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First time in Scotland

Hello, Any tips would be appreciated. I don’t know much about Scotland as of yet, but we will be there for 6-7 days in early July 2020. We’d rather not rent a car. One thing we definitely want to do is get to Port William to take the “Harry Potter” steam train ride. Can anyone suggest an itinerary? We’d love to spend time in Edinburgh and Glasgow and see some of the beautiful countryside. Thank you in advance.

Posted by
151 posts

I think you mean Fort William https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_William,_Highland and not Port William https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_William,_Dumfries_and_Galloway

Both in Scotland, but about 220 miles from each other.

If you have no desire to rent a car, then perhaps looking at well known tour groups like Rabbies and Timberbush might solve this problem for you. Take a look at their websites for itinerary ideas. I'd expect one of them to have a trip on the Jacobite Express somewhere.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are close enough that you could visit one from the other by train with ease.

Posted by
53 posts

Hello Snipsnapper,

My husband and I did our first trip to Scotland in Autumn 2018. We did not want to drive either and were able to put together a great introductory 10 days or so using trains and doing one long bus tour. We are returning next September and found that flights to Glasgow from the US were half the cost of flights to Edinburgh. The two cities are less than an hour apart via train, so that information might help you.

On our last trip we stayed in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, and Oban. We booked that "Harry Potter" steam train from Fort William to Mallaig and back months in advance. It really does sell out, although there were people in line hoping to purchase tickets that day. Since this is a priority for you, I would be careful about the train lines to Ft. William and back. You will probably need to spend two nights in Ft. William which doesn't leave much time for Edinburgh or Glasgow.

We did the long bus tour to the Highlands from Glasgow - long, but truly worth it. We hoped to do a boat tour of the islands from Oban, but this was canceled due to choppy seas. We went to Dunollie Castle instead and loved it. With only 6-7 days, this doesn't work for you (this time!). There is plenty to do in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Enjoy.

Posted by
5 posts

Everyone, Thank you for the responses. And yes, FORT William. Forgive my ignorance.

YES, Julie from Chicago, that is helpful information since we will have a similar timetable as you did.

We will plan to spend the night in Port William the prior to our Jacobite ride and we plan to buy tickets for the whole trip in January (for our July trip). We will stay in Edinburgh for a couple of nights and maybe take a day trip with a tour company from there. Then we will go to Glasgow, and take the train from there to Fort William. Is there much to see and do in Port William? Once the Jacobite ride is accomplished, are there any recommendations for the remaining time? Do you think the ride on the Jacobite and the stops it makes will afford us the opportunity to see much of the countryside? I know that we are traveling on a strict timetable so it is tough to hit all the high points.

Also, does anyone have any recommendations for neighborhoods in which to stay in Edinburgh. We prefer a quiet, quaint setting. We don’t go much for nightlife and busy-ness (I know it is a city!) so a neighborhood that fits that bill would be great for a hotel/B&B. We will be traveling by train from the airport.

Posted by
927 posts

Hi, snipsnapper,

No, there's not a lot to do in Fort William without a car. Your train trip on the Jacobite will leave you with a couple of hours to explore the seaport village of Mallaig. It's one of my favorite places in Scotland, but not to everyone's taste. If you think that you'd like to spend more time in Mallaig, after reading about it, you could take the Jacobite out, and regular Scotrail back.

While you're in Fort William, you could take a Shiel bus out to Glen Nevis, and have a hike through the glen or a hike up the Ben (allow five hours for the Ben). You could also take the Nevis Range gondola up Aonach Mor, or check out the Neptune's Staircase Locks on the Caledonian Canal. You'd need a taxi for the gondola; a train or bus from Fort William to Banavie will get you within walking distance of the locks.

Hope that gives you some ideas for your time in An Gearasdan.

Best wishes, and Happy Holidays!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Depending on how much time you have, you may want to consider taking a bus from Fort William to Inverness, and taking the train back to Glasgow/Edinburgh from there. That way, you avoid going back on the same route that you took to get to Fort William, and you'd get to see Loch Ness from the bus. (If you have any desire to see Loch Ness, that is. If you do, sit on the right side of the bus.)

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you, Mike. So very helpful. I am hoping things will work out well. It seems that it all has to move a bit like clockwork since time is of the essence. Must I make reservations in advance for the buses out of Fort William for the hike you mentioned? I see I called the location PORT again. Why do I do that?? Anyway, thank you. Sounds as if there are things we can do from that point, if you believe they are worthwhile. If not, we can head back to Glasgow and then do a formal tour to castles and countryside and such — which would be fine by us, too.

Posted by
620 posts

Merry Christmas snipsnapper -

Here’s a little aide memoire to get Fort William’s name right. Mike has told you the Gaelic name for Fort William - An Gearasdan. It actually means what it sounds like - The Garrison. Garrison = fort. There you go!

Like others I’d recommend a tour of the Highlands which takes in Glencoe. This is a spectacular valley and I think it looks at its brooding best, given its history, with a bit of cloud and gloom. Of course on a bright day it looks fantastic too and if heading for the peaks, that’s what I’d personally choose.

Fort William sometimes gets a bad rap, because it is a bit utilitarian, but personally, I love it and it is a great base for the Highlands. Oh, one other thing - I think Mike be a tad optimistic with his five hour time for the climb to the summit of Ben Nevis. I’m a fairly strong walker and I’d allow six hours there and back. If nothing else it allows you a little ‘gawp’ time!

Have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
5 posts

Ian, Thank you for the info! I don’t think my husband would like a 5 hour hike, so there you go... or there you DON’T go! I’d like it, though...

Just being in FORT William and walking amongst the people and popping into shops would be fun for me. After the Jacobite, we’d try to get on the the train to Glasgow OR maybe are there some tour companies from that location? It would be nice to go to some spots from there.

Thanks for the information and Merry Christmas to you.

Lori

Posted by
927 posts

Hi again, Lori,

You won't need reservations for the Shiel buses that take you to Glen Nevis or to Banavie for Neptune's Staircase, or the train that would take you to/from Banavie. If you're travelling in July, you should try to make rservations for your train to and from Glasgow.

You definitely need to make advance reservations for the Jacobite. It sells out very quickly. If you can only find a one way reservation (Fort William to Mallaig or Mallaig to Fort William) you can take a regular Scotrail train for your onward/return journey.

Ian was right - Ben Nevis would take at least six hours! The Nevis Range gondola takes you almost 2,100 feet up Aonach Mor, with a lot less effort, and you can hike farther up from the end of the lift.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5 posts

Hi all, And thanks again! Are reservations needed for the gondola?
I am so looking forward to this trip!
Lori

Posted by
620 posts

Well, good on you, excellent. Bag yourself an entry for the Ben Fell Race next year!

However, for us mere mortals I would suggest my estimate is closer to the norm. And I’ve done it in all weathers and probably a dozen times in all. Plus, “what be life if full of care, we have no time to stop and stare?”

With your pace you could have chucked in a Ring of Steall while you were at it and made a day of it!

Ian

Posted by
620 posts

I have a mate who was trying to rack up 21 Ben Fell Races so he got mentioned in the role of honour at the prize giving. He’s on the cover of the book if you look carefully. Me, I think I’m done with fell racing - happy to lumber along trails at a sedate pace thanks to arthritis and advancing years! Anyway the last time I went to see the Ben Race finish it looked like a casualty clearing station!