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I'm in the planning process for a trip to mostly the Highlands in early June (2021). We're a group of four, and we prefer avoiding really touristy things, like to hike, explore castle ruins, and prehistoric sites. Not so interested in touring posh castles, or seeing sheep and llamas. After several trips to Ireland, I'm trying to stay put in one place for two days to avoid the frantic rush to the next place. We'll have a car and two drivers. We're not interested in tour buses/vans.

In a nutshell:
Arrive in Glasgow in early afternoon [1 night] Two of us will be arriving from Dublin, but two will be stumbling off 14 hour flight.
Drive/Ferry to Arran Island to Brodrick [2 night]
Eas a'Chrannaig, Giants Grave, Kildonan, King's Cave, Machrie Stones, Auchagalilon, Goat Fell, Brodick Castle
Ferry/Drive to Oban [2 night] - I know it's touristy, but we want to got to Staffa for puffins.
Lochranza Castle, Skipness, Tarbert, Easdale, Arduaine, McCraigs
Drive to Fort William [1 night] - mainly for the morning Parkrun
Glencoe, Steall Falls, Ben Nevis, ParkRun, Invergarry
Drive to Portree [2 night]
Fairy Pools, Ben Tianavaig, Skorr, Lealt, Kilt Rk, Staffin, Quiraing, Duntulm, RHA falls, Fairy Glen, Clach Ard
Drive to Inverness [1 night]
Urquhart,, Culloden, Clava
Drive to Scrabster for ferry to Orkney/Kirkwall [2 night]
o'Groats, Earl's Place, Saint Magnus, Big Tree, Cuween, Gurness, Birsay, Skara, Brodgur, Maeshowe
Ferry/drive back to Inverness [1 night] - Inverness is split in two separated nights to ease daily mileage
Drive to Edinburgh [1 night] - again, a Parkrun
The Hermitage, Edinburgh Castle, Parkrun
Drive to Glasgow [1 night]
Fiddach Glen, (Stirling?), Walking tour, Records Office for family?
Fly home early afternoon

Two day stays will typically have a driving loop to visit a handful of places, with time on the ends for walking about. Finding trad music is highly important - although I realize early June might be tougher than later in the summer. Pub suggestions please!

I've considered trading Orkneys for Islay, especially considering the driving time. Also thought about flying to Kirkwall from Inverness, but no car on Orkney is too dear a tradeoff.

Any items on our list that are just stupid, or anything clearly missing would be appreciated. Any effects of Brexit would be useful.

Posted by
609 posts

Welcome to the Forum! Scotland is wonderful and you want to see some great places!

I can tell you are in the early stages of your planning process - maybe too early for help from the rest of us. You have a high-speed itinerary and I am not sure you yet have a clear idea of the shape of your trip. Typically 2 nights = 1 full day of sightseeing. You really don’t have any stops with 2 full days, unless you plan to have two half-days on either side of a full day.

I suggest that you start with a list of nights: where will you spend the night. Then add in the time it will take you to check out, get to the next location, then check in. Factor in that you will need longer than what Google tells you to drive between places.

Once you can clearly see how many actual hours you have in each location, you can begin to figure out what you can actually see there. And what you won’t have time for. You might squeeze in the places on this list but it will be at a run. You have 6 one-night stops, along with 4 two-night stops. And four people don’t travel as fast as two people.

My own personal suggestion would be to reconsider so many one night stops. You may not get to as many areas of Scotland but you will see better the ones you keep, with time to walk and wander - not just drive from place to place.

Posted by
32 posts

I've actually got a spreadsheet divided into 30 min cells (that's compared to 15 minute cells on our trip to Ireland last year). Spending two nights in one place is luxurious compared to our (my) normal pattern. Our traveling companions are limited to two weeks, and it might be their only trip to Scotland, so I'm definitely squeezing in more than might be considered relaxed. My wife and I will be spending a week in Ireland beforehand, staying in only three places, which will be unique.

Hailing from the western US, driving is no big deal. Most of my daily lists have a few sacrificial places if time runs short, which it no doubt will.

Frankly, spending more than one night in some places just doesn't appear justified. I know that there is probably more to see, but there's so many places and so little time.

Unlike many travelers, we live a very rural, relaxed home life, so "vacationing" can mean careening around the country at a breakneck pace. My only rule is not to have more than one beer before parking the car for the night. I pick our lodging based on walking distance to good pubs.

Posted by
440 posts

Well it is certainly doable in the sense that you can get to all those places in the time stated, but you won't have time for much in the way of hikes. It takes all day to hike and down Ben Nevis for example. It is a serious mountain and only last week a group of tourists had to be rescued from up there. Glencoe would be a back track from Fort William as the coast road from Oban doesn't go that way, or you could come inland from Oban and then up through Glencoe. But to try to 'do' Glencoe and Ben Nevis on the same day with any kind of serious hiking would be folly.

Likewise on Skye, if you are planning 'proper' hikes in the places you have listed then you won't manage them all, as you will only have 1 full day on Skye.

Unless you have a particular desire to visit Glasgow I would allocate that night elsewhere.

Regards
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
128 posts

Don't underestimate the time taken to drive in Scotland. Distances may not look far but will take a lot longer to cover than you might expect. If using google maps add at least 25% to their times and then ADD ON TIME FOR STOPS.
It is an action packed itinerary and you definitley don't want to add in anything extra! I'm not sure where you are going to have time to do much hiking. I trust you aren't planning to climb Ben Nevis as well as do Steall Falls, the park run Invergary, Glncoe and drive to Portree?

Posted by
609 posts

I am with you on the western U.S. driving mindset - but having driven in Scotland, Ireland, and southern England, it’s not the same. Not that it’s difficult (although some parts are) - more that it takes more concentration, time, and mental energy to get a shorter distance. Sounds like you know what you want to see and only you can decide which parts to drop if you run out of time. Also sounds like you are aware you are trying to cover huge distances - and if you are ok with mostly seeing it from the road, that’s fine. There’s no one right way to travel.

Posted by
32 posts

Without providing the entire detailed itinerary, I might have misled. We're not going to try to summit Ben Nevis, just stop by the Visitor Center and poke around a bit - maybe not even that much. Glencoe is the substitute hike.

I'd be open to dropping Glasgow entirely, but we're only there long enough to get off the plane and then back on. US flights arrive/depart early afternoon. Seems like getting the rental car is the most painful part of the trip, having to argue about the collision waiver. Trying to get to Arran the same day might be possible, since two of us won't have jet lag, but that shortens the time on Arran, since adding a third night in Brodick is probably a waste.

Google Maps shows that Glencoe (at least the Lachan Trail) is a short side trip on the way from Oban to Fort William. My original post wasn't formatted well enough to show those fine details.

I may to re-examine my driving times, which are close to Maps. Twenty five years ago, when we were there last, there were a few sheep and cattle caused traffic jams, but traffic has probably increased since then. I'm hoping June isn't as bad as later months. I used Google Maps driving times last year in Ireland, and they worked pretty well (also in June).

Posted by
147 posts

I have to agree that driving on some Scottish roads when away from towns and cities takes a lot of mental energy.

I live near to one end of the A939 "The Lecht" road and last year on two separate occasions met overseas visitors who had driven the road and were left somewhat shaken by it. They had parked up on a local car park to decompress before continuing their journeys.

One lady said she had obviously not chosen the best route to drive and looked a bit shocked when we said another, easier, route would have been about three hours longer.

You will probably find more traffic on the roads than the last time you were here. Scotland is now riding the crest of a tourist wave due in no small part to the Outlander Effect, although there are other factors too.

Enjoy your trip :-)

Posted by
440 posts

Hi again
It was the last night in Glasgow I was wondering whether you could ditch? I'd definitely not suggest driving long distances if anyone is jet lagged.

You will certainly find traffic has increased and June is certainly within the main season, which here on Skye runs from Easter to the end of September. Even now in February I am encountering bemused tourists in rental cars trying to get to grips with the single track roads and lurching on to the wrong side when they come to a passing place.

Good to know you're not planning to try to summit the Ben and hike Glencoe on the same day! I'm sure it will be a great trip in any case.
Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
375 posts

I think you can get to Arran on your Glasgow arrival day. Our Dublin flight landed at 3:30. Even with picking up an offsite rental car we made it to the Ardrossan ferry terminal with time to spare. We made reservations for the last boat but got there in time to get in line for the penultimate boat for that day.

Posted by
32 posts

I like the idea of getting to Arran on the day or arrival. I think I prefer to add the extra day to Portree, to give us more time on Skye. I don't see any good way of breaking the drive to Scrabster without splitting the Inverness stay over nonconsecutive nights.

Posted by
32 posts

More changes! Rather than a third night in Portree, I added a single night in Ullapool on the way to Scrabster, which allows the Inverness stop to become consecutive days after Kirkwall. Thanks so much for all the constructive suggestions. Of course it will change more. I had been puzzling on how to include Ullapool.

I do have a question about Oban trips to Staffa. It appears there are several companies, but their tours all sound vaguely similar. We're interested in wildlife and Fingall's Cave, but not so much the abbey or Tomberly stops. I presume the landings are controlled and I can't just rent a boat and DIY? Any recommendations would be appreciated!

Posted by
16589 posts

We just did the two-island tour, skipping Staffa, but it was my impression from the research I did that there's just the one company sending boats to Staffa. West Coast Motors (the company selling the two- and three-island tours) is bundling the ferry and boat trips with its own buses across Mull.

I don't see any reason why you can't put together your own transportation, but my research indicated that at least some of the bus trips across Mull do not appear on a published schedule and are therefore only available to you if you buy one of the WCM tours.

As of the time of my trip last July, I don't think you could go inside Fingal's Cave.

Posted by
609 posts

I think it’s correct that there is just one company from Oban with tours that include Fingal’s cave. Caveat - I am researching for my own trip in June so haven’t been yet. It’s correct that last year you could not go inside the cave. However I am no longer seeing that note on the company websites. That leads me to believe that repairs have been completed.