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how's this sound?

I am planning a 2 week trip to Scotland for my husband and I, active people in our 70's. Interests include art, music and outdoors. Arriving end of May in Edinburgh (2 or 3 nights), then train/ferry to Kirkwall via Aberdeen (0 or 1 night in Aberdeen, 3 in Orkney), then fly/train to Oban via Inverness (0 or 1 night in Inverness, 2 or 3 in Oban), then back on the train to Glasgow to finish up (2 or 3 nights). Most interested in Kirkwall and Glasgow so can shorten other stays. My main concern is the travel days- can I make it from Edinburgh to Kirkwall or do I need to stay in Aberdeen. Same question for Inverness- is it possible to fly into Inverness and then find the train to Oban without staying? Any advice please.

Posted by
6775 posts

You don't say what time you are arriving into Edinburgh. But with flight delays and retimings I would not book the ferry for the day of arrival.

I would go up to Aberdeen that day. Then have the whole day in Aberdeen next day and embark at about 3pm the next day. Be aware that the Aberdeen ferry only routes via Kirkwall 3 days a week.

Really try to get a flight to ABZ on one ticket, connecting at Amsterdam.

@Pam from Coeur d'Alene has a long thread somewhere on Aberdeen which I hope she will link through for you.

Or go up to the Inverness area on arrival day.

Then take the mid morning train to Thurso next day and the evening ferry to Stromness, connecting bus to Kirkwall. You'll be there 2 or 3 hours earlier.

Coming back south the only train from Inverness to Oban is via Glasgow. You would need to use Citylink, changing at Fort William. The only connection that would work for you is at 1500 from Inverness, so you would need the morning flight, to run and run on time, as you want to land at INV by 1300 (1200 for comfort)

Flying KWI to GLA then train or bus would make far more sense and offer more choice of service- the last Oban train from Glasgow leaves after 8pm.

Posted by
1228 posts

To be honest it sounds tiring!

The ferry schedule from Aberdeen to Kirkwall (Orkney) can be found here You will see that ferries run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leaving Aberdeen at 5.30pm and arriving in Kirkwall at 11pm. You might be better off flying from Edinburgh to Kirkwall with Loganair. It will be a lot quicker and probably cheaper too.

Getting to Oban from Orkney/Inverness is not at quick. Assuming you fly back to Inverness the train route from there to Oban is somewhat tortuous and probably involving changing trains in Perth or Stirling and Glasgow (Queen Street). For example there is a 7.55am departure from Inverness going via Stirling and Glasgow Queen Street that eventually gets you into Oban at 3.28pm. Have a look at National Rail to plan any rail journey. There is a rail station at Inverness airport so you might want to factor in the time to get from there into the city centre, or perhaps take a taxi from the airport into town, stay the night and continue your rail journey to Oban the next day.

isn31c is really the expert on public transport though.

Posted by
12 posts

I will be spending a few days in Edinburgh before leaving for the Orkney Islands so I have plenty of time to get to Aberdeen. The ferry was highlighted in one of the trip reports so I thought it would be fun but perhaps just flying from Edinburgh would make more sense. The Orkney Islands are a must for me but maybe I should just skip Oban and Mull, Iona and Staffa. Thoughts?
I am also interested in the West Highland Train route and am wondering how to fit that into my travels.

Posted by
1228 posts

I have taken the ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland (the same ferry that goes to Orkney) and it was fun! But then I got to sleep on the ferry and arrive nice and fresh in Lerwick in the morning having had my breakfast on board. I am not so sure it would be quite such fun to arrive in Kirkwall at 11pm.

As for the West Highland Rail line from Fort William to Mallaig. Yes it's very scenic. The steam train (Jacobite) is beset by problems and may not be able to run this year but there are regular trains on the route for a fraction of the price. You could take the Citylink bus from Inverness to Fort William (as suggested by isn31c) and then the train to Mallaig and back to Fort William. You could then stay overnight before continuing your journey to Oban. Probably a much nicer way to get there than the rather long rail route that I found in my earlier post.

Posted by
14293 posts

I'd probably do the flight from Edinburgh to Kirkwall if Orkney is what interests you.

As Stuart mentions, I did route myself thru Aberdeen in August to get to Kirkwall and then back home from Lerwick, Shetland. I was coming from the Inland Northwest and went via Seattle and Amsterdam to Aberdeen. I gave myself 2 nights in Aberdeen in case of travel delays, then took Loganair from Aberdeen to Kirkwall. Coming back I only spent one night in Aberdeen before my KLM flight the next morning to Amsterdam and back home.

I was really worried about the possibility of cancellations for the Loganair flights as I'd been following a FB page on Delays and Cancellations to Orkney/Shetland. There is so much bad weather and I think Loganair runs on a shoestring with it's planes and crews so when one thing gets out of line there is a domino effect. In the end I had NO delays on my flight from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, Kirkwall to Lerwick or Lerwick back to Aberdeen.

IF Orkney is what interests you I'd spend as many nights there as you can. Three nights is just 2 full touring days, maybe 2.5 if you get a morning flight up there. I spent 7 nights on Orkney and felt I did not even make a dent in what there is to see. I'm going back in 2025 and will spend probably 11 or 12 nights there then!

I do recommend a waterproof jacket with hood as well as waterproof pants (trousers to the UK folks on the board, lol). With a short time frame you will want to go/do/see even if there is rain and wind.

Here is a link to my Trip Report in case there is any helpful information in it for clothing or routing yourself although my situation was different. In 2025 I am going to spend some time in Edinburgh before Orkney so I can go to the National Museum of Scotland. They hold a lot of the artifacts that archeologists have unearthed on Orkney.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/seymour-travels-scottish-island-tour-orkney-and-shetland

Will you have a car? Do you have a hotel booked? I loved where my tour group stayed which was out on the isle of Burray. The hotel was very nice, restaurant excellent and staff just awesome and wanting to please.

You will also need to book ahead for Skara Brae and Maeshowe. For Skara Brae, if you have a choice, go on a day when there are no cruise ships docked.

Posted by
14293 posts

I wanted to add one more thing. IF you do FB and can access it on your phone or whatever electronics you travel with, bookmark the FB page for NorthLink Ferries. They TRY to give advance warning if there will be service disruptions due to weather. It just came up on my FB feed saying there may be disruptions due to weather forecasts.

https://www.facebook.com/NorthLinkFerries

Posted by
6775 posts

If you don't do FB Northlink also have a service updates page on their website- https://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/opsnews/

which is kept very up to date. If Northlink cancel then you know the weather is wild. They really will run if it is at all possible. The other thing is that Kirkwall is tricky to get into. It is not unusual for the ferry to skip Kirkwall and sail straight to Shetland (they will tell you that before sailing!!).

I still think the ferry through Inverness and Scrabster is the better option than the late arrival into Kirkwall, I suggest staying in Stromness at least the first couple of nights. It is a great base by bus, and a really interesting town to explore. That would be my clear first choice surface travel route to Orkney at anytime.

I like @Skyegirl's idea of breaking the INV-Oban journey at Fort William as that gives you much later buses to FW.

Also, if you have no obvious plan for Oban, want to major on Orkney and only have 2 weeks but want the West Highland line, then I would suggest skipping Oban. Just going to Fort William then next day do FW-Mallaig at lunchtime, 3 hours in Mallaig, then the same train back through FW to Glasgow.

I honestly think that including Mull and Iona into a robust plan which allows for problems you need another week. Bear in mind that the ferries to Mull and especially Iona can also be prone to weather issues. With only two weeks I am frightened for you that the whole thing will collapse at some point. There are too many weak points in this for my liking. Please see that as friendly and constructive advice.

I think you could easily double your time on Orkney if that is your big interest.

Book a cancellable/amendable hotel in Fort William in case you can't get out of Orkney- due to weather or other issues.

Posted by
12 posts

Crazy, but lots of changes. Now I plan to start in Glasgow on May 21, go to the Isle of Arran on May 24 for a Fiddle Concert I really want to see in Whiting Bay. After 3 nights stay probably fly to the Orkney Islands and stay 4 nights, fly to Edinburgh for a few nights before heading home. I know I miss the highlands but two stays in cities and 2 stays on islands seems to me to be a full trip. Of course, any comments by you experts are always helpful, in fact I may change it all again!

Posted by
6775 posts

Good, that's a more robust trip, schedule wise.

On your way to and from Ardrossan Port to Glasgow Airport the train stops at Paisley Gilmour Street. There is a bus- the #757 runs from there to Glasgow Airport, saves you going into Glasgow and back out again.

You'd want to be on the early boat to get the one flight from GLA at 1330, so it may make sense to fly out and back EDI as Edinburgh has an early evening flight.

Posted by
1228 posts

Sounds like a very cool trip. Arran and Orkney will give you two very different island experiences. Indeed Arran is known as Scotland in miniature.