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Itinerary help - Manchester departure and need to make a new plan

Hello-- and thanks in advance for tolerating a "where should we start?!?" question.

Our group (4 adults, 3 teens) is traveling to the UK the second half of June. While our flights are in and out of Manchester, Scotland is our destination. Our original plan was to hire a campervan to explore the Highlands (we've spent many summers traveling the National Parks in the U.S. by campervan); however, a recent change in a member of our party's health has necessitated a pivot. We've cancelled the van rental and instead plan to explore by car, staying in home rentals and other accommodations.

I've read through many helpful itinerary threads but Manchester as our start/end point and the unexpected disruption to our previous plan have me feeling like we're starting from scratch!

We'll depart for Scotland from Manchester on July 16 (after spending 2 nights in the city) and need to arrive back in Manchester on July 27.

We aren't under any impression that we can see it all! The trade-off of a slower pace and getting to meaningfully experience a particular spot is worth it for us. The natural beauty of Scotland is our main draw. Hikes, stunning views, and maybe (okay, definitely) a distillery or two are our priority over cities. No special considerations are necessary for the teens; they'll be happy hiking and sampling new snacks from gas stations. :)

Here's where I need help: Should our new approach be to secure lodging in 2 - 4 different locations, treating those as basecamps for day trips? (If so, recommendations of where?) Or will we need to relocate every two nights or so in order to fully explore? Are there any special considerations with Manchester as our start/end point? I'd really appreciate recommendations on particular areas to zero in on. If I can figure out some general areas to prioritize the rest will come into focus.

Thanks in advance for any assistance!

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, sunflower traveler,

I would say that in order to fully explore, you really do need to relocate every two nights, and maybe one three night stay. With seven of you travelling together, it is going to be difficult to find accommodation this late, especially as accommodation is a bit more limited in the Highlands and Islands. However, don't let that discourage you. This is not an insurmountable problem.

You will need a large vehicle - what they call in Britain a "people carrier," but what in the U.S. would be called a minivan. Several of the rental companies offer an eight passenger van. You may wish to travel with as little luggage as you're comfortable with. If you need extra clothing, you can always pick it up in Scotland.

As you are avoiding cities (good!), and you want to see some magnificent scenery, your best bet would be to take the M6 north through the Lake District (you'll be tempted to stop!), and past Carlisle to Gretna, where the M6 becomes the M74. Welcome to Scotland!

There are many ways to go once you have reached Gretna, but as you have eleven days to play with, I'd recommend staying on the M74 until you get to the M8 outside of Glasgow. Head west on the M8 until you reach the Erskine Bridge (M898). Cross the Erskine Bridge and head north on the A82. Stay on the A82 along Loch Lomond, and when you get to Tyndrum, bear west on the A85 for Oban.

That's enough driving for one day! Stay overnight in Oban.

On day two, spend a day on the Isle of Mull. Visit Iona, then take the last ferry back to Oban. Stay overnight in Oban.

On day three, drive north to Fort William, then west on the A830 to Mallaig. Take the ferry to Skye. For hiking, stunning views, and a distillery, Skye is an ideal location. Stay over at least two nights on Skye.

(Normally, I would recommend staying overnight on Mull, then taking the Tobermory to Kilchoan ferry, and driving to Mallaig from Kilchoan. However, it is going to be very difficult to find accommodation for a party of seven on Mull.)

On day five, take the Skye Bridge back to the mainland. Take the back roads to Duirinish and Plockton. If time permits, take a boat trip out of Plockton with Calum's Seal Trips. Take the A890 to Strathcarron, and the A896 through Glen Torridon to Kinlochewe. If your driver has a head for heights, he or she could drive up the Bealach-na-ba, and follow the coast road around to Shieldaig. From Kinlochewe, take the A832 north to Gairloch. Spend the night in Gairloch.

From Gairloch, you have several choices. But I'm looking again at the size of your party. What I'd suggest is to take the A832 to the Corrieshalloch Gorge, then either head east on the A835 for Inverness, or if you need more Highland scenery, go west on the A835 through Ullapool to Ledmore Junction, then the A837/A836/A9 to Inverness. Spend nights six and seven in Inverness.

I like Inverness as a staging area. There are many things to see and do outside the city. There is Culloden and Fort George for history buffs; many good hikes, including Glen Affric and the Caledonian Canal hikes; and a good choice of places to eat, including that Scottish restaurant for the teens.

You may want to spend an extra night in Inverness, and use it as a base for day trips. But if you don't, a short trip down the A9 will take you to Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park. There are many hikes and lots of activities for everyone. Aviemore can be used as a base for day trips. Two nights there?

Day 10?: Take the A95 to Grantown-on-Spey. If you haven't had enough distillery visits, stay on the A95 to Craigellachie, then the A941 south to Dufftown. From Dufftown, take the A941 to Rhynie, then the A97 to Dinnet. Turn west on the A93, then follow it through Glenshee to Blairgowrie and Perth. Overnight in Perth. If you decide to skip the distilleries, take the A939 south from Grantown-on-Spey to Ballater.

TBC

Posted by
1376 posts

Continued...

From Ballater (or Dinnet) follow the A93 through Braemar and Glenshee, then through Blairgowrie and south to Perth. Overnight in Perth.

On day 11, you'll need to start heading back to Manchester. Take the A9 to Stirling and visit the castle, then start making your way south to Manchester.

Okay, this was just an outline, for entertainment purposes only, as they say. Our other forum posters will have many ideas for you, and you will need to pick and choose what you want to see and do. As you are mainly interested in the natural beauty of Scotland (and there is lots of it!), I've tried to steer you in a direction that would provide you with as much scenery as possible in your eleven days.

One other thing: You mentioned that the teens would be happy sampling new snacks from gas stations. Many filling stations are limited to candy (mostly chocolate) and soft drinks. I'd recommend stopping at some of the chain supermarkets (Tesco, Co-op, Morrison's, Spar, etc.). Most of them have a meal deal, which includes a ready made sandwich, a drink, and a snack (chocolate, crisps, or fresh fruit) for four pounds or less. It's a quick way to get lunch, and you can eat on the go. (Except for the driver, of course!) If you join the Co-op at one of their stores (it costs one pound), you can save a good bit of money with the card on the meal deals and other sale items.

Have a wonderful time on your holiday! Please keep checking this forum for additional ideas.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)
p.s.: On your way from Oban to Fort William, you may want to consider either a detour through Glencoe or a detour through Arisaig on your way to Mallaig to visit some of the lovely beaches. If you do both, you may have to overnight in Mallaig and catch the ferry to Skye the following morning.

p.p.s.: One of your day trips from Inverness could be the Glemorangie Distillery in Tain, which is just a bit north of the city.

Posted by
3122 posts

As usual, Auchterless has provided far more than most of us could! I'll just add that I don't think you can really go wrong anywhere in Scotland. Am glad to see you acknowledging that you won't see it all.

In general, given Scotland's geography, I'd say to relocate every couple of nights...BUT...the larger the group, the more time and effort it takes to check out and change lodgings. So if there's a location that works for you as a 3- or even 4-nighter with a little more driving on 1-2 of the days to visit destinations farther away, that might be worth it, even if some of the driving involves backtracking.

As noted, with 7 people and luggage, you'll need a "people carrier" (van type vehicle). Definitely encourage everyone to limit bulk as they pack. You don't want to be stuck with someone riding holding a suitcase on their lap the whole time.

Posted by
11373 posts

No help with itinerary, but the van issue got my attention. Have you sorted that out yet?

A quick look shows a 9 passenger van at $370 per day An 8 passenger van at $185 and 7 passenger at $129 per day.
5 passenger SUV ( like a Nissan Rogue) around $100 per day

The issue is how much luggage space there is in a 7-8 passenger van.
Is 2 smaller vehicles possible?

Good luck and happy travels

Posted by
4 posts

Hi all! I just wanted to report back to say - we did it! Successfully navigated a 9-person people mover across Scotland for 12 glorious days, following Auchterless's route (with a few modifications). The guidance I received through this forum was key to unsticking our planning. I'd like to pay it forward by recording a trip report. Should that happen here (Scotland forum) or in the Trip Report forum? Thanks again - we are already dreaming of a return trip!