My husband and I are planning a 14-17 day trip to Scotland in May. We want to begin in Edinburgh, go north and west and return to Glasgow. We want to see the natural wonders of the national parks and the western islands as well as spend time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Will we have time to visit the Orkney islands as well? I haven't begun the detailed planning yet so would appreciate as much input as possible. Thanks in advance!
In two weeks, you might sleep in 5 or 6 different towns, and see other sites en-route on your driving days. But plotting out transport and sightseeing time on a calendar is the best way to confirm that there is time for sightseeing and not all transportation.
There will always be more to see and trade-offs in narrowing down your list. If the Orkneys are a priority for you, then you can find a way to make it work. If they just sound like "maybe nice to see," then you probably won't get that far, as I think most first-time visitors don't. Plan to spend a day traveling each way. From Inverness to Thurso by train, for instance takes 4 hours. Near Thurso, the Scabster-Stromness ferry (see http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/) runs a few times per day. Heading further north, the ferries to/from Lerwick tend to be overnight rides.
Hi Diane-we had 16 days this past August, and revised our Scotland trip plans several times before determining what we wanted to see that could be squeezed in. For what it's worth, our trip was: 5 nights Edinburgh; 1 night Shetland (that's right, we had most of 2 days but only 1 night before catching the ferry to Kirkwall, Orkney); 3 nights Orkney, 3 nights Skye, 2 nights Fort William, 1 night Blackburn (on the way back towards Edinburgh for the flight home).
So we did fit in a short visit to Orkney, which allowed us to see a bit of Kirkwall, a wealth of Neolithic and geographic sights on Orkney Mainland and along the Churchill Barriers, the Italian Chapel, plus a Sorytelling Night in Stromness over 2 days, but no time on islands like Hoy or Rousay. Flybe Air can jet you to Orkney if you don't go by train, car, and/or ferry.
You might consider a three night stay at this nature preserve;
First, I want to recommend a great book, Wild Scotland by James McCarthy. The book gives you an orientation to the wildlife, geology etc that you can see in Scotland. Then it takes you through the different types of protected areas that are available. Lastly, it highlights the different places by geography. But, it is the 21st century, so here is a website as well. :) This site includes the historic places as well as the natural sites.
Here are some of the places that I visited:
- Cairngorms National Park--We walked in the valleys and I've driven through the area. It is really beautiful. We walked in Rothiemurchus which is within the park. Lovely walks in valleys and around lochs with lots of heather.
- Loch Lomond and The Trossachs--I really enjoyed the Trossachs. I've not walked there, but I took the steamboat ride on Loch Katrine and explored Balquhidder Glen. It looked like there were some good walks. Rob Roy MacGregor is buried near the beginning of the Glen in the East
- River Tay Natural Scenic Area--I love this area and it is often overlooked in the rush north. There is a range of walks and the wonderful town of Dunkeld.
- Stac Polly and the Summer Isles--I've not been to the Summer Isles, but I did a "bog walk" near Stac Polly. The scenery is fantastic.
- Glen Affric--I love this Glen. You can do a long day hike or just walk in on the dirt road for a while and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
- Torridon--This is one of the wilder and more beautiful places. I am pretty sure that one of the walks I did was here.
- Culbin--This is on the Moray Firth near Inverness and provides wonderful walk along the beach with views of the firth, seals and birds. It's lovely.
- Loch Maree--This is another beautiful loch with walks. It's near Gairloch.
I could keep going. If you want to go to Orkney, you could consider flying there first, straight from the US. It makes for a very long day, but you can then work your way south. Orkney has so much wild areas and rich heritage. I highly recommend it.
Given the length of stay I would suggest looking into Orkney. If there is anything you want to see in Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty or Caithness, this can be built in to the journey up or down. Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty are probably the least inhabited parts of the island of Great Britain.
For the islands there are the Inner Hebrides that form part of Highland (Skye) and of Argyll and Bute (Mull, Iona, Islay, Jura,) the outer Hebrides are the islands within Eileann nan Siar council area and may not be what you are after.
In consideration of Glasgow, I would add you are two hours to Hadrian's Wall at Carlisle, and one of the big forts is the Carlisle end, and there are also places worth seeing in Lanarkshire such as New Lanark, and also places such as Drumlanrig Castle which are worth seeing.