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Wandering Scotland, could use some advice

Hello all,
I have planned out what is probably my most complex trip ever and could use advice and input. I have not been to Scotland for 50 years, and I am sure things have changed - just a bit.

I have a few hard-set dates, so I will mention those up front:
My conference in Wales is September 4 and 5, so there is no getting past that. Also, I need to be in Rome, Italy, on September 12.
I have these reservations made:
-Ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick on August 19.
-Hotel in Lerwick, August 20, 21, and 22
-Hotel on Skye, August 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and September 1, and leave September 2.

What I am confused about is after I get off the ferry in Aberdeen, I want to get to Kyle of Lochalsh to pick up a car. Do I really need to overnight in Aberdeen (after the ferry) or can I get to Inverness and then on to Kyle of Lochalsh that day? Do I really need to overnight in three places (Aberdeen, Inverness, and Kyle of Lochalsh). I am happy to stay in one place until I go to Skye, but don't know if that is possible when I have two trains to take.
My other area of confusion is after I leave the rental car in Armadale, do I need to cross to Mallaig or overnight in Armadale. Do I need to skip right to Ft. Williams where I will catch the night train back to London?

All input is welcome!
Here is what I came up with in the wee hours this morning:
Trip to Scotland
Arrive in London when ever, date not important
August 18 -Caledonian Sleeper - London to Aberdeen
August 19 - Ferry Aberdeen to Lerwick
August 20 to 23 - Shetland Islands (need tours, have hotel)
August 23 - Ferry Lerwick to Aberdeen
August 24 - Aberdeen (need hotel)
August 25 - Train to Inverness (need hotel)
August 26 - Train to Kyle of Lochalsh (need hotel, need car)
August 27 to September 2 - Sligachan Hotel
September 2 - Check out of Skye hotel, drive to Armadale, turn in car (hotel in Armadale or after ferry in Mallaig, or after train to Ft. William)?
September 3 - Night train to London (need reservation)
September 4 - off to conference in Wales

Fairbanks, Alaska

Posted by
8653 posts

First, Over night trains are not what you think they are or seen on TV or in film.

Truly rethink those trains.

Secondly, Can’t help you with Accomodations as I’ve not have the privilege of visiting Scotland.

Third you should not move around so much. Hoping another poster experienced in Scotland travel can chime in and help you adjust your itinerary.

Posted by
1829 posts

I’m not sure that I agree with Claudia’s comment about overnight trains. They are an excellent way to save time travelling between London and Scotland.

Shetland - bus times and inter island ferry times can be found here. Check these out as you may well be able to reach most places by bus.

The other alternative might be to hire a car for your time there.

I assume you are catching the North link Ferry from Lerwick which is an overnight ferry and gets you into Aberdeen at 7am the next morning.

Make sure you book this early to get a bunk.

From Aberdeen you need to catch a train to Inverness and then a train to Kyle of Lochalsh. You can do this easily in one day. I haven’t got the times for August yet, but there is a train departing from Aberdeen at the moment at 8.22 which gets to Inverness at 10.33. There is then a 10.56 from Inverness which gets you to Kyle of Lochalsh at 13.35. The next train is 10.12 from Aberdeen which gets you to Inverness 12.23. You leave Inverness at 13.35 and arrive in Kyle of Lochalsh at 16.15.

Book ticket in advance using the Scot Rail website for the best rates.

Can I suggest something else - Use the three days you have between Aberdeen and Inverness to see something of the area. Possibly think about small town like Huntly, Elgin or Nairn as a base. Think about hiring a car at Aberdeen and using it to explore the area before heading to Skye. Check about a one way rental and drop off in Fort William (catch ferry back from Armadale to Mallaig) and then catch the sleeper back to London.

Hire from a reputable company - Arnold Clarke is one of the best. Avoid Green Motion or Easirent, who may seem a lot cheaper but are notorious for thumping you with extra charges.

Have you found the Undiscovered Scotland website? It is a wonderful source of ideas and I use it to plan all my trips to Scotland. Start with the map pages and follow the links to the text pages with lots of information and pictures.

Posted by
128 posts

Hi Claudia, and thanks for your input.

I enjoy night trains. I have been on them several times, in several countries. I also traveled by ferry when I lived in southeast Alaska.

Basically, I am traveling from London to the Shetland Islands (four days there), and then from the Shetland Islands to Skye (seven days there). This hardly seems like I a jumping around. I am adverse to flying, I chose to use the ferry and the trains for this reason.

As noted, my questions concern how much time I need from ferries to trains, both at Aberdeen and then again at Armadale.

If this forum is not for asking this type of questions, I do apologize and will remove my post if necessary.

Posted by
27081 posts

Your transportation questions are perfectly fine. I used last year to plan a trip to Scotland utilizing public transportation. During the planning phase there were a few occasions when it appeared that website's information on train schedules didn't match what I found on, which I believe is considered the best consolidated source of rail schedules. Therefore, I recommend verifying traveline's train information on the NationalRail website.

Posted by
128 posts

Thank you acraven and wasleys for your kind responses. I will certainly explore those excellent resources your mentioned, wasleys.

I have now reserved my overnight trains (between London and Scotland - both ways) and overnight ferries (to and from the Shetland Islands). I am feeling OK about my arrangements for the Shetland Island portion from London>Aberdeen>Lerwick and then Lerwick>Aberdeen. I didn't realize that one could travel from Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh in one day. So, I will definitely take advantage of those extra days to do some exploring.

I have a hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh and have applied for a rental car to drive around Skye. Now I just have to figure out if it is better to stay in Armadale after I turn in the car, go to Mallaig, or go on to Ft. Williams before I take the night train back to London at the end of my trip.

Posted by
4068 posts

I think for Sept 2, you just have to carefully check ferry and train schedules. The ferry is about 45 min and the train is about an hour 20 min. The two are very close in Mallaig. I am doing this in reverse in June. It should be doable to go all the way to Fort William - and you will have more options for a place to stay, be it a hotel or bed & breakfast.

Posted by
1114 posts

Hello dmae

Just to chime in on the Armadale, Mallaig, Fort William question. I would not advise staying in Armadale as options will be very limited indeed. It is a tiny hamlet with very few B&B options. Mallaig would be better, but still somewhat limited. If you can make the trains work, then I would head to Fort William and get a B&B or hotel there. You will have many more options both for sleeping and eating.

By the way, I think your other transport plans sound fine, and I applaud you for choosing the Caledonian Sleeper!

Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
3107 posts

I also disagree with Claudia, who says she has not been to Scotland.

I would definitely take the sleeper from London to Aberdeen!
I used to take it all the time when I was a student in Edinburgh years ago; and from what I see on YouTube videos of today's version, it looks just great., though much more expensive than in those days!
There is a sleeper between Ft. William and London, too, I believe.

There are lots more reviews on YT by different travelers.

Happy planning, and if you take the sleeper, please let us know how it was.

Posted by
132 posts

Can't help with your specific questions, but I just wanted to say that I took the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Inverness a few years back and loved the experience. I do recommend a set of earplugs though to help you sleep through the stops and people wandering by in the hallway. I had some, but my roommate did not and she said she woke up a couple times during the night due to noise. I've also taken trains all over Scotland and always enjoy the chance to relax and look at the scenery. Flying is much more stressful to me. Hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
128 posts

Hello travel people,

Thanks to everyone for their informative and kind responses. With your input and support I have made most of my reservations for travel (Caledonian Sleeper London to Aberdeen and Fort William to London), ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick and return. I have hotels set up in Aberdeen, Lerwick, Kyle of Lochalsh, Skye and Fort William. I have reserved a car at Kyle of Lochalsh to drop at Armadale. I am working on some dining reservations and tours. I still haven't decided what to do with those bonus days I acquired when I found out that I could get from Aberdeen to Kyle of Lochalsh in one day.

This travel board is wonderful.

Scotland - it has been 50 years but I am coming back!

Posted by
1018 posts

I have been on the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick. The ferry leaves around 7pm and arrived 7am next morning in lerwick. Same going back to Aberdeen. Make sure you reserve a bunk/ sleeper room if you don’t want to stay in the recliners overnight. Had an awesome time. Also , we rent car from bolts for the week

Posted by
128 posts

Hi Kim,
I have reserved a sleeping room on the Aberdeen / Lerwick ferries, both ways.

Thank you for mentioning it! Those seemingly tiny details can really put a damper on ones' vacation.