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Itinerary help late September /early October

This forum looks like a place where I can get some help with planning my first trip to Scotland this Fall. My tentative plan is to fly to Edinburgh from the US and then take the train to Glasgow in order to transfer to the West Highland Railway. My husband and I both want to travel on the train and the jet lag won’t be the same kind of problem as if we were driving.
First night stay near or in Mallaig and then take the ferry to Armadale in the morning where it appears we can pick up a hire car (have previously driven on the left in rural parts of Ireland w/out auto transmission).
Sleep two nights on Skye then drop off the car ,hopefully on the other side of the bridge. If not, take a bus to the Kylebof Lochalsh where we can get the train to Inverness. In Inverness we’ll hire another car and drive to Glencoe to spend 2 nights. From there we’ll drive to Edinburgh, ditch the car, and spend two days in Edinburgh.
One concern is that we will be spread too thin, Travel-wise. We both prefer to go to fewer places and to take our time where we do go, leaving room for serendipity and being able to linger. But I’m hoping some of you can tell me if I’m leaving out something nearby and exceptional.
I’m also concerned about crowds on Skye and wondering about suggestions that would substitute someplace equally atmospheric while still including those two train rides - maybe more.
Very curious about what you will come up with - thanks in advance!

Posted by
1082 posts

We were in Scotland in late September and early October. You may get to enjoy some "dampish" weather... dress in layers and wear water resistant shoes. Check these web sites for some great itinerary suggestions: Visit Scotland, Historic Scotland, World Heritage and Secret Scotland. We drove throughout Scotland on 2 different trips. One was in April...we had some snow flurries then. One thing you might check on depending on the length of your trip is that it may be cheaper to rent an auto for the whole time instead of dropping off and picking up a couple of times. You could still ride the train on one leg of the trip. We kept the car in Edinburgh but you will need an accommodation with a parking spot.

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, avstrom,

Sounds as though you have a good plan. Are you heading to Glasgow for the train as soon as you arrive in Edinburgh?

If you're taking the train the same day, make sure to drink plenty of tea or coffee while you're travelling. They have beverage service on the trains. You definitely don't want to fall asleep while you're on the train, and end up missing any of the stunning scenery. It's about 5 1/2 hours from Glasgow to Mallaig, and the British trains are fairly quiet, so it's easy to be lulled to sleep! If you are heading west on your first day, make sure that you get on the train going to Fort William and Mallaig, not the one going to Oban. Both leave from Queen Street Station.

If you're overnighting in Mallaig, I'd like to recommend the West Highland Hotel. It's old fashioned, but very comfortable. I understand that they have lowered their prices since our last time there, but they are now charging separately for breakfast. Take that in to consideration. It's a short walk to anywhere in Mallaig, so if you're not loaded down with luggage, you can easily walk to the West Highland, or anywhere else in town where you pick to stay.

As you don't have a car, you don't need to purchase advance tickets for the ferry. However, you should get to the ticket office about 45 minutes before departure, as there are sometimes long lines.

I'm assuming that you've already made arrangements for your car hire on Skye. You shouldn't have any problem dropping off in Kyle of Lochalsh. Most of the car hire companies are there anyway.

If you're going in the autumn (mid-September to October), the crowds shouldn't be too bad on Skye. Having said that, however, it has become a major tourist destination, and the British press has recently been full of horror stories about visitors having to sleep in their cars for lack of accommodation. I'm heading there in July, and even starting in February, I had a difficult time finding accommodation. I'd recommend starting fairly soon.

There is so much to see and do on Skye. You'll have a lot to pack in to two days. Best to take your time and enjoy everything that you have time to see. Skye is a hikers/walkers paradise. If you're planning to visit the Fairy Pools, check out the reviews on TripAdvisor before you decide to do so. And be warned that the nearest toilet facilities are in Carbost.

If you have time, I'd recommend a boat trip on the Bella Jane from Elgol to Loch Coruisk. You'll be on shore for about an hour and a half at Loch Coruisk, which will give you enough time to enjoy the scenery. You can stay longer, but unless you're avid hikers, 1 1/2 hours will do just fine.

Here's a personal recommendation, if you're looking for a place to stay on Skye. Strathgorm Bed and Breakfast has been our personal choice the last four times we've stayed on Skye. It's in Lower Breakish, which is just outside of Broadford. Wonderful hosts, great breakfasts, and beautiful views. Cafe Sia in Broadford is a really nice restaurant, as well. The telephone number for Strathgorm is 011 44 1471 822508.

When you rent your car in Inverness, make sure that you rent from one of the major car hire companies, so that you won't have any trouble dropping off in Edinburgh. Most of the major companies have no one way drop off charge.

Have a wonderful time!

Mike (auchterless)

Posted by
2567 posts

Is there a reason why you're not flying into Glasgow instead of Edinburgh, since you want to be on the western side?

Also, I would keep the car and drive from Skye to Inverness, or directly to Glencoe, whatever route you like. No sense turning in the car, taking the train (and possibly a bus), only to rent another car.

If I've counted your nights correctly, you are only going to be there for a week (7 nights). You'll be seeing a lot in that time, but I would say it's doable.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks so much for some good ideas. Hadn’t thought of flying into Glasgow and it seems like the thing to do. Maybe that way we’ll be able to get to Skye in one day.

The reason for hiring a car two different times is that we much prefer train travel to driving and I’ve read that the line from K of L to Inverness goes through some spectacular scenery. Any experience of that? We also might add another day or two so if any of you have additional suggestions I’d love to hear them.
Again, so appreciative of your help!

Posted by
906 posts

Hi, avstrom,

Since you're going to be spending your last couple of days in Edinburgh, it makes just as much sense to fly in to there anyway, and take the train to Glasgow. Otherwise, you'd have to make arrangements to get from Edinburgh to Glasgow on your last day, and if you have an early flight, it would add to the stress. Better to get that leg of the journey over with at the beginning, rather than at the end. However, if the round trip in to Glasgow is considerably cheaper than to Edinburgh, it may be worth it to fly there.

You're right about the Kyle line. It goes through some beautiful scenery, as does the Glasgow to Mallaig line. You wouldn't have been able to rent a car out of Kyle or Portree and return it in Inverness or Glasgow, as they are all small independent car hire companies, with no return facility that far from their home base.

If you do decide to spend a couple of more days on your holiday, you should do so while you have a car. I'd recommend one of two things - either head up the West coast as far as Ullapool, staying as close to the coast as possible (side trips to Applecross over the Bealach, as well as Lochinver via the B869); or taking a CalMac ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbert on Harris, then visiting the spectacular beaches of South Harris and the Standing Stones at Callanish. You could even take the ferry back from Stornoway to Ullapool, and drive back down the coast to Kyle.

Whatever you decide to do, you'll be traveling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Enjoy!

Mike (auchterless)

p.s.: If you decide to try to make it to Skye on your first day, you'll need to catch the 12:21 train out of Queen Street station. It'll put you in Mallaig in time to catch the last ferry to Armadale, which leaves at 6:10 p.m.