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4 weeks in Scotland

My husband and I are in the beginning stages of planning a four-week adventure to Scotland in September and possibly the beginning of October2015. Scotland is number one on my destination bucket list. My husband and I are in our mid 60’s. Our primary objectives would be to see natural scenic beauty, take up to 6-8 km day hikes, explore castle’s and abby’s, enjoy traditional music, take in an Highland Festival (Braemar, Pitlochry, or Invercharron), relax and enjoy the culture and people, and learn more of Scotland’s history. We have tentatively thought about staying in Edinburgh-4 days, Pitlochry-3 days, Inverness-4 days, Ullapool 4-days, Portree-3 days, Fort William-4 days, Oban or Inveraray-3 days, and Stirling 3 days. We will rent a vehicle (except for Edinburgh) to travel around the country and to take day road trips. We are accustomed with driving challenging roads, having driven coastal and inland regions in Ireland and Italy for example. We are thinking about a train ride either from Edinburgh or Ft. William to Inverness. We will probably generally stay in B and B’s or hotels. We love B and B’s because you sometimes meet other travelers and we have found innkeepers to be generally very welcoming and helpful. We are very open to suggestions about specific towns to stay in or places to see or experience. Any feedback about this tentative itinerary or suggestions for this trip would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
5618 posts

We had 2 weeks in Scotland this past August, so with 4 weeks you'll be able to see more and/or take things at an easier pace. August was high season, with maximum tourists, so I'd imagine October should be somewhat less busy, with fewer crowds at sights and less tourists trying to stay on their (left) side of the narrow roads. In particular, on the drive from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, and then on Skye itself, cars straddled the center line, which made for a few harrowing situations. On Skye, we saw lots of Belgian, German, Dutch, and French license plates, with steering wheels on the left, so many people had obviously brought their Continental European cars and motorhomes to Scotland, and were attempting to drive on an unfamiliar side of the road, from the "wrong" side of the vehicle. Add to that those of us in rented UK cars, and I imagine the locals are happy to see the traffic ease up when the visitors leave! In places, the already narrow road tapers down to a single lane, with occasional, signed "passing places," where cars can pass. Sometimes you pull over (or stop, so they can drive around you), and sometimes they stop for you to pass. We got a magnetic green "P" (not red "A") sign to put on the back of the car, to alert the locals that we weren't fully experienced driving on the left.

We didn't make it to any Highland Gatherings in August, but my understanding is that's primarily a summer activity, and I'm not sure you'll encounter any in October. Trad music, however, should be abundant, and we really enjoyed the Royal Oak Pub in Edinburgh, recommended in Rick Steves' guidebook. The tiny upstairs pub usually has music, but if there's a show in their basement, go and you'll be rewarded. Check with them to see what and who's playing. There's also an excellent Indian restaurant next door, with great food for really good prices, and you can have whisky with your curry :-)

Some months may tend to get more rain than others, and in general the east seems to be a bit drier than the west, but figure on rain every other day on average for Scotland, and dress accordingly. Skye has fine hikes and walks, including out of Sligachan and thru the Quiraing on the Trotternish Peninsula. Rather than staying in Portree, which we visited one day, we stayed farther west, at the Roskhill House B&B (www.roskhillhouse.co.uk) south of Dunvegan, which worked better for getting to the places on Skye we wanted to see & hike.

Fort William and Glen Coe have lots of hiking opportunities, too. We stayed at the Seafield House B&B in Fort William (www.seafieldhousefortwilliam.co.uk/#!), and had breakfast each morning with a German couple who were climbing Munros (peaks over 3000'). We didn't make it to some other places you're considering in our short visit, but did fly on Flybe Air to and from Shetland and Orkney way up north, for coastal views and a wealth of Iron Age and Neolithic sights (and more music).

Posted by
5784 posts

West Highland Way is a classic 1 week walk: http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/
A number of self-guided tour booking agencies can book sequential lodging and luggage transfer service for you.

For shorter walks, check out the Lonely Planet "Walking in Scotland" guide book.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks for the great suggestions. I'm going to check out the b and b suggestions and air travel to Orkney and Shetland.

Posted by
1345 posts

If you take the train at any point, the line between Glasgow and Ft William, once out of the Glasgow conurbation, is considered one of the more scenic routes on the rail network.

Out of the central belt lowlands (Glasgow, Ayr, Edinburgh, Stirling, Perth, Dundee) Scotland is not that easy to cross east/west due to the geography so that would need to be taken into account for journey planning.

Posted by
13082 posts

We spent a week in Scotland last May! with a ficus on walking. We traveled entirely by train. One of our favorite walks was on the Isle of Kerrera, a three-minute ferry ride from Oban.

http://www.southernhebrides.com/isle-of-kerrera.html

Only about 35 people live on the island, and there is no car traffic. The ruined castle was lovely. We spent two nights at a lovely B and B in Oban, the Greystone. I read of it in a UK article naming the "ten most beautiful ocean view B and B's in the UK".

We rode the train into the highlands from Glasgow, and got off to spend a night in Bridge of Orchy, where there is a small hotel catering to walkers. We walked the West Highland Way in both directions from there.

Something we wanted to do, but ran out of time, was a program at the Aigas Nature Center near Inverness. Their week-long programs focus on wildlife, birding, photography, and local history/archeology.

http://www.aigas.co.uk/programmes_by_date.asp

Posted by
1350 posts

Definitely get to Orkney. It was our favourite part of Scotland (over two trips). We flew from Edinburgh to Kirkwall and then flew back to Aberdeen, but on reflection it would have better to just drive it and take the ferry.

For whatever reason we had difficulty getting a B&B in Stirling (despite booking several months ahead), so decided to stay in Doune at Glenardoch House B&B. It is right across from Doune Castle (of Monty Python fame and now of Outlander fame). Lovely gardens and a nice little town with a few options for dinner.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you. I was debating between Oban and Inverarary. Your suggestions really helped.

Posted by
5669 posts

With four weeks you have a lot of choices. I would recommend September. The days are just a wee bit shorter. You'll see the remnants of the heather, the tourist sites are still all on summer schedules and since the kids are back in school the numbers of tourists are down.

There are some lovely hikes that you can take all over Scotland, Check out Walkhighlands for specific information about walks. Bear in mind that in Scotland, walks are hikes. :) I want to strongly recommend that you have good hiking boots and that you not try to get by with Nikes or other walking shoe. The trails in Scotland tend to be be wet and they tend to be a bit rugged. I wear my boots, I have a walking stick for balance, I have a water proof jacket with a hood--not water resistant, I have rain pants and I have convertible pants to wear under them just in case the sun pops out and I can get my Scottish Suntan. And I have indeed gotten one. I also have a midgie hat. This is basically mosquito netting that covers my face. You may not need it, but if you do, you will be very, very happy to have it. There are outdoor sports shops in Edinburgh in New Town that sell them.

My favorite places to walk include:

  • Glen Affric. The circle walk is longer than you've mentioned, but I really liked it. But if you don't have time, walk in and walk out.
  • Ullapool Hills. There are a lot of walks in the Ullapool area. The walk up Ullapool Hill is short and offers marvelous views of Loch Broome. There are other walks in the area. This is also the ferry port to Stornoway on Lewis. And there is a wonderful woolen shop here.
  • Loch Maree and Gairloch. We did a lovely walk near Loch Maree and on the Beach at Gairloch. Torridon is a wonderful area.
  • Culbin Sands. You can do a wide variety of walks at Culbin sands near Nairn just east of Inverness. The sands are on the Moray Firth and you can walk out to the beach and then work your way back through the forrest. Wonderful views of the firth and a relaxing walk.
  • Dunkeld and Perthshire. There are some great short walks near Dunkeld. And there is a great pub in the village that has traditional music at night.
  • Aberfeldy and Glen Lyon. This is beautiful area. The Hermitage walk is good or you can just walk along the Tay. Maps in the TI. The Birks of Aberfeldy is very nice walk with waterfalls and a bit historic. Glen Lyon is absolutely beautiful. And do take the wee road over the mountain to Loch Tummel.
  • The Trossachs. For some reason, I've not done any walks in the Trossachs. I probably should.
  • Skye. Of course there are many, many walks here. My sister and I did the walk from Sligachan up the mountain to where you can see Loch Coruisk and back. It was wonderful walk.
  • Glen Nevis. I did a very nice short walk in Glen Nevis. I mostly took a lot of pictures.
  • Cairngorms. Rothiemurchus has many walks of differing lengths. The whole area near Aviemore has other possibilities for you.

Think about not booking everything in advance. Since you want to walk, think about having some flexibility for your plans. It can be lovely in the Cairngorms when it is blowing a gale in the west.

Pam

Posted by
1345 posts

I can get my Scottish Suntan

You don't tan in Scotland, you rust! ;-)

Actually every year people get surprised that you can get sunburned in Scotland. Long summer days, the Sun does not really set in the north the end of June, beginning of July and temperatures that can get into the high twenties seem not to be peoples' expectation.

Posted by
608 posts

My favorite part of our tour was visiting the Isles of Mull and Iona from Oban. The landscape on Mull was unbelievable, and Iona was so peaceful. Also, there is another island you can visit, called Staffa I think, that is supposed to be beautiful with really unique landscapes and wildlife. I would definitely like to go back one day and spend some more time in that area. Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
5669 posts

Hah, MC. One year we fell asleep after lunch in the heather in the Ullapool Hills and I found I had a sunburn! It was a gorgeous day.

Pam

Posted by
5669 posts

When I went to Mull I stayed in Tobermory. I explored Mull quite a bit, but I also did the boat tour to Staff and Iona. It was a great day until I found out it was 9/11 and the World Trade Center had been coming down while I was enjoying the peace of Iona's Abbey. I often think of the church and the robin that was singing away inside.

Tobermory is wonderful. The people at the Mish were great and kind to me that night. I was an American alone.

Since that trip I've seen a wonderful documentary on the Eagles of Mull. I highly recommend it. Also, you can take boat trips that oriented to seeing wildlife instead of Fingal's Cave on Staffa. Duart Castle was my favorite castle. It's the location of some of the activity in Nigel Tranter's books about the west coast--the Lord of the Isles and The Islesman. If you are at all interested in history check out these books. You go right past this castle on the ferry from Oban. When you're in the castle you can see why it is located where it is. Back when it was built the main transportation was galleys. And from the castle walls you have a view up the Sound of Mull, up Loch Linnhe, and down toward Argyle. Squint a bit and you'll probably see the glint of oars.

Pam

Posted by
1345 posts

I always plan to go back to Mull, but haven't made it back for a few years. Also Islay and Jura, but would recommend Mull and the Northern Isles, Shetland or Orkney are where you want to be around mid-Summer, although anywhere in the north is good for that. The days will still be relatively long into September.

Pam, we had guests up this summer who were pleasantly surprised that at an outdoor event it was still light enough and warm enough to sit out side at 10 pm without either extra heating or lighting. Near where you got the sunburn is Torridon, which has palm trees, which people don't expect in Scotland!

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks Pam. I am seriously planning to include Mull and will try to figure out a way to include Orkney. I once planned a 7 week trip touring Italy and used trains, plains, cars, ferries and boats; but for some reason I'm having a harder time figuring out our plans for Scotland. Maybe, it's because I'm looking at 4 instead of 7 weeks.

Posted by
5669 posts

When I last went to Orkney, I started the trip there. We flew from Madison WI to St. Louis, to Heathrow, to Edinburgh, to Inverness to Kirkwall. The last two were at least on the same plane and whisky came down the aisle. :) It took nearly a full 24 hours to do this--departing at 3 PM and arriving at 6 PM in Kirkwall. This actually worked quite well. We rented a car for our stay on Orkney. Then took the ferry from Stromness to Scrabster. Took the bus to Inverness where we rented the second car that we used for the balance of the trip.

Pam

Posted by
5669 posts

BTW are you looking at checking out the MacAlister Glenbarr Abbey? I stopped by when I was staying in Tarbert and enjoyed my visit.

Pam

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. I hadn't heard the castle . I'll check it out. I grew up near Madison Wi and still live in Wi.

Posted by
5669 posts

The trip through St. Louis was after American had purchased TWA, but before they were fully integrated and they had pulled out of Lambert completely. That airport is a ghost town these days.

Posted by
1345 posts

Pam must being paid by VisitScotland or the Scottish Government as she recommends every thing I would and they would! ;-) Actually sometimes I am convinced she lives here! And compared to her points, I don't!

What I would add is Scotland is both a small and a big country. One tenth of the population of the UK in a third of its land area makes Scotland different. My recommendation is if you have four weeks, look at what you want. There are a number of different Scotlands out there. Orkney is not part of the Gaelic Scotland, whereas the rest of us live in different varieties of Gaelic Scotland. The industrial central belt is different to the heather clad hills of the Highlands and Islands.If you have four weeks do not automatically exclude Aberdeen and the North East, again a different Scotland.

I would say have a look in the guidebooks as to what you want and then plan. If you want, PM me.

But go to Mull and Iona. And Orkney.

Posted by
5669 posts

Don't I wish I were paid! They should. :) But in truth, I've made a lot of trips and read a lot. I love knowing about a place--the history, the culture, the politics. And I have to say that in truth, Scotland is easier to understand that NYC. :) I'm working on learning more about the latter.

BTW just finished reading The Shetland Bus. Great story about the fishing boats that traveled from Shetland to Norway and back delivering agents, guns, and more as well as helping refugees escape to Shetland and the UK. It's a fascinating story of WWII.

Pam

Posted by
14 posts

Love the conversation and all of the ideas. I am beginning to expand to 5 weeks we will see. Hope I have some time to look at things this week.

Posted by
5618 posts

Having 4 weeks to travel is outstanding, but having a 5th week would be a luxury! Guidebooks and other travel resources describe lots to see and do in the northeast that MC mentions, but we didn't get to fit that in (Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, etc.) this last time around. There's also the Borders towards the border with England, and the city of Glasgow, and Mull, and Iona, and Islay, and . . . You may have already investigated this, but if you wind up with adequate time and sufficient interest to see lots of sights, consider one of the versions of the pass from Historic Scotland (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk), which can save you money. I remember Pam mentioning that she purchased a full membership, which again, could be a good deal for you & for the preservation of historic sights around Scotland. There's even an Orkney Explorer Pass, which we didn't wind up getting but did look at for our trip.

Posted by
5669 posts

I want to second Cyn's recommendation of the Historic Scotland site. You should think about getting a membership. If you go to Stirling and Edinburgh Castles and one more, and you've probably covered the costs. You also get a quarterly magazine which is lovely souvenir of your trip.

You might also want to check out these websites. First, Undiscovered Scotland has great feature pages. I always look up towns here. Another site is Rampant Scotland. When I first started traveling to Scotland the second time, I used this site a lot. I think it's tied to B&B's, but I'm not sure.

Posted by
1672 posts

I may have overlooked it, but I don't see any mention of Harris / Lewis in your itinerary. We went there primarily to see Callanish, but were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the area was. To get there, take the ferry from Uig ferry port on Sky.e Upon arrival, spend a couple of hours driving the loop around Harris. The two coasts of Harris are quite different (one side looks like a lunar landscape) and there's an interesting church at the south end. After Harris, head up into Lewis ( the two islands are connected). We stayed at a farm B and B that was very close to Callanish. Farther north on the west side of Lewis is a very well preserved Broach. We had one of the best meals of our trip at Digby Chicks in Stornaway, the main town of the island, and also enjoyed visiting the Harris weaving shop in Stornaway. Due to the ferry schedules, you pretty much need to spend two nights on Harris / Lewis. Try to avoid being there on a Sunday, because so many things are closed on that day.

Posted by
1345 posts

Try to avoid being there on a Sunday, because so many things are closed on that day.

At least they don't tie up the swings anymore;-)

I would add my voice to those advocating for Historic Scotland passes, being the government agency as opposed to the charity National Trust for Scotland, they have most of the crown properties on their care and therefore a very eclectic mix, but would not rule out NTS equivalents.

Posted by
484 posts

If you like wildlife - besides what you find late night at pubs - pack a compact pair of binoculars. I enjoyed the birds, deer, and seals of Scotland. I may be the only birder on this forum. Do bring a daypack. Some places - it is easier to carry your own food/ drinks for lunch. Inverness is a great location to "recuperate." It's a very walkable place. Good choice of reasonably priced restaurants - the Mustard Seed is very good and not fancy. Easy to get your laundry done. Grocery stores. Nice stores for shopping. So, you may want to visit Inverness somewhere in the middle of your trip for a couple of relaxing nights - just to hang out. Here's a tip - you are more likely to see Nessie if you visit a pub before your boat ride. There's also Culloden Battlefield and museum.

Posted by
1246 posts

We traveled in Scotland in September-October and I would recommend starting early in September vice October as the weather can be like early winter with cold rain and snow flurries in the higher elevations and latitudes. Remember you are as far north as the Alaska Panhandle with similar climate. What time of year were you in Ireland? If it was same time of year then you know already and will be OK with it. Also, many of the out of city sites are closed between October and March. We also enjoyed the South West in Scotland which has castles and forests and beaches plus quaint seaside towns. Closest to Ireland; so might be similar...a lot less tourists tho!

Posted by
14 posts

Interesting string, as we are also planning a 4 week trip to Scotland/Ireland in September. We are in our 60's, and will focus on hiking in Scotland, and will join a Backroads cycling tour for a week in Ireland. I agree with other comments about the weather - September is likely better than October. You mentioned Braemar Games - they are Saturday September 6th, 2015. Tickets just went on sale November 8th. Good luck!

Posted by
691 posts

Just to chime in...we're going for three weeks beginning the first week of September 2015. Maybe we'll run into each other!

Posted by
1834 posts

Islay and Jura for sure. The Rough Guide Scotland is, in our expeerience, the best single guidebook to use. You can drive to Islay using the ferry from Kennacross to Port Ellen. It would be a good idea to have hotel or B & B reservations beforehand.

Posted by
14 posts

A follow up to my previous comment about the Braemar Gathering (Saturday Sept 5), as we've just received our tickets in the mail. Tix are not available online, you must write to the Braemar Royal Highland Society, or phone them. I phoned, but had to call three times before I was able to speak with someone and make the purchase.

They are already sold out of "covered stand" tix, so if you are interested in going, you'll want to contact them sooner, rather than later. Braemar lodging was already sold out when I started looking several weeks ago. The largest accommodation in Braemar, the Fife Arms is being sold and closed for two years of renovation (according to the hotel). We booked a B & B in Ballater, which is approx. 17 miles down the road (very near Balmoral Castle).

We've booked an airbnb in Edinburgh, and Speyside, and have one on our radar in Portree. Overall, we prefer to rent apartments for the self-catering and laundry, but in Scotland we'll also do a few B&Bs and guest houses.

I find this forum to be incredibly helpful, and have spent hours combing through the posts, even posts I didn't "think" I'd have any interest in/need to read. But I continue to find nuggets of extremely helpful info even in the most unlikely posts. The guide books I'm using are Lonely Planet Highlands and Islands, Walking Scotland, Pocket Edinburgh, RS Great Britain, and the Rough Guide (all from the Berkeley Public Library), and RS Scotland, which I purchased. And I am a collector of websites - many great bookmarks on my computer - just have to start digging in.

Kay, hope to run into you in Scotland:)

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks for all of the incredibly helpful information. It is great to encounter such a wonderful community of support.