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Itinerary for 3 1/2 weeks in Scotland and England

I wasn't sure whether to post this in Scotland or England so starting here. I'm planning a trip for May 2022 and this will be our first time here so I'm looking for itinerary feedback. We will be flying into INV on May 5 and out of LHR on May 29.

To give some context, here's what you need to know about our interests:

Scotland is a heritage trip for me. I am descended from Clan Hay and so some of the points of interest are related to my interest in walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.
My husband's father is from England (London area) so we have a lot of time baked in there as we will be staying some of those days with his cousins in Kent.
We prefer smaller towns to bigger cities.
We are planning to pick up a car. No we haven't driven in the UK before so there will definitely be a transition. We have driven all over France and Italy though (which I know is different).
We both love the outdoors, hiking, and history. I also love literature. That's framed a lot of this planning.

So here's what I've drafted:

Fly into Inverness and spend 4 nights here. We will pick up a car on day 2 or day 3 here so that we can do day trips to Loch Ness, Culloden, and Clava Cairns.
Drive to Delgatie Castle near Turriff, doing a whisky tour on the way. I have Knockdhu, Glenfiddich, Cardhu, and the Speyside Cooperage Visitor Center on my list. I love whiskey (am a member of my local Women Who Whiskey chapter) and several months ago we did a virtual event with Margarett Waterbury and these are some of the distilleries she recommended in that event and in her book. Spending 2 nights at Delgatie Castle, which is the Clan Hay Cultural Centre and also my family branch shield is on the castle so I thought this would be cool.
Drive to Stonehaven, stopping at the Loanhead of Daviot stone circle and Dunnotar Castle en route. Spend 1 night in Stonehaven (it's really just a stopover). Alternatively thinking of staying in Aberdeen as St Machar Cathedral has my family branch shield on it and has some importance. But I'd like to see Dunnotar as well and we really prefer smaller towns so I'm leaning toward Stonehaven.
Day trip through Stirling to Edinburgh. We would like to see the Battle of Bannockburn visitors centre and the Wallace monument at a minimum, maybe the castle. We would continue on to Edinburgh staying 3 nights. No specific itinerary here, just exploring the town. I really love Harry Potter so I definitely want to do a walking tour around that.
Leave Edinburgh and day trip through Gifford stopping to hike to Yester Castle which was built by one of my ancestors. Continue on to Durham where we will spend 1 night.
Day tour/hike of Hadrian's Wall from Steel Rigg to Housesteads to Vindolanda - this is a bucket list item for both of us. Drive on to Haworth in late afternoon where we will stay 2 nights. I'm a Bronte sisters fan and want to see the village and (if we're up for it after the previous 2 days) hike out to Top Withens and/or Bronte Falls. I could save Haworth for a future Lake District trip I just thought it would go well with our next destination, and I recently re-watched Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson and it has me yearning to see the area. :)
Drive on to York day tripping through Leeds on the way. We will drop the car in York and spend 3 nights here. Plan to just explore the city and maybe do a river cruise one day here.
Train to London. We plan to spend 4 nights in London seeing sights there and then 4 nights with my husband's cousins in Gillingham, Kent. We fly out of London on May 29.

So that's it. It's a lot but I think it's doable. Thoughts? Recommendations?

Posted by
2801 posts

It sounds like a wonderful trip! Since a lot of your plans are tied to family heritage and bucket list wishes, there isn’t much to advise changing. However, instead of Inverness itself you might consider spending those first nights in Nairn. It’s about half an hour east of Inverness, near Cawdor Castle. I can highly recommend Tali Ayer B&B. There are many others in town. It’s a working town, not touristy, but charming.

Posted by
768 posts

Hi - sounds like a great trip.

I hail from Leeds so here’s a few ‘words to the wise’ to forearm you. If driving in central Leeds beware the following. It is absolutely festooned with speed cameras, so stick strictly to the speed limit to avoid a confetti storm of speeding tickets. There are parts of the city where the road has bus lanes (these are sometimes handily painted red). Stay out of them! They are monitored by CCTV and are another source of revenue for the city. Lastly, avoid driving in the city centre if at all possible. The one way ‘Loop’ system was clearly designed by people on mind altering drugs and it’s frequently dug up, diverted or changed, just to keep locals on their toes! It’s a complete mystery/nightmare to visitors!

It’s a good thing then that many of Leeds’s most interesting sites are on the outskirts or outside the centre (excepting the art gallery, museum and the Amouries - several years ago much of the Tower of London’s weaponry and armour collection was moved north to this custom made museum, which even has a tilt yard outside to the rear). On the outskirts are Kirkstall Abbey, a ruined, but extensive, Cistercian monastery smack in the suburbs, with a museum opposite (which is where the car park is), Temple Newsam, an Elizabethan house on the opposite side of town, and Harewood House, a privately owned stately home with extensive grounds - similar to Chatsworth, it’s doubled as ‘Pemberley’ occasionally to give you an idea.of the style. All are open to the public.

Further afield is Bolton Abbey, a village owned by the Duke of Devonshire, the same people who own Chatsworth. There’s plenty of car parking but monopolised by the Devonshire estate, it’s kind of expensive as a result. Most prefer to park by the river for the walks. To get there drive through the village, such as it is, carefully squeeze your car through the old gate and turn right as the road climbs away by the ornate Cavendish monument. In the grounds are extensive walks. Downstream is Bolton Priory a ‘half ruin’, the front portion still an active church. Upstream through woodland takes you to The Strid, a lethally dangerous narrow channel of the otherwise placid River Wharfe. Beyond, exiting the woods, the path goes past an aqueduct (which can be crossed to get over the river if needs be) and emerges at Barden Bridge (if you have watched the recent version of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ it’s the narrow road bridge where James had his motor car stand off). At the road, up to the left is the remains of Barden Tower a former hunting lodge and one of the building projects of Lady Ann Clifford I believe. Cross the bridge and return back on a higher path above the river to arrive at bridges across the river to the Cavendish Pavilion or the Priory.

Nearby Skipton has an interesting castle (those Cliffords again). Between York and Leeds, near Ripon is Fountains Abbey and the Studeley Royal water gardens and deer park. This is a National Trust property and will fill an entire day. It’s something of the jewel in the National Trusts northern crown.

…continues….

Posted by
768 posts

…continued…

In Haworth, park ONLY in the Parsonage Car Park. (At the top of the village take a sharp left turn and then immediately turn right into the car park by some ‘public conveniences’). Or on the road heading out of town, there’s usually a little room on the left. Avoid the extensive car parks as you climb Rawdon Road to the top of the village. They are run by bandits who don’t break the law but twist it to grotesque limits and will clamp and fine you given the tiniest opportunity. Unfair but legal, unfortunately.

The walk to the Bronte Falls starts by the Parsonage, a must-see. To Top Withins from the bridge follow the path over the bridge and turn left at the top of the rise. This path leads up to Top Withins, the last section on paved slabs which can be slippery, so take care. If time is pressing, and you need a shorter walk, drive to Stanbury. Beyond the village the road forks. Take the left fork up narrow Back Lane and as the tarmac surface runs out there’s room to park a car or two. Follow the path up hill and then over the moor on a good but sometimes wet, track all the way to Top Withins. Withins can be identified from a distance by the lone tree next to it. It’s the highest tree on the moor, just under the top of the ridge, which gives you an indication of how near or far you are from it. The Brontes are very popular in Japan and some of the wooden finger post directional signs are in Japanese.

Even though the walk from Stanbury is not difficult and a couple of miles each way maximum, you do cross and end up on an exposed and potentially bleak moorland, so make sure you have wind proof rain gear with you even if the day is fine. The recommendation of ‘sturdy footwear’ is a good one too.

If you are near Leeds on an inclement day, the model village of Saltaire is worth visiting. The huge mill building houses an extensive collection of local lad David Hockney’s work and there are restaurants and cafes and a few ‘niche’ shops.

Hope that’s given you some food for thought. It’s not possible to do it all of course but there are plenty of options, one or two of which might prove useful. DM me if you need any further information.

Ian

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks so much @epltd for the tip on Nairn, I will check that out. We fly into INV and will be really tired coming from Portland, OR so I'm thinking something in Inverness that we can taxi to would be easier than renting a car upon arrival and driving to a nearby town, especially when it will be a big adjustment to drive on the other side of the road. But it's an area of Scotland that I plan to get back to on another trip as I'd like to devote some time to the Isle of Skye, just not enough time to do it justice on this trip.

@ianandjulie just wow! So much great and detailed info here. Do you think I should save Haworth for a future trip that I'm planning through the Lakes District? Just wondering if I should use those 2 nights to tack on somewhere else. I could tack on another night in Aberdeenshire or Durham, I understand there's a lot of history to explore there not just Roman. And you definitely have me rethinking Leeds, sounds like it could be a driving nightmare and maybe not wise given we'll be acclimating to driving there. I'll take a look at the other places you mention. Thank you so much!

Posted by
768 posts

In my experience the Lake District, a place I’ve been wandering in/through/over for over fifty years and still have not done it all, is so enticing that you might not want to leave it to spend a day or so in Howarth! And if you are staying in or around York, you are probably nearer than a side trip from the Lakes would be. Still, really only you can decide how you want to divide your time.

Skye needs a good week of your time to make a fair dent in it if you plan to hike there - the good but very tough stuff is in the Black Cuillin - it’s steep, rocky and not for the inexperienced. If venturing in there you’ll possibly need a mountain guide, or at least someone with previous experience. It is for all that, sensational. John Storer has published a thin volume that details the best routes on Skye and Raasay.

Other things that occurred to me after reading your post is that Inverness, while perfectly pleasant, is largely unremarkable, but people seem to want to visit and if they do, so be it. As you are flying into there, book your first night in Inverness. It’s only a relatively short trip by taxi into town from the airport. Also, you are, without doubt, planning to investigate Hadrian’s Wall in one of the best sections, but be warned, it’s a very uphill, down dale section - look at t’interweb to see how it drops and climbs through Sycamore Gap for instance. There’s a good pub at Twice Brewed, the only pub in fact, and very sensibly in these remote parts has its own brewery attached. Vindolanda, like all the settlements near the wall, is set back from the wall proper, for sound military reasons. It’s walkable, but you need to factor in the time to get there and back if on foot. You might investigate if the Hadrian’s Wall bus, the AD122, will pick you up and return you to your start point. The timetables for 2022 should be published at the start of 2022, but if there’s anything currently on line, it might give you a steer.

Leeds, where I’m from, cannot be described as tourist central in the same way York can be, but it has its charms and diversions. But driving in the city centre is not fun.

Ian

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks so much @ianandjulie. Hadrian's Wall is a definite bucket list item for both myself and my husband - whereas Howarth is really only of interest to me - and I want to make sure that I give it the time it deserves. I'm thinking maybe I should save Howarth for another trip and instead tack on another night in Durham in order to give the wall a full day. I'm just not sure where else to trim, everything else is pretty tight.

Posted by
5020 posts

If you are having another day in Durham, then Beamish (open air museum) would be where I would spend it!

If tides permit, Holy Island is wonderful en route from Edinburgh south. Northumberland is stunning and my favourite part of the country.

Posted by
248 posts

In the Inverness area, don't miss a visit to Fort George. It is the most amazing military construction built after the Battle of Culloden to control the Highlands and crush any future Jacobite rebellions. It is a marvellous defensive site with ditches, walls etc. Dolphins can often be seen from the ramparts.

Don't underestimate time driving between places. They may not look far on a map but could well take a lot longer than you might expect. The day travelling from Durham to Hadrians wall and then down to Haworth is going to be a long day. It could well take 90 minutes to get to the wall and park up. You need to allow another 3hours + to travel to Haworth. The walk from Steel Rigg to Vindoland is 4-5 miles and the stretch along the Roman Wall does involve a lot of up and downs! If you are wasnting to see boith Housesteads and Vindolanda, this is going to take a minimum of five hours. Do you have to walk back to Steel Rigg to pick upo the car? I would seriously consider spending the night somewhere closer than Haworth and travelling to Haworth next day. I would aslo be worried that an overnight in Durham is short changing Durham too!

I'm not quite surw what you mean by 'day tripping through Leeds' on your way to York. I would head straight to York.

Posted by
84 posts

@wasleys thank you, I'm adding Fort George to our itinerary while in Inverness. Do you think that's doable with Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle in the same day? I've heard there's not a ton to see here, but it's still something I want to experience.

@Jennifer thank you for the tip on Holy Island. My priority that day is Yester Castle near Gifford in the morning on the way out of Edinburgh (looks like it's just a 35 minute drive southeast of Edinburg) but if we have time driving south along the coast my husband is interested in stopping at Bamburgh which I can see is just south of Holy Island. We've watched all seasons of The Last Kingdom on Netflix so he thought it would be fun to see Bamburgh if we have time.

I'm seeing a lot of replies about the distance between Durham and Steel Rigg Car Park. In his England guidebook, RS recommends Durham as the best base for visiting Hadrian's Wall as it offers more services than Hexham or Carlisle. But would it be better to stay in/near Hexham or Carlisle instead? I am thinking I will move forward with trimming Haworth from this trip and doing 2 nights here instead of 1 which would give us a full day to experience the area.

Posted by
248 posts

I personally wouldn't choose to stop in Durham if I was wanting to visit Hadrian's wall. I'd look at Hexham, Corbridge or possibly Haltwhistle. Carlisle is a non starter - too far west for your itinerary and is further away from the best bits of the wall. The wall really does warrant a full day, especially if you are wanting to walk part of it.

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle are the wrong way for Fort George. Instead combine it with Culloden and Clava Cairns as they are on the way. We spent half a day at Fort George. Plan your visit to Clava Cairns last. Not only will it be less busy, the light is better. It is much more astmospheric when the sun is lower in the sky!

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks so much @wasleys. Would you recommend Fort George before or after Culloden? Or does it matter? Thinking maybe because of the trajectory in history it would be more meaningful to start with Culloden then go to Fort George but if we're adding Clava Cairns on the same day trip then maybe easier to start at Fort George then Culloden then end at Clava Cairns.

Posted by
248 posts

It probably doesn't make a lot of difference, although from the point of view of the history time line, then Culloden does come first.

Fort George was finally completed, well behind schedule (and well over budget - things don't change), in 1769. By the time it was finished, the Highlands were relatively calm and no action was ever required from Fort George. There is a story, maybe apocryphal, that one shot was fired by a jittery soldier on night duty who thought he saw a Jacobite soldier creeping up to the fort and fired at him. Next morning the guards found the dead body of a cow.

The fort is still used by the military and soldiers are seen around the site. Security is taken seriously and when we visited, there was a large notice explaining that for security reasons, visitors are asked to only take essential items of personal luggage and may be subjected to a search. We weren’t and we didn’t see any indication of this.