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Scotland 9.5 Day Itinerary

I am getting a late start on this, due to a trans-Atlantic move, and need someone to help clarify my trip. We will be in Scotland October 19-28, so about 9.5 days (need to get back to England by evening of 10/28. I had initially thought we could see most of the highlights, but now I think that would lead to too many hours in the car - and we are in the great position of being relatively close and can go back again. So I am trying to do, say, 1/2 of Scotland this trip, and 1/2 on another trip. My issue is I want to thoroughly do the first half this trip, so that I don't have to back track and see things I missed, while making the second trip cohesive and avoid cutting through a lot of the areas we will have seen on the first trip. Does that make any sense? :)

We'll have our own car during the trip.

We are active and like hiking, walking trails, stopping at Scottish Heritage Pass sites, etc. Have I built in enough time to chase down fairy pools, waterfalls, the odd horseback ride, kayak trip, etc? We are usually out the door by 8/8:30 and don't fall into bed until 10:30/11.

October 19, 20 and 21 - Edinburgh
Monday, October 22 - Rosslyn Chapel, Linlithgow, Falkirk Wheel, culross, sleep in Stirling
Tuesday, October 23 - Stirling (drive to Glasgow to sleep)
Wednesday, October 24 - Glasgow
Thursday, October 25 - Drive from Glasgow to Islay, via Loch Lomond. Sleep on Islay/Jura
Friday, October 26 - Visit distilleries, beaches, sleep in Oban (probably take one of the last ferries off Islay.)
Saturday, October 27 - Visit Mull/Iona/Staffa (is it worth sleeping on Mull or better to sleep on Oban?)
Sunday, October 28 - Find as scenic a route as possible back to the Midlands of England.

In this scenario, is Islay worth the time, or is it better to find hiking, sea views elsewhere? We both do love Scotch, although Islays aren't our favorite.

Future Trip #2
Day 1 - Drive from England to Glencoe
Day 2 - Drive through Glencoe to Skye
Day 3 - Skye
Day 4 - Skye
Day 5 - Drive to FAR northern Scotland? (is Thurso, Ullapool, or the Orkney's worth the expense of time and money?, if we did far n. Scotland, we would push everything another day and cut Perth and St. Andrews) or stay in Inverness if n. Scotland isn't worth it.
Day 6 - Inverness/Culloden
Day 7 - Loch Ness, Balmoral
Day 8 - Glamis Castle, Perth, St. Andrews
Day 9 - Scenic route to the Midlands of England

Any thoughts are much appreciated, as are tips of sites we should see along the way, or scenic drives that get us off the A roads.
Thank you!

Posted by
1177 posts

Just checked and your Scottish Heritage Pass is valid until October 31st for 2018 so you are good. If there only 2 of you, it might be possible to book accommodations on the fly in late October; except on the Islands. Since you are driving you do not have to stay in town. We stayed in a few farmhouses. We once got a referral from the local pub...it was great because a few other travelers did too and the party continued! Several Farm or Countryside B & Bs offered dinner...which is great on a blustery night. Remember Scotland is at a high latitude so night comes earlier. I might think of skipping the Islands this time and doing them in a group or even on a live aboard boat trip, a little spendy maybe. Friends of mine are Bird Nerds so they recommend when the Birds are nesting.

Posted by
506 posts

Hi there,
I am going to concentrate on trip number 2 as I live on Skye and used to live in England, so can perhaps comment on the driving times. You mention the Midlands of England, so I assuming that's where you'll be driving to Glencoe from. Depending where exactly in the Midlands (north, south, east or west) could significantly increase your drive time as it is a busy and congested part of the country. However, from my mum's house in Nottingham to Glencoe takes around 8 hours without stopping except for bathroom breaks. And that's if the traffic gods are with us.

From Glencoe to Skye. OK, so it depends where on Skye you want to get to, but again without stopping it takes us 3.5 hours to drive from Glencoe to the Skye bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and then another hour to our home in the north west of Skye.

Time on Skye. Well it depends what you want to do. You say you like hiking. If you want to hike away from other visitors then you could do the challenging coastal cliff hike from Orbost to Ramasaig - supposedly the most spectacular cliff walk in the UK. Think totally wild, no cell phone signal, no path - just sheep tracks in places, and it's a linear walk so you need a car at both ends - well it's around 23km and would take you all day. l
If you want to do some of the more well known hikes such as the Fairy Pools, Neist Point Lighthouse, Old Man of Storr, Quairaing. That list alone would easily take 2 days to do properly. But you will have lots of company depending on what time of year you come. People often regret not spending more time on Skye. Two days is very short.

Drive to far northern Scotland. Why? What do you want to see? The Orkney islands are fantastic - prehistoric sites and Kirkwall is a very nice town. You could fly there from (say) Inverness and save a long drive, renting a car while there. The west coast north from Skye to Ullapool is spectacular, but some say that the north coast is dull in comparison.

I don't know the eastern side of Scotland as well, so can't really comment on Balmoral, Glamis, Perth, St Andrews. However, a 'scenic route' back to the Midlands. Well you could meander down through Northumberland and Yorkshire, taking in castles, abbeys etc.

Just a note on your planned first trip - the days are getting very short. Right now it is dark before 8pm. I'd have thought it would be dark by 6.30pm in late October and also the clocks go back an hour on 28th October. It will also be getting light later in the morning. You will have fairly short days to get all your sightseeing done. Weather is likely to be windy, rainy and cool.

Posted by
2728 posts

I see a problem with your first day out of Edinburgh. You intend to see Rosslyn Chapel, Linlithgow, Falkirk Wheel, and Culross, then sleep in Stirling! I think if you do all this you'll only have time to drive by each destination and check it off your list. Rosslyn Chapel. for example, has guided talks, architectural details to examine inside and out, and a sizeable visitor centre / gift shop / cafe. And it's in pretty much the opposite direction from Stirling. Either add another day or delete a couple of these destinations.

On Oct 25 you may want to stop in the tiny village of Luss on the shore of Loch Lomond. It is scenic, though the boat rides may not be running in October. (Check Cruise Loch Lomond if interested.)

Skipping ahead to your scenic route south to the midlands, I highly recommend a stop at Hadrian's Wall, either at the western end near Carlisle or the more easterly portion at Housesteads. I've been to the latter and it's just awesome. Allow some time to actually walk along the wall, even if the weather isn't too friendly. If you are heading down the M6 (western side), a stop at Penrith just east of the Lake District may seem unscenic, but we found Penrith to be a really nice real (non-touristy) town with an attractive high street, helpful TI office, and scenic town square with clock tower.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Kathryn,

Adding to the comments by Skyegirl and epitd, I have to say that your plans for your October trip are very ambitious. I have to ask if you are "Outlander" fans. If so, you may want to consider visiting Midhope Castle (Lallybroch) while you're near Falkirk.

As epitd pointed out, Rosslyn is in the opposite direction from Linlithgow, Falkirk, and Culross. You may want to consider making a separate half day trip during your time in Edinburgh.

Glasgow to Islay is a long day. It's about three hours to Kennacraig (if you're lucky), and two hours on the ferry. You need to have a good look at the CalMac ferry schedule, as they switch over to winter hours on October 22nd. That means that there will be fewer ferries making the Kennacraig-Port Ellen/Port Askaig route after the 21st., so you need to leave yourselves enough time to reach Kennacraig. Given all that, you may want to ditch Islay, and spend an extra day on Mull. Or you may want to consider visiting Arran, which is truly charming and beautiful once you get outside of the main towns of Brodick and Lamlash (although they are attractive in their own way). There's plenty of hiking on Arran, as well as great country roads and small villages for driving.

I'd also advise checking the schedules for Islay back to Kennacraig, and Oban to Craignure. Also getting back to Oban in time to start on your return to England. You didn't say where in England you need to be on the evening of the 28th. If you do decide to overnight on Mull, you should probably stay in Tobermory. Coming back to the mainland, you're most likely going to have to travel through Glasgow to head south.

As Skyegirl noted, you're going to have limited daylight hours in mid to late October, even more so if the sky is overcast. So your evening activities may have to consist of visiting local pubs or watching telly. Or both. Most museums, castles, etc., outside of major attractions, will either be closed or on limited hours while you're there.

On your second trip, I'd recommend following the coast roads as far as Laxford Bridge, then taking the A838 to Lairg and the A836 back toward Inverness. (They're A roads (barely), but they're scenic.) It's a really long drive from Skye to Scrabster (for Orkney), and you'd really need at least two days on Orkney to appreciate the islands. If you're looking for scenic roads, try the Bealach na Ba to Applecross, and the coast road to Sheildaig. Also the A837 from Inchnadamph to Lochinver, then the B869 from Lochinver to Kylesku, via Stoer and Drumbeg. Those roads should provide you with enough scenery to last a lifetime.

Best wishes with your plans for both holidays!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Thanks to Skyegirl for reminding me about the hike from Orbost to Ramasaig. For a good combined couple of shorter hikes, you could visit Neist Point lighthouse, then drive down to Ramasaig Farm and take the path down to the abandoned village of Lorgill (one of the sadder tales from the Clearances), and Hoe Point. Both hikes are out and back, so you don't need two cars.

Posted by
42 posts

Thank you so much for all of your thoughts and suggestions! Here is where we are now. We've dropped Islay, and added Arran, since it is easier to get on and off that island. Due to distance, there doesn't seem to be anything we can scoop out of Trip #2 and add to Trip #1, to make #2 lighter. I think we'll just plan to fly from the Midlands (Leicester) into Inverness and try to save a little time that way.

Friday, October 19 - Rosslyn Chapel, Royal Yacht Britannia, RS Audio Tour Walk, Royal Mile
Saturday, October 20 - Holyrood Palace, Scottish Parliament, Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh Cocktail Week
Sunday, October 21 - Edinburgh Castle, Real Mary Queen's Close, Dean's Village, Edinburgh Cocktail Week
Monday, October 22 - Midhope Castle, Linlithgow, Culross, Kelpies, sleep in Stirling
Tuesday, October 23 - Stirling sites
Wednesday, October 24 - Drive to Finnich Glen, Loch Lomond (3 hrs), drive to Oban
Thursday, October 25 - Ferry to Mull (8am), Drive to ferry to Iona, back to Mull, stay in Tobermory
Friday, October 26 - Ferry to Oban, Drive to Arran (2 hrs), Ferry to Arran, chk-in Arran
Saturday, October 27 - Arran sites, ferry to mainland, sleep in Glasgow
Sunday, October 28 - Find as scenic a route as possible back to Leicester.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Kathryn,

I'm assuming that you're taking the Claonaig to Lochranza ferry to Arran. Give yourselves a little more than two hours for the drive from Oban, as you'll be passing through Kilmartin, and you're probably going to want to stop. Also, the B8001 from Kennacraig to Claonaig is slow going. It's single track with passing places most of the way. If you have time to spare before your ferry, a side trip to Skipness Castle is definitely worth doing. It's about two miles out of Claonaig. You don't need reservations for the ferry. In fact, I don't think that you can make reservations until they go in to their limited winter hours after October 28th.

Lochranza Castle is also worth a visit once you've arrived on Arran. If you haven't already made accommodation arrangements for Arran, I'd highly recommend the Glenartney B&B, which is more like a guest house. It's up the hill behind the Chinese restaurant, and has a great view of Goatfell. The rooms are a bit on the small side, but the hosts are wonderful. The drive from Lochranza to Brodick is very pretty on a sunny day, as you'll pass through the villages of Sannox and Corrie, and drive right down the east side of the island, with the Firth of Clyde on your left the whole way.

If you're going to Midhope Castle, it costs 10 pounds per car. However, if you get there after 5:00 p.m., the man from the shack at the entrance has gone home, and you can get in free. Also Blackness Castle, as featured in season one of "Outlander," is only about three miles away.

I hope that you have a wonderful holiday!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: If you visit Skipness Castle, and want to save a bit of time, follow the signs for the restaurant and park in their car park, rather than the castle car park. However, the road to the restaurant car park is severely potholed, so you may not want to subject your car to the abuse.