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Draft Itinerary #1 for about 3 weeks in Scotland- Feedback sought.

We are two 50+ always-going experienced light-on-gear (one backpack each - learned this from Rick in the 80's!) travelers
who don't mind driving and like natural beauty.

Post-CoViD-19 we are going to finally go to Scotland which has been
on our bucket list. Not sure what year it will be in, but it will be
approx June 25-Aug 15. As soon as viable.

Not in love with museums but like the occasionally.

Here is my first-draft itinerary.

QUESTIONS:

~Is this too ambitious?
90% of the time when I get an itinerary put together someone says it's too ambitious.
We are frenetic travelers but we do understand that slowing down is OK. We do NOT enjoy slow, hammock-and-beach
traveling. To us, napping and relaxing are things we can do at home.

~On Skye, should I stay in TWO places or is Portree OK for 4 nights?

~Should we do Orkney instead of Mull/Iiona/Staffa?

~I have 3 more days than I've got planned out. Where should I use them?
Edinburgh? NC 500? Orkney? Mull? Somewhere else?

~Did I miss any sights that I shouldn't have?

~A few things that seem interesting to us I wouldn't mind trying to fit in: Boats (Canal boats/ferries/tours?); Horseback riding? (When/where?); Beginner golf? (We both have golfed but we suck. Golfing in Scotland seems almost essential. A 9-hole? When/where?); Live pub traditional music (an absolute favorite); beer and whiskey (at night after the car is parked); interacting with animals (farm or wildlife); hiking (moderate+) (absolutely must do at least one hike).

DAY# - WHAT - (SLEEP)

  1. Fly W.Coast USA to Edinburgh (Plane)
  2. Arrive Edinburgh (Edinburgh)
  3. Edinburgh (Edinburgh)
  4. Pick up car then 4 Abbeys (Haydon Bridge)
  5. Housesteads/Walk a bit of Hadrian's Wall/ Northumberland Coast+Castles (Falkirk)
  6. Falkirk wheel/Kelpies/Duone & Stirling Castles (Ballater)
  7. Culloden/Urquhart Castle +Fort Augustus to see locks (Inverness)
  8. Guided Speyside Whiskey Tour (Inverness)
  9. Glenmorangie Distillery/ Dunrobin+Sinclair+Keis+ Bucholie castles/Duncansby Stacks & Head Lighthouse Castle Varrich (Thurso)
  10. Coastal route: Smoo Cave/ Kylesku Bridge/Clashnessie Falls/ Handa Island (Lochinver)
  11. Ardvreck Castle/Beinn Eighe (to hike Mountain Loop)/ Coast route to Applecross (Applecross)
  12. Bealach na Ba Eilean Donan Castle/Caisteal Maul (Portree)
  13. North Skye sights/ hike on Storr (Portree)
  14. North Skye sights/ hike on Quiraing (Portree)
  15. Central & South Skye sights (Portree)
  16. Mallaig Ferry to Morar/ Glennfinnan Viaduct/ Loch Linnhe/Banavie (Oban)
  17. Mull/Iona/Staffa (Oban)
  18. Donollie + Dunstaffnage Castles/ St Conan's Kirk/ Kilchern + Inverary Castles Drop off car (Edinburgh)
  19. Glasgow day trip by train (Edinburgh)
  20. EXTRA DAY - WHERE TO PUT IT?
  21. EXTRA DAY - WHERE TO PUT IT?
  22. EXTRA DAY - WHERE TO PUT IT?
  23. FLY HOME TO WESTERN USA (HOME)

I look forward to your feedback. :)

Posted by
17020 posts

Having spent 26 days in Scotland last July, but without a car, my main thought is that your days seem really packed. What happens when the weather isn't conducive to your planned outdoor activities--or will you be well kitted out for wet weather? The western part of the country gets a lot of rain. You don't seem to have slack in the schedule to allow for adjustments in activities.

I like museums and architecture, so I immediately noticed the omission of Glasgow and the single non-jetlagged day in Edinburgh. But your choices may well be right for you. In that case I'd be inclined to add a night in Portree as weather insurance. I missed a lot there because of weather. I ended up not even attempting the Bella Jane boat trip because of the difficulty of getting to the embarkation point by public transportation. Since you'll have you own wheels, I'd recommend checking it out; it sounds great.

You can certainly do Mull/Iona/Staffa in a single day, but I think it means a very early start. Will you want to do that in the middle of such an aggressive trip? I think the small-boat trips to Staffa are weather-dependent.

Not having driven in Scotland or researched driving times, I have no idea whether your proposed daily drives are reasonable. But we have several folks on the forum who will be able to help you on that point. I know everyone says Google is over-optimistic about driving times, and I observed a lot of less-than-two-lane roads on Skye.

A general tip for high-season travel to Scotland: The infrastructure hasn't kept up with the demand. Nail down your lodgings ASAP, and be aware that you may well need dinner reservations in restaurants--and not just in the fancy ones.

Posted by
4 posts

OP, having just been to Northumberland a couple of years ago, I think you aren’t giving yourself enough time if you want to see Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland coast and drive back to Falkirk all in one day. Why not use one of your extra days to stay over in Northumberland? You could drive from Edinburgh to Hadrians Wall, see as much of the wall and museum as you wanted to, drive towards the coast and then go to Alnwick and Bamburgh castles, Lindisfarne, and the fantastic beaches. Spreading this out over an extra day will give you time to explore and linger if anything else catches your eye.

Posted by
1097 posts

We are fellow PNWers. We have driven in Scotland twice. We enjoyed the freedom of not having to be at a specific place every night. You don't need to drive in Edinburgh because it is harder to find parking near the historic center. Just walk or take public transit. Traffic in Scotland will not scare you if you have driven anywhere in the I-5 Corridor at home. We tried to travel in circle routes so as not to back track. We picked a destination and just headed that way; stopping by 5 pm for the night. There are still many accommodations available when you are outside of hot spots... you can book ahead by phone...but we like to do a drive-by first. You can not do this in Skye...where things are always booked in advance. Solution: stay off Island, do day trips. The real problem with Skye, since you can drive on is there is no parking at hiking spots. Solution: go to a place equally lovely but not crowded. If you want to see any of the Islands, make them your prime destination. They do have stay-aboard boat tours for people who really want the Island experience. Might be spendy..but for a once in a life time trip? I would make the Castles a priority as while we have scenery in the PNW we have few Castles. I think that the Airport is pretty close to Glasgow, so you can go there first or last. They do have Pub Crawls in Glasgow and Edinburgh. As for Pubs in smaller places they are more likely to have a Game on TV...maybe music on special nights. If you are in Edinburgh when the Festival is on...you will probably need book accommodation and events in advance. We will see if the Festival is up and running after Covid. Look up other Festivals and make plans in Advance. Look at www.visitscotland.com, it is a gateway for accommodations and admission passes. I noticed that they marked which things are open now and will likely update.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you for these quick replies.

@acraven:
Yes, we will be ready for wet weather. That does not negate your point, however, as a lot of the sights we'd like to see may be unseeable if the weather is bad. As you point out, I have NO slack in the schedule at all. This is the type of advice I'm looking for. I have those three days that I can put anywhere and one or more of them maybe should be on the Western part of the country.

I was also a bit concerned about this single day in Edinburgh. Again...I have 3 days...where to put them?!!

My drives are, I THINK, OK as I don't have any drives that Google lists over 5 hours at most. I understand that in the end that day may be ALL DRIVING, with stops to see the sights, but as I mentioned, my wife and I are OK with that kind of traveling. I've driven a week in rural Ireland so I think I have an idea of what I'm going to be dealing with including single-track roads and the serious slowdown of rural driving. Scotland may be worse, I don't know.

@AmandaR: Yeah, that trip from Haydon Bridge to Falkirk is one of the longest days with the most sights to see. On my OneNote itinerary I actually have the note-to-self "Long day, start early!" hehe. Could be that it deserves one of my 'reserve' days tucked in there. And spreading ANYTHING out over extra days seems wise when possible. The biggest questions I think I have are: "Did I miss something" and "Where do I put my extra 3 days?". :)

Do you have any insight about including the 4 Abbeys (Melrose/Dryburgh/Kelsy/Jedburgh in there on the way between Edinburgh and Haydon Bridge?

I'm also thinking that if I do add a day in there, I may not actually sleep in Falkirk. I may be able to get to Cairngorms instead and move my night a bit. Hmmmm....

@Kathleen: Hello, fellow PNW'er! I don't intend to have a car except the time between leaving and returning to Edinburgh. I'm getting some conflicting vibes about having reservations for the night. You say I may only need that on Skye. I wonder if anyone else has that same opinion. I've read that on the North Coast 500 it can also be trouble. It would be fantastic to not have to book in advance, as I agree with you that the BEST way to travel is by having as open a schedule as possible. Sometimes that seems foolish though because I've been stuck before with either undesirable or really REALLY expensive accommodations doing that elsewhere. We will be traveling in peak season so I really do want to hear some opinions about this! I'm also concerned that after CoViD restrictions on Americans traveling to the UK (and elsewhere), there will be a rush to do that and not only will CoViD be problematic, accommodations and sights will be crowded.

I will seek out the live music as I have no interest in sports while traveling (outside maybe attending a live event). And I will be avoiding Edinburgh during the Festival. I'd love to see Highland Games in a smaller town or any festivals in smaller places, but I'd rather avoid it in the city.

I'm hoping that my wife's and my ability to be up and out early in the AM will allow us to park at those spots that may fill up. I hope others will chime in on this as well.

Posted by
713 posts

Have you considered attending The Fringe in Edinburgh, [in an non-covid era]? It runs most of August, and is the largest performing arts festival in the world. I have been twice, and will attend again. It's so much fun, with entertainment for all ages and interests, along with street theater, the Tatoo at the Castle, along with the small venue indoor performances. Of course, hotel prices, and availability , are an issue as a result.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1193 posts

I was supposed to have been in Scotland in June so I can't speak to on-the-ground experience but from a planning point of view I've learned to book hotels well in advance especially in the tourist hotspots like Edinburgh and Skye. Posters have advised me to add about a 3rd to the driving times provided by Google. I'm a city and museum guy so my picks for the added days would be Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I have a coworker who grew up in Glasgow that raves about the Isle of Arran.

Posted by
1097 posts

You are taking a gamble if you are not pre-booked on accommodations in peak summer season...but sometimes you can get a better place by just driving by listings in the smaller places outside of the big cities. We stayed in quite a few farmhouse B&Bs. You can book ahead online while you are there. If you must golf...I understand some hotels and times share resorts that have non-member access have their own courses. Look at the National Parks for Boating and Hiking and possible accommodation. PS. Campgrounds often have DIY Laundromats.

Posted by
17020 posts

I think the lodging situation for next year is extremely difficult to predict. How many of the places that were open in 2019 will not be operating in 2021? Will you be in a position to act quickly and get to Scotland soon after things open up, ahead of the peak of the surge? What will demand be like at that time?

All I can suggest is that you poke around on booking.com and see what's available for next spring and summer, but I imagine a lot of the small mom-and-pop places may not have their rates set for next year, in which case they will not appear to be available at this point. I struggled to find affordable options in December for a July trip. I ended up bailing on Tobermory and choosing Oban instead, and I did find something in Portree. Given that you'll have a car, you might look at other locations on Skye. I suspect you'll get better value-for-money by doing that. Folks dependent on public transportation kind of need to be in Portree, though I spent one night in Kyle of Lochalsh (cheaper) to facilitate visits to Plockton for me and to Eilean Donan Castle for my travel companion.

Posted by
788 posts

Definitely include Orkney! We loved it there. You can rent a car and drive yourself around. Such great Neolithic Sites, and they've uncovered more since we were there in 2009.

Posted by
47 posts

Your travel preferences sound a lot like ours, but our itineraries have almost no overlap. It makes it clear that seeing Scotland isn't just a three week trip. Our current plan is "slow" by our normal standard, with two nights in most stops - still a hectic pace.
Glasgow-Obanx2-Skyex3-Ft. William-Orkneyx3-Invernessx2-Edinburghx2. If the Oban tour is canceled due to weather, there's a day full of things to see near Oban.

We fly out of S. Oregon and Edinburgh is hard to fly into. It's a short drive from Glasgow, so it's not really that important.

We've done LeBoat trips in both Southern France and Ireland's Shannon, and would highly recommend the idea of a similar thing on Loch Ness, but it's a big time sink. You definitely are constrained to seeing stuff near where you can go on the boat, but you don't have to worry about places to stay.

Although I've scratched them from our trip due to time constraints, Islay is famous for whiskies, and Arran looks fun to me. Easy way to kill your three extra days. You can even fly into Glasgow at the typical West coast times and make it Brodick that evening. Then on to Islay, then Oban for the island tour.

Posted by
6 posts

@Pat:

We have considered the Fringe Festival and it looks like a lot of fun. Because of time restrictions we've decided that the natural Scotland is more important and the Fringe Festival really deserves more time than we'd ever have to be able to give it. I'd like to see if once we get dates set we can get a stop in a town that is celebrating with Highland Games to get a little taste of that.

@Allan:

Thanks for the tips. One that I am really looking for is the 'do we pre-book or not?' when it comes to places to sleep.
It seems like since we will be there at peak time (late June/early July), we really will need to. The 'add a 3rd' to drive times tip is good too. I think I've tried to use something similar to that already. My experience in Ireland was even slower than that!

@Kathleen:

Another answer suggesting the pre-book for accommodations. OK, I think we have to live with that. I think I'm hedging toward NOT golfing just because of the time constraint.

@acraven:

Does your plan include driving any of the North Coast? I see Orkney in there: will you FERRY over or will you FLY?
Why do you think Edinburgh is 'hard to fly into'? Is it just because you're starting in Southern Oregon?

We were also considering a boating time like LeBoat, but like you say, it's a time-suck so I think I've abandoned that idea.

I would LOVE to include Islay, but again time constraints aren't really conducive to it. I'll have to do a Speyside whisky tour instead. As far as the extra three days go, you mention Islay and Arran. I'm super tempted by that, but conflicted because I feel like the North Coast needs the time as well as Edinburgh.

SO MANY COMPROMISES!!

Posted by
704 posts

Well, here’s the thing - there really aren’t any bad choices. You just can’t see it all in your timeframe, no matter how fast you travel. I think I would be tempted to agree with Amanda about an extra night in Northumberland, if you are headed that direction anyway. Then pick another place for your other 2 nights. Although you could easily stay in Edinburgh longer, at your pace you might not want to.

You have obviously done your research, so ultimately it comes down to a matter of what calls you most. In preparation, though, I second acraven’s thought about what can be cancelled because of weather and how that affects your plan at high speed and what your priorities are. Anything related to being on the water can conceivably be cancelled, so you will need to be able to adjust.

Regarding Portree, if you are driving to Skye and ferrying off, you could stay a variety of places. You might back that decision up by deciding when you would have to leave to catch the ferry required by the constraints of the rest of your day - or by where you plan to spend most of your time and how much driving you want to do to facilitate that. But yes, just stay all 4 nights in the same place.

Posted by
81 posts

Your first question is, "is this too ambitious?" followed by a qualifier that your itineraries are always seen to be too ambitious.

Nevertheless, in my opinion your itinerary will require you to blow by many interesting and quite scenic sites. To take a specific example, your day 5 plans only a brief walk on Hadrian's wall at Housesteads followed by a long drive to the coast, some castle visits and ending up back in Scotland at Falkirk. In itself this is a pretty long day with a lot of time in the car. And it has the defect of ignoring the Roman Army Museum and Vindolanda which are extremely useful in understanding the historical context and impact of Hadrian's wall. Both are really excellent overviews of the history of the wall and how it was built and sustained. Vindolanda is an outdoor exhibit and an active archaeological dig. Tours are often available and are excellent but you might have to wait a bit for the next one.

Your plan provides time only for a brief walk on the wall. It seems to me to be a shame to travel so far and not take in all that the area has to offer. It is, of course, your choice. But I do have to say that when we visited I was of similar mind as you. I really just wanted to see and walk on the wall. However, I was persuaded to visit the museums and really enjoyed the experience. We spent two nights in the area giving us a full day to see the sights at a comfortable pace.

Also, as I believe has been comments on before - google drive times are extremely optimistic in this area. Two lane country roads with a delivery truck or two will add hours to your drive time. Road repairs/construction are also common in the summer months. So, add 20% and be happy if you don't need it. Fairly often the weather will slow your travel, too. Heavy rain, reduced visibility and slick roads are not at all uncommon.

Posted by
6 posts

@Travelmom:

I think your probably right that "there really aren't any bad choices". I think the idea that we are time-constrained so we need to make the best of the trip WITH THE TIME WE HAVE. I feel like I might actually nix the Northumberland/Hadrian's Wall thing even though that really does appeal to me. I'm MORE attracted to the sights and hiking in the Highlands.

I'm curious why you recommend "all 4 nights in the same place" on Skye. I see the benefit of the relaxation of not moving every other day, but I also love the variety of doing just that. Skye seems pretty small though so if I'm staying 4 nights there, maybe that IS the RIGHT place to build in that kind of unburdened time.

@Robbie:

My beginning my questions with the qualifier is my attempt at explaining that we really are frenetic travelers and I understand that for some even my IDEAL pace is far too fast for others. What I hope is that I can explain myself well enough to get suggestions about what piece may be too fast-paced (or impossible?), without slowing down so much as to make it a really leisurely pace because that is not what I'm looking for either. There's a balance and I understand that everyone's balance is different. I'm trying to work toward mine and trying to portray it to the awesome people who are here and giving experienced advice on the places I'm looking to go.

Your suggestions about Hadrian's Wall and the Northumberland area do indeed sound much more appealing to me than the drive-there/drive-back method I've squeezed in. I think both @TravelMom's and your apparent appreciation for that area make me think it should be part of a different trip rather than trying to shoehorn it into this one. Maybe instead i need to focus solely on Scotland.

Hmmmm.....

Now I may need to tweak the itinerary and add the extra 2 days I would have spent traveling South of Edinburgh and instead keep them IN Edinburgh and Scotland proper. I will keep reading and taking any suggestions I get. Thank you!

Posted by
479 posts

I will throw in a quick thought on Skye and accommodation in general for 2021 in the Highlands.

Skye first. It takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive from the Skye bridge at Kyle to the north end of the island. If I was only going to spend 4 nights here on Skye then I would not bother with moving lodgings. If you want to be able to walk to a choice of restaurants and cafes then Portree is the obvious (really the only) place to base yourself. In a non pandemic situation there is usually live music to be found somewhere on the island of an evening (e.g. the Old Inn at Carbost, the Edinbane Inn at Edinbane or one of the pubs in Portree). However, at the moment there is no live music at all due to the pandemic and none of us know when we will be able to play in a packed pub again.

Accommodation. This applies specifically to Skye but probably to all parts of the Highlands. Unless you want to stay in a hotel, then you are likely to be looking at a Bed & Breakfast. These are usually small, family run affairs with a small number of bedrooms. Most will not yet have decided when (or even whether) to open in 2021 - I know I haven't! I suspect people will start to open up their diaries for reservations in early New Year 2021 (personally I will probably wait until late February or early March before opening my diary and I know I will be 100% booked within a couple of weeks for the entire summer). Another option could be a camping pod (a small wooden hut with bed, bathroom and basic cooking and seating area). Again these are usually run on a very small scale and I suspect most people won't have opened their diaries yet. Self catering properties might already have their diaries up and running - but most will require a 7 night minimum stay in summer - so probably not what you are looking for.

Hiking on Skye. The Storr and The Quiraing are very close together and will give you basically the same view out east towards the mainland. Of the 2 I would pick the Quiraing as you get away from the crowds more quickly. Check out the Walk Highlands site for other interesting and perhaps less well trodden hikes on Skye.

Ferries. You will need to reserve ahead for the Armadale to Mallaig ferry assuming you are bringing a car on board.

Hope this helps.
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
704 posts

Jacqui, as the forum expert on (and from) Skye, explained why I suggested all 4 nights in the same place. It’s not huge and so you may save time by staying in one place, in order to have more time for sights and hiking.

Hadrian’s Wall is still on my list, too. But I think you are right that it’s an outlier on this itinerary.

You mentioned golf as a non-expert: if you wanted a day trip from Edinburgh, you could head up to St. Andrews and play on the St Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club open to the public. Or use one of your nights and stay somewhere nearby.

I am planning to stay in Tobermory and take the Staffa/Lunga tour. But I would be really disappointed if I only had 1 day and the weather was bad. As you say, it’s the priorities.

And for my next trip, Harris and Lewis are calling my name after my time on Skye. As close as it seems, Orkney didn’t fit. Just thoughts.

Posted by
6 posts

@SkyGirl: "Hope this helps." ~Indeed it does!

Your suggestion of staying in one place over 4 nights on Skye seems good. Travelmom said that as well.

Live Music is probably the saddest non-human victim of the pandemic. I won't travel until it's back, it's that important to me. I imagine it would be back before I felt comfortable traveling anyway. Sounds like, for that, Portree and its pubs that I could walk to after a few drinks would be the plan then.

I will keep an eye out here on the forum for the near (and far) future to see what happens and when B&B's begin taking reservations. Is keeping an eye out here on the forum the best way to monitor that? If instead I found a B&B I was really wanting to stay in, should I try to contact them before they are even offering up reservations? I don't want to annoy them and I know this is a stressful time.

You say you'd pick Quiraing over Storr for the lesser crowds. We are generally early risers and I wonder a couple things:

~Can crowds at Storr be mitigated by being early?

~Could an ambitious person do both in one day?

I have noted on my travel planning tool (I'm a OneNote fan) the fact that I need reservations for the ferry at Armadale and also these great tips. Thank you for the help.

@Travelmom:

Thanks for the suggestion on St. Andrews, but I think I'm just going to skip golf this go-round. Time is too short.
Likewise with the Orkney and Hadrian's Wall legs.

Of course I'm really ALWAYS wavering between a whirlwind tour driving 'round the entire UK and a more leisurely (or at least more depthful) tour of just Scotland. At this specific moment in time I'm hedging toward JUST SCOTLAND and even then not ALL of scotland. ;)

Tobermory looks like a great town. Beautiful in pictures and they've got themselves a distillery! Throw in some live pub music and it sounds like my ideal place.

Thanks for the tips!

I'll work on this some more and read whatever advice anyone happens to add. Once I've decided on whether I'm adding Orkeny or nixing Hadrian's Wall I'l probably post a more detailed itinerary.
:)

Posted by
10 posts

Hello DrToonz. My husband and I also tackle ambitious itineraries when we travel. We were supposed to be in Scotland right now, but...Next year perhaps. We had planned just over 3 weeks and were going to focus on the Highlands/West Coast. We chose a weeks stay in a cottage at a working farm near Inverness and planned to do day trips from there. I hate having to pack up and move everyday to a new hotel/B and B. The itinerary included trips out to sites/castles/mountains/lochs/scenery all within 1-2 hours of the farm. Busy days but more time to actually see/experience things. We planned to see as many castles as possible, reindeer in the Cairngorms, highland cows, sheep dog trials/demonstrations, highland games and sea stacks (among many other things). All included in doable day trips. We were also to stay on Skye - definitely book hotel/B and B in advance.

I see that you hoped to include a highland games, do check out http://www.shga.co.uk/events.php Their calendar is a bit scant currently as no one has decided on dates for next year as yet, but checking back will give you an idea. There is at least one games per weekend all summer long and I'm sure you would be able to fit one into your schedule. They are wonderful! Enjoy your trip when it eventually happens!
Heather

Posted by
713 posts

If you want the golf "experience", but not play, the St. Andrews course is closed on Sundays, and you can walk the course. We went with a colorful local guide, and as a golfer, I can't imagine playing that course in the wind and the chill. We were there in August, and the wind was crazy and cold!
Have a great trip!

Posted by
713 posts

Also- leashed dogs are allowed on the course with the golfers- would that make it a five-some? I had never seen that anywhere before.

Posted by
6 posts

@mmmim:

Sounds like you have not yet been to Scotland, right? And maybe you'll go near when my wife and I go next year (CoViD permitting)?

Maybe the week's stay in a 'hub' spot would be a good idea. I'll definitely need to add some individual 1-night stays doing the NC500 but for the area closer to the south that might be doable. Hmmm....

The stay on a working farm sounds fantastic. Can you share with me where that is?

I'll keep an eye on the Highland Games web site for sure. I absolutely want to devote a day to that.
Thanks for the tips.

@pat

Interesting. I'll look into the guided walk on St. Andrews. Now I want to bring my dog! ;)