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Touring Scotland & Orkney Islands

I posted a couple of months ago and want to thank everyone for all the info you have shared with me about Scotland. I have my trip almost completed but I do have a few questions yet. I've planned on Oban area three days, one day of travel from Oban to Thurso spend night there. Travel to Orkney Isles next day for four days. One travel day to Cairngorm Mt. and three full days in that area. One day drive to Edinburgh stay for two days. I've spent time in Edinburgh so I think two days will be okay, I'm thinking of staying in Balmoral. I plan to do some hiking and sight seeing in the area. Drove thru Aviemore last time and it was rather crowded so I thought Balmoral might be better and a little closer to the trails. I see smaller towns in the Balmoral area any thoughts on that?

Thank you

Posted by
9110 posts

Nix Balmoral and stick in Ballater so you'll have something to do and a few choices of places to eat when you're done stomping the trails.

Nice pass on Aviemore.

At least walk the pedestrian drag for a leg-stretcher in Fort William.

Allow time to gape at the lock staircase in Fort Augustus - - the east side has the best view as well as a place to get coffee.

Be a sport and stop at one of the Monster joints. You'll come up the hill from Drumnadrochit village and hit a 'T' intersection. The one to the right with a pond and a stone or blow-up dragon in it is the best. In fact, it's really pretty good.

Don't break your neck getting to Thurso, but chug in before dark so you can scope out the route down to Scrabster so you don't have to hive it out in the dark if you're catching the first ferry. Don't eat in the Indian place in Thurso.

Breakfast on the ferry is pretty good, but be out on deck as you get close to Hoy so you can see the sea stack. Stay out coming in to Stromness and have your camera ready. The harbor is colorful and you'll have plenty of time to get down to your car.

You busted your butt on this one, huh?
Nice job!

Posted by
9110 posts

More thoughts.

Inverness to Thurso is just a two hour plus slog, but has stretches of great views onto the North Sea - - Tain is the last good coffee stop. Make sure you have a good load of gas as you pass Helmsdale.

But, if you're running sort of ahead of schedule, instead of swinging the corner on the far side of Inverness, you could hang a right for six or seven miles. Off to the left on the north side of the River Nain is the Culloden Battlefield and on the south side the Clava carin / Balnuaran stone circle. You can't move between the battlefield and the stones without going back down to the freeway (ten minutes each way ?).

The battlefield is interesting if you like that period of Scottish history.

The stones idea came up since you're headed to Orkney. The circle is not as impressive as either Brodgar or Stenness or the carin as good as Maeshowe, but it's the best complex I've seen that combines both features. Details here:

Posted by
5668 posts

Ed's given you some great advice. I completely agree with you about Aviemore. I just don't see the appeal. That said, Rothiemurchus which is outside of town offers some great walks. I completely agree with staying in Ballater--much better option. There is a wonderful gallery just above Balmoral Castle, the Knock Gallery. Go up for the views even if you don't buy. They often have lovely amber jewelry as well as original art and prints.

You've got a long drive from Oban to Thurso, but I think you know that. Ed's given you one distraction if you're ahead of schedule, I can give you a couple of others. Just past Tain, you'll drive over the Dornoch Firth. It's quite and expanse and quite impressive. On the other side, you could take a detour in to see Dornoch. There is a small cathedral and if you're a golfer there is a famous links style golf course. If you follow directions to the beach you visit the beach and catch a glimpse of the golf course.

If you are way ahead of time and like Castles, you drive right past Dunrobin Castle, the home of the Sutherlands. It has gorgeous gardens and the castle itself is good. If pressed for time don't worry about the museum in the garden, it's lot's of stuffed animals, some other natural artifacts and some other older cultural artifacts, but the gardens and the castle are what are worth the time.

And even if you are late, you can still stop and see the Broch just past Dunrobin. The Broch is on the right, but the parking is on the left. You can see it all in ten minutes and include a walk on the beach with a half hour stop. BTW lock your car as there are often gypsies in the parking lot.