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Shame to skip Inverness and NE Scotland? and other Q's

Dear Scotland natives, enthusiasts, and fellow travelers:

We are two travelers on a tight schedule to experience three countries in 4 weeks (England, Scotland, Ireland) between June 11 and July 10, 2019. The England itinerary is already set and now I find myself fitting Scotland into 10 days using only public transportation. I have it in the budget to splurge on a private tour/driver for a day, otherwise I am sticking to bus and train. I realize that this puts a damper on our independence but I find it too stressful to deal with driving in unfamiliar territory on the "wrong" side of the road ;) little joke there.

I am concentrating our Scotland travel on the western side and coast and skipping such highlights as Inverness, Cairngorms, and surrounds. We live in Montana, USA, a state rich in mountains, alpine lakes, and outdoor recreation, so I thought nothing in the Cairngorms would be missed but I'm torn about Inverness. If we're not that interested in Clava Cairn, Loch Ness, or Culloden, is this destination still worth our time?

We've both been to Edinburgh before so won't spend more than 2 nights and are most interested in cultural events like cèilidhs & highland games, unique food/drink, linguistics & dialect differences (I'm a student of linguistics), coastal wildlife like basking sharks and puffins, plus meeting locals.

Here's our rough itinerary for June 22 to July 1 with # of nights undetermined:

  • Arrive in Edinburgh via train from York on 6/22 for 2 nights. We haven't booked our train travel so we're still flexible about where to begin our trip. Lodging has free cancellation, too.

  • Possible day trips to Stirling and/or Pitlochry.

  • Glencoe/Ft. William

  • Isle of Skye, perhaps a boat tour from Elgol if we can access the departure port via public transportation.

  • Oban or other coastal home base for boat tours of the Inner Hebrides. Any tours to recommend?

  • Would like to fit in Ceres Highland Games on Saturday 29th June, but I think we'll have to backtrack. However, that could work if we were to depart for Ireland from Edinburgh instead of taking the Cairnryan ferry.

  • Depart for Ireland on July 1. Any suggestions for ferry vs. budget flight?

Many thanks,
E & A from Bozeman, MT

Posted by
6848 posts

I think that you are correct in thinking that Scotland "mountains" may seem a little underwhelming compared to what you are used to. They are beautiful in their own right, but they may not feel quite as impressive to you.

Time is a factor and you simply need to cut out part of Scotland. You will need to come back to see Inverness .

We really enjoyed West Coast Tours, Three Island Tour out of Oban. It takes the full day, but is full of good experiences. You see parts of Mull, Iona, and Staffa. Stay in Oban. Good train service there.

You are already short on time, fly to Ireland.

Posted by
1292 posts

I agree with Carol: I've been to Scotland a couple of times: 1st time seeing all the Campbell Castles, Distilleries, Glen Coe, Loch Ness,the Highlands, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh. 2nd time: The Borders, Dumphreys and the Southwest, Stirling, Edinburgh again . We were driving car from England and back both times, so we didn't go the the Western Islands, because we didn't want to get involved in Ferries. That's why I think what you might really enjoy spending most of your visit touring the islands; maybe even a live aboard tour. It will be the scenic and nature lovers best bet.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, Carol, for the tour recommendations out of Oban. I was sad to read that you can't enter Fingal's Cave due to erosion but at least we can see inside. And, you're right, I'll just have to save Inverness for another trip. All mountains are beautiful, don't get me wrong, it's just that we have a wealth of them around us...even going to the Tetons last summer felt a bit redundant!

Edit: Kathleen, a live aboard tour sounds great!

Posted by
2610 posts

I second Carol’s recommendation on the West Coast three island tour out of Oban. That day, while long, was a highlight of our 12 night trip to Scotland last summer.
FYI, basking sharks are seasonal. Not sure if your time will coincide with their apearance.

Posted by
6 posts

Very good to know. My scant research shows the sharks are around in the summer but I haven't seen specifics. We will also be in Ireland...perhaps better to see them basking there?

Thanks to everyone's advice so far, I am close to revising the trip to instead end in Edinburgh and take advantage of the games in Ceres on the 29th before flying out of EDI to either Belfast or Dublin. This leaves the beginning of the Scotland leg open for tweaking. Perhaps we'll spend first night in Stirling or Glasgow before continuing to the coast?

Posted by
103 posts

I really don't think you're missing out on mutch if you skip Inverness, it's fairly small town and there's not that much to see Imo.

With a tight schedule I wouldn't recommend taking the ferry to Ireland as it's a fairly long journey that takes up a lot of time. There are innumerable flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Dublin and Belfast (both international and city). You can also fly to his airports from Inverness and Aberdeen if this suits your itinerary better.

A lot of the areas you're visiting, particularly skye, are really quite difficultto visit without a car as the public transport in these areas is very sparse to non-existent and as a result you will find it very difficult to get round to the places you want to visit. As such if you don't want to hire a car and I would advise taking some kind of organised tour instead.

If you're interested in accents and linguistic differences then Id definitely recommend spending a day or two in Glasgow as part of your trip!;-)

Posted by
718 posts

Hello E & A,
I live on Skye and can advise you that it will be very difficult to access without a car. There is a very limited bus service on the island, but it is based around school timetables, and as far as I know there is no bus to Elgol. However, I think this would be well worth trying to do if you possibly can, as the boat trips from Elgol on the Bella Jane are a massive highlight of most peoples' visits to our beautiful island. Perhaps this is the day to splurge on a private driver?

As an aside we travel to Montana every year to cross country ski at Lone Mountain Ranch and know Bozeman very well indeed! Although our scenery is different to that of the Rockies, I don't think you will be disappointed!

Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
5675 posts

I think that you are wise to focus on the west for this trip. I think that the northeast and center have a lot to offer and expect you will fall in love with Scotland and want to come back. On that trip, you will find yourself trying to decide between Orkney and some other new part of Scotland. :) I want to add to Skyegirl's comment that it will be difficult to see much of Skye without a car. I am sure that someone will chime in about buses, but when time is a key variable, bus travel is not a good bet. Had you thought of renting a car for your "post-Edinburgh" travel?

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks, outshined78, Jacqui (isn't Big Sky wonderful?!), and Pamela for the info about Skye. The support for a car rental on Skye is piling up! But I'm still not warming up to this idea. I tried driving in Wales back in 2012 and think back to those roads -- even the rural ones -- with a lot of nervous apprehension. What is the likelihood of hiring a taxi or private driver to take us to Elgol from Portree or another logical home base?

If I'm saving Edinburgh for the final days of the Scotland visit, would Glasgow or Stirling be the better first night stop? I have been trying to mix city and country throughout the travels. We will be coming from York.

It also seems clear that taking the ferry isn't a good idea. I was happy to see lots of budget airline options between Scotland, Ireland and "Norn Iron."

Posted by
7 posts

I am going to Scotland in May. I wanted to see the Isle of Skye and we were going to work our way up there by train, then take a tour. We've decided to take a Rabbies 3 day tour from Glasgow to Skye. Seemed easier than the train and you get to see things along the way. And a whole day on Skye. I also didn't want to try and drive. Does this seem like a good option?

Posted by
1259 posts

Hi, E & A, and also Jacqui,

There is bus service from Broadford to Elgol. It's Stagecoach bus 55, which originates in Kyle of Lochalsh. It actually runs all the way to Glasnakille. I found an old (2009) Stagecoach bus schedule for Skye and Lochalsh while cleaning out a bookshelf. It was bus 49 back then.

The schedule is very convoluted. Some of the buses run on schooldays only. There is no Saturday or Sunday service. The schedule is fairly incompatible with the Bella Jane boat trips, unless you want to leave Broadford at 7:05 a.m. The last bus back to Broadford is at 4:25 p.m. on school days, so you have to be careful that you don't wait for that bus during a school holiday. Otherwise, it's a long (but scenic!) walk back to Broadford.

If you just wanted to experience the road to Elgol, without having to drive it, there is a 12:12 p.m. non school day bus out of Broadford, arriving at Elgol at 12:53, and Glasnakille at 1:00 p.m. The bus leaves Glasnakille at 1:05 p.m., stopping at Elgol at 1:12. and returning to Broadford at 1:50 p.m. So you could hop off the bus at Elgol, and have 19 minutes on the ground before the bus returns from Glasnakille.

The school holiday days are listed on the route 55 schedule.

I hope that's of some help.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
718 posts

Hi again

I honestly think the bus from Broadford is a terrible idea sorry! We have a so called school service that passes the end of our lane - except that it doesn't always run when it should, leaving parents to ferry kids to school by car. If you are basing yourself in either Broadford or Portree I think you should be able to find a driver/taxi, although it will not be cheap. I'd ask your accommodation provider to help with that particular arrangement. I know a local driver, but based in Dunvegan, so not well placed to help with an Elgol trip, sorry.