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Visiting the highlands, with kids, in late November

I'd like to start by thanking this wonderful community. I've already learned a lot from your ideas and suggestions to others. Clearly a lot of options when visiting Scotland, and my family could use some guidance to narrow them down.
Our kids are 8 and 10, and prefer to climb a rock vs look at old paintings. My wife and I love history, good food, and a good walk in nature or small towns.
We arrive in London on Nov 23, and then we're going to take a regional jet to one of the three airports, spend about six nights exploring whatever we can, and then return to London for another five nights before heading home to California.
I would like to get a taste of the "authentic" countryside, whatever that means.
We plan to rent a car to be more flexible.
Kids prefer a home base to return to rather than a new place to sleep each night.
We might be interested in a farm stay, but the late Nov options seem limited.

If we were to pick one home base in Perthshire or the Western coast to get to know for several days, which place would you recommend? Ideally also be a place that is nice for cozying up to a fire, with good pub or restaurant nearby.

Posted by
1971 posts

This sounds like a wonderful trip!

I have a suggestion that might just meet your needs. Consider making Dervaig on the Isle of Mull your home base. You can take the car ferry from Oban. This will be an exciting adventure for your young ones. Dervaig is at the northern tip of Mull, off the beaten tourist path. We stayed at a wonderful B&B that faced a gorgeous loch. They had an AGA stove ( and spent the evenings in the kitchen enjoying its warmth and helping the owners cook.

From Dervaig you can take a number of day trips. You can drive east to the charming village of Tobermory. It's a picture postcard of a Scottish Village. You can visit the Tobermory distillery while there. Also from Dervaig you can drive south along the western shore down to the Isle of Iona. The road is isolated and breathtaking. Once you get to Iona, you can take the ferry from Mull over to the monastery. There's a graveyard where a number of Scottish kings, including MacBeth are buried.

There are also standing stones and other prehistoric sites on Mull. In addition, there are whale watching expeditions. I first thought of your children and the wonderful narrow gauge railway at Craignure. Sadly the railway has permanently closed.

I think a lot of your plans will be tempered by the fact you will be there in November. It will be way off season and you may have limited choices of activities.

As an alternative, also look at Dunkeld and surroundings on the mainland. You can visit the Beatrix Potter museum and see the actual Mr. MacGregor's garden. The Birnam woods are nearby, where you can see mighty oak trees that stood when Shakespeare mentioned them in MacBeth.

Happy travels!

Posted by
3040 posts

In western Scotland, I suggest Inveraray. It is about 2 hrs from Glasgow airport, and you drive along the shore of Loch Lomond and then over a couple of mountain passes.

Inveraray castle is beautiful inside and out, and there are walking trails on the property. There is also the historic jail. Argyll Adventure, just south of the town, has horseback riding along the shore of Loch Fyne and paintball (but check if they're open in late November). The Auchindrain Township open-air museum is fascinating and, again, an excellent walking opportunity. You can drive to Kilmartin to see the cairns and carved stones, and if you drive to Tarbert you can walk up to the castle and there's a walking path out to the western coast. In Inveraray there are several good shops selling traditional woolens. Recommend Brambles B&B, the George Hotel for dinner.

Posted by
1503 posts

Just so you are aware, the general holiday season is over for the year, with most historic and tourist sites outwith the main cities now closed down for the winter or on very limited hours.

The other thing to remember as well, is the daylight is now in short supply as we tip into winter.

Posted by
5819 posts

I also prefer climbing a rock to looking at old paintings. While there is no wrong time to travel, just be prepared with the right clothing.

UK Regional Climate Northern Scotland:

...climate of Northern Scotland, comprising Highland Region, the Western
Isles, Orkney and Shetland.

The Atlantic Lows are more vigorous in autumn and early winter and
bring most of the rain that falls in these seasons.

Daylight hours can limit outdoor activities:

November 30:

Sunrise 08:27

Sunset 15:59

Dayllight 7 hrs, 32 min

Posted by
3040 posts

Another caution, if you're seriously considering Isle of Mull or another island destination: weather at that time of year is more likely to interfere with ferry schedules than it would in the warmer months. Seasickness aside, you don't want to get stuck on an island and miss your flight back to London.

Or are you driving to London after Scotland? That would be a 2-day drive if you're starting from anyplace in the highlands.

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks everyone for the feedback about suggested locations and lodging. We are now scrutinizing the options of Dunkeld, Inveraray, and Dervaig.

But as we say in America: the polls haven't closed-- so if you have another town suggestion, let us know. Our family has the potential to significantly increase the tourist income of a small town (for late November)-- so your vote does count!

Also thanks for the words of caution regarding Scottish weather. It might seem strange, but we are looking forward to a good storm, since they are as rare as castles in California. And if things get too cold and damp outside, we can always retreat to a wonderful B&B. So, back to my research....

Posted by
5819 posts

Carry headlamps on short daylight outdoor adventures. I've had to (unplanned) skied out with headlights on more than one occasion.

We Americans have our “Ten Essentials”. The Norwegian touring organization, “Den Norske Turistforening” or DNT for short, has a different set of “Ten Essentials”. The only item common to both lists is “map and compass”.

The American Ten Essentials are mostly equipment and gear oriented:

Map & Compass – may supplement a GPS unit. Remember, electronics and batteries may die unexpectedly
Extra Clothing (incl. gloves & socks)
Sunglasses and Sunscreen
Water and Extra Food
Flashlight or Headlamp – with extra batteries [new LED bulbs last nearly forever]
First Aid Kit and Space Blanket
Bivouac Gear – Closed-cell foam pad, Snow Claw shovel and 2 HD plastic garbage bags
Ski Repair Supplies and Tools – Duct Tape, Multi-purpose Tool/Pocket Knife
Whistle & Signal Mirror
Matches & Fire Starter – cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly make a great fire starter. Store about 30 balls in a plastic film canister. Put two or three cotton balls under your dry kindling and light

The Norwegian Ten Essentials are mostly thinking oriented Mountain Rules:

Do not go alone.
Do not set out on a long tour without training.
Tell someone where you intend to go.
Listen to experienced mountain folks.
Respect the weather and weather reports.
Be prepared for stormy weather even on short tours.
Bring a rucksack with mountain equipment (see American 10 Essentials above).
Bring a map and compass.
Turn back in time. There is no shame in turning back.
Conserve your strength. Dig down into the snow if necessary.

Jeff Renner writes in Mountain Weather (Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2005): “In the mountains, an accident and a mistake are different. Both can kill, but an accident may have been difficult in not impossible to anticipate. A mistake should never have happened.” Don’t make mistakes.

The Scottish connection:

Posted by
8615 posts

I agree that that is NOT a good time to be traveling to that part of the world. The conditions are likely to be uninviting at best, and the tourist infrastructure severely limited. I would urge you to reconsider. More research and a frank assessment of how you are likely to spend your time at that time of year are in order. Maybe you're wealthier than I, but I simply wouldn't have the vacation dollars to throw away on a trip that would likely see me fighting with transportation schedules and hunkered down in my lodging. We're not talking about one dramatic storm, we're talking about the possibility of days and days of unrelenting rain and wind and lots of darkness.

Posted by
5675 posts

This all feels a bit over wrought to me. Just because someone lives in California doesn't meant that they don't know winter. I think if you base yourself in Perthshire you'll have a lovely time. I do agree that there will be more to do in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but if your 8 and 10 year old are like my niece and nephew they will want to be outside. And I'm sorry, but the weather in Scotland in November is not the Antarctic. The average temp is above freezing! The hard part is that the sites are not open. That doesn't mean that you can't go for walks and explore the countryside. Of course, you have to do it within a smaller time frame due to the limited hours of sunlight, but to be honest, you'd face the same issues in the Adirondacks or the Sierras. Its that strange time between the fall and ski season. But I'm sure that you'll have a great time.

Posted by
8615 posts

I don't mean that it's the Antarctic -- I just mean that is unlikely to be very pleasant (and of course it might be glorious). While a gorgeous part of the world, the west of Scotland simply isn't the most hospitable in late November. If I were considering going there at that time and taking three members of my family, I would hope someone would warn me against spending my hard-earned vacation time and money in that way. Of course it's the OP's decision, but I would just hope that he would examine the prospect with wide-open eyes.

Posted by
1971 posts

The funny thing is that my wife and I would love to visit Scotland in the winter and experience the wild weather our ancestors endured.

Posted by
2588 posts

come in the summer and experience the weather your ancestors had to endure, can be pretty wild then too

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. We are headed to Scotland in just a few days, and we'll be sure to pack the right gear for cold and wet weather. Our last family trip was sea kayaking in Alaska-- so we understand the importance of being prepared. (Lots of chocolate) We've settled on a night in Glasgow at Adelaides Guest House, three nights in Inveraray at Brambles, and concluding with two nights in Edinburgh. Then we take the train south for five more nights with relatives in the balmy climes of London.

Posted by
8615 posts

Daniel, we want to know how your trip went!! Hope you had a good time and that all of us naysayers were off base !