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Preliminary Itinerary - September 2020

My husband and I are taking our first trip to Scotland in September to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We've booked our tickets and are beginning to make plans, so I would love some feedback from the experts! We're flying into London (Gatwick) and will spend 2 nights in London before flying into Inverness. From there:

(Inverness 2 nights)
Day 1: We land at 10pm, so straight to hotel/B&B - any suggestions for a reasonable place that will allow late check-in are appreciated.
Day 2: Culloden, Clava Cairns and town of Inverness. We'd like to check out Hootenanny that night for some music.

Skye (3 nights)
Day 3: Drive from Inverness to Skye, stopping at Urquart Castle and any other sights that catch our eye along the way.
Days 4-5: Check out Skye, including the Quiraing, Museum of Island Life, Fairy Glen, etc.) Is Portree the best home base?
Day 6: Leaving Skye, head toward ferry to Mallaig, stopping at Armadale Castle (I have MacDonald ancestors) before catching ferry. Drive to Oban, stopping at Glenfinnan, Elean Donan Castle and Glencoe along the way.

Oban (2 nights)
Day 7: Oban 3-Island Tour - should we self-drive to Fionnphort and take the boat trip to Staffa/Iona from there (so we can spend a little more time on Iona than the tour allows for), or is the tour worth it?
Day 8: Drive to Loch Lomond, stopping at Kilmartin, Inveraray, Luss along the way (time permitting). We're planning on staying at a B&B on Loch Ard (long story, personal connection) overnight.

Loch Ard (1 night)
Day 9: Drive to Stirling, visit castle, Bannockburn, Wallace Memorial and Doune Castle, then to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh (3 nights)
Days 10-11: Castle, Royal Mile, Rosslyn Chapel (William Sinclair is my 15th great-grandfather!), Greyfriars Kirk/cemetery, National Museum, etc.
Day 12: Early flight home :(

Any feedback, suggestions, favorite "must see" places, restaurants or B&B recommendations are much appreciated!

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Laurie,

First of all, congrats on your first 19 years!

For Inverness, you should definitely spend your first night in a hotel. By the time you've collected your luggage and hired a car, it's going to be close to 11 p.m. before you leave the airport. Most B&B owners don't appreciate guests coming in that late, as they have to get up really early to prepare breakfast. There are several chain hotels fairly near the airport - Holiday Inn Express, Courtyard by Marriott, Travelodge, and several Premier Inns.

As your first overnight stay will be brief, just go for cost and convenience. However, as you're spending two nights in Inverness, a hotel closer to town might be in order, so that you don't have to repack your luggage in the morning. There is a good Premier Inn on the west bank of the River Ness, just over the bridge. You may want to give wherever you stay a courtesy call to let them know that you're arriving late. Most hotels lock their outside door at 10:00 or 11:00, so you'd have to ring the bell to have them let you in.

If the music at Hootenanny doesn't sound interesting, check out The Gellions, which is right around the corner on Bridge Street, next to Primark. If Davy Holt, Caman (Davy with Stuart MacKintosh), or Schiehallion are playing, you'll be in for a good night!

Portree is the best home base for exploring Skye. It's centrally located to the places that you've listed that you want to see. Broadford is a good second choice, although it's about 45 minutes from Portree.

On day six, you won't be able to visit Eilean Donan castle if you're taking the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. Eilean Donan is on the road from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. You could visit it on the way to Skye, but be aware of closing time, which I think is 6:00 p.m. (last entry 5:00 p.m.) in September. As Eilean Donan is basically a 20th. century castle, you could just get by with taking photos of the exterior, and visiting Dunvegan Castle while you're on Skye.

Day seven: Personally, I'd drive to Fionnphort, and take the ferry over to Iona from there. To really appreciate Iona, you need a good four hours on the island, which is more time than the Staffa/Iona tour allows. A lot will depend on how badly you want to see Staffa, and if the weather is conducive to landing on the island. If you do decide to visit both Iona and Staffa, you'de be better off taking the Staffa Tours boat out of Fionnphort. (Pronounced Finn-ah-fort) That would give you more time to explore Mull.

On day eight, what you have planned involves a lot of driving. You may have to skip Luss, as you'd have to drive all the way down to the south end of Loch Lomond, and back up the A81 to Aberfoyle. It can be done, but will be time consuming. From Inverary, you can take either the A819 to Lochawe, the A85 to Lochearnhead, then the A84/A821 to Aberfoyle; or the A83 to Tarbet on Loch Lomond; the A82 to Crainlarich, then the A85/A84/A821 as above. If you want to see Loch Lomond,the latter would be your better bet.

Hope that at least gives you a start on your plans. Make sure that you book your accommodation on Skye well in advance.

Best wishes for your holiday, and Happy Hogmanay!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
44 posts

Thanks so much for your quick and thorough response! I swear I did know where Eilean Donan was located, but somehow got it jumbled when I was typing it out on here! I appreciate your insights on day 8 - I know it's a lot of driving, no matter what, but I didn't realize we could go around the north side of Loch Lomond more quickly than the south end. I'll check into that.

And Happy Hogmanay to you as well! I have a Scottish Santa "First Footer" figurine as part of my holiday decor - I'll raise a glass to him in honor of our upcoming travels :)

Posted by
2728 posts

On Day 8, you plan to drive from Oban to Loch Ard by way of Kilmartin and Loch Lomond. As Mike (Auchterless) noted, this will be a lot of driving so if you want time to stop and enjoy the places you're passing through, you'll need to get a good early start.

Kilmartin is the long way round and slower going on secondary roads. It is worth seeing if you're especially interested in prehistoric stone cairns and medieval stone carvings, but it will take up a lot of your time. At the tiny museum in the village, get a map of the cairns (I think it costs a pound) because they are not well signposted; you can easily drive right past without the map.

Whether you stick with that route or the somewhat shorter & faster A819 via Lochawe (which is plenty scenic; you're not missing anything by choosing it), either way you'll go through Inveraray, which is a good place to stop for a cup of tea or lunch. I can recommend Brambles, located right in the high street. At Lochawe there's the visitor centre for the Cruachan "hollow mountain" hydropower plant. This may sound dull, but it's actually fascinating, especially if you're interested in science -- unfortunately you probably won't have time to take the tour inside the mountain. A few miles onward you'll pass the picturesque ruin of Kilchurn Castle, which is best photographed from across the loch, after you've rounded the bend.

If you plan your time well, you can take a boat ride on Loch Lomond out of Tarbet or Luss. See routes and schedules at https://www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk/cruises

As Mike (Auchterless) also noted, Luss seems pretty far out of your way given that you need to end up in Loch Ard for the night. I'd guess Tarbet is your better dock if you want to take a cruise. Luss is charming, but it doesn't offer much for the passing-thru tourist other than a gift shop, the pay & display car park by the dock, and a building with pay toilets; it seems more of a cottage colony for families who come to spend a week. So I don't think you would miss too much by skipping Luss.

Hope this helps!

Posted by
44 posts

Looking at the Google map, it seems like both the north and south routes out of Inveraray to Loch Ard are roughly the same distance. Is there a difference in the type of road which makes the southern route slower? We were only planning a "drive-by" of Luss, maybe getting out to stretch our legs and take a few pictures, so it's not a "must-see", just a place that others have said was a quaint place to stop on our way to somewhere.

If we take the north route out of Inveraray, are there sights we'll want to check out? We're planning on spending an hour or so in Kilmartin, then stopping in Inveraray for lunch (the Brambles menu looks great!) and maybe touring the castle before heading on to Loch Ard, so I know we won't have much time. We weren't planning on doing a cruise, just stopping here and there to stretch our legs and take a few pictures.

Thanks again for the help!

Posted by
2728 posts

I'm a little puzzled by your question about two routes from Inveraray to Loch Ard. Are you sure you're not talking about Loch Awe? Loch Ard is to the east of Loch Lomond, on the B829. Unless there's something wrong with my map, it looks like you can only get to Loch Ard by going around the southern end of Loch Lomond at Balloch and then circling up the A811 and A81.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, epitd,

Must be your map! :) Loch Ard is right where you say it is, but it can be approached from the north or the south. From Inverary, Laurie has two options to avoid going around the south end of Loch Lomond.

The first involves taking the A819 to Lochawe; the A85 to Lochearnhead; the A84 to Kilmahog; the A821 to Aberfoyle; and the B829 to Loch Ard.

The second choice involves taking the A83 to Tarbet; the A82 to Crainlarich; the A85 to Lochearnhead; the A84 to Kilmahog; the A821 to Aberfoyle; and the B829 to Loch Ard.

Although both routes are on good roads, my personal preference would be the second option, to provide a view of the upper reaches of Loch Lomond.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
44 posts

I was going by the routes Mike shared:

"From Inverary, you can take... the A83 to Tarbet on Loch Lomond; the A82 to Crainlarich, then the A85/A84/A821 as above."

That route looks like it goes around the north end of Loch Lomond, and makes a clockwise loop around the National Park. I'm looking at Google Maps, so I might be missing something. Any clarification is appreciated!

Posted by
259 posts

Laurie, if you're looking for a nice hotel in Inverness that I'm sure would accommodate a late arrival, check out the Kingsmills Hotel. It is a larger hotel (certainly not a B&B) but has a more traditional and non-chain hotel feel to it. The front desk staff was very helpful. We found rates to be very reasonable too. It isn't directly in the town center but about 20 minutes walk into the center or a very short cab ride. If you have a car at that point, the hotel also has a very big parking lot which is appreciated for those of us who take a little time to adjust driving over there.

We really liked the town of Inverness - not just as a transport hub but also as a great place for an evening out. I think you'll really enjoy the lovely pubs/restaurants, and music is easy to find most nights. If you find some time, check out the pathway along the River Ness in the town center too, it is not promoted much but it is a lovely stroll in a really underrated town.

I'm sure it'll be a great trip!