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Off the Beaten Path Itinerary?

I know that in July, not much is off the beaten path. However, I'm attempting to make the most of a 14 day trip, while keeping with our goal to limit our stopovers. This is our first trip to Scotland, and hiking, beach, pubs, and a bit of neolithic sites are on our list. I'm not sure about this itinerary, so I thought I would ask the experts. Here is what I am thinking - the rub is that, other than Edinburgh, I do not have lodging figured out yet. I'm working it, but still in analysis paralysis.

There are a lot of things I don't know, but my main questions are:
1) Is this doable from a logistics perspective?
2) Are there any areas, particularly for you hikers and wilderness buffs, that I need to spend more/less time in?
3) Are my lodging dreams of quaint inns/guest houses at this late date unrealistic?
4) Are there specific recommendations for villages or inns that I should try?
5) Are pubs and local music in my future with this itinerary?

Here goes:
Day 1 - 3: Arrive in Edinburgh, lodging secured
Day 4-5: Travel to Isle of Mull, stay 2 nights
Day 6-8: Travel to Fort William/Cairngorm Area, stay 3 nights. This is for hiking and rewilding tours, if possible. I'd like to do Ben Nevis and Spean Bridge/Waterfall for sure. But also want to make it to some old growth forest/rewilding areas. I am not sure of the location yet, open to suggestions for a nice village with a good pub or two.
Day 9 - 13: Travel to Plockton or Lochalsh area, stay 5 nights. Use this as a jumping off point for Wester Ross, Glen Affric and Isle of Skye. I'm not sure we want to (or can at this late date) stay on Skye.
Day 14: Travel to Stirling, stay one night. See Stirling Castle and Wallace Monument
Day 15: Travel to Edinburgh Airport, 11:30 am departure.

What do you think? Be gentle, please. :)

Posted by
3122 posts

Will you be renting a car or using public transportation? Scotland has a robust network of bus routes in addition to the trains, so you don't necessarily have to have your own car to get off (or at least a little ways off) the beaten path.

Posted by
34 posts

Well, that is a great question. I think for this itinerary and what I know we might want to do, we will hire a car for at least some part of it. I think we will need that flexibility. Although, my first inclination is to rent outside of Edinburgh on Day 4. That was going to be my next question - how essential is a car on Mull. From what I have read, it is a good idea, but the driving is a bit tricky. Not sure I want that to be our first experience driving in Scotland. If we don't rent a car there, we will need to figure something out.

Based on what I have read, I don't really want to add to the summer traffic on Skye, so we are thinking a local tour and then some sort of transport to hiking as necessary.

Quite frankly, I am so nervous about lodging at this point, I've decided to secure that first, then worry about transportation.

Advice on that (or any topic) is more than welcome!

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi once again, dinahmann,

I would have to say that given the varied places which you are planning to visit and explore, you are definitely going to need to hire a car. You will need a car on Mull, especially with four of you travelling. It is possible to travel by bus once you arrive on Mull, but if you are planning to go off of the A848/A849 main road between Tobermory and Fionnphort, a car is pretty much a necessity. You could use the Ulva Ferry Community Transport to tour the coastal area on the Western side of Northern Mull. It operates between Salen and Calgary, in conjunction with the West Coast Motors bus schedule for the Tobermory to Calgary and Tobermory to Fionnphort routes. If you're using the UFCT, they use a minivan, so advance booking is essential.

The West Coast Motors bus from Oban to Fort William operates only twice daily, and apparently never on Sunday, so once again you'd require a car with four of you travelling, unless you make your reservations for the bus well in advance. Especially if you are travelling in summer.

I would not worry too much about hiring a car. Just make sure that you get a vehicle large enough to fit the four of you plus your luggage. If you're concerned about leaving luggage on the back seat, don't be. Just get a cheap blanket from a charity shop to cover your luggage with while you're out of the car. As you'll be renting from Edinburgh Airport, you don't have to drive into the city. You'll be able to get away from the airport, and on your way to Oban. There are several routes which will get you from EDI to Oban - best thing to do is pick the one which will be easiest to follow, and goes through the least metropolitan areas. If the driver is not used to a manual transmission, then by all means get a vehicle with an automatic transmission. It will be well worth the extra cost. Also, with a car, you don't have to rely on bus and train schedules, and you can go off the beaten path whenever the opportunity arises.

Keep asking questions. We're a helpful lot here!

Best wishes,

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: I'm assuming that since you're apprehensive about lodging, you must be travelling this summer. I'd recommend Premier Inns if you can't find anything else. They usually don't fill up until last minute, unless there is a special event going on. On the West Coast, there are Premier Inns in Oban, Fort William, and Inverness (4). And if you're really desparate, there is always Travelodge, home of the world's smallest bar of soap.

Posted by
27057 posts

I believe there's very little lodging on Mull, period, so you might need to stay in Oban instead. Perhaps, since you'll have a car, you can find an obscurely-located spot on Mull that the public-transportation folks haven't already snapped up.

Plockton is a cute little place. I didn't look for lodging there, so I don't know what you'll find. It's not super-well connected to the public-transportation network, so that's in your favor.

I found it easier to get a comparatively-inexpensive twin room in Kyle of Lochalsh than on Skye, so you may be fortunate there. It's not a particularly picturesque town.

You really, really need to get your lodging nailed down. It was difficult for me in 2019, and I was looking in December and January.

Posted by
5681 posts

For Oban, Fort William, Strathpeffer (a bit off the beaten path, easy access to Inverness and Wester Ross), Nethy Bridge (for the Cairngorms, another slightly off the beaten path but well loctated place) and central Perth the Strathmore Hotels group are worth looking at- proper hotels (too big to be called 'quaint inns' but a good solid offering, not look alike PI's.

If you do a multi stay itinerary with them you get 10% off- see the 'Holiday Hops' page

Posted by
989 posts

You do need to move fast to book. You are travelling during the Scottish school holidays and places like Plockton are probably fully booked by now. It’s an extremely popular place to stay, for good reason.

Posted by
1277 posts

The ascent of Ben Nevis will take you a full day even by the innocent sounding ‘Tourist Route’. That said it is a very beaten track that you might ultimately be glad of. It’s also, in summer, not a ‘get away from it all’ hike as it will be busy. For best access to Ben Nevis stay in or near Fort William. Don’t wait for the Ben to get its head out of the clouds - this happens, on average, twelve days a year. If you can get a good weather day choose that one. Don’t miss the Achintee Inn pub at the foot of the Tourist Route. Also if in the area make room for The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. Go in the back hikers bar - often live music in there of an evening.

Posted by
1827 posts

Don’t underestimate driving times. Distances may not look far on a map but will take a lot longer to cover than you might expect. Driving in rural areas in Scotland is slow.

Travelling from Edinburgh to Mull is going to take up most of the day. You need to allow around 4 hours to get to Mull and need to allow 30 minutes for check in. The ferry takes just under an hour to get to Mull. That effectively is only going to give one and a bit days on Mull. Also at this late stage you may have problems finding accommodation.

Plockton/Kyle of Lochash is not the best place to use as a jumping off place for Glen Affric. You are talking about at least a two hour drive each way (and 2.5 hours may be a more realistic estimate). You would be better doing this from Inverness area - If you don’t fancy Inverness, try Strathpeffer, Dingwall or Beauly. These are less popular and may be quieter.

Where do you mean by Wester Ross - again this driving times may be unrealistic (unless you want to see everything through the car windscreen.)

It is going to take another four hours plus to reach Stirling from Plockton/Kyle of Lochalsh. Last entry to Stirling Castle is 5pm (it closes at 6pm) and you need to allow at least two hours for it. The Wallace Monument also closes at 6pm and the website recommends two hours for a visit. You are going to be pushed to do justice to both in the time available.

The best website for walks is Walk Highlands

The Undiscovered Scotland website is a wonderful source of ideas of things to do and places to visit. It covers all sorts of hidden gems ignored by the other guide books. Start at the relevant webpage and follow the links to text pages with lots of pictures and information.

Have a look at their driving tours for ideas .

Posted by
6274 posts

Hi, Dinah - here's a couple of things that might be helpful.

  • If you decide to rent a car, a good source is Celtic Legend. I booked my rental car for May through them (using Arnold Clark rentals) and the company has been extraordinarily courteous and helpful when contacting me. I have been very impressed with the company so far, and it has gotten very good reviews on this forum. You book everything but do not pay anything until you pick up the car (you don't even give them a credit card in advance).

  • If you decide to stay on Skye and are having problems finding a room, try this Facebook group, which is composed of residents who advertise rooms to let on the island (usually from last minute cancelled bookings and so on). You can also post a request for a room there as well.

Posted by
34 posts

Mardee, thank you for the suggestion for rental. I will definitely use that recommendation! Also, I will look into the Facebook group. That sounds like an excellent resource. I guess social media is good for some things!
auchterless, your expertise is amazing - and you do it with humour. My father used to bring me those tiny little soaps as prizes from his work trips. He worked for the US Government, so that was the type of lodging they would spring for. I definitely will be returning with questions about logistics and activities.
acraven Thank you for the advice on accommodations. I've managed to make some progress over the last day, so I'm feeling a little more at ease.
isn31c Thanks for the location recommendations and the thoughts on the strathmore hotels. I am looking into all of them!
Helen Thank you! I was able to squeeze under the wire and secure lodging in Plockton. You put the fire in me!
ianandjulie I think we might go for it! See my question below on the location.
wasleys Thank you for your generous suggestions. I've adjusted our plans somewhat based on your feedback.

So, I have another question. Based on ianandjulie's suggestion about The Clachaig Inn, we are considering using that as a base. However, I am somewhat doubtful that it is an adequate jumping off point for the Cairngorms. It would be a three night stay and our next stop is Plockton. Thoughts?

Based on all of your feedback, the somewhat revised itinerary is as follows:
Day 1 - 3: Arrive in Edinburgh, lodging secured
Day 4-5: Travel to Isle of Mull, stay 3 nights
Day 6-8: Travel to Fort William/Cairngorm Area, stay 3 nights. This is for hiking and rewilding tours, if possible. I'd like to do Ben Nevis and Spean Bridge/Waterfall for sure. But also want to make it to some old growth forest/rewilding areas. I am not sure of the location yet, open to suggestions for a nice village with a good pub or two.
Day 9 - 13: Travel to Plockton or Lochalsh area, stay 4 nights.
Day 14: Travel to Stirling, stay 2 nights. See Stirling Castle and Wallace Monument. Our other thought is to travel to Glencoe for 1 night - the 17th and drive to Stirling early morning on the 18th.
Day 15: Travel to Edinburgh Airport, 11:30 am departure.

Again, thank you all so much for the advice. I am using every bit of it!

Posted by
1277 posts

Hi Dinah -

You are correct, Glencoe isn’t suitable as a jumping off point for The Cairngorms. Plus, while I adore the Clachaig, there’s very little around it, as in nothing. But great walking in Glencoe dependent on your ambition and ability. What about splitting your stay to one night in the Clachaig and two in the heaving metropolis that is Fort William? There’s access to the Ben and loads of other walks from there - just make sure you are kitted out properly, Scottish hills and weather can be unforgiving! - and plenty of dining opportunities etc., there. I assume somebody has already pointed out the Walk Highlands website to you.

Brief response by my standards as I’m in France skiing and have patchy connection!


Posted by
4573 posts

I don't know Scotland but have you ever checked out Atlas Obsbscura website? Its Places tab offers a map and pins strange and wonderful obscure places to visit. Maybe something there will catch your interest.

Posted by
34 posts

ianandjulie, thank you! yes, we are thinking a bit on that one. And MariaF, great idea! We do have that book so will take a look.

I've secured all lodging for the most part, but I'm still on the fence about the last two nights of our trip. We will be traveling from Plockton, so that is certainly a consideration.

I have two nights, the last of which needs to be fairly close to Edinburgh airport.

Option 1: Drive from Plockton to Fort William/Glencoe and have most of day to hang around and hike, go to pub. Likely to stay in Clachaig Inn, but only for one night. Then drive to Stirling area the next day for the castle and other sights. Stay there and travel to airport the next day.

Option 2: Drive directly to Stirling area and stay for two nights. that would mean traveling directly from Plockton to Stirling area. Is there time for stopping?

This is the last of the accommodation plan. Any thoughts?

Posted by
34 posts

Thanks to all who responded with great advice and suggestions. The itinerary - well, lodging anyway - has been finalized. Here is how it stands:

Days 1-3: Edinburgh

Days 4-6: Isle of Mull

Days 7-9: Newtonmore/Cairngorms

Days 10-13: Plockton

Days 14-15: Glasgow

All accommodations are guesthouses, with the exception of Newtonmore where we have secured a self-catering property.

Now on to figuring out the car hire and specifics!

Thanks again all!

Posted by
6274 posts

Glad you have it figured out, Dinah - especially the accommodations!

Posted by
4077 posts

how essential is a car on Mull. From what I have read, it is a good
idea, but the driving is a bit tricky. Not sure I want that to be our
first experience driving in Scotland. If we don't rent a car there, we
will need to figure something out.

We were in Mull last June. The single track roads are different but I found them easier than some of the curvy narrow single lane roads on the mainland. Before you go, watch a couple of videos on single track etiquette, I won't say my driving on Mull was perfect, but it was obvious who the tourists were that didn't have any clue what they were doing.

Did you find lodging on Mull? I was going to highly recommend the Harbour View B and B on Tobermory. It's up the hill from the main street and so a bit quieter, and parking is much easier. We were well taken care of there.

You mentioned that you like beaches. Then Calgary Beach is a must. It looks like it belongs in the Caribbean minus the palm trees and terrific weather. It's only 12 miles from Tobermory, but it's quite a curvy road and will take you about 45 minutes.

Posted by
34 posts

Oh Allan, thanks! I think I had read in your trip report that you had been to Mull, so I hoped you would weigh in. We are staying at The Strongarbh House in Tobermory. It sounds like it might be close to where you stayed.

Thank you for the Calgary Beach suggestion. Yes, we are keen to visit a few beaches on the trip (even without the Caribbean weather). We will be sure not to miss it.

My husband was just mentioning that it would be nice if there were some videos available on driving. We will check those out.

Thanks again!

Posted by
27057 posts

This sounds like a great trip. I'm very pleased that you found lodging in those places.

Posted by
4077 posts

Here's one of the videos I watched for driving single track. You're going to come across many blind curves and it's very important you're looking far in advance to watch for vehicles. Also leave distance between you and the car in front, because it may stop suddenly if it see's a vehicle coming the other way.

It looks like the place you're staying in Tobermory is a 2 minute drive or 10 minute walk from where we stayed.

One restaurant suggestion is Isle of Cheese. It's just out of town and only open for lunch, but worth it unless you're not a fan of dogs. The restaurant is on a farm and the 2 dogs roam free and that includes the restaurant. One is a Wolfhound and he can look you in the eye when you're sitting. Good luck resisting dessert.

Posted by
6274 posts

One restaurant suggestion is Isle of Cheese.

Allan, that looks wonderful - I will be on Mull in mid-May and will definitely stop by there. And it looks like it's a short walk from the Harbour Guest House (where I'm staying). Good way to walk off dessert! :)

Posted by
4077 posts

Mardee, it looks close but I'd ask before setting out. It's outside of town and you would have to walk along a single track "highway" to get to the country road it's on, then up a long driveway.

Posted by
34 posts

Yes! The Isle of Cheese is on my short list, so I will take you up on that. And while we are on my personal favorite subject of food, did you try Cafe Fish? It was highly recommended, so curious if you had been.

Also, Allan, thanks for the videos. We will definitely study those.

Posted by
27 posts

I stayed in Tobermory for several days on my trip last summer. Here's my Spring 22 travel report:`. One day I walked to the Isle of Mull Cheese Glass Barn Cafe for lunch. If I remember, I had a cheese toastie, soup, pot of tea, and a cake to go with my tea. They were v busy and I waited for about 20 minutes or so, but as I was solo let them know to stick me anywhere :) It was about a 30 min walk (for me, I walk at a moderately quick pace) up the hill from Tobermory on the single track road, so if you are walking there stay alert for car traffic and step off to the side.

After I ate I continued on for another 10-15 minutes walk up the road to the Ardmore Forest walk, which was a gravel road down to the sea (and then back the last half mile I asked myself 'who's idea was this!' haha). Walk Highlands listed that walk as a loop, but there were logging operations on part of the loop so I did it as an out-and-back. V boggy down by the sea, I was glad for my waterproof boots.

Other walks near Tobermory I enjoyed were the lighthouse walk (pretty flat, unless you do the optional climb up the cliffs on the return) and walking from Tobermory Harbour to Aros Park. Check Walk Highlands for exact route info.

I didn't have a car and managed to happily fill 2.5 days (the 3rd I went to Iona, all on the buses & ferry) but as I didn't manage to take advantage of the bus service over to Calgary Beach I am planning a future return :)

I passed several pleasant rainy morning hours at An Tobar Cafe above the harbour, and there are standing stones just a 15 minute walk outside of town (there's pavement along the road there til you turn up the gravel driveway. The pasture was boggy so again, glad for my waterproof walking boots!) And took myself out for a pint at the Mishnish Pub along the harbour (separate from the restaurant). Tobermory Bakery sold tasty bread that I made cheese sandwiches with (cheese purchased at the Co-op).

(And Mardee, if you like strawberries and can get yourself some Scottish strawberries in mid-May, you will be delighted.)

Posted by
4077 posts

did you try Cafe Fish?

No, anywhere with a suggestion of fish I avoid like the plague. Even the smell of fish/seafood makes me nauseous.