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Itinerary feedback- Nine nights in Scotland - late March

Hello, we are trying to finalize our itinerary for our first trip to Scotland in late March/early April.

We will be renting a car for most of the trip for flexibility.
Tentatively, this is our schedule but I could really use some feedback on whether this is too rushed. My husband and I will be traveling with our daughter who turns 18 a day before we head over to Scotland.

Arrive Edinburgh late afternoon 3/25.
3/25-3/27 Edinburgh.
3/28 - leave Edinburgh in morning, see Stirling castle, trossachs, drive to oban. Sleep Oban.
3/29-leave oban, see Glencoe, drive to Mallaig, ferry to Skye. Sleep Skye
3/30 explore Skye, see Eileen Donan, drive to Inverness. Sleep Inverness.
3/31-4/1- side trips from Inverness (Culloden, clava cairns, urquart castle, Elgin/nairn).
4/2 drive back to Edinburgh maybe along coast through peterhead and Aberdeen, or maybe just straight back to Edinburgh
4/3 leave very early from Edinburgh airport and back to states

Any feedback on whether this is too rushed or an alternative itinerary would be much appreciated. We would really like to see the isle of Skye but we may be cramming too much into this trip.

Thank you!
-Elizabeth

Posted by
17636 posts

I used public transportation in Scotland, so I don't have a good sense of how rapidly you can move around with your own car, but the way you've listed your itinerary, with some days (3/28 and 4/2) attached to two different places or activities, does give a misleading impression of how much time you'll actually have for them. It may not confuse you, but there's a risk it will confuse responders.

I'd recommend considering what activities might be altered if you're unlucky with the weather. Western Scotland tends to be wet, and March isn't likely to be very warm. The monthly averages for Glasgow in March (based on a period ending in 2010, so not necessarily terribly accurate for current conditions) show an average high temperature of 49.3F and rain on 14.9 days of the month.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you. I have updated the dates to make it more clear. I appreciate the feedback.

Posted by
927 posts

Hi, Elizabeth,

March into April is actually a pretty good time to visit Scotland. You can avoid most of the tourist hordes, and flowers (daffodils and tulips, mainly) will be starting to bloom.

Your itinerary looks fairly doable for the first couple of days. Stirling Castle is about 1 1/2 hours from Edinburgh, depending on where you're staying in Edinburgh. I think that the castle opens about 9:30 a.m., so you should aim to get there as close to opening time as possible. The Trossachs are an easy drive from Stirling. The A84 will get you close. Take the A81 south from Callander to Aberfoyle, then the A821 north through Brig O' Turk back to the A84. If you have time, you may want to take a one hour cruise aboard the Lady of the Lake on Loch Katrine. If your schedule doesn't provide enough time for a boat trip, there's a good walking path along the north shore of the loch. Loch Katrine to Oban should take you about 90 minutes via Tyndrum.

If you're planning to visit Glencoe on your way to Mallaig, allow yourselves at least five hours for the trip. Probably more, if you plan to stop along the way. They are good roads along the way, but you're going to want to stop to take in the scenery more than once. Don't forget to make your ferry reservation for Mallaig to Armadale, and to make reservation for accommodation on Skye.

March 30th. is where I think that you may need to reconsider your itinerary. As you mentioned that you really want to visit Skye, you are not giving yourselves enough time to give Eilean a' Cheo (the "Island of Mist") justice, especially if you plan to visit Eilean Donan and head for Inverness later in that day. You may want to spend an extra night on Skye, and head to Inverness by way of Eilean Donan and Urquhart Castle on the morning of the 31st. If you get in to Inverness early enough, you could visit Culloden and the Clava Cairns before dark. If not, you could visit them on the morning of April 1st., on your way to Nairn and Elgin. There are several very nice side trips from Elgin, including dolphin watches at Spey Bay.

On April 2nd., driving back to Edinburgh via Peterhead and Aberdeen will be very tiring. Unless you have a specific reason to go by way of Aberdeen (Dunnottar Castle, perhaps?), you'd be better off choosing an alternate route. You could conceivably save Elgin for this day, and take the A96 straight down to Aberdeen, avoiding the lengthy journey around the coast. You'll probably want to stay near EDI if you have an early flight on April 3rd. If you decide to head directly back to Edinburgh from Inverness on April 2nd., there are several good side trips that you can make off of the A9.

As acraven pointed out, you'll need to prepare for any kind of weather. You could encounter temperatures in the 50s and 60s, or you could encounter snow. Keep a close watch on the weather forecast in places where you're going, and remember that they're right at least 50% of the time.

Best wishes for your travels, and happy holidays!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Your daughter will be of legal drinking age when you arrive in Scotland, so she can have a pint or a wee nip in the pubs. If you want to see some live traditional music sessions at Sandy Bell's (Edinburgh), she'll have no trouble staying for the evening.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks for all of the feedback, Mike! It sounds like maybe we won’t have time for Skye this first trip. That’s a bummer, but we will be back again. So does two nights in Oban sound like a better plan? Or longer in Inverness area? It also sounds like the journey along the East coast probably isn’t doable in this trip either. I was mostly interested in the trip from Elgin to Cruden Bay. I read a book that was based there and it was very evocative and made me want to see it and New Slains Castle.

My daughter is, of course, thrilled with the drinking age in Europe, and I am sure she will have a dram or two!

Thank you!!

-Elizabeth

Posted by
927 posts

Hi again, Elizabeth,

There is really not much to Slains Castle. It was impressive at one time, but it's pretty much a ruin now. Most of the current castle was built around the original 16th. century tower, in the late 1830s. It's most well known for its association with Bram Stoker, who stayed in the area on holiday, and the castle was supposedly the inspiration for Dracula's castle.

There are a couple of videos on YouTube which take you on a tour of the castle. One says that it is south of Aberdeen. It is definitely not! Personally, I find Dunnottar Castle a lot more dramatic than Slains, but I know where you're coming from by wanting to see it because it featured in a novel. Mrs. A and I trekked miles over the wilds of Skye to see Camasunary Lodge, which featured in the Mary Stewart novel "Wildfire at Midnight." Fortunately, we didn't continue on to the "Bad Step"!

With only nine nights in Scotland, it's really going to depend on how badly you want to see Skye. Personally, I'd skip Inverness in favor of spending two nights on Skye, but I've been to Scotland many times so I'm a bit prejudiced in that respect. But you'll probably get the same advice from other frequent posters on this forum. Again, it all depends on what you want to see. If you are Outlander fans, you'll definitely want to visit Culloden, but there are many many other filming locations all over Scotland. Inverness is not a particularly attractive city, but it serves well as a base for exploring beyond the city boundaries.

Purchase or borrow a copy of the latest Lonely Planet Guide to Scotland. It covers a lot of what the Rick Steves' Guide doesn't. It may give you some ideas of what to see along your route. I'd recommend against spending two nights in Oban unless you're planning to visit Mull instead of Skye. Mull is not as dramatic as Skye, but it has more of a serene beauty, especially along the West Coast and the Ross of Mull.

Whatever you decide to do will be fine. You'll see a lot, and it will definitely whet your appetite for another, longer, holiday in Scotland. That's why all of the road signs as you're leaving Scotland say "Haste Ye Back"!

Best wishes once again!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Just had another thought - if you decide to skip Skye, you could spend an extra day in Inverness, and have a lengthy day trip to Eilean Donan, returning to Inverness by way of Lochcarron, Torridon, Kinlochewe, Achnasheen, and Garve. That would give you a real feel for the Highlands. You can visit Urquhart Castle on the way from Oban to Inverness, as it's right on the A82.

Posted by
10 posts

Do you recommend somewhere other than Oban to spend the night as a stopover in the West?
Thanks!

Posted by
927 posts

Hi, Elizabeth,

It all depends on where you plan to be the next day. If you're stil planning to visit Skye, you could bypass Oban in favor of Fort William, after the Trossachs. That route would take you directly through Glencoe. However, you need to be aware of the daylight hours. Britain switches over to their DST on March 29th. That means that sunset will be closer to 8:00 p.m. on the 29th., as opposed to 7:00 p.m. on the 28th.

After the Trossachs, you could overnight in someplace like Callander, which has lots of choices of accommodation and restaurants. You could then get an early start, and head off to Mallaig by way of Glencoe.

Unless you're planning to visit Mull or Kerrera, there's no reason to have to visit Oban. Save it for your next holiday

Best wishes once again, and Happy Hogmanay!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
10 posts

Great ideas, Mike! What about stay a couple of nights in Glencoe if we forgo Skye this time and do some exploring from there? I saw an inn that looks welcoming. Does it make any sense to stay there?

Thanks for all of your help!

Happy Hogmanay!
-Elizabeth

Posted by
927 posts

Hi once again, Elizabeth,

Yes, Glencoe would be a great place for a couple of nights. You'd be about two hours drive from Inverness, and if you already have your accommodation arranged in Inverness, you could do that circular tour via Eilean Donan, Lochcarron, Torridon, etc., on your way there.

At the time you're travelling, however, you shouldn't have any trouble finding accommodation in the Inverness area, even if you haven't pre-booked. There are several good B&Bs along Kenneth Street and along Glenurquhart Road, plus three Premier Inns, one of which is right on the River Ness. If you go for B&B, look for signs saying that the rooms are en-suite, which means that you get your own private bathroom (as opposed to sharing).

As Glencoe is really popular as a skiing location, and also for mountaineering, you should probably make reservations really soon. Once you get there, if you're staying overnight, you'll probably need to make reservations for dinner as well. If Glencoe is fully booked, try Ballachulish, or if all else fails, Fort William. You may want to consider the Kingshouse Hotel, which is situated right in the middle of the glen, about half way between Tyndrum and Glencoe Village. The food hasn't gotten the best reviews, but you could head in to Glencoe Village for your meals. The Kingshouse is smack dab in the middle of the West Highland Way, so you may meet up with some through hikers. Although if there are any at that time of year, they're more likely to be staying in the bunkhouse next door.

A lot is going to depend on weather. If it's really wet and overcast, and the following day's forecast calls for pretty much the same, you could head on to Fort William or Inverness.

Can't believe there are only 50 hours left in the year!

Best wishes for your holiday! You're going to love Scotland!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you for all of the amazingly helpful feedback! Happy New Year!

Posted by
445 posts

If you decide to stay around Glencoe and are having difficulty finding places in the village you could look into North Ballachulish, on the other side of Loch Leven from Glencoe. We stayed at Alltshellach Country House (not to be confused with Alltshellach Cottages) as part of a self-guided walking tour. We were on full board but I believe you can stay there without a meal plan. There are a couple of other places in the area too.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you all very much. We have pretty much finalized our itinerary now and it looks quite a bit different than when we started planning but I think it will be great. I know I am going to come home planning the next trip back!

Posted by
927 posts

Hi, Elizabeth,

After all of the suggestions that everyone has made, would love to see your final itinerary!

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
10 posts

Here is our flexible and almost finalized itinerary:

Arrive 25th of March
-3 nights in Edinburgh (including afternoon we arrive)
-28th leave early and head to Stirling Castle, maybe stop at Doune castle. Stop callendar. Unclear if we will go around Loch Lomond or what looks like a quicker route north. I am torn because Loch Lomond sounds very pretty but I read it’s also very slow going. Would like to stop at Drover’s Inn if we go around Loch Lomond.
-sleep 28th in Tyndrum
Leave early next day. See Glencoe, see Eileen Donan castle
-29th sleep in Plockton.
30th head to Inverness via Torridon
30-1st in Inverness and seeing surrounding sights (urquhart castle, Culloden, clava cairns, Elgin cathedral, nairn)
4/1 drive to pitlochry (see Cairngorms on the way). Other sites of interest?
4/2 drive back to Edinburgh (very early flight on the 3rd). Would like to see Falkland if we have time.

What do you think? Is this too much?