i've heard some renters didn't have an IDP, weren't told and didn't read ahead of time, unable to rent a car.
wherever you are renting a hotel, look for parking available and cost. if it says nearby, check the map how far away and the rate per day/hour. be prepared.
we did a gin tour at different pubs, i'm a gin drinker and 2 friends tailed along. pub's special cocktail with their gin. it was so much fun, limousine driven with about 10 of us. stopped and had dinner near tower of london (our cost) and 6 pubs. we love to do a food/drink tour to know the city, history, and what's going on.
edinburghfoodsafari.com

withlocals.com/edinburgh lots of different activities available you can read about.
theculturetrip.com/united kingdom/scotland
secretfoodtours.com
summerhalldrinkslab.co.uk take a 2 hour cruise along the union canal tasting with history and science of the juniper. you can check with them when they open with covid-19 restrictions. have fun
aloha

Posted by
151 posts

Don’t underestimate drive times in Scotland. It may take you a lot longer to cover the miles than you might think. General advise if using Google maps is to add 25% to their drive times - and then add in time for any stops , food etc. Just parking a car, putting boots on or getting to the attraction you are wanting to visit can add on a surprising amount of time.

Looking at Day 4 - driving from Edinburgh City Centre to Tomintoul is going to take 3-4 hours. Add in a distillery tour plus presumably some lunch somewhere, isn’t going to allow very long for your hike.

Day 5 - How long is the Ben Macdui walk going to take? Walk Scotland estimates 6-8 hours. You need to allow 3+ hours for the drive to Fort William plus extra if you are intending to stop and look at Urquhart castle.

How are you intending to get to and from Skye? Are you doing the bridge both ways or getting the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale one way? I would suggest you use the ferry on Day 6 and come back via the bridge. This means you would see Glenfinnan Viaduct on the way to Mallaig. This cuts down on driving times. IF YOU DO THIS, MAKE SURE YOU GET THE FERRY BOOKED IN PLENTY OF TIME! Time table here.
https://calmac.co.uk/article/7815/Skye-Mallaig---Armadale--8-August---18-October-2020

On Day 9 come back over the bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh and see Eilean Donan Castle on the way back to Fort William. The outside of this is the best bit and is the picture you see on all the tins of shortbread etc. The inside in early C20th and not that good.

I never get castled out - I find the Scottish Castles are sufficiently differfent that I don't get bored by them. The history is also interesting too...