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September castles, gardens and whisky

Revising plan for our early September two week trip and have some questions. Won't be going to Highland Games this time. Basic route will start in Edinburgh, go south to Borders, over to Mull, then over to Highlands, over to Fife, then back home.

Fly into Edinburgh- 3 nights
Borders abbeys, see Jim Clark museum in Duns (brother-in-law request)- stay Melrose 2 nights
Go to Mull- Tobermory, Mull, Iona- stay Tobermory 3 nights
Go to Grantown-on-Spey- Cawdor, Culloden, whiskey- stay Grantown 3 nights
Visit St. Andrews and fishing villages- stay 2 nights in area somewhere
Return to airport and fly out of Edinburgh
That's a total of 13 nights with all stays either 2 or 3 nights. Could add additional night or two. Don't have any hotels yet.

We want to see history, castles and gardens, fishing villages, highlands and golf and whiskey.

Castles we'd like to see include Edinburgh, Stirling and Cawdor, and we might visit Culzean too if we can fit it in on way from Melrose. We could stay overnight in Ayr, for example, for 1 night and resume journey to Mull next day. Or, should we skip Culzean for this trip? And, when would we visit Stirling? Easiest day seems to be when we leave Melrose and head to Mull- we go right past it. That would make a long day, my guess is you need a couple of hours minimum to visit, and then it's a question of how far we could drive heading to Tobermory for 3 nights. We could see the castle and drive all the way to Tobermory- sometimes you just have a long travel day. Or, an alternative would be see Stirling and then go part-way to Tobermory, perhaps stopping in Oban or Inverary even. If we do spend a night in Oban, say, then should we spend just 2 nights in Tobermory? On Mull, we want to see Iona and Tobermory and just see some of the scenery as we won't be going to Skye this trip. If 3 nights on Mull is best for this, then maybe we have to add an extra night which is possible.

When we leave Tobermory, we could just drive the 4+ hours through Ft. William and Aviemore and get to Grantown directly, or should we go to Torridon for one night? We'd get to see Eilean Donan which looks so beautiful. The next day's drive to Grantown is a couple of hours, so that is good. It is a long drive to Torridon from Tobermory, at least 5 hours. We were hoping to stay 3 nights in Grantown, so each night we spend elsewhere is 1 night less for it. But, maybe it's worth it to visit Torridon for 1 night?

When we go to Fife villages, any recommendation for where to stay 2 nights? We just want to relax and explore. Definitely want to see St. Andrews as most of us golf- otherwise, just walk about and enjoy. On day we leave, we'll drop off rental car at airport, and if we haven't seen Stirling Castle yet, we could do that on morning of departure, but that sounds hectic.

Thanks for any feedback you might have! Can't wait to go

Posted by
2971 posts

Fyi- St Andrews is closed to golf on Sunday, but you may walk the course. It's more fun to hire a local ( very inexpensive) guide for the walk, who will add many colorful stories to your outing. The golf museum is great, and the gift shop reasonable with unique souvenirs.
The Old Course is one of my travel experiences in which my first sighting of the course was of complete awe! I've watched many tourneys on TV played there, but it was so much more in person.
Are you trying to play? As a single, it's not impossible to get on, but you do need to get in line a bit after midnight. My husband actually did it about six years ago.
we named our dog Fife!

Posted by
12 posts

Playing golf would be fun in Scotland, but it doesn't have to be at St. Andrew's (it must be quite expensive there). Somewhere during our trip we can find a course and rent clubs to play. My wife is the only one of us 4 travelers who doesn't play, so a course with spa would be great, she can get nice massage while we look for lost golf balls.

I was wondering if not going to Glasgow is something to regret. But we are already going to Edinburgh, and in two weeks you can only see so much. Interestingly, the round trip cost from Boston to Glasgow vs Edinburgh was about $500 cheaper! Trip could be arranged to fly into Glasgow, maybe spend a day to see sights & get over jet lag & stay one night, then rent car and proceed to Mull and rest of trip.

Posted by
1855 posts

Or, daft as it may sound, fly to Glasgow. Take the airport bus to Queen Street station, very frequent train to Edinburgh. You've only lost the extra flight time and another hour and a half, then pick up the schedule as above. But if you started at Glasgow that might allow you to go to Culzean and maybe Trump's golf course and hotel resort at Royal Turnberry, just down the Ayrshire Coast

Posted by
1130 posts

Don’t try and do EVERYTHING! Places may sound wonderful but you need to keep the itinerary workable. If you have the flexibility to add a couple of nights then go for it! Three nights is effectively only two and a bit days for a place.

Have you planned out this itinerary with driving times? If using something like Google maps then add 25% to their times plus time needed to stop and visit somewhere. Don’t underestimate the time taken to get between places. Also remember to allow time to find somewhere to park, walk to the ticket office and back to the car afterwards. It is surprising how much time this can take sometimes!

Distances may not look far on the map but will take a lot longer to cover than you might expect, especially if going cross country.

Melrose to Oban is going to take a good four hours to drive. Add on the ferry (Check in 30 minutes prior to departure) and then drive to Tobermory 45minutes + That is going to take up most of the day. If you have visited Edinburgh Castle, you probably don’t need to visit Stirling Castle as well. However, only you can decide this!

If you do decide to visit Stirling, then Inverary would be a nice place to stop on the way to Oban. There is Inverary Castle to visit too. The intgeriors are stunning and it is surrounded by lovely gardens. If you do decide on Inverary for an overnight stop, think about doing the detour to visit Benmore Botanic Gardens - just over 30 miles, allow 45-60 minutes to get there. It is a very scenic drive and ther gardens are pretty good too. Allow 2+ hours from Benmore to get to Oban for the ferry to Mull.

Definitely try and keep the three nights on Mull. Allow a day for Iona and the second day either explore Mull or think about a boat trip to some of the other smaller islands.

Leaving Mull, rather than going back to Oban, Take the smaller ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan OR from Fishnish across to Lochaline (just turn up and don’t need to book on either). Both will take you across Ardnamurchan peninsula which is one of the most remote places in Scotland with stunning scenery. (Do a google image search.)

Again, only you know whether it is worth visiting Torridon for one night and removing a night from Grantown on Spey. What are your plans for there? I was disappointed by the inside of Cawdor Castle - it isn’t one of the most impressive, although the gardens were nice. We much preferred Ballindalloch Castle which is about 30 minute drive the other way. This is also privately owned and has superb gardens too. Check it out as a possible instead.

You’ll already have seen some stunning scenery on Mull and even more if you do drive across Ardnamurchan. Eilean Donan Castle looks stunning from the outside (and appears on all the boxes of shortbread). The inside isn’t as impressive as the castle was completely rebuilt in the early C20th. If you don’t want to go as far as Torridon, think about Plockton instead, a delightful small village with palm trees near Kyle of Lochalsh.

If you haven’t already found it, the Undiscovered Scotland website is a wonderful source of information and ideas of what to do and see. It covers so many hidden gems that never make it into the guide books. Start with the relevant map page and follow the links to the text pages with lots of photographs and information.

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks for the great input! I was hoping for just this kind of information when posting on the forum. It seems best to leave Culzean Castle & Gardens for another time. We might go from Melrose to Stirling and then stay one night in Inverary. The castle there and the botanical gardens sound great. Then next day, we can make it to Oban and take ferry to Mull.

I'm glad you mentioned Plonkton- it was what I had in mind when I instead wrote Torridon. It is a long drive from Tobermory, and the route you suggest must be very scenic. It would make sense to spend a night in Plonton (we can extend trip a little, maybe this should be a 2 night stay?). The Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens are a fantastic suggestion- we would really enjoy that. Even if we decided to just drive straight through from Tobermory to Grantown, we still could see Ballindalloch as a day trip from Grantown.

The 3 days in Grantown-on-Spey are to relax in the area, go to historic places such as Clava Cairns and Culloden Battlefield (having a guide would help), castles, tasting whisky and maybe getting a round of golf in somewhere. We don't have any reservations yet so it doesn't have to be Grantown, but I've seen positive comments about it. Would you suggest another town or perhaps a pretty village somewhere in the area? We just want a scenic place with a nice pub nearby, doesn't have to be big town but should have a good restaurant or two. With a car, we can get to anywhere easily enough.

We've never been to Scotland before and the excitement keeps building!

Posted by
1855 posts

From Grantown one particularly scenic course is Abernethy Golf Club at Nethy Bridge. I'm not a golfer, but have been to the course. You can even book on line.
The 2 day route from Melrose to Oban is a nice way to break the journey up.
On your way from Inveraray to Oban you might like to stop for lunch at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at Cairndow-

Posted by
1251 posts

For the Fife Coast, in June we are staying in Anstruther (a fishing village) at the Waterfront Hotel. Obviously, we haven't been there yet, but it looks wonderful to me and was recommended by several Scotland experts. People also recommend the fishing village of Crail. This area is supposed to be the sunniest area of Scotland. I hope so!

Posted by
2594 posts

I'm guessing you can get free whisky samples on these tours. Can you get three sheets to the wind?

Unfortunately we're going to miss Glasgow. As wisely mentioned we can't do everything in a little over a week.

Posted by
1130 posts

BGrantown on Spey would make a good base.

Remember if visiting distilleries and tasting the whisky that Scotland has very strict drink driving rules, so the driver is advised not to drink...

Posted by
12 posts

Narrowing trip down, here is what we have so far:

14 nights, going in September, 4 adults 57-71, one rental car.
Edinburgh 3 nights, Melrose 2 nights, Mull 3 nights, Grantown 3 nights, St. Andrews 2 nights, home again. Not enough time to see everything and are deciding to skip Skye and Glasgow.

Will take overnight flight that arrives early AM.

Question 1- should we do the 3 days in Edinburgh first, then rent car and do rest of trip? Or, even though we've just landed, should we just get car and go to Melrose first and save Edinburgh for last?
Question 2- From Melrose to Mull, should we break up trip and spend one night in Oban and then go to Mull? Or, should we just go to Mull via longer drive and spend 3 nights there? On Mull, we are likely to stay in/near Craignure.

Question 3- if we can add two more nights, should we go to Plockton, or Stonehaven, or somewhere else in Highlands such as Pitlochry or Perth?


Posted by
1855 posts
  1. Edinburgh first then Melrose- the consensus of opinion on here is not to drive on the day you arrive, to recover from jet lag.
  2. Book a late afternoon ferry from Oban to Mull, It will be daylight until almost 8am. You have 3 nights, 2 days, on Mull so make the most of them, not waiting for a ferry next morning.
  3. For a different route you could take the Fishnish to Lochaline ferry off the island, driving up through Strontian, then the very short crossing on the Corran ferry, then down through Glencoe and along Loch Tay to the Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore. Then on through Aberfeldy to Pitlochry or Dunkeld. If there was time after the Crannog forest and you were staying at Pitlochry you could divert from Aberfeldy through the Tay Forest Park and along Loch Tummel.
Posted by
12 posts

Trip is still pretty much as planned- into Edinburgh for 3 nights, then Melrose for 2 nights, then to Mull for 3 nights, then 1 night stopover in Plonkton, then 3 nights in Grantown-on-Spey, then 2 nights St. Andrews, then fly home. Starting with overnight flight on Saturday 8/26 to arrive Sunday 8/27 8:30 am in Edinburgh. This is last full day of Fringe Festival (not our priority but a bonus nonetheless).

Question is about staying in St. Andrews versus staying elsewhere- what about Perth? We'd be there 2 nights 9/8 and 9/9. Nothing that we can afford is available directly in St. Andrews, so we'd have to drive in to see things. If we stayed in Perth, we could tour Sterling Castle from there pretty easily and maybe go up to Pitlochry or Aberfeldy. Or should we just stick to plans, which are to see Fife villages and St Andrews, and stay closer to St. Andrews?

On way from Grantown for these last two nights (we fly home next day), we'll be going to Stonehaven and Dunrottar Castle and then making it to St. Andrews. By the way, we could skip the Plonkton overnight and just go straight to Grantown, but Plonkton sounds nice even if just for one night.


Posted by
1855 posts

Have you looked at staying in Dundee?

You're 30 to 45 minutes closer to St Andrew's or the Neuk than Perth.

The PI at Monifeith (6 miles further up the coast) is £155 for those 2 nights, Dundee East (on the A92) £161, Dundee West (on the A90 Bypass) £171, and Dundee North (further round the Bypass, but closer to the City Centre) £174

Posted by
12 posts

Adding more time and re-doing itinerary. Also, we might go in early June 2024. Now it is 3 week trip (20 nigh

Arrive Edinburgh (overnight flight)- stay 3 nights
Drive to Melrose to see abbeys, Jim Clark museum in Duns- stay Melrose 2 nights
Drive to Inveraray- along way, see Rossyn Chapel and Stirling Castle- stay Inveraray 2 nights
Drive to Oban & take ferry to Tobermory- stay Tobermory 3 nights
Drive/ ferry via Maillag and stay Torridon (skip Skye)- stay Torridon 2 nights
Drive to Ullapool and take ferry to Lewis & Harris- stay somewhere there 3 nights
Ferry back to Ullapool and drive to Grantown-on-Spey- stay Grantown 3 nights
Drive to Stonehaven & Dunnottar castle then continue to St. Andrews- stay St. Andrews 2 nights
Return rental car and fly home

This should let us see a lot of beautiful Scotland and some castles & gardens, drink whisky, get history- not sure of Inveraray per se, but drive from Melrose to Tobermory, especially with Rosslyn Chapel and Stirling Castle, is really long. Is it better to stay in Oban versus Inveraray? We could try this trip in September too- weather might be drier then, but I like the longer days of June too. I have a crazy idea that maybe we can drop the rental off in Stornoway and just fly to Inverness, get another car and go to Grantown then. We need a car on Lewis & Harris, but dropping it off lets us avoid the 3 hour ferry again- but maybe doing the ferry twice and driving to Grantown from Ullapool isn't so bad. Is it a pretty drive? Thanks!