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15 days in Scotland

Hi all, it might be a bit mad to ask for help so late, but I think everything will work out fine!

Arriving in Edinburgh on May 6th, and then heading to Stirling. After that I’m pretty open to suggestions. These are for areas I put together. Wanting to rent a car and do day trips.

We love to hike and explore most of all. In the cities, we would visit a few museums. Castles too are of interest. Not a fan of overcorwded, touristy areas, but some might be unavoidable.

Feel free to share your thoughts on my choices. They are not set in stone yet. Self catering is what I’m after. Appreciate any and all advice and suggestions.

Edinburgh
Stirling
Pitlochry
Inverness
Portree
Fort William
Back to Edinburgh

Posted by
1122 posts

On the outskirts of Edinburgh Craigmiller is a wonderful ruined castle that does not have crowds. Is there a reason your going back to Edinburgh vs. flying back out or into Glasgow? Dunvegan on Skye is great too!

Posted by
453 posts

Flying out of Edinburgh because was easier to do with United miles. Just making a circle. I know RS isn’t into back track at some point, but we also plan to stop off in Glasgow before handing over car in Edinburgh. Staying at airport hotel that night.

Posted by
1041 posts

Hi, Ginger,

Have you made any accommodation arrangements yet? It's not impossible this late in your travel planning, but you may be limited once you travel north of the Forth-Clyde Valley (Strathclyde). Scotland has become a major tourist destination, a lot of it having to do with "Outlander." It's also a major destination for visitors from North America as it's a beautiful and safe country, and there's not much of a language barrier (generally!).

First of all, if it's your first time over, you'll be driving on the left side of the road, and shifting gears with your left hand. If you're uncomfortable with concentrating on two things at the same time, you may want to upgrade to an automatic transmission. About 80% of the cars rented in Scotland have a five or six speed manual transmission.

There is an incredible amount of things to see and do in Scotland. As you're starting out in Stirling, you may want to visit the castle and the Wallace Monument. The castle is on a hill above the valley below, and the views are amazing. The castle's not bad, either. If you want a taste of modern Scotland, have a walk down the main shopping Street (Barnton Street) and take a quick trip through the Thistles (Stirling's mall).

As Pitlochry is on your list, you can take the A9 out of Stirling, and follow it north around Perth to Pitlochry. The A9 is well signposted. Pitlochry is a charming little town, and shouldn't be too crowded in early May. While you're around Pitlochry, check out the Pass of Killiecrankie, famous in song and history.

Stay on the A9 after you leave Pitlochry. You'll travel through Aviemore, which is well worth a stop, and then on to Inverness. You'll probably want to spend a couple of days there. There are lots of day trips that you can make from Inverness, or you can just hang out in the city. If you are really ambitious, you could try the North Coast 500, which is a driving trip around the west, north, and east coasts, through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. It's just a little over 500 miles, which is how it got its name. Check out the website.

Once you leave Inverness, you have several ways to get to Skye. They are: 1) A82 south to Invermoriston, A887 west to the A87, and the A87 to Skye, crossing the Skye Bridge; or 2) A9 north to the A835 at Tore, the A835 to Garve, where you'll turn left on to the A832 to Achnasheen, then the A890 to the A87. Both of these routes will take you to the Skye Bridge. On either route, you can check out Eilean Donan Castle, which is on the A87, near where it intersects with the A890.

There is lots of hiking on Skye. Some of it is easy, and some strenuous. I can make recommendations, if you're interested. The fact that you'll have a car will make a big difference in getting to and from the various hikes. Portree is a great little town, with a beautiful harbour. Broadford isn't so bad, either, although most of the guidebooks give it a pass. The Cafe Sia in Broadford is a great little restaurant. It's next to the post office. Try their Highland Melt.

To get back from Skye, and to avoid backtracking, take the A851, just east of Broadford. That will take you to the ferry pier at Armadale, where you can take the CalMac ferry to Mallaig. Once you arrive in Mallaig, you can spend some time exploring the village before getting on the A830 to Fort William.

Once you reach Fort William, you have lots of choices. You can head south to Oban, or you can take the A82 through Glencoe, which is a popular tourist destination, and then down the A82 along the west bank of Loch Lomond and on in to Glasgow.

Posted by
1041 posts

Most of the small baronial castles (Braemar, Crathes, Craigievar, Drum, Huntly, Fyvie, etc., are in the northeast, around Aberdeen. Dunottar Castle is spectacularly situated overlooking the North Sea, just south of Stonehaven. The Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve, which is home to thousands of seabirds, including puffins, is just south of Dunottar. Arbroath Abbey is worth a visit as well. I mention these just in case your travel plans change, and you head up the east coast.

There are an incredible number of museums in Glasgow. None of them are overly crowded, especially in early May. I'd recommend the People's Palace, which will give you a feel for the history of the city; as well as Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis, which are walking distance from one another. There's also Kelvingrove Museum and Glasgow University. Our favorite restaurant in Glasgow is Cafe Source, which is in the basement of St. Andrews Church (St Andrews in the Square). Glasgow has more open parkland within the city limits than any other city in Britain. Check out Glasgow Green, which is in the area around the People's Palace.

Once you get back to Edinburgh, in addition to Edinburgh Castle, you should also check out the National Museum of Scotland (give it at least three hours), and hike up Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill. Check out the nags at the "Mussie" (Musselburgh horse races), and have a flutter (bet) on a horse.

I'll be honest with you - 15 days isn't nearly enough time to see everything, but it will certainly whet your appetite for your next trip to Scotland! Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
453 posts

Thanks for the feedback. I know it's not enough to see everything, but I did a similar trip to Ireland last year, and ended up seeing quite a bit. Absolutely loved Ireland, and would return.

Not sure about the north coast 500! Sounds lovely, but don't think we have time for it. Is it possible to do just a part of it?

The most important area I want to see is Skye, one person wants to visit Inverness, the others aren't as picky. Inverness is mainly due to the Loch Ness and boat ride. The highlands sounds lovely, so that's the focus. Everything else can fit in somehow. We don't have to stay in Pitlochry if there is a better stop to visit Cairngorm. Will it be too cold or snowy early May?
Trying to finalize the stops so I can make some bookings.

Posted by
1041 posts

Hi, Ginger,

You can actually do part of the North Coast 500 without going too far out of your way.Take the A9 out of Inverness to the A835 at Tore. Follow the A835 to Garve and turn on to the A890, heading toward Skye. If you have about three hours to spare on your way to Skye, instead of turning left at Strathcarron and heading toward Skye, go straight toward the village of Lochcarron on the A896. About 5 miles out of Lochcarron, you'll come to a turnoff on the left for the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle). It's an amazing single track road, with passing places, which will take you over the Bealach and down in to the village of Applecross, where there are welcome toilets at the campsite, and at the hotel. Whoever is driving may not get to see much, as his or her hands will be gripping the steering wheel very tightly. After you get to Applecross, if you don't want to retrace your route ("Not bloody likely!", your driver will say.), turn right and follow the coast road to Shieldaig, where you can rejoin the A896, and head back on the road to Skye. The scenery is awesome!

The North Coast 500 begins and ends at Inverness Castle, so the first part of that journey above would be on the 500 at least to Strathcarron, and then around the Applecross Peninsula, if you decide to go that way. Unfortunately, the 500 has become sort of an endurance challenge, with drivers trying to do the whole thing in the shortest time. And because there is very limited police presence in the Northwest Highlands, drivers who have actually been caught have been clocked at over 100 m.p.h.

It's pretty much impossible to get in to the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains except on foot. However, if you want to get as close to Cairn Gorm (the mountain) as possible, just south of Aviemore on the A9, there is a turnoff for Coylumbridge. It's off of the B9152. If you follow signs for Coylumbridge, then take the road out to Loch Morlich, through Glenmore Forest Park, at the end of that road you'll come to the Cairngorm Ski Area. You'll see Cairn Gorm from there.

You definitely don't need to stay in Pitlochry. In fact, you can even bypass it on the A9. But it won't add more than 15 minutes to your travel time to drive through the town. Actually, if you were to drive straight through to Inverness from Stirling, it would only take about three hours.

It's hard to tell what the weather is going to be like in early May. There will definitely be snow on the mountaintops, as they have had a really late winter this year. In fact, I think that there's another "wintry blast" coming through tomorrow. However, you'll be on the western part of Scotland most of the time, and the weather is generally warmer there due to the North Atlantic Drift. Unfortunately, that means that it's sometimes wetter, as well. But if you're in Scotland, you have to expect some damp weather. That said, May is one of the driest months.

Once again, happy travels!

Posted by
1041 posts

Now that I think of it, you could actually stay in Aviemore, if you have a night to spare on your way to Inverness. It's very much like an alpine village, and although it has become very "touristy," due to the proximity to skiing, it's still a good place for an overnight.

Don't forget to make your accommodation reservations soon, especially for Skye.

Posted by
453 posts

auchterless, thank you for such good advice and directions. I'm impressed. You mentioned hiking trails on Skye. Would love some recommendations. I've hiked in the Swiss and French Alps, but actually found a few in Ireland to be more treacherous at times. Is the terrain similar in Scotland?

Been looking at accommodations on booking com. Have you used airbnb? I haven't, but I have used VRBO in Italy and France.

Posted by
1041 posts

Hi, Ginger,

How many are in your party? I've never done Air B&B, but my son & his wife have, and they've had good experiences in Europe, for the most part. I've been to Scotland so many times that I have a general idea of where I want to stay, and just try for a hotel or B&B. I've returned to several places over and over. If you're looking for some sort of no frills hotel, the Premier Inn chain is quite decent and reasonably priced. They're similar to a midpriced U.S. motel/hotel, and all of them have a restaurant attached. I have to say, though, that the restaurants are very similar to a T.G.I. Friday's, and not at all authentic. We've only eaten at two of them over the years - any port in a storm. :) There are Premier Inns in Stirling (2), Inverness (4), and Fort William along your planned route. They'll do in a pinch.

As far as hikes on Skye, there are some good ones. One of my favorites is from Loch Coruisk to Sligachan. It's eight miles, and you'll be hiking between the Red and Black Cuillins. To get there, take one of the boats, preferably the Bella Jane, from Elgol to Loch Coruisk. You can check the Bella Jane's schedule on their website. Once the boat lets you off at Loch Coruisk, cross the Scavaig River on the stepping stones. You'll then follow the east shore of the loch until you see a path leading off to the right, and heading uphill. If you cross the stream, you've gone too far. The path leads up to a saddle between two hilltops. The area at the top of the saddle is Druim Hain. You'll be passing a small loch on your left. This is Loch a Choire Riabhaich, and is the source of the stream that you didn't cross.

Once you reach the saddle, you'll come to a cairn. Turn left at that cairn, and go about 100 yards to the next cairn. That cairn marks the start of the path down to Glen Sligachan. The path is very well defined, and you'll see the Sligachan Hotel way off in the distance. It's about 5 miles away at this point. Once you get down in to the glen, just follow the path and the River Sligachan until you reach the hotel. If you time it right, you can catch the Portree to Broadford bus, and possibly the connecting bus to Elgol. However, since you're traveling with other people, if there's one who doesn't want to take the hike, he or she can drive from Elgol to Sligachan and pick up the rest of the group. Your other alternative would be to take a taxi back to Elgol. It's about 45 pounds.

An alternative would be to park at the Church at Kilmarie on the Broadford to Elgol road, and hike in to Camasunary over Am Mam. Once you get to the lodge at Camasunary (which used to be owned by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull), turn north along the east shore of Loch na Creitheach. You'll eventually meet up with the track through Glen Sligachan.

I'd recommend getting a copy of Ordnance Survey Landranger map 32, South Skye.

There is a popular hike to the Fairy Pools. From the Sligachan Hotel, take the A863 to the next glen west, which is Glenbrittle. Take the single track road down Glenbrittle to where all the cars are parked. That marks the start of the Fairy Pools hike. If you're really ambitious, there is a mountain track starting at the Sligachan Hotel which leads west to the Fairy Pools.

The Quiraing is another popular hike. Take the A856 to Uig. Just north of Uig is a turnoff to the right along a single track road which cuts across to the other side of the Trotternish Peninsula. You'll find the Quiraing near the east end of that singletrack road. Alternatively, you can take the A855 north from Portree to Staffin, and turn left there for the Quiraing.

One of the most scenic short hikes on Skye is to Neist Point lighthouse. Just before you get to Dunvegan, turn left on the B884 at Lonmore. Follow the 884 through Glendale, then turn left at the sign for Waterstein. The path to the lighthouse is at the end of the Waterstein road.

Posted by
1041 posts

Ordnance Survey Landranger map 23 covers North Skye. If you plan to do a lot of hiking on Skye, you may want to obtain 32 and 23 before you go. They're available at Amazon.co.uk. Or you can pick them up at any good outdoor store on your travels once you get to Scotland. Tiso and Nevisport are good places to try. You'll find them in Stirling, Aviemore, and Inverness. Tourist information offices may have them as well.

If you are entertaining thoughts about climbing in the Cuillins, be very careful, and stick to well defined paths. There is a ridge that runs along the tops of the Black Cuillins. If you want to have an idea of what it's like, check out the Youtube video Danny Macaskill: The Ridge, and prepare to be amazed!

Best wishes for a safe and pleasant holiday. Slainte!

Posted by
1041 posts

One more thing: There is an excellent book available which includes 11 hikes on Skye. It's "100 Classic Coastal Walks in Scotland," by Andrew Dempster. It's available on Amazon.com.

And even one more thing: If you're going to be driving in Glasgow, watch out for the marked bus lanes, and don't drive in them. The fines for driving in a bus lane are outrageous.

Posted by
453 posts

Thank you so much for the additional hiking details. I’ll order that book from amazon today.

Have sent out enquiries to Airbnb and also VRBO for accommodations.

Is Ft William somewhere I should miss? Been reading comments elsewhere saying it’s a tired and worn out lookin place. Should I skip it and stay in Glencoe? We mainly want to hike, go on long walks and hopefully enjoy some traditional music and dance in the evenings.

Posted by
3707 posts

Are you sure you want to rent a car right away? My thinking is that after a long flight you will be sleepy, tired, and somewhat jet lagged. Those conditions, along with driving on the other side of the road than you normally do, might not be the wisest thing to do. Perhaps spending at least a day or so in Edinburgh at the start of the trip is a possibility. Even a minor fender bender at the beginning of a trip is a real bummer for the rest of the trip. Don't mean to rain on your parade as Scotland has enough on it's own. Just something to think about. Otherwise is sounds like a great trip as we've been to all those places.

Posted by
453 posts

I was not planning to rent a car on the first day. Two nights then leaving Edinburgh in a rental. Have driven in England and Ireland.

Posted by
3707 posts

Glad to hear it. The thought of driving immediately upon arrival sends shivers up and down my spine because I'm a little bit of a zombie and definitely shouldn't "operate heavy machinery". You're going to love Scotland.

Posted by
453 posts

I'm always amazed by the posts where people have a full day itinerary planned upon arrival! No idea where they get the energy. The most I've done is to get outdoors and try to see whatever I can by foot, get some lunch and early dinner, then bedtime. Even the following day, I'm not operating at 100%!

What are the tourist traps I should avoid? I am not a fan of being stuck around bus tours. My worst experience in Ireland was at the Cliffs of Moher! Never again.

Posted by
1041 posts

Hi, Ginger,

Fort William is not a town for exploring, but if you stay there, it puts you in a central location for a lot of hikes. You can take the NevisRange Gondola to the top of Aonach Mor. I think that you can hike down from the top - I know the mountain bikers have a downhill trail, which hikers should be able to use as well. There are also some hikes from the top. Check out the website.

From Fort William, you can also drive up to Glen Nevis, and if the weather cooperates, you could hike part of Ben Nevis. Don't try the whole thing - it's about six hours up and back. You can hike from the car park up in to Glen Nevis, which is more interesting.

As you'll be there in May, you shouldn't run in to any big crowds, except in the car park for the Fairy Pools. But once you leave the parking area, you'll be able to set your own pace and avoid large groups of visitors. The parking area for the Quiraing can get a bit crowded as well, but once you're out of the car you'll lose the crowds. Once you see the roads, you'll realize that you aren't going to see any bus tours!

If you do hike to the Fairy Pools, be aware that there no public conveniences (toilets) anywhere nearby. The best ones anywhere nearby are at the Talisker Distillery in Carbost.

If you're looking for traditional music, it will depend on where you are. Definitely avoid McTavish's Kitchen in Fort William. The music is laid on for the heather and haggis crowd. I think they have another branch in Oban. While you're in Edinburgh, the best place to start is Sandy Bell's Bar on Forrest Road. You could also try the Royal Oak on Infirmary Street, and the White Hart in the Grassmarket. Sandy Bell's has traditional sessions most nights, but if there's nothing going on the nights that you're there, they can steer you in the right direction.

p.s.: Have you watched the Danny Macaskill video? I think it should be required watching for anyone going to Skye. :)