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Sleep in Stirling or St Andrews?

My husband and I will be visiting Scotland for the first time with a 16 day trip in August and I am having a hard time thinking about anything else! The first half of our trip consists of a day and night in Glasgow, followed by 2 nights in Oban (with a day trip to Mull), 2 nights on Skye (with a stop at Glencoe on the drive from Oban to Skye) and 3 nights in the Ben Nevis area (to visit friends, learn to fly fish, see highland games, etc). The second half of our trip is the part I want to ask about right now. Day 9 we will drive from Ben Nevis to Inverness with stops along the Caledonian Canal to see Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (and any other recommendations) and then the rest of that day see Inverness. We will have 2 nights in Inverness, with Day 10 to see Culloden, Cawdor Castle, Clava Cairns and any other recommended sites. Day 11 we will leave Inverness, drive to Pitlochry, check into a B&B and do some hill walking and whisky tasting. Day 12 we will drive from Pitlochry to either Stirling OR St Andrews, spend the night there and see that area. Day 13 we will spend the day driving to and seeing either Stirling OR St Andrews (whichever place we did not stay the night before) and then drive to Edinburgh that night. Days 14, 15 and 16 we will spend in Edinburgh, before flying out early on the morning of Day 17. Hope this wasn't too confusing.

My questions are: 1) How does that sound? 2) Would it be better to stay overnight in Stirling or St Andrews? Which would be better as just a day trip on the way to Edinburgh? I think we would like to see both places, but is it worth giving up a night in Edinburgh to have a one night stay in both of the other places? We are NOT golfers, but ARE history buffs and like universities as well as military history. If we give up the first night in Edinburgh, we will still have 3 more nights in EDI, but it will cut into our 3 days in EDI (Day 14). I would also like to see Dunkeld (because of you, Pam), Glamis Castle, Scone and Blackness if time allows :)

Posted by
5562 posts

If you are history buffs, then I think Stirling wins out over St. Andrews. There has certainly been a lot of history in St. Andrew's--it where the church was based for much of Scotland's history, but Stirling is where the action is. Also, they have just restored the Renaissance Palace in the Castle. The geography of the location demonstrates so well the importance of the castle throughout history. Also, the castle houses the The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum. And, of course, you can go to the Wallace Monument and see more about the Battle of Stirling Bridge. And then you are also close to Bannockburn. Climbing the Wallace Monument is a bit of an experience as there is very narrow turnstyle staircase to the top. Views are wonderful, but a low wall so beware with young children! When my sister and I first went to Bannockburn there was nothing but a huge statue of Bruce. In preparation for last year's anniversary, the redid the visitor's center and here it's quite good. (BTW the Visitor Center at Culloden is quite good too. I also found the one at Urquhart Castle to be very informative.) Also, whenI was driving around after visiting the monument I found Cambuskenneth Abbey. There wasn't much there, but what a great view of the castle! Argyll's Lodging is also well worth a visit. Lastly, you are not that far from Doune Castle which is featured in Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail and now Outlander. Even without the film and TV references the castle is worth a visit.

Pam

Posted by
1247 posts

I don't know why, but when we were going to be in the Stirling area we couldn't find any available accommodation, despite trying to book well in advance. We ended up at a B&B across the road from Doune Castle called Glenardoch House. It was a highlight of the trip. Great little town and enjoyed walking around the castle after it closed to the public.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you Pam. We will plan to sleep in the Stirling area and then drive through St Andrews before ending up in Edinburgh. Forgot to mention that we wanted to visit Doune, too.

Any recommendations regarding Scone vs Glamis vs Doune, just in case we have to choose between them?

Great info Andrea, we will check out the lodging across from Doune! Thank you.

Posted by
1292 posts

For the three castles, Doune is a stately ruined castle under the care of Historic Scotland, but you can borrow the coconuts.

Scone is more of a stately home, but has a very important role in the history of Scotland. Glamis is more of the castle still in use, reputed to be one of the most haunted in Scotland.

Both Scone and Glamis are still privately owned.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks MC. Sorry if I am a little slow (it is Sunday morning after all :), but I must know what you mean by "borrow the coconuts"? Also, I am thinking we are going to be sorry that we do not have more time in Glasgow (seeing that you are from there). We will somehow have to find time to return to your fair city in the future.

Posted by
1292 posts

Nah it is Sunday evening! ;-) Doune Castle was virtually all the castle scenes in Monty Python's Holy Grail and they could not afford horses for the film. So they used the playground trick of coconuts for the clip clop sound of the horses, in the film.

If you go to Doune you (used to anyway) can borrow a pair of coconut shells to clip clop around the castle.

Having done it, it is great fun, and the look you get from the Historic Scotland staff can be deliciously conspiratorial. And other visitors keep looking around for the horses. I always borrow the coconuts at Doune!

Posted by
37 posts

Of COURSE! Ha! You made me laugh out loud remembering that. We will most certainly ask to borrow the coconuts! And there is a good reason to visit Doune, even if it is the only place we get to go. Lol.

We are thinking to stay at Citizen M in Glasgow. It seems to be sort of strategically placed between downtown and the west end. It is only for one night, but it will be after traveling from the west coast of the US, so we wanted a place that is easy to get around (walking or taxi) and still fairly quiet at night. Does this suit, or do you have other recs?

Posted by
1292 posts

Hotels are not my strong point in Glasgow as I don't really need them and place guests in the budget ones! I have quickly looked it up and am now drooling. Looks good and the location is on the edge of the city centre so should be good for restaurants.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you so much for your thoughts and your time MC ;)

Still open to any other recommendations of things not to miss or things that may not be worth a stop on this (too short) itinerary.

Posted by
1292 posts

Had a quick look at your itinerary. If you take in Pam's suggestions it is not bad at all. Actually compared to some it is a pretty good starting plan. I take it you are prepared for driving on the correct side of the road?

If you are history buffs in Scotland, you need the mix of the different areas. If you are history buffs, going over to Arbroath on the day with Glamis, may be interesting. The abbey there, now ruins, is of course the place the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, as important in Scottish history as the Magna Carta is in English history.

On the universities, do not forget four of the six oldest in the UK are in Scotland, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow. You might be able to get a tour of one, though Glasgow's uni is now a few kilometres from where it once was.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you again, MC. Not sure about the driving, but will have plenty of incentive to make it happen. Definitely aware of the amazing universities there. Wish I had gone to one of them for more than a visit!

Slainte!

Posted by
600 posts

Your trip sounds wonderful! We were there in October and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. If you are not castled-out by the time you get to Edinburgh, you might consider a quick trip to Craigmillar Castle just outside the city. We took a bus and it is a quick trip, maybe 2-3 hours total. The castle is partially in ruins and has been left in its original state, but you can climb all around the different rooms and there are very few people there. We had the place almost to ourselves and it was such a different experience than the restored castles we visited elsewhere. It was one of our highlights. Also, when in Oban it is possible to visit the island of Staffa. It is supposed to be spectacular for geological formations and wildlife and is something we regret missing. That might be worth a quick trip, if it fits into your plans, although others may be able to tell you how feasible that is. We made a tour scrapbook of our Rick Steves Scotland tour that covers some of the places you are going, if you want to see pictures (I was always looking for pictures and things to read about to hold us over for our actual trip). You can see it on his scrapbook list from 2014 or pm me for the address, if you'd like. Hope you have a wonderful time!

Posted by
600 posts

I realize that everything I said in my prior post is completely off topic from your initial question-hope that's OK. I just carried away when Scotland is the topic ;)

Posted by
37 posts

Great info Tamara! It is just the kind of feedback I was hoping for. When in Oban, did you visit Mull and Iona? Of course we want to see it all, but not possible in a one day outing. I was wondering if you did both, or just spent the day checking out Mull or seeing whales off of Mull, etc?

Posted by
600 posts

We visited both Mull and Iona, but most of our visit to Mull was just seeing it on the way to Iona. There is a ferry to Mull from Oban and then we drove across the island to get to the ferry from Mull to Iona. We had a few photo stops along the way, but I would have loved to spend more time in Mull. Iona has the great abbey and a very peaceful feel despite the large numbers of tourists, but I felt like Mull had a more dramatic landscape. The travel in the ferries and through Mull are quite time consuming, so time there is limited on a one day trip, but I would definitely do both again if given the option since they are so different. I don't really have any tips about the logistics except to be early to get the first ferry out of Oban. The rest of the transport was set up for us. When we were on the ferry to Oban, our guide had us watch out for a castle, I believe it was Duart Castle, and then to head to the exit doors to wait after that. She said the ferry from Mull to Iona is much smaller than the one from Oban to Mull, so you want to move quickly to beat the large tour groups to the ferry dock or you may be waiting quite a while for a free ferry. I'm not sure how all that would work when you are doing it independently, but it's something to consider.

Posted by
5562 posts

I stayed at the Premier Inn near George Square when I was last in Glasgow. It's a very straight-forward hotel with easy access to train stations and to the bus from the Glasgow airport. You might want to delay picking up your car until you leave Glasgow. You could take the bus into the city, spend the night and do your activities and then take the bus back out to the airport and pick up your car there. Having just suggested that it's okay to rent a car in the city centre of Edinburgh, I don't think I would recommend it for Glasgow. They have new rules for where you can drive. While I don't think it has reached the level of frustration that Italy provides, it did sound like there was some heavy duty danger for potential tickets with nasty fines. Ask, M.C.

When you are in Pitlochry, check to see if anything interesting is playing at the Festival Theatre. You can book in advance. I heard Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham one year and it was terrific. Also, the Explorer's Garden was wonderful and is probably even better now that it's had more time to grow! Lastly, I had very nice stroll along the Tummell just in town, but there are lots of nice walks. Rick Steves touts the one to Eradour. I stayed in town and went to Blair Athol and then walked back to my hotel along the river.

Pam

Posted by
1292 posts

Ah, the bus lane cameras. The thing in Glasgow is really keep clear of the bus lanes as if they are made of radio active shark infested custard. The signing for them could be better, and they are active 24/7 it seems. Keep an eye on the signs and treat any thing that looks like a bus lane with suspicion. I have a few colleagues who've been clobbered by them.

Posted by
37 posts

We were planning to wait until Day 2 to rent the car, just to give ourselves a chance to get used to things before throwing ourselves on the blade. But now I am doubly glad, after hearing that about driving in Glasgow. Do we need to get tickets now for the theater in Pitlochry, or can we wait until day of?

Any advice about Mull as far as: should we spend the whole day driving around and seeing the sites, or better to spend our time on a boat looking for whales (and probably looking back at Mull from the water)? Seems like we kind of have to choose between them, because the whale trip will take most of the hours that are not spent in travel back and forth. I think we have decided against Iona for this trip.

Also, have had contemplative rumblings about whether we should stay an extra night in Inverness (that would be 3) and skip the night in Pitlochry? I wish we had an extra 10 days like some of the lucky people in these posts! We don't like rushing from one place to another, but can hardly be helped unless we are content to only see a few places.
Thanks to everyone for all the great feedback :)

Posted by
1292 posts

For driving Glasgow does have something our North American friends may understand. A grid system. However the city centre is quite compact so Shank's pony will suffice for getting around.

Glasgow is also blessed with one of the best public transport systems in the UK outside London.

Posted by
5562 posts

As for the tickets, it depends on the show likely. I bought mine in advance, but picked them up at the box office that day.

There is a lot to see on Mull. Do you live somewhere in the US where you can see whales? I've seen them off Cape Cod and so much as I love them I did the trip to Staffa--Fingals Cave--and Iona. It was a very long day, but really lovely. I drove down in the AM from Tobermory--hour and a half if I remember right and caught a tour. They take you by boat to Staffa, and then after an hour or so back to Iona. Then ferry you back to Mull where your car is parked.

If you don't want to do this, there are two castles--one very old and one more recent. You pass the really old on the ferry on the way to Mull from Oban. It's beautifully situated to watch for viking galleys! They had some wonderful stories about the castle history.

Good that you were delaying the car. You really don't need it in Glasgow or Edinburgh for that matter. :)

Pam

Posted by
600 posts

I agree with Pam. Given the choice, I would choose exploring one of the islands over whale watching. The landscape of those islands are so beautiful and unique, and I think there would be other, better places for whale watching, even domestically. No matter what you do, I'm sure it will be lovely.

Posted by
5562 posts

And just because you stay on land doesn't mean you should ignore the wild life. Check out this show from PBS on the Eagles of Mull.

Pam

Posted by
37 posts

Lol! Love the term Shanks pony! Had never heard it before and had to look it up :)

Great advice all around. I will look into the trip to Staffa - Fingal's Cave - Iona, sounds interesting. I know I can see whales here off the coast of Oregon (2 hours away), I just always seem to visit the coast at the wrong time for it! Thank you all so much, you have helped tremendously with these little problems that have been niggling at me for months.

Posted by
977 posts

If you have a bit of flexibility with your itinerary, having just returned from the UK and having spent 9 days driving around Scotland(no where near long enough!!!) try to organise a day/night in the Glencoe area. We called our tour of Scotland, 'The Look at that Tour' It was truly breathtaking scenery, Glencoe and surrounding areas, was at the top of the list. As you are doing Oban, try to fit Glencoe into that part of your trip.
If driving through Appin on your way from Oban, treat your selves to a stop at the Castle View Cafe on top of the hill overlooking Castle Stalker.

Posted by
37 posts

Thank you for the great feedback Judy. We are definitely planning a sightseeing stop in the Glencoe area on our way from Oban to Skye. From the map, it appears as though we could probably make another day trip to Glencoe while staying in the Ft William area, if time permits.

After spending time planning our Edinburgh visit, I guess we will probably skip St Andrews this time, in favor of seeing more of EDI. It doesn't appear that 4 days will begin to do it justice!