First time to Great Britain. Flying into Edinburgh staying a couple days. Wanting to go to Roslyn Chapel and Castle. Taking train to Inverness or north? Renting a car and off to Sinclair castle as we are from Sinclair Clan. Staying at Ackergill Tower. Would like to drive coast back around to the west. Would like to drop off the car and travel by train to Wales rent another car and tour around that country a bit. My great great grandmother had a pub in Llandovery that we must visit. Then Stonehenge and drop off another car and train into London for flight home after a few days there. Concerned about driving in heavily populated areas as I am a country girl. So looking for places to must see have two 19 year old boys so want to add castle stays to our trip and places they would appreciate. Also want to follow some Sinclair and Jones family history. Suggestions?
I think you would do better to rent a car for at least 15 days of your trip as you may get a price break in the rates. Also Trains are fairly expensive in Scotland with a few different excursion lines instead one rail service. You will love the freedom a car gives you. Driving on the West side of Loch Ness is easy and is your access to the West Coast. Since the West Coast is made of inlets there is no direct coastal route north to south, but more in and out. Wales is super easy to drive in with decent roads and loads of castles built by King Edward. Don't worry about heavy populated areas...most big cities have ring roads or bypasses to avoid them if you'd like. For example you don't need a car in London( you can drop the car at an airport), but Edinburgh and Glasgow are really small towns and not that hard to drive in except to find a parking spot in downtown. Don't worry your 19 year old guys will have a blast.
You are probably better taking the car as long as you can and driving to Wales, given there will be three adults, this will mitigate the train fare. The busiest bits will be around Greater Glasgow and the North West of England on the roads between Scotland and Wales. Given your initial ideas I would not pick the car up until you leave Edinburgh and get out to Roslyn by bus. And dump the car as near to London as you are willing to go.
On the other bits are there any other things you want to see? You might want to build in some of the islands, my recommendation would be Mull and Iona, or possibly over to Orkney.
I would take the train north to Inverness. You can book it in advance and ti won't be that expensive. You can pick up a car in Inverness city center, but make sure you book a company that is there and not just in the airport. Of course, if the airport offers the best deals, then take a taxi to the airport. :) If you are spending the night in Inverness don't get the car until the next day.
You could plan the trip so that you catch a later afternoon train north to Inverness. Have a nice dinner in the city, maybe go to out to Hootenanny or one of the other places for music. You could send the boys to a pub with more contemporary music if they are not into the fiddles. Stay in a place in Inverness so that they and you can walk home afterwards.
The next day head up to Wick. There are a couple of sites to think about. First, you'll drive through Dornoch. If either you or the boys are golfers it might be interesting to drive over to the golf course. It's a classic links course, right on the shore of the North Sea. There is a cathedral (Madonna got married there) in town and some other sites. North of Dornoch and just past Golspie is Dunrobin Castle. It is an older one and is the seat of the Sutherlands. They have a falconry show that might interest your boys. There is a very odd museum in the garden as well. Just past Dunrobin is Carn Liath Broch. It is right on the shore of the North Sea. You can walk down to the sea if you would like. Parking is on the left side as you head north. I've not spent time in Helmsdale, but you might want to. It seems that the Castle's claim to fame is that a Sinclair poisoned a Sutherland there!
You will love your trip across to the west. Oddly, I've not been to John O'Groats, but I've waved across the Pentland Firth to the Queen Mum in Castle Mey which was one of her homes. Check to see if it is open when you are traveling. It looks good and is a Sinclair Castle.
Of course, a trip to Orkney would be marvelous. There are two ferries. One from John O'Groats which is faster, and maybe cheaper and one from Thurso. It's a bigger boat, but takes a bit longer. I would plan on spending at least one night on Orkney and would recommend two. There is much to see and do. And there is a Sinclair connection! Be sure to click on the Myth link. The islands are a World Heritage Site and home to many archaeological sites include the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Steness, Maes Howe, the Eagle's Tomb, and the new dig the Ness of Brodgar. And of course there is Scara Brae, the neolithic village. It''s really an amazing place. There are lots of great videos on You Tube, but I really liked the Coast series.
I'm going to have to do a separate post to cover the next suggestions!
So, once you are back in Scotland and headed west, you'll take the A836. I think that you'll drive past the deactivated nuclear power station. There are lots of wee roads that take you up to the coast. We didn't do the stretch west of Bettyhill. Bettyhill has a museum for the clearances. I believe that Clan Sinclair was affected by them. Maybe you can find out more at Bettyhill. If you want to take a side trip, take the road south along the River Naver to the Strathnaver Trail. There are a few remnants of the cleared villages. It's a nice short hike. You can learn more about it at Bettyhill.
I would stay in Tongue. We had lunch there and I am determined that if I ever get back I will stay there! There were some nice inns. The views were wonderful.
You will head west to Loch Eriboll. This loch has interesting WWII history. This is where the convoys gathered before heading west to America. Your boys might enjoy Alistair McLean's book HMS Ulysses. (They might like his other books as well!) The book portrays the desperateness of the trip. There are also wonderful views of Sutherland including Ben Loyal.
Durness is the next "town". I didn't visit Smoo Cave--I was traveling with 80+ year-old parents--but you and your boys might like it. Report back if you go! :) The other thing we missed was the trip out to Cape Wrath. I really regret that. But it is tricky. Here's the link to the info. I would plan a trip around this I think if I get another chance. You should know that that Wrath is from the Norse that means turning point. It's the turning point for Vikings traveling from Norway to the Western Isles and to Ireland and back. Also, the Kyle of Durness is amazing with all the sand.
You now head south. It rained for us during this part of the trip so I don't have as much commentary. There is a wonderful guide book for the north from Luath Guides. We spent the night in Lochinver. There is an amazing road on the coast. You catch it west just south of Unapool (NOT Ullapool which is further south). It's twisty and incredible. It takes you around to Lochinver which is a good place to spend the night. You can head back to the main road the next AM and head further south.
You'll want to take the A835 toward Ullapool. Just south of the junction is Knockan Crag. This is a geologic stop. There is a great website on the geology of Scotland here. If your boys are interested in geology they might want to check this site out before you completely plan your trip. As you drive south, the Inverpolly Nature Reserve is to your right with Stac Polly being one of the famous mountains. Ullapool is lovely town and ferry port to Stornoway and the Outer Hebrides. There are some great walks in the Hills above the town with wonderful views to the west and across Loch Broome. There may be a great woollen shop there if it is still open. I have several sweaters from there.
I will add more if I can later on, but if you haven't found this recommendation on VisitScotland, you might want to check it out.
Given where you are planning it is possibly worth reading up on the Clearances mentioned by Pam. It still feeds in to Scottish politics to this day. It will explain why so much of the north Highlands are almost empty of people. The Dukes of Sutherland are considered by some the 'villains' of the piece. Pam also mentions Dunrobin Castle, now the seat of the Countess of Sutherland formerly the Dukes of Sutherland, that there are two peers in the UK taking the title 'Sutherland' is the result of a difference between UK inheritance laws (taken from England) and Scottish ones.
Thank you Pamela and MC for your information. I hope it's ok that I add to this post. We too are planning almost the same trip in September. I am wondering about the road you, Pamela described. The one west of Unapool. Is it dangerous? I've seen it described as twisty and incredible. Also how long would the drive take from A894 turn off to Lochinver?