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5 weeks for a once in a lifetime trip to Scotland

My husband and I are planning a 5-week trip to explore Scotland in Sept. and early Oct. 2015. I have longed to visit Scotland for a long time, possibly because of my Scottish ancestry. Three months ago I asked for input for a 3-4 week trip to Scotland. As a result of the great feedback we decided to expand our once in a lifetime trip to Scotland to 5 weeks. We are in our mid 60's. We enjoy hiking, natural beauty, history, music, meeting people and soaking up the culture of an area. We plan to rent a car and stay in B & B's or small cottages. We are flexible and realize we won’t do everything we are interested in because we also want to relax and just soak in the beauty. Our plan is to start in Edinburgh for 5 days: 1 day to recover, 3 days to explore Edinburgh, and 1 to explore the western border area. We stay in St Andrew's at the “Old Course Hotel and Spa” for 3 days, to explore the beautiful little towns in the area and play golf. Three days in Dunkeld (we heard they have wonderful music there) to explore Royal Deeside and Fife; going to the Highland Games in Pitlochry on Sept 12th. Onto Inverness for 3 days, exploring the west side of the Cairngorms on the way. We hope to catch the last couple of days of the Blas Music Festival there. We will explore the Inverness area and travel down the east and west side of Loch Ness. We head to Orkney for 3 days via the Black Isle area. We hope to explore the island and enjoy the music there. We plan to explore the Northern Highlands and coastal areas on our way to Plockton with a night in Durness and 2 nights in Ullapool. We will spend 3 nights in Plockton and explore the Applecross Peninsula and drive the A87 visiting Eilean Donan. Next we head to the Isle of Skye for 3 days of exploring. Onto Oban for 5 nights via Mallaig and Ft. Williams. From Oban we will have day trips to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Glen Coe, and Mull. On our way to Glasgow for 4 nights we will go south of Oban to Kilmartin and Inveraray. We would explore Glasgow and take a day trip to Stirling. We could also take day trips to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and to the Ary and Glasgow area. We would appreciate any ideas or suggestions.

Posted by
333 posts

That sounds like such a wonderful trip! I too will be in Scotland (for a week) at the end of May, rounding out my own 5 week trip (including RS 21 Day Best of Europe tour). I'll have 2 days in Glasgow (home base) and day trips to Edinburgh and Loch Ness. The Scottish friend I'll be staying with is insisting I see Arran Island, as she goes there regularly. So we'll take the ferry there and stay overnight at a B&B. Since she's a local and so strong about me seeing it, perhaps it's something you want to research a bit to see if it is something you might enjoy. Otherwise, I'm sure others who have already been there will pipe in with helpful thoughts and suggestions.

Have fun planning and have a lovely trip!
Lisa

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you for your suggestion about Arron Island Lisa. I hope you have a wonderful 5 week trip exploring Europe. It sounds exciting. Terri

Posted by
1288 posts

Arran has the nickname of 'Scotland in miniature'. The main settlement, Brodick, has quite a good castle under NTS stewardship. I had to do a double take on the responses, to help feel local it is simply 'Arran' or 'isle of Arran' (island of Arran is also used) ;-) This applies to virtually all the islands in these islands.

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1288 posts

Just a quick question when you mention the Borders, is it the Scottish Borders or Dumfries and Galloway council areas you are looking at? The real heartland, where Scotland and England arm wrestled across the century is in what is now Scottish Borders and from there it is worth popping over the border into England for Alnwick and Lindisfarne. The other end you can pop across for the Lake District, Carlisle and the Roman sites of Hadrian's Wall.

The Scottish Borders area was the heartland of the Reivers and was almost out of the control of Edinburgh until the union of the crowns.

If you are interested in Rabbie Burns, do not miss Ayr, or at least going to some of the sites linked to him in Ayrshire with a good centre under the NTS about him.

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14 posts

Thank you for the suggestions. We are hoping to make two day trips into the southern area. One from Galway to Ayr and Dumfries and the other from Edinburgh to Rosslyn Chapel and Roswell.
I must admit I am concerned about how pronounce Scottish towns and words in general. I have been known to "murder" names of people and places in my own country. I appreciate any tips about pronunciations or how to refer to places. Thank you. Terri

Posted by
1288 posts

Don't worry too much about pronouncing the place name, some are tricky. Gaelic sometimes looks like spelling and pronunciation were drawn up by different committees that did not like each other. One of Glasgow's suburbs is Milngavie, pronounced closer to 'mool-guy', though this is an English/Scots rendition, the letter 'v' is not in the Gaelic alphabet. Mor and mhor in a name will both mean 'Big' or 'Great' one is pronounced 'more' the other 'vore'. The Gaelic for Inverness is Inbhir Nis and is pronounced almost the same as the English.

One of the joys I find in travel are the place names, and sometimes mangling them. At the least it breaks the ice!

Posted by
9363 posts

One of my favorites from my trip to the Glasgow area last year was Sauchiehall St - pronounced "sucky hall".

While in Glasgow, be sure to visit Kelvingrove museum. It is fantastic - and free.

Posted by
1288 posts

I'd say more 'Socky hall' for Sauchiehall Street! I agree for the museum. Glasgow City Council museums are all free and all great attractions in the city, be it Kelvingrove, the Transport Museum, St Mungo's or the Burrell.

For pronouncing Scottish place names you also have:

Kilncadzow (kil-cay-ghee) and Auchinleck (which depends on whether it is a placename, surname, or peerage!)

Posted by
5559 posts

This sounds like a wonderful trip! Since you like history, I feel the need to suggest a couple of books and an author. :)

The first book, is about the aforementioned Reivers. George MacDonald Fraser's book, The Steel Bonnets, tells their story. I really enjoyed it. And if you want some historical fiction on the area, check out P.F. Chisholm's books featuring Robert Carey.

The second history book is A Dance Called America by James Hunt. This book tells the story of the Scottish diaspora to North America. It's fascinating. It touches a bit on the other areas--Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa--but the real focus in North America. It's fascinating to read about what drove the movement and what happened here. Spoiler--there's more to it than the Clearances!

Lastly, I want to recommend Nigel Tranter's books. Here's a website that will tell you about him. The short story is that he wrote books about historical Scottish figures. He has a style that can take a bit of getting used to, but as soon as you do, you find yourself back in the 11th or 12 century and looking for a map so that you can see exactly were the Lord of the Isles long ships were going! I really liked The Lord of the Isles and The Islesman, but I scarfed these down during my early trips to Scotland.

Oh, heck and now I have to mention George MacKay Brown and his stories about Orkney. Magnus is the book that I would recommend. You will visit St. Magnus Cathedral in Orkney.

Have a great trip! I can pore on the recommended readings if you want more! :)

Pam

Posted by
1288 posts

I would add Magnus Magnusson's History of Scotland to Pam's list. It is not unique to Scotland, most of the world has it, but our history is sort of a cross between 'One Life to Live' (not having seen it, looking for a North American soap!) and 'Game of Thrones' with a laughter track. It could be violent, nasty and downright silly. Sometimes all together.

Scotland has four of the UK's oldest six universities, dating from a time when the country was not under the full control of the Scottish crown. From the death of Robert III to the succession of Charles I not a single Scottish monarch succeeded as an adult. Not one. That is James I, II, III, IV, V and VI and Mary I, who all owed their crown to an elopement.

The clearances resulted in devastation across the Highlands, and yet left a view that Canada is somehow less foreign than Yorkshire. A dour, unsmiling country that revels in one of the flashiest, blingiest national costumes in Europe and a wicked sense of humour. To match some of the most searing poetry in the English language in terms of romance. Scotland is a nation of contrasts, which to be honest so are most. it is probably worth reading some of Pam's suggestions.

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5559 posts

If you are also interested in hearing some music, then check out the gig guide before your trip. The closer to your trip the more information there will be. I remembered this when one my favorite Duncan Chisholm tunes showed up on shuffle this afternoon. Duncan is wonderful fiddler and I see that he has a schedule out through April on his website. So, if you have favorite artists, you could also check their websites as well. It's really amazing how some of these really good fiddlers show up in tiny towns in the highlands. You should look to see if there are any other music festivals. Some don't show up on the Web until fairly late in the season. Just google it now and then until you leave. Here's another--Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. And Fiona Driver for Orkney.

Also, for Orkney, I really recommend this website. Sigurd Towrie started in the late 90's. It is really quite wonderful.

Posted by
1288 posts

Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are usually kept in storage for BBC Scotland's Hogmanay programme! It might be replica you have been watching.;-)

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5559 posts

Hah! I saw them at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. And, even better, I actually met Aly Bain when he played the Aberfeldy Music Festival in September 2001, the weekend before 9/11. He was staying at my hotel. The concert was sold out, but I got to a lesser known performer's concert in Weems the next night. :)

Pam

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1582 posts

I loved St. Andrews. While my husband played golf, I walked all over town. There is a wonderful golf museum right across the street from the starters shed. I picked up/bought a map of the town and walked to the cemetery to see the graves of Old Tom Morris and his son. For a £ or 2, some of the locals opened their gardens on the street boardering the water. You can take a peak in at St. Andrews University, where Will & Kate went to university. When we went in 2007, there lots of lovely pastry shops in town.

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662 posts

So glad I popped in to read all of these thoughts. tmccallster - we're planning to be in Pitlochry on September 12 for the Highland Games, too!! It would be fun to run into you there! We, too, are going for a dream trip but for about 4 weeks (plus our first time in London). Thanks, everyone for the book list. Watch for future posts as I begin seeking info about the areas we're headed to (focusing on whisky, not golf).

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5559 posts

Ah, Kay, if you are interested in Whisky, then look for Raw Spirit by Iain Banks. It tells of his search for the perfect dram. The trip was funded by the publisher and was a great read. It's not just about the whisky, but also about the roads and the places he visited.

Pam

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662 posts

It's definitely on my list to read, Pamela!