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Itinerary feedback - Stirling or Oban?

We are visiting Scotland for just 7 short days (necessary due to kids' school break) Oct. 6-13. I already know we don't have enough time, so trying to be most efficient. We have first 3 nights booked (Sat.-Mon.) in Ballater (minimum stay for timeshare), but are willing to leave a day early if it makes more sense sense. Tues. night booked in Barcaldine Castle (daughter's request and only availability) between Glencoe and Oban. We definitely want to see Culloden and Loch Ness (kids), and are thinking to do so either on a day trip from Ballater (Sunday or Monday) or 'on the way' to Oban area (if we leave on Monday instead of Tuesday). Will visit Isle of Mull while in the Oban area. We will end up in Edinburgh for Thurs and Fri nights, fly out Sat.

Currently debating: 1) leave Ballater on Monday, stay in Oban area Monday night, castle Tuesday night, maybe stay in Stirling area Wed. night or stop there on way to Edinburgh for an extra night there (Wed.); or 2) leave Ballater early Tuesday morning, head to Oban area, stay in castle Tues, Mull either Tues p.m. or Wed a.m., stay in Stirling Wed. night, then to Edinburgh on Thurs. as planned. We want to see as much as possible and I can't tell which area makes most sense to spend the night (Oban, Stirling or Edinburgh) - hard to judge the distances based on Google maps! :)

We will have a car. I know time is getting short so need to nail down the final details ASAP. I also realize the above is a little vague, but we're really open to suggestions!

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, lisarbarnette,

Are you staying in Ballater the night of the day that you arrive in Edinburgh? You are going to be tired after an overnight flight and at least a four hour drive. But Ballater is a charming village, and very peaceful.

It would make more sense to visit Culloden/Loch Ness as a day trip from Ballater. It's a bit of a hike, but it's better than trying to cram that part of your journey in to a drive from Ballater to Oban. The easiest way, and most direct route, would be to take the A939 out of Ballater, all the way up to Nairn, then take the A96 in to Inverness. You'll be within striking distance of Culloden and Loch Ness, and then on the way back, you can take the A9 south to Carrbridge, the A938 to Grantown, then the A939 back to Ballater. It'll make for a long day, so you'll need to get an early start.

Your other option would be to leave Ballater on Monday, and do the Inverness area locations on that day. Then head south from Inverness on the A82, and hopefully get as far as Fort William for Monday night. Tuesday, you could drive down to Oban, have a flying visit to Mull, then have your castle stay on Tuesday night as planned. You could then have your choices of places to stay on Wednesday. You could make Stirling in just under three hours from Oban, unless you plan to spend some time visiting Glencoe.

The fastest way to get to Ballater from Edinburgh Airport would be to take the A8 to the M9, then the M90 to the new Forth Road bridge; then the M90 to Perth, and the A93 up through Blairgowrie and Glenshee to Braemar and Ballater.

If you do decide to go directly from Ballater to Oban, there is no direct route other than by helicopter. Your best route would be to take the A939 to Grantown, the A95 to Aviemore, the A9 to Kingussie, the A96 to Spean Bridge, the A92 to North Ballachulish, and the A828 to Oban. You'd be looking at the better part of five hours, possibly longer with stops for photos, food, and toilet breaks.

Hope that helps in some way.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
1778 posts

We just got back from Scotland and spent 3 nights in Oban-we really liked it! We did go to Stirling Castle, but did not spend any time in the town itself.

Posted by
2744 posts

Given that you need to end up in Edinburgh, I would head to Stirling. You will have seen plenty of highlands countryside already, so a more built-up environment should provide a nice contrast. I agree with the advice to visit Loch Ness and Culloden as a day trip, even though it's a bit of a drive from Ballater. Every time you check out of lodging it basically adds half a day to your time spent, so "commuting" to various destinations while sleeping in the same place is often worthwhile. Along the north shore of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is very much worth a visit -- it's a ruin, so you will be outdoors; dress for the weather. Culloden too is mostly outdoors, but it has a spacious visitor centre where you can get in out of the weather if necessary.

I would say to skip the Oban area altogether (since you are not taking ferries to the islands), except that you're committed to stay at Barcaldine Castle, which certainly looks gorgeous!

Driving takes longer than you think because many of Scotland's roads are narrow, steep, winding, and bordered by rough stone walls that could scrape the side of your car if you're not careful. However, from Stirling to Edinburgh airport (where, presumably, you're dropping off your car Thursday afternoon) is highway driving and well signposted. Once you get out of your car in the rental return area, it is a bit of a hike to the taxi stand. You may see taxis parked, but they are not allowed to take on passengers anywhere except at the designated head of the line in the taxi stand.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks all for the input! Yes, we are traveling to Ballater the same day we arrive. Would it make more sense to take a train to Aberdeen and get the car there? It seems like that would take more time than driving from the airport directly.

It doesn't sound like there's a great way to get to the Oban area from Ballater, so I guess we'll be seeing some countryside! We're thinking to hit Glencoe on the way down. (a helicopter is a little over-the-top for us, I think!)

We typically try to stay at least 2 nights at each place, but given my 9-year-old daughter's only wish is to sleep in a castle and that's all that's available, we're willing to do it this time. We'll likely only be in Scotland once! :)

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, WanderWoman,

Unfortunately, there are no car hire agencies at the train station in Aberdeen, so you'd need to either take a taxi to their office, or arrange to be met at the station. (I think that Enterprise does this.) But you'd need to factor in the cost of the train fare for your family, and the possibility of a one way drop off charge. Plus it's a good 90 minute drive out to Ballater from central Aberdeen. It looks like a good road on the map, but you're going through many small towns and villages with lowered speed limits. And you'd still have to take the tram in to Edinburgh Waverly to catch the train to Aberdeen.

Personally, I'd stick with your original plan to drive straight through to Ballater via Perth, Blairgowrie, and the Devil's Elbow. You can get away from the airport, and be on your way, as soon as you pick up your car.

Hope that helps. Glenshee and the Blairgowrie area are particularly beautiful in the early autumn.

Enjoy your holoday!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: No one goes to Scotland only once!! :)

Posted by
8235 posts

I’m not a Scotland expert but I think you are underestimating the time it will take for the Mull visit. I did this on a Rick Steves tour in June and although the CalMac ferry website says the crossing from Oban to Craignure is 46 minutes, I’d count at least 1.5 -2hours for check in, loading, crossing to off-loading. Then you’ll add time to get to Tobermory or wherever you plan to visit on Mull. The ferries are pretty big and hold many passengers so you have to queue for boarding on both ends as well as disembarking. Mike alludes to this being a flying visit but I just wanted to throw some times out there.

There can be weather cancellations for the ferry. I have no notion of the weather in Oct but in June the day after our visit the ferry was cancelled for hours due to a storm. Not trying to be a Debbie Downer but with a tight schedule you need to know things might need some flex time or a Plan B.

Posted by
2744 posts

Gosh, I missed your mention of ferry to Isle of Mull. Frankly I think that's insane given your 7 days. I would definitely not do it.