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21 day trip next May - Circumnavigation

Looking for feedback on this trip for next May. It's all to places we've never been in previous trips (except main island of Shetland). Any significant things missing (besides spelling) or bad choices of stops would be valued. We like an evening beer and trad music if available, so we always stay in the town centers to allow walking. Formal castles, Art Museums, and active Cathedrals just aren't interesting to us. Don't really anticipate much music. Puffins are favorites.

-Fly from Pacific NW to Aberdeen via British Airways and rent a car and drive to Stonehaven for the
-Tour Dunnattor Castle, Fowlheugh Wildlife Reserve, St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral, then to
Anstruther for the night.
-Take a boat trip to Isle of May, poke around Anstruther, then to Culross or 2nd night in Anstruther, depending on final dates and boat times.
-Visit Crarae Gardens, then ferry to Islay for night (long day)
-Visit Finlaggen, do a Whisky Walk
-Visit Loch Grunnart Reserve, Ballinby stone, Machir Beach, Museum of Island Life
-Ferry back to mainland, and drive to Fort Augustus via Invergarry Castle (long day)
-Drive along Loch Ness to Falls of Foyers, then to Attendale Gardens, then Shieldag.
-Falls of Measach, Rhue Lighthouse, to Ullapool
-Knockab Crag Nature Reserve, Wee Mad Road, Allt Chranaidh Falls, Smoo Cave to Durness
-Puffin Cove, Dunnet Head, John o’Groats signpost, Duncansby Stacks, Sinclair Castle to Wick.
-Whalagoe Steps, Cairn Leath, Fairy Glen Falls to Nairn.
-Elgin Cathedral & Garden, Craigman Bridge, Bow Fiddle Rock, Troup Head Reserve, Pitslago Castle to
-Bullers of Buchan, Slains Castle, my one square foot Lordship, then to ABZ and fly to Shetlands to Lerwick via Sumburgh Lighthouse.
-Isle of Noss boat tour, Fort Charlotte, Shetland Museum, City Hall (or maybe drive to Noss NR)
-Visit wife’s ancestral home on Bressay, then two ferries to Unst via Muness Castle.
-Hermaness Reserve, Unst Boat Museum, Skinbladder, Keen of Hamar
-Two ferries back to main island, drive to Sumburgh and fly to Aberdeen.
-Seaton Park, King’s College, Saint Machar’s Cemetery by foot/bus
-Fly home via Aberdeen

Posted by
4078 posts

Looking at the Shetlands- in May are you just looking for an external view of Sumburgh Lighthouse, or to also go to the Visitor Centre. If the latter I'm not sure that if you've driven down from Fraserburgh that day, the flight timings are going to allow time to go inside.
Re- the 2 days Lerwick and Bressay, I think I might look at re-organising that a bit. Maybe bright and early on the Ferry to Bressay, drive across island to the Noss ferry landing, then do the ancestral stuff on the way back.
You should be back in time to do some of your Lerwick list.
That way if something happened to the Bressay ferry next day it doesn't impact on the journey to Unst.
Then day 2 do whatever remains of your Lerwick itinerary (the Town Hall, aka City Hall, while worth doing, isn't a long visit. IMHO Shetland Museum is a must, I also hope there is an evening event on at Mareel while you are there). Then early afternoon to Unst.

I would be nervous about driving down from Unst to make a same day flight- just in case of weather or technical issues on the ferries. If you must do it and can stomach the risk then fine. It's a calculated risk. To buy myself more time if it's a night when the overnight ferry to Aberdeen is leaving direct at 1900 (rather than 1730 via Orkney), it might be worth thinking about that. Of course you run the risk of that being weather cancelled but it takes a lot to cancel Northlink. If they cancel then the Island ferries will certainly have been cancelled earlier in the day.

Posted by
4078 posts

By the way I am sure some/many will counsel against driving on arrival day. If you believe you can manage that, on what is a c45 minute drive, fine.
But maybe think about staying overnight at the airport (at the PI or the Holiday Inn Express) then renting the car early the next day.
Partly depends on your arrival time at ABZ.

Posted by
491 posts

Good input. We're only going to Sumburgh Lighthouse to play with the puffins, not go inside the lighthouse. Shetland is the one place we've been on this trip, and we spent a lot of time at the excellent museum last time. The archivist was very helpful with my wife's ancestry.

If we did the Noss walk, it would be instead of the Noss Boat, and we'd visit the home ruin on the same day. Our last trip was fouled up by rain on the planned day for either (and the boat broke down).

I agree about the risk for the last day on Unst, but I haven't figured out a way to eliminate it without adding a day. If we did the same trip, but anti-clockwise, we could get to Shetland earlier in the day and go straight to Unst since we'd be coming from Stonehaven. That raises the issue getting all the things done on the way to Fraserburgh, given our jetlag. Cruden Bay would be easy, but the next day to Nairn would be monumentally long or we'd have to add the dreaded day.

The softest target for recovering a day is to skip the whisky walk and only spend two nights on Islay. Nothing wrong with drinking whisky in the bar (sounds like a good song name).

Posted by
491 posts

We've always driven on the arrival day without problems, even if I don't sleep on the flight. As I age, I'm trying to keep the drive shorter, but I did Dublin to Clonakilty a few years ago (and won't do that again!). Just did Dublin to Belfast a few weeks ago, and I was running out of figurative gas by arrival. I'm a little obsessive about not wasting valuable nights.

Posted by
5125 posts

If you like history and since you will be in the Cruden Bay area, you might want to stop by St. James Church, which is about a mile north of Cruden Bay. It was the site of a battle between the Scots and King Canute's son (and fellow Danes) in 1012. The church came later but inside the church is a font that dates back to that 11th century time. I stopped by the church was closed (I was there fairly early). But I think it would be worth seeing.