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N. England & Scotland trip - Rabbies tour for part of it?

We will have 16 nights in May 2016 to visit N. England and Scotland. Our wish list includes York, N. Yorkshire, Northumberland, Edinburgh and beautiful Scottish scenery (vague, I know). We don't have must-see's in Scotland, but possibilities include the Trossachs and Loch Lomond, Mull and Iona or the Isle of Skye, Glen Coe, and the Border Abbeys. Basically, we are an open book when it comes to ideas for Scotland. Travelers are myself and my 76 year old mother.

We would like to hire a car for at least part of our trip and would prefer to spend 3 nights at each destination, so obviously I need to pare down our list, or... take a tour that would allow us to see more without the strain of driving ourselves for part of the trip. I have two ideas that would include a Rabbies tour out of Edinburgh to give us a break from driving. I'd appreciate feedback on which (if either) of these plans is preferable, or whether we should keep the car the whole time and devise our own driving tour. Here are my ideas:

1) Fly into Manchester, train to York for 2 nights. Pick up car and spend 3 nights in N. Yorkshire, 3 nights in Northumberland and a couple of nights in the Borders. Drop the car at the Edinburgh airport and spend several nights in Edinburgh before taking a 3-4 night tour of either Mull/Iona/W. Highlands or Skye/W. Highlands with Rabbie's small group tours.

2) Fly in/out of Edinburgh, spend 3 nights in Edinburgh, take 4 night Rabbie's tour that includes 2 nights in York and 2 in Keswick, return to Edinburgh and spend 7-8 nights driving through Scotland (need to work out this bit!).

3) Spend 3 nights in Edinburgh to see the city, pick up car and drive a loop that includes the Borders, Northumberland, N. Yorkshire, Lake District and southern Scotland (perhaps Oban for Mull and then through the Trossachs?).

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If you are already driving in England, personally, I would keep driving in Scotland, except when I am in Edinburgh or Glasgow and clearly you don't need it in York. :) Of course, I enjoy driving in Scotland and England. For the most part the traffic should not be too bad for you. So, I would start and end by trip in either York or Edinburgh.

Here're some other things to consider:

Mull and Oban are north and west of Glasgow, so it might make more sense to spend your time in Edinburgh, and then pick up a car, drive west via the Trossachs to Oban arriving in time to take the ferry or spend the night and go to Mull the next day. Spend three nights on Oban. I stayed in Tobermory. You can explore the castles, do the boat tours of Staffa and Mull and explore the island in general.

There is a lot to see in the Borders. When I visited them I based myself in Melrose, but Selkirk, or anyone of the other towns would work.

I did a driving tour of Scotland with my then nearly 80-year-old parents and it worked really well. I did all the driving, but we found that we stopped often. I wanted to stop to take pictures and they wanted to stop to walk and see things.

Play around with ViaMichelin. You can putting in a starting point and an ending point and then add some mid points to see the timing and the route suggestions. Also, look at Undiscovered Scotland's driving tour suggestions.

Pam

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112 posts

Your suggestions are great, Pam. I could easily see a route that includes the Trossachs, Oban/Iona/Mull, Lake District, Northumberland and the Borders, but if we did that, we'd probably drop N. Yorkshire just to shorten the drive time and spend more nights in each place. We are currently leaning toward staying in Edinburgh for 5 nights and taking 2 Rabbie's day trips, then driving a loop through Northumberland, N. Yorkshire, the Lake District and the Borders. However, nothing is set in stone and I'll consider a route that includes Mull and Iona.

This will sound silly, but I've never used a car ferry and am wondering how easy it is, as well as the driving on Mull. The ferry to Iona is passenger only, correct (no cars)? Glad to hear you found Melrose to be a nice base in the Borders, because I've nearly settled on staying there.

I may have confused things by putting this on the England and Scotland forums, but welcome input on either one!

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552 posts

It also makes the most sense to me to drive while in Scotland. Driving in Scotland is easy and there will be lots of places you will want to stop for photos that you won't be able to do on a bus tour. I drove on my own for ten days and had no problems. I flew into Edinburgh, saw the city sights and did a couple of day tours, then got all of my driving in, and finished in Glasgow where I did a couple more days trips from. I only did Scotland, though, I did not drive south into England. I did do a day trip that included Melrose Abbey, though. If you finished in Glasgow then you could probably take a train to York where you wouldn't need a car, and do some day trips from there? Or maybe keep the car and continue on to York? There are many possible routes so maybe it would be best to look first at what day trips are available from what city and plan around that? Try not to backtrack just to fly home, though, it's a waste of time. Fly in to Edinburgh, and out of Manchester?

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The car ferry to Mull is very easy. It's the same as the ferries in the northwest near Seattle. You can buy your ticket in advance. Check the FAQ's and you'll find lots of info. It's not hard.

Yes, it is just a passenger ferry to Iona. But, if you have time, I would recommend doing the tour, which will take you out to Staffa with time to see Fingal's cave and then they drop you off at Iona with plenty of time to tour the Island. You then go back via a passenger ferry. The day I did this was actually the day of the 9/11 attacks and my recollections of the beautiful sea and sky and the peacefulness of the Iona Abbey are intertwined with that event. I need to go back.

There are a lot of things you can see in the Borders! I loved the Abbey's--Jedburgh was the biggest. (BTW I also visited Rievaulx Abbey that trip. It was lovely too. Then there is Fountains which is not far. I do think it's possible to overdo the Abbey's though!) I think that there is more to explore in Jedburgh, but I didn't get to it. I also loved Traquair House and Abbotsford. Near Peebles I stumbled on Niedpath Castle and enjoyed an hour touring it. But the Castle that was most evocative of it's place and time was Hermitage Castle. Over the Border in Carlisle the castle has info on the Border reiving that both castles defended against. Hexham has an interesting museum as well.

I think that you're right that you may be combing a bit too much. Nothumbria and Cumbria go very well with the Borders and Scotland. The history for these areas is intertwined. At the time of the reiving, each side had three marches--the east, the middle and the west marches with lords to watch over them. P.F. Chishom has written some great mysteries about the area from the English perspective. Of course, too Hadrian's wall wanders through here! (And I do love Yorkshire and York, so no disrespect meant!)

Pam

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112 posts

Anita - We considered flying into Edinburgh and out of York or vice versa, but when we factored in Northumberland and the Lake District, it just seemed to make sense to do a loop from Edinburgh. As I said, though, nothing is set in stone. I do appreciate your comments.

Pam - Your descriptions are wonderful and make me want to visit pretty much everything you mention. I may have done too good a job of selling Mom on N. Yorkshire, though, and if we include that area, we'd probably not go to Mull/Iona. One thing I did wonder about - would Holy Island (Northumberland) and Iona be somewhat similar experiences? If we could do only one or the other, which would you recommend (both in terms of beauty, historical interest and in how it would fit into our itinerary)?

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5461 posts

Beth, I wish I could say. I've only been to Iona. And you won't go wrong whichever way you go. You'll just find that you have to come back to Scotland to see the Highlands! You could do a day trip to the Trossachs from Edinburgh. While many of us say to avoid having a car in Edinburgh, it's not impossibly difficult as it is in London and other cities. It's just that you don't need it for city touring. So maybe fly into Edinburgh and then pick up your Car and drive to Stirling. You can see Bannockburn and the Castle. The next day drive up to the Trossachs bright and early in the morning. Go to Loch Katrine and take the Steamboat ride. You will love it and it will give you a taste of the Highlands and lochs without having to drive so far. I love Stirling Castle. It's about an hour from Stirling to Trossach's Pier where you catch the Steamer. If you went straight from Edinburgh it's a little over two hours.

When I was in Yorkshire, I stayed in Richmond and like that area. It was great for driving around the Dales. Also, look for the Escomb Saxon Church south of Durham. It's lovely.

Pam

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112 posts

Pam - Although I love all of your suggestions (truly!), it seems we keep coming back to the idea of spending 5 nights in Edinburgh, doing two day tours and then driving through northern England and the Borders. The tours we're looking at are a Rabbie's day tour that visits Doune Castle, Inveraray, Kilchurn Castle and Loch Lomond and another that visits St. Andrew's and several Fife fishing villages. I will be printing all of your replies to make sure we include some of the sights you've suggested (I love the Saxon church!). It could be that we just have to plan another trip to Scotland just for the Highlands!

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Since I initially posted a little over a week ago, Mom and I have been reading more about Scotland (thanks in part to the responses on this thread), and now we're considering sticking to Scotland for our entire 2+ weeks. In one respect, we're like kids in a candy store who keep changing their minds, but I think we're both trying to make sure this trip is really special, because Mom says it may be her last "big" trip. "Special" to us means beautiful scenery, iconic and historically significant sights and lots of time to savor experiences rather than rushing around - and of course, for us to enjoy these things together. So now, rather than assuming any itinerary is final at this point, I'm going to work up a Scotland-only itinerary, then let Mom make the decision.

Pam - I'm curious: Where did you take your parents on your driving tour of Scotland? I'm thinking we would love either Mull/Iona or the Isle of Skye, and sights that fit well with either of those destinations, such as Loch Lomond/Inveraray/Glen Coe or Glen Coe/Glenfinnan/Eileen Donan, just to name a few. Even if we do a driving tour of Scotland, I'd consider a couple of day trips from Edinburgh, such as St. Andrew's and the Borders, just to get a taste of those areas. I'd welcome any ideas!

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Our tour was two part. We went to to Orkney first and loved it, but we have family connections. We flew there directly (Madison, St. Louis, London, Edinburgh, Inverness, Kirkwall!) and it took 22 hours. But then we took the ferry to Scrabster and took the bus to Inverness where we picked up the second car. We drove west to Gairloch and then went north and went along the northern coast as far as Bettyhill staying in Lochinver and Durness. At that point we headed south via Strathnaver to Helmsdale where we spent the night. Then we headed back south with another stopover with friends in Strathpeffer and then to Birnam because I wanted to go to the Taybank. Then we went to Edinburgh where we stayed for several days at the Inverlieth Hotel.

This trip takes you through the west and the north. Outside of Lochinver is an incredible road that I want to drive again! Sutherland, is amazing. The lochs are beautiful and the mountains are different from those in the west. Take a look at the places on Undiscovered Scotland.

I can give you suggestions on other possibilities that are not as far north, but are beautiful as well. And, you might want to stay in some places a couple of nights. When we did the "round the top" trip, we were moving every day. We weren't rushed as we took several days to do it. We stopped at the Inverewe Gardens for example.

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112 posts

Wow - that sounds like quite a trip! It's wonderful that you got to do that with your parents.

I think Mom and I would like to do less driving and not necessarily venture into the far northwest. We enjoy slow travel with several days in each location, coming "home" each evening rather than moving every day. Mom has never been to Scotland, and my only visit was with a friend from northern England (we visited Traquair House, which was wonderful, but that's about all I've seen!).

Our interests probably lie somewhere between those of typical first-time tourists and sights that are somewhat off-the-beaten path. For example, neither of us feels we have to see Loch Ness, but I have a tiny bit of curiosity to see Balmoral just because the Queen lives there :-). Mull and Iona sound appealing for their quiet and history, but Mom is also interested in riding the Jacobite steam train, which is in the general direction of Skye. I could see doing a loop that includes either Mull or Skye, but not both. The Trossachs look beautiful as well - especially since I checked out your link to the Loch Katrine steamboat rides. And I know we'd both like to spend time on the coast for scenery and wildlife.

I've been playing with ViaMichelin (I love that site) and can see doing something like Edinburgh-Oban (for Mull/Iona)-Glen Coe-Jacobite from Fort William-Inverness(?)-Braemar (for Balmoral)-Callander, but that's pushing our limit for number of bases for 16 nights. And there are no must-see's on this list, so I'm still an open book.

Pam - I have to thank you for your patience in continuing to reply to my meandering posts. I feel like we're all over the map - literally! I thought I had this all figured out until I started doing more research, and now I feel as though I'm starting from scratch and am a bit overwhelmed. I suspect it will all click, though, and I'll suddenly hit on a plan that just fits. I'll accept your suggestions as long as you're willing to give them!