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Highlands... trying to fit too much in?

Hey everyone! We are planning our second trip to Scotland. We'll be combining Iceland, Scottish Highlands, and Ireland coastal areas. Planning for October 2019, and it'll be maybe a 16 day trip? Only planning 3 days for Iceland. The rest is negotiable. We'll more than likely be flying into Edinburgh from Reykjavik, Iceland. We've already toured Edinburgh, as well as Stirling, and St. Andrews, so this time we plan to focus on the highlands.

I’m going to list what we want to see so far, and I realize that it is a LOT… A lot of places we want to see, and a lot of moving around. Usually when we travel to any country we like to have a “home base” per region we travel to, then take day trips from there. But the things we want to see this time seem so much more spread out and I’m afraid travel time will take up too much of the days for us to see everything that we would like. We also don't want to completely fill all of our time and feel like we can't really enjoy anything.

Can anyone help us figure out which cities we should use as home bases (if at all), and how in the WORLD we might be able to see all of these places in our time frame?!

Ok, here we go-
- Fly into Edinburgh and, depending on flight time, only one night there (since we’ve toured it already)
- Train to Oban? (for the distillery and sites)
- From Oban to Islay for Laphroaig / Lagavulin distilleries, stay one night I guess because of travel time from Oban.
- Back to Oban to catch a train or drive to Glencoe
- Maybe one or two nights in Glencoe
- Then to Fort William to take the Jacobite train which travels from Fort William to Mallaig (Glanfinnan Viaduct)
- then to Isle of Skye to stay for a couple days
- then to Inverness to stay a couple days to see Loch Ness, Culloden

Other things we'd love to do:
- We REALLY want to see Inveraray castle
- Highland archival center
- Clava Cairns
- If there's any way we could fit Aberdeen in we'd love to go for family history reasons.

I have NO idea how long all of this will take realistically. Do you have suggestions? Advice?
Thank you so much, y'all!

Posted by
5547 posts

Is the 16 days including travel or 16 days on the ground? Allow about 7 hours door to door to transfer from Iceland to Edinburgh.

A few random thoughts-

October - there may be ferry cancellations if the sea turns rough.

Skye - very busy these days, so will need to be booked months in advance. Two (or better, three) days would allow you to see most of the sights.

Loch Ness - not the most picturesque loch and a location I would only visit with children seeking out Nessie.

Culloden and Cawdor Castle are worth visiting.

With Iceland and your Scottish itinerary, you are going to struggle to fit in Ireland.

Posted by
2176 posts

Agree with previous poster, you don’t have time for Ireland this trip. I am not sure of the logistics on getting to Laphroaig, but my husband loves that Scotch and on our recent 12 days in Scotland, we wanted to fit it in, but it was just too far out of the way.

Posted by
1246 posts

If you are a Campbell you must go to has a remarkable display of armory. If I were you I would skip Loch Ness, although Urquhart is cool, and Culloden which is quite muddy in October. Glencoe can be misty, but I guess that is part of the mystique. If you haven't looked at the Web site Visit has some good info on most everything you might want to see. If I was going back again I would spend more time in the Western Isles on a stay aboard boat tour...but maybe not in October but when the birds are nesting.

Posted by
609 posts

A couple of thoughts.

  1. Can you fly into Glasgow or Inverness rather than Edinburgh. Inverness would put you in a better place to start a tour of the Highlands and to take in the archival centre. Glasgow puts you closer to Oban/Islay and Glencoe. Or you could fly into Aberdeen to cover the family history requirement, but it is a bit out of the way for everything else you want to do.

  2. You have a mix of train and driving here. You might find it more cost effective to hire a car for the duration of your trip and it would provide you with greater flexibility. If you do rent a car you will need to make reservations for the ferries.

  3. Personally, unless you want to do lots of hiking in the area, I am not sure that I would spend 2 nights in the Glencoe area. You can see Glencoe (and Glen Etive) by car and probably 1 night would be sufficient to give you that experience and do some hiking.

  4. I don't really get the attraction of travelling on a steam train! You can see the train pass over the viaduct without actually having to travel on the train and it's arguably a better view. Also if you take the train to Mallaig for the ferry to Skye, you will then need to arrange a car rental on Skye, as it is basically inaccessible for serious sight seeing by public transport. You can do organised tours but again these would need to be arranged in advance (e.g. Rabbies).

  5. You will need to book accommodation well in advance especially on Skye. If you want to explore in any depth you would probably want 3 nights and at least 2 full days. To give you an idea of driving times, it takes us 3 hours to get to Inverness (with no stops for photos) and about 6 hours to Glasgow. We live 1 hour from the Skye bridge and about 1 hour 20 from the ferry at Armadale.

    1. Loch Ness is not very scenic! Loch Lomond is more scenic and is on the route from Glasgow to Glencoe.

I hope this helps.

Posted by
33 posts

I don’t think you have enough time to do Iceland, Scotland , and Ireland. I put together a sample itinerary for Scotland including everything on your wish list except Aberdeen and I came up with thirteen days.

Day One: Fly Iceland to Glasgow (7:35 AM – 10:50 AM). Pick-up rental car. Drive to Kennacriag (~ 3hrs). Take ferry to Islay (current winter timetable has a 6:00 to 7:55 PM trip). (Sleep on Islay)

Day Two: Water to Whisky Experience Tour at Laproig (I cannot recommend this tour enough ... hopefully they are still doing it in October.) (Sleep on Islay)

Day Three: More whisky tours and / or explore Islay. (Sleep on Islay)

Day Four: Take ferry to Kenacriag (9:45 AM – 11:55 AM). Drive to Inveraray (~1.5 hrs) and tour the Castle . Drive to Oban (~1.5 hrs). (Sleep in Oban)

Day Five: Oban. (Sleep in Oban)

Day Six: Drive to Glencoe (Sleep in Glencoe)

Day Seven: Drive to Skye, stopping to see the Jacobite steam train at Glenfinnan Viaduct along the way. (Sleep on Skye)

Day Eight: Explore Skye (Sleep on Skye)

Day Nine: More Skye (Sleep on Skye)

Day Ten: Drive to Inverness, stopping to tour Lock Ness along the way. (Sleep in/near Inverness)

Day Eleven: Tour Culloden and Clava Cairns. (Sleep in/near Inverness)

Day Twelve: Highland Archive Center. Other sights in/near Inverness. (Sleep in/near Inverness)

Day Thirteen: Fly out of Inverness to ???

Posted by
35 posts

Thank you so much for all the feedback @Jennifer!!

--We'll be going for 16 days total. We're planning on traveling over 3 weekends to give ourselves a couple extra travel days.

--Our previous trip to Scotland was in October/November and we loved being there that time of year as we love fall/winter weather so we don't mind the rain and snow, etc., but we weren't near the coast at all so your point on the ferries is one we definitely need to look into!

--I really want to see Skye, but I'm not married to the idea. We talked about staying there and renting a car on Island while we were there, but I think we'd be just as happy being able to venture out to some other islands.

--I've heard that as well about Loch Ness... to be honest, my husband and I are a bit like children haha! I think we want to go more for the nostalgia of it. My husband's father passed a few years ago and he was a story teller. He loved to make make-believe seem like it could be a reality, so for us it's sort of a tribute/way to remember him. I do think it's going to be something we'll need to work on how to do that with our time frame.

--Definitely planning for Culloden and Cawdor Castle...Thank you for the recommendations!

-- I guess we'll need to really think about what we don't want to miss on this trip. Maybe we could split up with our group in Scotland and meet back up with them on the final few days of their time in Ireland.


Posted by
35 posts

@diveloonie my husband and I love whiskey as well, and on our previous trip we didn't go to ANY distilleries... can you believe that?! So this time we're trying to fit in the ones we really wanted to do last time but didn't. But I think you're right. I've looked into some of the logistics and, from Oban the trip includes a 4 hour ferry, so there and back, even if we only do the two distilleries, it takes at least two days because of tour and ferry times.

Last night he and I talked about it and we might need to skip them this trip and try to get to some others we love as well. :(

Posted by
35 posts

Kathleen, we aren't Campbells, but we love the history of places like that so we may still go. (In all honesty we kinda want to go because we saw it in Downton Abbey and loved it so much we want to see it in person ::insert eye roll:: haha!) Actually, Aberdeen is where the family history comes in. I just don't think we'll be able to fit it in though. Culloden is a must for this trip so thank you for the comment about the mud... you've helped us be prepared for that!

We would LOVE a boat tour!! I didn't even think of that! Maybe we could see Skye from something like that. I'll look into those. Do you have a recommendation? Or is that something that we'd have to do similar to a cruise... like something we board for a week and have excursions from there?

Posted by
35 posts

Skyegirl- Thank you SO much for all of that!!

  1. We can definitely look into flying in to Inverness or Glasgow. We actually have friends in Glasgow so that would help us get to see them, but I think Inverness would be the best bet. I sort of did a quick look at tickets and it seems very pricey to fly into there. Is that common? Or am I looking in the wrong places?

  2. You may be right about hiring the car for the entire trip. We LOVE train travel and would prefer to mostly do that, but I understand that, especially in the highlands, things are more spread apart and this isn't most time-effective.

  3. Thank you for the input on Glencoe. To be completely honest, I can't even remember now what I had written down for that area. I've been thinking so much about this trip lately that it's all running together haha! I think there was a link to my distant ancestry there (Fraser) but I can't remember the details right now. That's mostly the reason for visiting, but I'll have to re-look at my notes and see what I had for that area.

  4. Ahh the steam train. As I mentioned above, we LOVE train travel, and neither of us has ever ridden a steam train. You're probably right it might be best to view it from another area, but we really love the romantic idea of traveling on it... plus Harry Potter ::shrugs:: haha! We will definitely have to weigh our options for that area, especially because of that time of year... the train schedule it probably going to be sparse.

  5. We're planning on booking as soon as we can book our airfare. Since we're not taking our trip until next fall, we can't book airfare yet. We're usually pretty good about getting things booked ahead of itme. But after all the comments about maybe not staying on Skye we may look at other options.

Thank you again!!

Posted by
35 posts

Amy -WOW! Thank you so much! This is exactly what I've been hoping for. I try to find all the train/ferry/flight times, but it's so difficult to do when I'm not familiar with exactly where to look. We are avid Rick-Steve-ers haha, so we watch the shows and read the books for all the knowledge we can gather, but there are still some areas we are not confident in.

Thank you again! We'll go through your list together... it's going to be a lot of help!

Posted by
33 posts

The ferries are run by Caledonian MacBrayne. The timetable for Islay can be found here: Depending on when in October you are going, you might need the winter time table. And of course, these are only valid for this year. But they at least give you an idea of what is available.

For researching flights in the begining stages of planning, I usually use Google Flights. Looking very quickly, it doesn't look like there are a lot of direct flights from Iceland to Scotland.

I spent two weeks in Scotland last summer, with six nights on Islay. I absolutely loved it! We toured all the distilleries, went on several hikes, and (my favorite) spent time geting lost driving around the island on the small backroads. I can't imagine taking all the time/effort to get there and only staying for one or two nights.

Posted by
35 posts

Amy- We're planning on flying WOWair and they have stopover flights through Iceland to Edinburgh, but if we decide to fly into Inverness I'm not sure we'll be able to use them.

I'm glad you said that about Islay. I wasn't sure what else there would be to do there but it sounds like we'd love to be there for longer than just a couple distillery visits. Maybe we will save Islay for our next trip and spend several days there.

I just had a conversation with my husband and visiting his family ancestral area is top on his priority list so I think we're going to need to really do some thinking and pare down our list. Aberdeenshire is where the farm is that we want to try to see so I might be going back to the drawing board haha!

Posted by
956 posts

Hi, Emily,

You'd be closest to Aberdeen when you're at Culloden or in Inverness. The city is about a three hour drive from either location, depending on traffic. Good roads all the way.

Where in Aberdeenshire is the family farm? If you're doing historic research, there is an excellent genealogical research office on King Street in Aberdeen. I've done research there, and found out a considerable amount about my antecedents. Some of which I didn't need to know, but it makes for good stories! :)

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: The Jacobite steam train has a more limited schedule in October. It only runs mornings Monday to Friday. Perhaps you could take the Jacobite to Mallaig, then the regular Scotrail train back to Fort William.

Posted by
35 posts

Mike, thank you!

The farm is called Lendrum Farm. In Turriff I believe? If you Google it there's info on it. Our last name is Landrum, which comes from Lendrum. Lendrums were initially Cummins', but took the name from Lendrum Farm after they were being killed off by Robert the Bruce because Cummin the red was in line for Scottish king 😳. Anyhoo-!

I'm always nervous about figuring out what exactly I think we can fit in, time-wise. But a 3 hour drive is totally doable!

I would love to visit that research center. Family history is SO interetsing and important to us so I really hope we can fit that in as well.

Good advice about the train! Thank you so much!

Posted by
956 posts

Hi, Emily,

OMG! Lendrum Farm was the home of the Turra Coo! You really have a claim to fame there. Possibly the most famous cow in Scottish history. Whether the legend is based on fact, or has been embellished over the years, remains to be seen. There is a famous song about the Turra (Turriff) Market. It's called "The Barnyards o' Delgaty."

The Aberdeen & Northeast Scotland Family History Society is located at 164 King Street in Aberdeen. You may want to contact them ahead of time to start your research. They usually ask for a small fee for doing the research, or you can join as a member. On checking their website, they are going to be shut for refurbishment from October 19th. to November 4th., so if you're planning to visit, you'd have to do so outwith those dates.

If you do go, and are conducting research there, you can have lunch at the excellent Archibald Simpson Pub and Restaurant, which is just up at the top of King Street, where it intersects with Union Street.

If you decide to skip Islay due to time constraints, you could visit some of the Speyside distilleries on your way from Inverness to Aberdeen. However, that means that it would take much longer than three hours for the trip! Talisker, on Skye, would be a suitable alternative, as would Glenmorangie, in Tain.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
609 posts

Hi Emily
Flights to Inverness tend to be more expensive as fewer airlines fly there. Glasgow looks like it might work out better for you.

Some great advice from everyone else - and it sounds as though you have a great trip in the planning.
Best wishes

Posted by
35 posts

Mike- I've read about the Turra Coo! It's been a while since I've read up on all the family history info so I need to re-familiarize myself with all of it before we go. And I'm totally going to look up that song! My father-in-law was in a celtic band and was always singing old folk songs, he would have LOVED to know that there is a song that is attached to his ancestral town! The Lenrum Farm used to be a B&B. We were going to stay there on our previous trip to Scotland, but the lady who owned it contacted me that her husband was very ill and that they would not be able to host us. Unfortunately I think he may have passed because it has now been removed from the B&B websites, and I saw online that the farm was actually up for sale a couple years ago. I wish we could've afforded to buy it, ha! Hopefully the new owners won't mind us visiting the fields nearby to have a looksee!

I am definitely also going to look into the Aberdeen & Northeast Scotland Family History Society. Thank you for that tip. We've only done research through, so I'd love to see some actual information in person.

Talisker is on the list! I didn't realize Glenmorangie would be nearby so we'll have togo there as well!
Thank you so much for all the info! It's invaluable to us!

Posted by
35 posts

Jacqui, that's what I was thinking might be the case. I wasn't sure if it was a smaller airport or not. Thank you for your help!

Posted by
956 posts

Hi once again, Emily,

I remembered that there was an old song about the Turra Coo. It's actually on YouTube. The title is "The Far Famed Fite Turra Coo." "Fite" is Doric for "white." Doric is a dialect that's specific to Aberdeenshire. The song is a bothy ballad, which are songs also specific to Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire.

If you're going to be in Aberdeen, I have to warn you that parking is expensive. However, there are three places where you can park at no charge, and they're close to town. The first would be on Links Road, which runs along the south side of Broad Hill, just before the Beach Ballroom. The second would be along the Beach Esplanade, anywhere that you can find north of the Beach Ballroom. The third would be up on the sidewalk (pavement) just south of the Ballroom roundabout. Look for the cars facing in toward town. You can park at any of these locations all day with no charge.

From there, it's an easy walk along Beach Boulevard or Constitution Street to Park Street, where you can cross over and take one of the side streets (Frederick Street, Princes Street, or Summerfield Terrace) to King Street. You can also park at Morrison's supermarket on West North Street, but you need to be aware of the two hour time limit in their car park. Their car park is monitored by CCTV.

Hope that helps. Good luck with the family research!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5669 posts

I was really glad to see Amy's suggestions that you go directly to Islay and spend time there. If you like peaty whisky you cannot go wrong spending some time exploring that island and sipping the whisky. I too love a good train ride, but I think that the logistics of what you are trying to do make the Mallaig train challenging. You can drive out west from Fort William and see the wonderful viaduct and see where Prince Charlie came ashore to Scotland in the 45.

BTW you drive right past Inveraray Castle on the way to Islay. Also, my map says that the trip is closer to 4 than 3 hours, so if you make the trip watch your time. Or visit on the way back.

You could consider going to Mull instead of Skye. It's a wonderful island that has an interesting history. I like Duart Castle best, but there are wildlife tours and you can visit Staffa and Iona. On the way north from Islay you go through Kilmartin Glen which is laden with history.

I was playing with some google maps and it suggested the Lochaline Ferry as a route from Mull to Inverness. It think that would be outstanding! Check it out.

Posted by
1345 posts

If you are considering Islay I would suggest at least two nights there, the ferry is two hours each way from GB. If you are going over to Islay, there is always the neighbouring island of Jura.

Posted by
956 posts

Hi one more time, Emily,

The beauty of the Fishnish to Lochaline ferry is that you can take the Corran Narrows ferry, and meet up with the A82 just south of Fort William. That avoids going all the way 'round to Kinlocheil.

Also, if you do decide to visit Mull and Skye, you could take the Tobermory to Kilchoan ferry and drive north on the Kilchoan to Salen to Lochailort roads, which puts you within a short drive of Mallaig.

I hope that all of this information is not overwhelming you! All of these responders love Scotland so much that they want you to see all the places they've enjoyed over the years.

Best wishes for all of your plans!

Mike (Auchterless)