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Recommendations for two "home bases" in Scotland

Wife and I will visit for eight days in late September. We will train in from London to Edinburgh and then back to London. We will hire a car if needed to see what we wish to see. We prefer two home-bases of roughly four days in length each to avoid the hassle of constant packing and moving and checking in/out. We would deeply appreciate recommendations for locations that would make great home bases. Our priorities are in this rough order:
1) Coastal and mountain scenery
2) Small arts and crafts vendors
3) Distilleries
4) Historical sites of the past 400 years or so
5) Decent eating options
6) Communities under say 50,000 residents
7) Museums of any sort
7) Locally owned shopping opportunities
8) Modest hiking no more than two hours

We are not interested in spending much time in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Have seen them on a previous trip. Ditto with Stirling. We will do Skye in 2021. Rural locations are fine if day trips are handy and there is some town nearby where we can spend a cold rainy day browsing, eating, and reading. We can be in the north, east or west. Very flexible.
Would love to hear advice. Reading many of the forums we are reading good comments on Oban as a base, and mixed views on Inverness and Glencoe as a base.

I hope the info I have provided will help you with tips and suggestions.

Many thanks.

Posted by
76 posts

Just a quick question - Are the Shetland Islands off your list? I am just curious.

I will be on Skye for six days and the Shetlands for four days, so I am interested in your travel plans.

Posted by
157 posts

I think you could do a lot worse than stay in the pretty highland villages of Ballater or Braemar for four days.

Either place will be able to meet those requirements for you.

Posted by
196 posts

Oban is the obvious place. Kilmartin Glen is a short drive away and spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. It is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/kilmartin/kilmartinglen/index.html

For ruined castles there are Dunstaffnage and Kilchurn

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/oban/dunstaffnage/index.html

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/lochawe/kilchurncastle/index.html

If you are wanting the stately home experience rather than the ruined castle on, there is Inverary castle a short drive away.

https://www.inveraray-castle.com/

There is Oban distillery

https://www.malts.com/en-gb/visit-our-distilleries/oban/

Take the short ferry ride to Mull and then passenger ferry to Iona

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/iona/iona/index.html

Iona Abbey is, built on the site where St Columba first built a monastery in the C6th and spread Christianity across Britain. Tobermory, the main town on the island has another distillery too and is a most attractive settlement with its brightly painted houses.

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/mull/tobermory/index.html

https://tobermorydistillery.com/

In fact you could easily spend a couple of days just dropping out on Mull...

For walking check out the Walk Highlands website. These are all possible from Oban:

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/argyll/easdale.shtml

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/argyll/glen-nant.shtml

Posted by
3 posts

We are undecided on the Shetland Islands pending a review of the advice to my original post. I am attracted to the Islands as my Father is in the National Shetland Pony Hall of Fame in the states.

Posted by
4570 posts

stanbiles, I presume your father raised or showed Shetland Ponies, but wasn’t one himself! LOL

Seriously, we had a fine but all-too brief Shetland visit in 2015. We stayed at a wonderful B&B on the western edge on the Mainland, not too far from Sandness, but with a very rural feel. While the Shetland Islands were definitely in Scotland, there’s a Scandinavian/Viking sense of the place and its inhabitants. Jarlshof, at the southern tip, was fascinating, although it’s history goes back way longer than 400 years ago. Up on Esha Ness, we spent a short time in a small, but chock-full folk museum, needing to rush to catch the ferry to Orkney. And the coastal sea views? Endless vistas, fascinating rock formations, and truly exceptional!

If Shetland’s not going to work, Orkney is closer, has a distillery, and its historic sights (many, many, again, from much longer ago than 400 years) are unparalleled. Crafts in both island groups, particularly woven wool or leather, are phenomenal.

This July for 2 weeks, we’re going to be based inland, just south of Perth. Perth’s population is 50,000.

Posted by
9 posts

Rather than takIng the train to Edinburgh, you could take it to Aberdeen and catch the ferry to Lerwick. Renting a car in Lerwick is no problem at all. Shetland checks everything on your list and then some. Reel distillery on Unst is the farthest north of any in the UK. While on Unst, dramatic scenery can be found at the Hermaness Nature Reserve. Eshaness on mainland is also stunning, and easier to access. We stayed four nights at the lighthouse there on our first visit and highly recommend it.

Good food is easy to find. Frankie’s fish and chips in Brae was voted best in Britain and my wife and I had a wonderful wedding anniversary dinner at the Scalloway Hotel. And Da Cake Fridge is an absolute must. Lerwick has plenty of local shopping; we found beautiful locally knitted sweaters made of Shetland wool. Art and music is very much alive throughout Shetland as well.

The icing on the cake is, no matter what you do or where you go, the people in Shetland are the best. They are genuinely warm and welcoming.

Posted by
4570 posts

Sadly, the pandemic situation has postponed our trip to Scotland, along with Denmark and Norway afterwards. The U.K. response to Covid19, and concerns for our well-being, mean we won’t be going there in 2020 - we hope to return, and Shetland is worth another visit. Hope you’re well, and can go there before too long.