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Itinerary Review -- 26 Car-less Days in Scotland

After time in Spain and France next summer, I will head to Scotland on July 5 for 26 nights. A friend (also retired) will join me (not jetlagged) on July 12 and accompany me for the rest of the trip, beginning with 19 nights in Scotland. We will then head south and ultimately fly home from London. I’m trying to pin down our Scottish itinerary so I can book accommodations for this peak-season trip.

We will absolutely not rent a car, and we are not interested in distilleries or nightlife.

We both like pretty towns, pretty countryside and contemporary glass. Rural walking will be extremely limited to non-existent for both of us. I like art, ceramics and other contemporary crafts, really good gardens, architecture through the early 20th century and lots of urban walking. My friend prefers castles, historical sites, historical and museums, and jewelry. She can do moderate urban walking but needs to minimize stairs and hilly terrain because of knee issues.

I’ll have to cover some of my targets in both Edinburgh and Glasgow before she arrives, requiring two stays in Edinburgh. This is what I have sketched out:

Jul 5: Edinburgh (3 nights; Rosslyn Chapel)
Jul 8: Glasgow (6 nights; Helensburgh. Friend arrives Jul 12 for 2 nights)
Jul 14: Oban (4 nights; Kerrera, Mull, Staffa, Iona)
Jul 18: Skye (Portree?) (4 nights; Trotternish Peninsula by public bus and 1 or 2 day-tours)
Jul 22: Inverness (2 nights??)
Jul 24: Dundee (3 nights; St. Andrews, Perth?, Arbroath?)
By bus via East Neuk villages to:
Jul 27: Edinburgh (4 nights; Arts Festival July 25-29)
Jul 31: Head south

Friend needs at least 3 nights in Glasgow; we are considering what to tweak to allow that. I’d happily give up Inverness, but so far she really wants Loch Ness, and the Black Isle seems worth a day for me.

Questions:

  • Which RR route from Inverness to Dundee is more picturesque: Nairn/Elgin/Aberdeen or Aviemore/Pitlochry/Perth? I know the Aviemore route is quicker.
  • Am I missing a relatively simple scenic side-trip? Is there a non-direct route we should take somewhere for better scenery?
  • Given the basic areas we plan to stay in, is there an obvious one-day (or even two-day) bus tour I should include?
  • Other suggestions?

Thank you for your comments.

Posted by
1390 posts

You aren't going to like this, but I'll post it anyway.
I now plan carless trips too, but I wouldn't dream of trying Scotland without a car and I'll be there in August.
You just miss too much.

Posted by
762 posts

I've done 2, 2 week Scotland trips without a car so it can be done. You really need to pay attention to train and bus schedules though and really plan your must see's out well. On Skye make sure to see Dunvegan and their gardens, and just on the mainland Eilan Donan. Make sure to check your public transport options carefully for what days you will be doing that as we almost got stuck on the island longer than we wanted. From Inverness I recommend the Culloden battlefield, clava cairns, Beauly Priory, and a mini bus tour that you book at the information center to Urquhart Castle that includes a cruise on Loch Ness and seeing a very old burial mound. Near Oban is Dunstaffnag Caslte that I found to be a beautiful ruined castle and good to see if you are a Robert the Bruce fan.

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you both for your personal reports. I know my castle-loving friend will be especially interested in the recommendation for Dunvegan and Eilean Donan, and I would certainly enjoy the Dunvegan garden (weather permitting).

Andrew, neither my travel mate nor I have normal vision. We are legal to drive and OK in familiar territory, but dealing with left-hand drive on unfamiliar, narrow roads is totally out of the question. I'm not even sure my friend can drive a manual-transmission car; I certainly cannot.

We know public transportation limits us to the more-populous places in Scotland, which is a shame, but perhaps not as much of an issue for us as it would be for travelers planning to do a lot of walking out in the country--which neither of us is able to do. So much of the travel advice for Scotland involves getting to a lovely spot and hiking; unfortunately, hiking isn't in the cards for us. By staying a bit longer than is typical in a number of locations, I hope I'm allowing time to react to weather conditions and take some local side-trips if we are so inclined.

Posted by
1548 posts

Why not hire a private guide who will drive you to some of the out of the way places? Just a thought if not driving will be that limiting. I haven’t been to Scotland but I have read comments on this forum about driving and the ability to see sights off the beaten path. Given that you will be there during peak sight-seeing season, going to smaller more remote sights might remove you from the worst of the crowds.
Just a thought...

Posted by
16729 posts

I'd say that a private driver for, say, one day might not be totally out of the question, but we're probably talking over $500 split just two ways. We are not poor, but we are frugal travelers, and this will be a long, costly trip even without private tours.

I've read every post on this forum since January 2015, 2 or 3 guidebooks, and quite a lot of newspaper/magazine articles. There are some lovely-sounding rural spots inaccessible without a car, but most of them seem to require driving, parking and walking on irregular terrain. I've tried the rural walking bit, and I always end up doing significant damage to at least one ankle or one knee--damage that has me hobbling around for weeks in pain. Last year I also bent my glasses and gave myself a black eye. It's just not a rational choice for me. My travel mate has better balance than I do, but she isn't one for walking very far; I'm good for 10 or 12 miles on pavement.

Given the large number of destinations that can be reached by public transportation or day-tours, I don't see that we are going to be missing out on the pretty-countryside front. But I will certainly research any specific suggestions anyone has.

I hope this make sense. I learned a long time ago that (even with a car) one cannot see everything, so I try to make my days as good as they can be rather than focusing on what I cannot fit into my itinerary, whether that is due to time, cost or inaccessibility.

Posted by
901 posts

Hi, acraven,

In your last post, you mentioned that you were good for 10 or 12 on pavement. Is that miles or blocks?

I'll try to work out some suggestions for you. Glad to hear that you're going for 26 nights. So many people visit Scotland for a week or less, and miss out on so much.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
16729 posts

Miles! I'll edit the earlier post. Thanks for asking for clarification. I have no problem whatsoever with walking, including up and down hills. I'm just prone to stumbling and tumbling on uneven surfaces. I went flat on the pavement on Day 1 in Budapest last year, and I did a somersault after stepping into an unnoticed street drain in Leon. I think it's 50% a vision issue (progressive lenses, but I'm blind beyond their edges). So far I haven't broken any bones, for which I am very grateful.

As my late mother said, getting old isn't for sissies. You just have to laugh and be happy about the things that are not going wrong!

Posted by
115 posts

I'm envious of the time you'll have there. Sounds as though we have some of the same issues. We can see to drive, but have no inclination to do so. Mike has been so helpful with the questions I've asked in this forum. We will only have 15 days on the ground and will only be doing public transportation as well.

Have you looked at the rail/bus/ferry pass for scotrail? The Two Traveling Together seems to be a better deal even than the 55+ pass. We plan on using it to get from Edinburgh to Stirling, Inverness, Skye, Outer Hebrides, back to Ft William and down to Oban, then to Mull and Iona, etc. if time permits before heading back to Edinburgh for the flight home. We don't rest much on vacation. :)

We fell in love with the Highlands when we visited the first time.

Posted by
16729 posts

Thanks for the reminder about the pass, Terri. I haven't started calculating transit costs yet. It's clear that we'll benefit from something, but we do qualify for the senior pass as well. My concern about the Two Together railcard is that to use it, you must (duh) be traveling together. And if you're buying Advance tickets (which we will do to the maximum degree possible), you have to be certain at the time of purchase that you will be traveling together. Our sightseeing priorities are not totally aligned, so I can foresee that on some days we will go our separate ways, and that might involve separate trains. For example, I have no interest in Stirling Castle or Loch Lomond, so my friend will be venturing solo to Stirling from either Glasgow or Edinburgh and traveling out of Inverness (I guess by bus) to Loch Lomond. It's also possible we will make one or two of our hotel shifts on different days. And at our ages, one of us might have to bail on the trip at the last minute, so I'm trying to minimize the amount of money we have tied up in non-refundable expenses.

My preliminary instinct is that we'll be better off with individual Senior Railcards, despite the additional £15 cost to each of us. But I do have to take a careful look at the entire transportation-picture before we can start buying tickets--which will happen all too soon.

Posted by
901 posts

Hi again, acraven,

I was going to recommend that you secure your accommodation bookings before your trip, as you're traveling via public transportation, and you don't want to arrive somewhere without a place to stay. But if you possibly may have to back out at the last minute, this becomes problematic. At this point, best to make accommodation arrangements at places where you can get a refund if you have a major change in plans.

As I've recommended to other visitors to this website, you should try to obtain some sort of mobile (cell phone), so that you can be in touch with transportation offices, lodging, and tour companies. If you have a cell phone here in the U.S., check with your carrier to find out if your phone will accept a SIM card in Scotland. Sometimes there are networks that will work with one another, like T-Mobile and Orange. You could find out if your carrier here has a British equivalent.

The other option would be to purchase a cheap pay-as-you-go flip phone once you're in Edinburgh, and then buy a 10 pound SIM card for it, which will give you about 250 minutes of talk time. As I don't have a cell phone here in the U.S., that's the route I've taken for frequent trips to Scotland. The phone was 15 pounds; I just load it up with a 10 pound SIM card when I get there, and get a 3 pound international calling card fro Tesco for calls back to the U.S. Outside of central areas in the major towns and cities, pay phones are really hard to find, so don't plan to rely on them.

As most Scottish cities are hilly, I'm a bit concerned about your friend getting about. Edinburgh in particular, but also Glasgow, and Dundee to some extent. You may have to rely on taxis to get from one location to another in those cities if the walking gets too strenuous.

Regarding your train route from Inverness to Dundee, Aviemore/Pitlochry/Perth would be the more scenic of the two, but traveling via Aberdeen would open up some lovely vistas of the North Sea. Plus you would have the opportunity to visit Arbroath, which has a really charming harbour, and Stonehaven, for a side trip to Dunnottar Castle. Dunnottar can be reached by public bus from Stonehaven. You can also walk, but the path is hilly on the outward trip.

You probably have already determined your schedule for Edinburgh. You can reach Rosslyn Chapel by bus. You should no doubt visit the Botanic Gardens in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and if you should end up in Aberdeen, there is an amazing garden in Duthie Park, which is a good city walk from Union Station. The garden is one of the largest indoor gardens in Britain, and has the second largest collection of cacti in Britain. Also, if you do end up in Aberdeen, Crathes Castle, easily reached by bus, has a lovely garden. That would satisfy your friend's love of castles, and yours of gardens. There are other castles in the Aberdeen area, including Fyvie, Cragievar, and Drum, all accessible by bus.

There is a lot to see and do in Glasgow, including the Cathedral, St. Mungo's Museum, Provand's Lordship, and the Necropolis, all of which are centrally located, and within easy distance of one another. The Necropolis is a bit hilly to get in to, but once you're in, the pathways are fairly level. The Tenement House is definitely worth a visit, but it's up in Garnethill, so you may need to take a taxi up, and walk back. Kelvingrove Museum would be of interest to both of you, but you'd need to take bus or the Clockwork Orange (subway) to get there. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh are wonderful for architecture, but much of the Victorian buildings have been taken over by shop fronts. So you have to keep looking up. But be careful that you don't step off of a pavement (sidewalk)!

To be continued...

Posted by
901 posts

Hi once again, acraven,

Not many tourists go to Helensburgh. It's a very attractive and well laid out town along the Clyde. Be sure to pay a visit to The Lodge, at 121 Argyll Street. It was the boyhood home of John Logie Baird, the inventor of television. Yes, he's the one to blame! The trains to Helensburgh are very frequent from Glasgow Queen Street.

Have you considered staying on Mull during your time in Oban? There's not a whole lot to do in Oban, other than wander up and down the seafront. It's mainly a stopping off place for the ferries. Not that there's a lot to do on Mull, either, but it's more scenic. Tobermory is charming, and easily reached by bus from the ferry terminal at Craignure. At the other end of Mull is Fionnphort, where you can catch the 10 minute ferry to Iona, and stay as long as you like; or take one of the boat trips from Fionnphort to Staffa. Iona is flat, and easy to walk, unless you plan to hike up Dun I, which is easy but steep, and slippery when wet. (Speaking from personal experience :() Kerrera doesn't have public transportation, but it's fairly level, so you should have no trouble getting about. Just check to make sure that you're going in the direction you want to go in once you get off of the ferry.

Do you have plans for getting to Skye? There are a couple of ways of doing this. Actually, three.

The first would be the most adventurous way, but only if you're staying in Tobermory. You'd have to catch the early ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan; the Shiel Bus #506 from Kilchoan to Acharacle; the 502 bus from Acharacle to Lochailort; then the 500 bus from Lochailort to Mallaig. Yes, it can be done!

Option number two would be if you're staying in Oban. Take the Citylink 918 bus from Oban to Fort William, then Sheil bus 500 from Fort William to Mallaig. From there, take the CalMac ferry to Armadale on Skye, then the bus from Armadale to Broadford or Portree. Don't forget that there are only two buses daily from Oban to Fort William. If you're taking this route, it may be advisable to buy your tickets ahead of time. As an option, you could also take the train from Fort William to Mallaig.

Option three would be to take the train from Oban to Tyndrum or Crainlarich, then switch over to the train heading for Fort William and Mallaig.

Once you're on Skye, you can travel about by Stagecoach buses to most of the towns and villages. Broadford to Elgol is serviced by postbus. Elgol may be worth visiting for a boat trip to Loch Coruisk. Taxi service is available, and would be better than hiring a private driver. You could also take advantage of some of the small tour buses that originate from Somerled Square in Portree.

Most of the walks on Skye are hilly. However, if you're going to be at Dunvegan anyway, the Neist Point Lighthouse is just a bit farther out, on the Duirinish Peninsula. It's in a spectacular location. It's mostly downhill getting to the lighthouse, but uphill on the way back.

Some of the best city walking in Inverness is along the River Ness. You can walk down to the island on the east bank, then cross over to the west bank via series of islands and bridges. The central area is a bit run down, but you should be able to find enough to do with the help of guidebooks.

I already gave you my recommendations for getting from Inverness to Dundee. If you take the direct route via Pitlochry, you could get off there for a stroll about the town, or at Aviemore, which has the appearance of an Alpine village due to its connection to skiing.

Once you get to Dundee, the train station is right next to Discovery Point, which features the R.R.S. Discovery, and the brand new Victoria and Albert Museum. There is a really nice Premier Inn next to both, which is really convenient for visiting central Dundee. Ask for a room overlooking the Tay.

To be continued...

Posted by
901 posts

Continued...

Dundee also has the McManus Art Gallery, the Verdant Works Museum, and the Dundee Contemporary Arts center, all close to the center of town. Dundee is an up and coming city, with a great arts scene, and two excellent universities.

I wouldn't recommend Perth without a car, as the central area is not that attractive - many shops, and one very good theatre. However, if climbing Kinnoull Hill is on your bucket list, then it's worth a stop. St. Andrews is not on the train line from Dundee to Edinburgh. You can reach it from Dundee by bus, or by train to Leuchars and the bus in from there. Whichever is most convenient.

Okay, that's it for now. It's just gone midnight. I'll put the thinking cap on, and see if there are any scenic side trips that you shouldn't miss, and that are available by public transportation. Actually, one just came to mind - if you're heading from Skye to Inverness by train from Kyle of Lochalsh, you should get off along the way and visit the village of Plockton. It's on the shore of Loch Carron, and is one of the most attractive villages in Scotland.

Anyway, more later.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: You mentioned that you're on a tight budget. I'm definitely a budget traveler, and can assure you that you don't have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Scotland. It's not quite as easy without a car, as you will find it more difficult to get to some of the outlying restaurants. However, my wife and I (with a car) only once in 30 days spent more than 20 pounds in a day for food for the two of us. And we ate well. (Yes, we did have fish & chips a couple of times!)

Posted by
626 posts

Bookmarking because I plan to travel some of the islands by ferry and bus in 2020, including Tobermory to Skye.

I wanted to add that your days in Edinburgh with your friend on your second stay may be full but Rosslyn Chapel was really interesting and, although there was some walking, I don’t remember any of it being hilly or having steps in particular; so your friend might enjoy that.

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you. I'll be back tomorrow with follow-up questions, but I really appreciate all the suggestion so far.

To clarify the lodging situation, I intend to start booking hotels/B&Bs very soon. My review of previous threads on this forum convinced me that lodging is tight in July in many of our destinations and delaying could be costly. I'll just avoid reservations with very restrictive cancelation policies to the extent I can. It's not that I'm worried about a cancelation, but anything is possible and I like to keep my options open.

I will definitely be going to Rosslyn Chapel, and I believe my travel mate would also enjoy it--one of the few traditional sights that might appeal to both of us! And several of the other places mentioned so far are on my list of possibilities, including Plockton, Stonehaven and Arbroath. It's just a matter of what I have time to fit in and the availability of conveniently-timed public transportation.

I'm also very happy to get negative guidance, such as the fact that Perth is probably best skipped on this trip. We can't possibly go to all the attractive places, so it's good to be able take a place off the list of potentials.

I am intrigued by the possibility of staying on Mull rather than in Oban. I was trying to figure out whether we'd have time to get to Tobermory, and this would obviously help.

I think we'll be OK on food costs. Neither one of us is a drinker, and we won't have much time for long meals in expensive restaurants. We're more into the sort of place the local folks eat, and it helps that we're used to Washington DC restaurant prices.

We both really, really like seafood. May I assume that we can get good seafood in just about any town or city in Scotland?

Thanks again for the input so far.

Posted by
901 posts

Hi once again, acraven,

I forgot to mention this when I described Arbroath, but as a resident of D.C., you may be interested in visiting Arbroath Abbey. The Declaration of Arbroath was signed there in 1320, and was supposedly the inspiration for the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

As far as seafood goes, yes, you'll find good seafood in just about every town in Scotland. However, a lot of it is breaded or battered, as in fish & chips. The Tailend in Dundee is very good (81 Nethergate), and they also have a branch in St. Andrews. The Dundee branch is very close to the center of town, and a short walk from Discovery Point.

The Carron Fish Bar in Stonehaven (home of the original deep fried Mars bar) is very good, but it's a takeaway only. They have no indoor seating. Over on the West Coast, the fish & chip van by the harbour in Tobermory can be quite good, and they have other things on offer in addition to the standard cod and haddock.

In addition to the standard fish & chips, you should be able to get good Scottish salmon in many restaurants. Ask if they have wild caught, as opposed to farm raised. Scallops are also commonly found, and are really good (and large!), especially on the West Coast. Many B&Bs have kippers as an option for breakfast. They are tasty, but a lot of work! Another possible breakfast option at B&Bs is scrambled eggs with salmon.

Bon appetit!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: As you'll be in Scotland for almost four weeks, you'll no doubt need to do a wash (laundry) or two. Self-service laundrettes are getting harder to find; they're mostly service wash laundrettes now. There are self-service laundrettes in Inverness and Portree, as well as in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In Glasgow and Edinburgh they are farther away from the city center. Oban has a service wash facility, as does Tobermory. Best thing to do is to ask at your B&B where the nearest laundrette is. If they take pity on you, they may offer to do your laundry for you. Warning, though, make sure that you tell them to wash on warm. For some reason, Scots like to wash hot and tumble dry on hot. If you have shrinkables, don't let someone else wash them.

Posted by
1517 posts

Hi acraven,
Just a quick tidbit, as Mike has given you so much good info and he is much more of an expert than I am. Just putting in a plug for Mull, which I didn’t spend anytime there other than a bus ride, but from what I saw it was lovely and I mentally put it as a place I would like to go back and spend more time on. We also loved the vibe of Oban.
Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
115 posts

It's an easy bus trip to Rosslyn Chapel, but a downhill walk to the chapel and a fairly strenuous one back up. I have a hard time walking hills due to a bad ankle, but my husband mentioned to one of the guides that I was worried about getting back up. She offered to drive us back up. It was a wonderful gesture and made the day so much more enjoyable!

Posted by
901 posts

Hi, diveloonie and acraven,

Bus service on Mull is operated by West Coast Motors. There is regular service from Craignure to both ends of Mull - Fionnphort and Tobermory. There is also limited bus service to Calgary from Tobermory.

diveloonie, if you're ever back on Mull, and have access to a car, the drive round past Calgary to Oskamull and Graline is gorgeous, and a side trip on the 10 minute ferry to Ulva is a treat. Ulva is one of the most unique places in Scotland. That road (B8073) is not serviced by public transport past Calgary. The Mull eagle watch is on that road.

acraven, as you won't have a car, it might be worthwhile hiring a taxi for a tour around the B8073 from Tobermory to Salen, or finding if there are any small coach tours which go that way. As the road is very narrow in places, it would definitely have to be a small coach! Turus Mara do sailings from the Ulva ferry to Staffa, Ulva, and Lunga, and provide transportation by minibus from Tobermory to the Ulva ferry slip. It might be worth contacting them to find out if there is bus transport only, unless, of course, you'd like to visit the islands.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
16729 posts

I have only partially absorbed the earlier comments, but I'm working on them and have sent them to my travel partner. I have a few questions, some related to the earlier suggestions.

  • Mike, you mentioned a postbus option from Broadford to Elgol, but my preliminary research turned up a report that postbuses stopped taking paying passengers some years ago. I don't remember where I saw that; it may have been in a Lonely Planet or Rough guide. Although I can find references to a Broadford-Elgol postbus online, the links don't take me to a useful webpage. I see an indication of infrequent Bus 55 service between the two towns, provided by Stagecoach.

  • The Stagecoach schedules currently online are for winter. Should I assume there will be little augmentation of the schedule during July? I don't see a link to a summer schedule anywhere. I tried TravelineScotland's website but can't get beyond March.

  • I've seen photos of Dunnottar Castle that make it appear that the only access is some sort of footpath that first runs downhill then rather sharply uphill. Are those photos deceiving? Is there some sort of motorized transportation available? It seems unlikely.

  • My sources and this forum all agree that the West Highlands Railroad line is extremely scenic. My original intent was to ride that entire route from Glasgow to Mallaig even if I had to do some doubling back, but I can see that it might cost quite a bit of extra time. How much spectacular scenery are we giving up if we travel from Mull/Oban to Skye by some path other than the train route Oban-Crianlarich-Fort William-Mallaig? Is the bus route Oban-Glencoe-Fort William that much less scenic?

  • Are there any ferries serving Mull, Kerrera or Skye for which a foot passenger needs to book in advance?

  • If we decide we have time to see Plockton, it appears we'll have to do it accompanied by our luggage unless we get lucky and find two vacant lockers (or 12) available at the Kyle of Lochalsh train station and are willing to taxi back to retrieve the bags, which would mean summoning a Kyle taxi by phone, I guess. The distance between the RR station and the port looks like it's a bit over 1/2 mile. Would that walk be relatively flat? Photos suggest that it is.

  • It would be great to get a look at Dunkeld and/or Pitlochry on the way from Inverness to Dundee, but I can't find any indication of luggage storage facilities in either of those little towns. I don't believe they're small enough that I'd want to stroll around with a rolling bag. Am I missing something obvious here?

Thanks for any information you (collective) can provide.

Posted by
901 posts

Hello once again, acraven,

First off, my apologies. The postbus from Broadford to Elgol is now defunct. It used to exist, but now it's just the postie on his regular rounds. I remember encountering the postbus on the Broadford-Elgol road back in the 1990s.

The Stagecoach bus 55 does serve that route, but the schedule is not conducive to a Loch Coruisk boat trip unless you catch the early bus out of Broadford. That wouldn't work unless you were staying in Broadford (which is a less crowded alternative to Portree). If you are interested in visiting Loch Coruisk, the least expensive way to get to Elgol would be to take the Stagecoach bus from Portree to Broadford, take a taxi to Elgol, then take an afternoon bus back to Broadford. You can then take the bus back to Portree.

Another option would be to contact the operators of the Bella Jane, and find out if one of their crew members could give you a lift from Broadford to Elgol.

Thinking about your friend's walking ability - the jetty at Loch Coruisk has a short set of steps up to the walk to the loch. They are stone steps, and have varying heights. Also, the boat trips depend a lot on weather, so if it's blowing up a storm, they may not go out. Best to leave them a contact number, either yours or the number at your lodging, so they can get in touch with you if there's a cancellation. You can also do an out and back on the boat, but the jetty is below the level of the loch, so you wouldn't be able to see it. You will see many seals, though, and there's tea and cake on the return journey.

I would say that the Stagecoach schedule is going to remain pretty much the same throughout the year. Students rely on the buses to get to school, so they pretty much have to maintain the schedule throughout the year.

The walk down to Dunnottar is fairly straightforward. But it is downhill. You'll most likely pass a bagpipe playing busker on the path. Tipping is optional. Once you get down to the castle, the path takes a turn to the right, and there is a set of steps leading up to the castle entrance. The path is easy, but it's a hill, so you'll be climbing it on the way back. If your friend doesn't feel comfortable taking the path, she can relax at the top of the hill, and get a spectacular view of the castle while you're off exploring.

The bus from Oban to Fort William doesn't go in to Glencoe; it turns north from Ballachulish, not too far from Glencoe village. The bus through Glencoe on the A82 originates from Glasgow. The Oban-Fort William bus route is alongside Loch Linnhe, all the way up to Fort William. If you decide to go that way, try to sit on the left side of the bus for the best views.

Your best bet would be to take the train from Oban to Crainlarich, then switch over to the West Highland line for Fort William and Mallaig. ScotRail has timed their schedules so that you don't have to wait a long time on the platform at Crainlarich.

There are no ferries that I know of in Scotland, with the exception of the Cape Wrath ferry, that require a reservation for foot passengers. But if you haven't pre-purchased your tickets, it's still advisable to show up at the ferry terminal at least half an hour ahead of time in order to purchase them.

Outside the larger train stations, there's not much in the way of luggage storage facilities, which is probably why you see people carrying those enormous backpacks about. It's a pity, because it doesn't make it convenient for travelers such as yourselves to visit smaller towns along the way for a day visit. It's different if you're staying overnight, as you can just leave your luggage. If the storage lockers are available in Kyle, you could time it so that you could leave your luggage there, take the train in to Plockton, then take a later train back to Kyle to retrieve your luggage.

To be continued...

Posted by
901 posts

Continued...

The original train station at Plockton has been turned in to a self-catering holiday cottage. The station platform itself is unmanned (unpersonned?), so there is no one to contact about luggage facilities. Also, the station is uphill from the village, and about a ten minute walk. Going from the train to the village would be no problem on foot, but returning to the station could be.

You may want to contact ScotRail directly to see if they can make any suggestions.

The same thing holds true at Pitlochry and Dunkeld. There are no luggage storage facilities. Again, you may want to contact ScotRail to see what they recommend. Or the tourist information office in Pitlochry. Apparently the TI office in Dunkeld has been closed due to budget cutbacks.

I hope that all this helps. You appear to be doing very well with your research. It's a lot more complicated planning a tour by public transportation than it is by car, especially when you're not backpackers.

Very best wishes for your plans.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you, Mike. Your details are, as always, golden. I've been to some fairly obscure nooks in Europe, but Scotland is taking more time than any other destination. Part of it is that I know if I botch something up badly, it will affect two people. The other part is that I have to cater to two peoples' interests.

I learned today that I had misinterpreted something my friend said earlier. She doesn't care about doing the Loch Ness bit. She would, though, like to get to the historical center (museum?) at Glencoe and Eilean Donon castle. This means we don't need to go to Inverness at all and can skip right over to Dundee/St. Andrews. That's the good news. The bad news is...Glencoe.

I've only taken a quick look, but it appears the castle can be visited fairly easily on the way to or from Skye since it's less than 10 miles from Kyle of Lochalsh. I'm guessing Glencoe is going to need to be inserted between Mull and Skye. It appears that will add less time than doubling back south after we visit Skye. But there are lots of moving parts if you try to visit Glencoe between the two islands, and it appears we may well have to spend a night somewhere along the way, but I haven't really investigated this yet. Perhaps judicious use of a taxi or two along the way might smooth the path.

I'll review your recent comments later this evening or tomorrow morning. I do want to clarify that my friend can probably do moderate uphill walking and stair-climbing without pain. It's extensive activity that causes an issue. We attend a week-long sports event every year, and as the days wear on, all the climbing up and down the arena steps begins to cause discomfort or worse. Six weeks is a long time, and I don't want her crippled before she gets to London.

Thank you again.

Posted by
901 posts

Hello even one more time, acraven.

Actually, it wouldn't be that difficult to visit Glen Coe (the glen) or Glencoe (the village) on your way from Oban to Skye.

You could take the Citylink bus from Oban to Ballachulish, and stay overnight there, or in Glencoe village. After spending some time in the village, and possibly venturing out in to the glen by way of taxi or the Fort William to Glasgow Citylink bus, you could then take the Citylink bus to Crainlarich for your train to Fort William and Mallaig.

It appears that the easiest way to get to Eilean Donan by public transport is to take one of the Citylink buses that run from Portree to Fort William. There is a bus stop near the castle. However, that doesn't help with your luggage. If you do decide to go that way, and can figure out what to do with your luggage, you can take the bus to Eilean Donan, then take the westbound bus back to Kyle, where it's only a short walk to the train station for the train to Inverness. From Inverness, you can switch to the Perth bound train, or the Aberdeen bound train for your East Coast adventure.

Your other option would be to leave your luggage at Kyle (making sure of the station opening times), catch a taxi to Eilean Donan, take another taxi to Plockton, take a train back to Kyle in time to get your luggage, then the last train for Inverness. Sounds crazy, but it's doable.

If your friend is interested in the history behind the Glencoe Massacre, she should try to obtain a copy of John Prebble's "Glencoe," which is the definitive book on the subject. It should be available through interlibrary loan. If not, copies are available on Amazon and eBay.

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you, Mike. I am bashing away at the TravelineScotland website at the moment, documenting the specifics of the schedules so we'll have the full information to work with.

I am prepared to be the keeper of all the luggage while my friend sees the castle (I am not a fan) and the Visitor Center, if it turns out that will help. I like your idea of maybe doing a triangle trip Kyle-Eilean Donan-Plockton-Kyle, but I can live without Plockton if it looks too risky or costly.

My friend felt she didn't have enough time in either Edinburgh or Glasgow on the earlier draft schedule and has agreed that if we cannot (semi-miraculously) squeeze the Glencoe Visitor Center into our travel day between Mull/Oban and Skye, she would rather skip it and use the otherwise-necessary night elsewhere. So we've now deleted Inverness and added 1 night to each of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I think if would be prudent for us to split our "Mull" time between 3 nights in Tobermory and 1 night in Oban to facilitate a quick getaway. It's quite a long trip between Mull and Skye even if one is not trying to detour to Glencoe. The one Oban overnight would also make it easier for me to get to Kerrera on our last day (weather permitting).

A preliminary look yesterday at weekday transportation schedules indicated we might be able to pull off the Glencoe stopover if the Visitor Center had a summer opening time of 9 AM or earlier and we took the first bus out of Oban; however, the Visitor Center website currently says 10 AM with no indication of seasonality. Also, it turns out we'd be attempting Glencoe on a Saturday, so I must revisit the bus/train schedules for the appropriate day of the week.

Similarly, I am considering splitting the Skye time between Portree (3 nights) and Kyle of Lochalsh (1 night) to make the Eilean Donan detour less stressful on a day when we will be traveling all the way to Dundee. It's also possible, depending on what we are doing on Day 2 of our Skye stay, that my friend could get to the castle by mid-afternoon while I'm dealing with the Kyle hotel. That would make the shift-to-Dundee day a bit easier, with or without Plockton. I don't like overnight stops, but my friend hasn't asked for many specific sights, so I'm making a serious effort to include the two she has requested.

I will pass on the book recommendation; I think I'd enjoy it myself.

A couple of questions:

  • I understand that a bus might sell out, but do I also need to be concerned about substantial fare increases for late purchase of bus tickets, as happens on many rail routes? It looks as if we'll be spending rather a lot of time on Scottish buses.

  • I'm seeing some differences between nationalrail.co.uk and travelinescotland.com when I look up Edinburgh-Glasgow routes. Basically, a lot more options are showing up on the NationalRail website. I've checked to be sure I have all modes of transportation toggled On for TravelineScotland. The fares are a bit different as well, but those variations are trivial. I'm not worried about Edinburgh-Glasgow due to the frequency of the trains, but for our other travel legs it's important to see all the possibilities. Any idea why I'm seeing differences? I am looking at Tuesday, February 19.

Thank you for all your help.

Posted by
901 posts

Et encore, acraven,

Just checking the Lonely Planet guidebook - it appears that the Glencoe Visitor Center opens at 9:30 a.m. daily from Easter until the end of October, if that makes any difference in your plans. However, the guidebook says that the Visitor Center is 1 1/2 miles east of Glencoe Village.

There shouldn't be any difference in bus fares for late purchase as there is for trains. However, as buses are frequently full in July, best to buy tickets ahead of time if you don't have a travel pass, or make reservations if you do.

I'm not sure why you're seeing fare differences on the trains. Could it be class of service? You may want to try calling directly to ScotRail, or whomever is operating on the routes you're traveling. If you don't have cheap overseas dialling rates from your land line, you can get an international calling card from Walgreen's (Duane Reed?) for $10.00. That way, you only have to pay six cents per minute to call Scotland. If your local Walgreen's doesn't have them, you should be able to find one somewhere in D.C. (Chinatown, perhaps?)

Looking at your schedule, you may have to make one overnight stay in Inverness, depending on when you leave Kyle. It may be easier to do that than to stay overnight in Kyle. Assuming that you're traveling Kyle-Inverness-Dundee by train. Your other option would be Kyle-Fort William by bus, then Fort William-Glasgow-Dundee by train. However, in doing the latter. you'd miss out on a lot of of really nice scenery.

As you're going to be in Glasgow and/or Edinburgh for an extra day, you could very easily visit Dunkeld and/or Pitlochry as a day trip. That way, you wouldn't have to worry about your luggage.

Not to worry, it will all work out, and you're going to have a wonderful time!

Mike (Auchterless)

acraven -
My husband and I live up the road from you in the Frederick, MD area so hello! We've been to Scotland twice now in the last few years. I want to second the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. We thoroughly enjoyed it and aren't super history buffs. We like to include some museums but not too many as we can only absorb so much!
For food, I would also like to suggest that you stop in to the local supermarkets. Food in Europe, especially of the ready made variety, is soooooo much better than it is here in the states. Also, while in Edinborough, I highly recommend high tea at the castle and highly recommend breakfast at Patisserie Valerie (Edinburgh Rose Street).
Another thing my husband and I do is hit up the charity/ second hand shops. You never know what you'll find in them and it's a fun way to find some unique souvenirs from your trip.

Hope those little tidbits help!!

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you, Cynthia. My travel mate and I don't have a lot of common sightseeing interests, but we are in agreement on the Kelvingrove! Alas, I doubt that I can tempt her into an afternoon tea, and that's the one meal I don't much enjoy consuming by myself. I can at least search out a treat at Patisserie Valerie.

The thrift shops are a danger to me because I cannot resist used books, and I try to reduce the weight of my luggage as the trip progresses rather than adding to it.

Posted by
456 posts

A few follow up items that may be of interest.

The main national rail enquiry site for UK rail travel is this one. http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/

In terms of buses on Skye. Citylink run services to Glasgow via Fort William, but outside of that you would be relying on Stagecoach and their service is timed around getting kids to and from school, so it is some sketchy to say the least. Here is their website. https://www.stagecoachbus.com/timetables. Your best bet to see the sites on Skye might well be to take a tour with one of the small local companies based here. I couldn't recommend one above another, but have a look online and you should find plenty of options.

I would advise against walking out to Neist Point lighthouse if either of you have difficulty with walking up steep hills or steeps. It's a slog! However, if the ground is dry you may be able to manage a walk along the top of the cliffs (heading right as you look out to sea from the parking area) and you can get a great view of the lighthouse and the Outer Islands without doing anything more strenuous than a gentle slop. However, if it's been raining avoid this as the ground turns very boggy.

Posted by
16729 posts

Thank you for the local tips, Skyegirl. My sightseeing plans for Skye are still a bit vague. I plan one day (or the better part of one day) on the Trotternish Peninsula, using the public bus. I've only taken a quick look at local bus tours, but it seems that they spend a lot of time on the T.P., which would be sort of redundant if we see it by public bus. Maybe it would be a better plan to take a tour that includes a major component of T.P. and figure we could go back by public bus if we feel something got shortchanged. The tricky part is seeing more of the island than just the T.P. I don't mind taking a specifc trip by taxi, but I don't think we're going to feel a full-day private tour is affordable.

Posted by
456 posts

If it was me and I wasn't driving I would take a locally based tour of the Trotternish rather than trying to rely on the public buses. The service is really patchy and as I said based around school times. There are local tours that run out of Portree.

Posted by
16729 posts

I appreciate that guidance, Skyegirl. I'll re-evaluate my position.