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Seeking a Home Base in the Highlands and any other advice...

Dear wonderful Rick Steves Forum Wizards,

I have been reading the forums, looking at travel guides, questioning my own friends, etc., for months. So, I am not at absolute Square One with my questions for you all. Critical Details: family of 4 (mom, dad, 17 y.o. daughter, 15 y.o. son). We are athletic and into nature. We have chosen to stay in fewer places rather than 7 different hotels, b&b's or inns. We want to actually "relax" on the trip as opposed to scheduling every minute of each day.

We are traveling to Scotland for a 7 night trip this April. Loose outline of location for each night and the sights follows, my questions are at the end.

Day 1: arrive 5 pm, sleep Edinburgh, visit the National Museum of Scotland the next day, then get rental car & make our way to next stop

Days 2, 3 & 4: Sleep 3 nights at HOME BASE tbd from which we will do day trip travel. We want to possibly see during this time: Clava Cairns, Culloden Battlefield, Urquart Castle, Loch Ness maybe Eilean Donan Castle.

Days 5 & 6: Excellent-seeming inn booked on the Isle of Skye. We will see what there is to see on the Isle those days. Recommendations for must-see places welcomed! (We want to visit some whiskey places at some point in the week.)

Day 7: We will depart the Isle of Skye, and maybe visit Fort William, but for sure: Stirling Castle. We want to know where/what inn, b&b or hotel to choose.

Day 8: fly out of Edinburgh at 5 pm. Plan to see Edinburgh Castle this day, before leaving.

Questions:

  1. Does anyone have a recommendation of a village and/or hotel for our "home base" of three nights? We are by no means 5 Star travelers, but we want borderline luxury, clean, private baths, etc.

  2. Does anyone have recommendations for the village/place and/or the hotel or b&b where we should stay on the night Day 7?

  3. Do you have things to add or subtract that you think we should definitely see?

Thank you!
Lucy from Nebraska, serendipitously living in Germany

Posted by
333 posts

I'm afraid I can't help with your questions, but being a fellow Nebraskan who will be in Scotland a month after you, I just had to say "Hi" and happy travels!
Lisa

Posted by
1291 posts

Failte

For the home base it has to be Inverness or area. It is the capital of the Highlands both geographically and administratively. Inverness area is the city and up to the Black Isle, Dornoch, over to Nairn and perhaps Moray.

Day 1 to me feels impossible unless I am misreading, and given Scottish roads day 7 ditto, though Ft William is a bed for the night not a view for the day.

As for Stirling, with a teenage boy there is Bannockburn. For him I would move more time there. Braveheart was not William Wallace, King Robert I was the man called 'Braveheart'. For a teenage girl there is the story of Mary I, 'Mary, Queen of Scots' largely set around the same area.

I will now go before I get too stereotypical, but will add 'whisky' has no 'e' in it. The 'e' is a requirement of the European Union to indicate an inferior product not made to Scottish or Canadian specifications..! ;-)

Posted by
5561 posts

One thing that you could do, is to rent the car in Inverness rather than in Edinburgh. Spend the AM touring a wee bit of Edinburgh--if the weather is good, I would head to the Castle, if the weather is bad go to the museum. Was there a particular exhibit that was drawing you to the Museum? It is very, very good, but you can easily spend several hours. If this is your first day after a transatlantic flight, I would advise some outdoor time. Also, taking the train north means that you won't be driving long distance with jet lag.

Once you're in Inverness, you could stay there. Or there are smaller towns to stay in. Inverness brings you variety in restaurants and evening activity. Most recently, I have stayed at The Anderson in Fortrose on the Black Isle. The is up the hill from Chanory Point and Rosemarkie overlooking the Moray Firth. I enjoy the pub, the whisky bar and the food. And you can get around well from there.

Before we stayed in Fortrose, we used to stay in Strathpeffer. This is a lovely Victorian spa town and I used to stay at The Richmond. The hotel was under different management when we stayed there so I can't advise on that. The rooms are great and the location is excellent. There other hotels in Stratpeffer, but be careful as many cater to pensioner coach tours. The Ben Wyvis is posher hotel that caters to a broader cliental.

I agree that Dornoch is lovely, but it's further from the sites that you've mentioned.

You should see Eilean Donan on the way to Skye. If the weather is good in the west, you could certainly think about driving to Ullapool and taking short hikes in the Ullapool Hills. It's a beautiful drive (stop off at the waterfalls on the drive out). The views from above the town are really good.

I think that I would just drive to Stirling and stay there. There are nice hotels right in town. And it would be easy to get up to see the castle and wander around.

As for Whisky, Talksiker is on Skye. Glen Ord is near Stathpeffer. Glenmorangie is near Dornoch. There are many more. There's a wonderful book, Raw Spirit by Iain Banks is about whisky and driving through beautiful Scotland. I recommend it.

Posted by
3091 posts

" Raw Spirit by Iain Banks is about whisky and driving through beautiful Scotland. I recommend it. " But not simultaneously ; -- )

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for all the advice!

Lisa-I never imagined I'd live in Europe growing up in Nebraska and enjoying Big Red Game days, etc. I hope you enjoy your trip, too!

MC-Thank you for the comments. My Day 1 is really just arrive, check in to hotel and eat dinner. Day 2 is the day we will see at least one thing in Edinburgh before we move on to our next stop. Your Day 7 point is well taken. I also appreciate the comments regarding Stirling and my kids. I will also look forward to enjoying lots of whisky and steer well-clear of any whiskey, for life!

Pamela, you have given me a treasure trove of idea, thanks! We do live in Germany so thankfully will not be fighting any jet lag. We've been trying to travel all around Europe as much as possible while here to take advantage of our time. The things that stand out the most are mainly consider getting a train to Inverness (brilliant!), choose Stirling for our night 7 accommodations, allowing us to be closer to Edinburgh. Appreciate the Whisky recommendations--and all the others. I will look into Raw Spirit.

Steven, thanks also on the book comment!

I've received a couple private messages overnight, too, so now I'm off to have look at those. Perhaps I will reply here with our "final" itinerary and plans so that others might also consider the wisdom of this great Rick Steves community!

Posted by
1291 posts

Day 2 still feels a wee bit cramped. It will take about four hours to get from Edinburgh to Inverness for example, I am not sure if you have enough time to see the NMS and then get out of the city and get a hire car.

Posted by
9 posts

OK, thanks, MC. I had wanted to begin the trip with a visit to the National Museum so the kids (as well as my husband and I) could get an overview of the history we will see during the trip. BUT, no one wants to be rushed on vacation! Maybe we will have 2 either choose a home base closer to Edinburgh, or we will have to add a single night somewhere for night 2, then only stay 2 nights at the Highlands/Inverness location still to be chosen...

This is the sort of practical advice I really appreciate!!

Posted by
266 posts

Looking forward to reading the final recommendations and bookings as I am doing a similar trip in May for 10 days.

Posted by
1291 posts

The NMS in Edinburgh is worth visiting, but with your timescales is probably worth sacrificing. In terms of history there are a few books that might help and have been advised on this site. That said, a few bits of history can be ascertained by the landscapes.

Scotland had fortified houses, castles longer than England because it was less stable in certain regards. From the death of Robert III to the accession of Charles I, none of the intervening monarchs, James I, II, III, IV, V, Mary I and James VI (the Stuarts were not imaginative with boys' names) succeeded as adults. Scottish politics was 'proactive'.

When you drive north between Perth and Inverness you will switch between the Lowlands and the Highlands, historically Scots speaking and Gaelic speaking Scotland. But prior to 1745 you are crossing between the areas fully under the control of the central state in Edinburgh, and the Tribal Areas where government control did not fully run. Where family alliances mattered more than loyalty to the king. Because you could be cut off for months, this was a matter of life or death. Scottish geography has dictated Scotland's history, like in most countries to be honest.

Posted by
5561 posts

If you just want to do the museum to get them a historical base, then I'd skip it and head for the highlands after a whirlwind tour of Edinburgh.

Another reason why I suggested the train is that you can put in a longer day in Edinburgh. There are trains you can catch between 3 and 4 PM that will put you into Inverness between 6 & 7. Plenty of time to pick up a car and drive another 30-40 minutes to a town. Also, you can relax and enjoy a beautiful train ride. If you buy the ticket in advance it's not that expensive.

And if you end up looking for something closer to Edinburgh, think about Perthshire. I like both Aberfeldy and Dunkeld. Check them out on Undiscovered Scotland.

Pam

Posted by
1291 posts

And if you end up looking for something closer to Edinburgh, think about Perthshire. I like both Aberfeldy and Dunkeld. Check them out on Undiscovered Scotland.

This is one of my proofs Pam works for Visit Scotland. Perth and Kinross Council Area is one of the hidden gems of Scotland. It is drive through, take the train through, blink and you will miss it, bit of Scotland. Near enough to the central belt to be day trip distance, near enough to Highland to be ignored.

I am your evidence. I love Perthshire. I really do. And have spent more nights in Milan (one) than I have in Perth and Kinross.

Posted by
9 posts

It's wonderful waking up and finding more comments here that help with the trip planning!

Gail: I hope you also enjoy your trip! Mine would be easier to plan if my family were more willing to go places day to day. There are so many written tours you find that recommend a certain driving path, daily stops at the sights and then where to stay each night. But, the kids (well I will admit, the parents also) favor the idea of not packing entirely up every day.

Pamela--I always cringe when people post a question in a public forum that is easily answered by Google...but I'm about to do so! Do you know if it's possible, and not exorbitantly expensive, to return the car near the airport in Edinburgh on our last day rather than return it in Inverness? The train is sounding very attractive given the quicker speed, more time in Edinburgh and the ability of all of us to enjoy the views without driving and/or navigating during the journey.

MC-your comments are well taken. As it turns out my genealogical studies have shown both my husband and I have ancestors from Perth so that bit of the country is "home" in one way.

Update on the "Highlands Home Base" -- we have been looking around Inverness and I do think (if we drive) we will want to pick something closer to Edinburgh. We feel a draw toward taking in the sights at Cairngorm National Park, and Aviemore was one spot that we originally considered. In general we prefer out of the way, quiet, wilderness type settings (or very small villages) over the real urban centers.

Back to the planning grindstone...

Thanks again for all the willingness to help out a traveler!

Lucy

Posted by
5561 posts

Hi Lucy, I don't have the exact figures, but it can't be too expensive as I have done it and done it multiple times. I've driven to Inverness from either Glasgow or Edinburgh and dropped the car off at the airport or in town. And, I've picked up a car in Inverness and dropped it off in Edinburgh. And, one time was with my father who always researched budget. :)

Pam

Posted by
1291 posts

Adding to Pam's comment, the one way hire might be reasonable as you will be moving the car to where the hire car companies want them to be, the airports and cities of the central belt.

Posted by
1188 posts

Be prepared for "weather" in April. We had snow "flurries" when we were in Scotland that time of year. You need to think about driving linear instead of back tracking to a "home base" or you will not have the time to visit anything. Stirling Castle is a small renaissance palace but has been restored nicely. Urquart is very small ...but if you want to see "Nessie. Culloden is a big field with stone markers...but if you have clan there. It will be easy to find accommodations on the fly in April. Just check to see if the sites you want to visit are open on the day you want to go there.

Posted by
1291 posts

Ah the weather, the only weather guaranteed in Scotland is 'weather.' We've had snow flurries in the hills in July. There is a reason it is the big safe topic for conversation in the UK and Ireland. No extremes like North America or parts of the rest of Europe, but constant, changeable weather...;-)

For Culloden the NTS centre covers the history quite well, worth remembering it was a Scottish battle, not a Scotland v England one as much as some would say. Urqhuart is nice romantic ruin, but the views of the Loch are unsurpassed. It is Historic Scotland.

Posted by
453 posts

while on Skye visit the Fairy Glen near Uig, while up that way the Quiraing is awesome but be prepared for some rugged hiking and narrow one lane road driving. Kilt Rock is also up that way as well as the Old Man Storr, all up in the Trotternish area. visit www.walkthehighlands.co.uk for some trekking help, maps, and other various Scotland travel help. Skye is slow driving so don't expect to visit numerous spots, pick one of the areas and glean the spots that look best to you on the website. The Fairy Pools down near the Cullins is pretty cool as well, kids might get in a swim. Carbost is in that area and they often have music at the Old Inn and they have distillery there, we did not have time to visit the distillery though, Old Inn music was great. Take raingear and waterproof boots. We took the tram to the last stop and walked to our B&B, the Adria House in Edinburgh...Ft. William is cool, visit the Ben Nevis Inn for dinner if you are there on a night when they have music. Visit Glen Coe and the lost valley area on your way back to Edi from Ft. William. We did the lost valley hike (see direction on above walkthehighlands site). http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/lostvalley.shtml

if you want hikes this web site is awesome and the area around Glen Coe is beyond description...
here is the Quiraing link (on Skye) as well http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/skye/quiraing.shtml, it is rugged!! I agree with Pam, I visited the national museum in Edinburgh and although it was great I would trade a day there for a day out on Skye or down in Glen Coe, especially if you enjoy the outdoors and hiking...museums in the US are similar but you will not see anything like the rugged terrain up in the highlands, I would try to spend and extra day on Skye, go Hoosiers!! let me know how it turns out dj Indiana

Posted by
78 posts

Don't know if you have found a place to stay in the Highlands yet (we have been out of the country and are just catching up on the Rick Steves website), but we can suggest the Highland Club apartments in Ft. Augustus. We spent 4 nights there last August and found it to be good location from which to base our travels. They have apartments of many different sizes in historic buildings and we enjoyed coming "home" in the evenings and having breakfast and some dinners in our own place. From there we visited Loch Ness, Inverness, Culloden, Glenfinnan, and the Leault Farm Sheep Dog demonstration near Kincraig - all an easy drive from Ft. Augustus. There is a nice Loch Ness cruise leaving from Ft. Augustus as well. We stopped at Eilean Donan on our way to Skye, an easy drive. We left Edinburgh in the morning, picked up our car at the airport, stopped at Pitlochry for lunch and Blair Atholl, and arrived in Ft. Augustus in the afternoon - an easy drive as well. The weather while we were on Skye can only be described as "atrocious" but we loved it in spite of the weather!