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first trip to Scotland itinerary - round two

Thanks everyone who gave me feedback on my first itinerary which included the Isle of Skye. After more consideration, I thought it might be better to save Skye for another trip and combine it with the Isles of Lewis and Harris and fly round trip in and out of Inverness, time better spent overall than trying to drive back and forth from Edinburgh this trip.

I've been working on a new itinerary that gives us a variety of experiences in the short amount of time we will be there. I'm strategically attempting to break up driving days with other interesting activities. I'm more interested in seeing the western landscape than the Cairngorms so that is why we aren't spending any more time in that area. I didn't want to split up our stay in Edinburgh at the beginning and end of the trip so I wanted to find a location we could get to with relative ease to start our trip; Pitlochry seemed like a good fit.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on where to pick up the rental car. Edinburgh airport is obviously the most convenient but I am concerned it may be stressful and congested. I found the town of Kirkcaldy which has an Enterprise; we could either take public transportation or possibly a taxi from EDI and pick our car up there. It is outside of Edinburgh and just south of Falkland so it is convenient. We have driven on the other side of the road before and will rent an automatic. I'm not crazy about driving the day of arrival but we have done it before for short distances in both Ireland and France. We're in our 30s so we have good energy levels yet.

October 4: Arrive EDI 9:10 am. Pick up rental car at either Edinburgh airport or Kirkcaldy. Visit Falkland Palace, drive to Pitlochry for the night. Visit Edradour Distillery.

October 5: Falls of Bruar walk in morning after breakfast. Drive to Oban via Fortingall. Would like to pick a nice, scenic location to hike somewhere on this drive.

October 6: Three Isles Boat Tour from Oban

October 7: Oban Distillery Tour in the morning. Drive up to Fort William, visit the West Highland Museum. Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge Hike.

October 8: Jacobite Steam Train

October 9: Drive to Edinburgh - scenic stop at Glen Etive. Visit Doune Castle and drop rental car at either Edinburgh airport or back at Kirkcaldy.

October 10-12: Edinburgh

October 13: Fly home

If we get an early start on October 9, it looks like we could visit either Linlithgow or Culross village. Both look interesting. OR, we could make a bee-line that day to get back to Edinburgh as soon as possible for sight-seeing. If we did this, we could use one of our Edinburgh days to go on a Rabbie's "Outlander" tour that covers Doune Castle, Linlithgow Palace, Culross, Blackness Castle, and Midhope Castle. I love castles so this seems like an exciting day out but am also a little worried that it may be a whirlwind.

I've been perusing the Walk Highlands website but if anyone has particular favorite hikes in the vicinity of our itinerary, I'd love your recommendation.

I've heard mixed feedback on staying in Fort William - if anyone has suggestions for somewhere else to stay that works with our itinerary, I'd definitely appreciate it.

My husband prefers to do the driving but that means he misses out on some great scenery at times. I'm thinking the train would be a great way to enjoy the scenery in a relaxing, fun way together. Yea or nay?

Posted by
359 posts

Hi Julie -

Itinerary looks fine to me. On the subject of distilleries, I’m a tad inclined to think if you’ve seen one, you’ve largely seen them all. That said, if that is what you are interested in, go for it!

Cards on table - I quite like Fort William. It’s utilitarian, not a ‘pretty Scottish village’ but we’ve had several enjoyable stays there in a variety of places, using it as a base. It’s got everything you need - accommodation, shops, a variety of eating places from the top end to the cheaper end. We’ve eaten at the Crannog and Lime Tree House restaurants (higher end) and at the Grog and Gruel and newish Wetherspoons - forget the actual name! (more your pub grub). However, if it’s charms don’t appeal to you, then have a think about staying in Onich or Ballachulish, or even in Glencoe itself, all, comparatively near to Fort William heading south - there are a few places in each, but the villages are by no means big! Glencoe has a couple of hostels and the famous (?) Clachaig Inn as well as a couple of B&B’s.

Hope you have a great trip.

Ian

Posted by
2010 posts

If you need groceries and/or a casual sit-down meal in Fort William, there's a large Morrison's supermarket right by the train station (yes, convenient to the Jacobite steam train). It has a nice cafeteria with many selections and unbeatable prices.

As for the question of whether to drive or take the train, with all the wished-for stops on your itinerary I think you will need a car. The train schedule would limit you to how many places you could make it to on a given day. On our 2 trips to Scotland I've done almost all the driving, and I didn't feel like I missed out on enjoying the scenery, but YMMV.

Posted by
11503 posts

I've never rented a car in Europe, but I've read a lot of comments on this forum about planning to rent from an airport if you want to be sure they'll have an automatic for you when you show up. I have no idea whether that is likely to be an issue in Scotland, however.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi, acraven,

Hiring a car with automatic transmission is not a problem in Scotland, but you need to reserve well in advance (which you'd do anyway, to get the best price), and pick the car up at one of the major airports (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, and to some extent, Dundee) . The major airports would have the largest selection of car hire companies at one location, and therefore the largest selection of automatic transmissions.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
465 posts

Thanks all! Sounds like we’re on track. ianandjulie, good to hear on Fort William! I appreciate the suggestions. I’ll do some looking into them.

Posted by
3698 posts

One potential red flag: are you planning to fly in on a redeye from the other side of the world, jump in a car, and drive away? If so, please reconsider. Upon arrival in Europe, most folks are in no shape to drive on any side of the road on their arrival day (having been up all night on their flight, and probably sleep-deprived from the previous night with all the pre-travel tasks and stress), and most are trying hard just to stay awake and slog through the day until they can hit a real bed right after an early dinner.

How about you skip the driving until the next day?

Posted by
92 posts

Wish you the best on your trip. Please drop by upon your return and let us know how reality compared to your plans.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi, Julie,

As you're relatively young, and as you say, have a lot of energy, you should be okay with setting out right away. However, if you find yourselves getting sleepy, pull in to somewhere safe (not a lay-by), and take a catnap. As this is your first trip to Scotland, you're going to be really excited to see everything, so the adrenaline will kick in soon after you hit the road.

Are you flying direct from Kansas/Missouri, or are you overnighting on the East Coast?

Just to give you some comparison, I've been to Scotland 25 times now, and I've never taken a nap when I arrived. And I don't sleep on planes. They've all been overnight flights. I did take a power nap once at Heathrow, while waiting for the Glasgow flight. Fortunately, my wife stayed awake to make sure that we didn't miss the flight! I have to admit, though, that now that I'm a lot older, I start getting really sleepy around 7 p.m. on the day that we arrive.

Slainte, and best wishes for your holiday!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: As you're arriving at and returning to Edinburgh, you might as well pick your hired car up at EDI. That would save you having to take the tram in to town on the morning of your arrival, and taking the train to Kircaldy. That way, you can just bung all your luggage in the boot, and take off for Falkland Palace. You can get on the road right away from EDI, without having to go anywhere near the city.

p.p.s.: As you're most likely going to be taking the M90 on your way to Pitlochry, keep your wits about you as you approach Perth. The M90 splits. One part goes east, and becomes the A90, signposted Dundee. One part goes west, and becomes the A9, signposted Pitlochry and Inverness. If you end up heading east, don't worry. Just find an exit and get back on in the right direction.

Posted by
465 posts

Hi Mike, we have a layover in JFK but will be flying direct. Excellent point on the catnap. So far we do the same as you - no napping on the day of arrival. We typically stay awake until 9 or 10 that first day and we’ve never had a problem with jet lag. We both sleep a little on flights.

We’re considering picking the rental up at EDI per your advice. It would absolutely be much more convenient. Just wasn’t sure how hectic it would be in comparison to a smaller place like Kirkcaldy.

Thanks for the tips on the roads. Are rentals in Scotland coming with the built in navigation screen? We have a euro capable GPS but have found it unnecessary the past few trips (Italy, France, Belgium) as the cars all have the built in navigation.

Posted by
556 posts

Hi again, Julie,

Rental cars in Scotland generally have satnav, which is the equivalent of GPS. They do charge for it, however. Once in a while you'll find that they've left it on, so if you decline it you can use it without a charge. I don't like satnav (or GPS), as I have a love of maps which goes back to the blue highways days. Every few years, I'll pick up an AA road atlas. They have them for sale at Tesco supermarket filling stations for 1 pound 99 p. They're 8 pounds 99 just about everywhere else (for the same road atlas).

Once you leave the airport, get on the A8 heading away from the city. Get on the M9 for one exit, then get on the M90 for the Forth Road Bridge. Once you cross the bridge, stay on the M90 to the A91. I think that it's exit 8. Go about 4 miles to the A912, which will take you directly to Falkland.

Sounds like your plans are coming along.

Once again, best wishes!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s. If you have a travel alarm, and decide that you need to take a catnap, set it for an hour ahead so that you don't oversleep. And don't forget to set the clock for GMT!

Posted by
47 posts

Hi Julie,
I too had read mixed reviews on Fort William but I loved it. We stayed in a charming B&B recommended in the RS Scotland Book Gowan Brae and had a fantastic meal at a pub called Garrison West. Only place I have seen Elderflower Cider. I could have spent hours in the West Highland Museum and would have if I didn’t have a train to catch. Oh, there is a lovely bookstore with very interesting local information if you enjoy that sorta thing.

Enjoy your trip,
Kathleen

Posted by
3787 posts

Julie — i,d recommend taking the car right there at the airport in Edinburgh — and taking a cat nap if necessary. One nice thing is that the way north out of the airport in the direction of Pitlochry is mostly on big highway roads, which is a LOT easier than for example heading on the A82 out of Glasgow.

For your two nights in the Fort William area, I beg you to stay in Glenfinnan village at the Glenfinnan House Hotel. An absolutely cozy old manor house hotel, but not fussy, warm and welcoming with a great restaurant and exquisite setting right on Loch Shiel. (Admittedly to take the whole Jacobite, you drive into Fort William and leave your vehicle in the parking lot across from the train station. That,s what I did with my family when we went in 2016. In 2018, my friend and I just took the Jacobite from Glenfinnan to Mallaig and back, but then you don’t get to do the actual Viaduct on the train itself, as it's the very last little bit before — to the east — of Glenfinnan station.)

From Glenfinnan, right near the hotel, you can take one of the wonderful boat rides on Loch Shiel or drive to one of the walks at Morar or somewhere (or back to Fort William, about 25 minutes back east).

I posted a long trip review last fall after returning from a trip where I spent four nights in Glenfinnan, if you want to check it out. It,s also tons easier to hike up above the rail line when you,re just walking from the hotel instead of fighting the crowds who are parking too see the train pass.