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Wife and I are planning to travel to Scotland....

My wife and I are planning to come to Scotland for two weeks or more sometime between Middle of Aug to the end of Oct 2020. This is my first inquire into ideas for places to visiting and things to do. Figure I would give an idea of who we are and see if anyone on the forums might have some suggestions for us to start planning a trip around.

We are both outdoor people who enjoy hiking, camping, and above all else whitewater rafting. This entire trip idea came about when we were not able to secure a permit for some rivers in Idaho. I've briefly looked into rafting in Scotland and was able to find that there were a few rivers that are rafted. Anyone got any input on the rafting or know of an online forum on rafting in the UK? Not even sure it would be the right time of year.

We are really looking to do this on a tight budget as well. Not counting plane tickets my wife has set a budget of 7k US. Honestly, we have NO clue if this is high or low for 2 weeks but I don't want to spend more then 5k US for everything......Please side with me!

From what we were able to figure out last night, Cars are a lot cheaper to rent then in the US. Lodging seems to be over 100 US a night easy but we would be interested in camping or using the car as a base of operations. If we are able to get a place cheap in a small town off the beaten path, sign us up now!

What are the food costs like in Scotland? Would it be best to use a ice chest and buy our own food at the store?

Also, Can we even rent a car in Scotland without issues having just a US ID?

We would really like to check out of historical castles and ruins as well. My wife has just got done reading The Outlander series of books and I've had the pleasure of being addicted to history since I was a child.

What is the weather like during this time a year? Is it a dry season of the year or wet?

I've watched a video on youtube last night of a guy riding a dirtbike down some dirt roads....kings road or some sort. Is this something that is possible to do around this time a year?

How long does it take to travel from say.... Edinburgh to the northern most town in the mainland? I'm used to the open roads of the west while traveling and I don't think going 90 MPH is going to be the average speed.... Maybe 50 MPH average?

Thank you for any information and feel free to ask me any question you might think will help in us planning this trip.

Oh, We are 35 and 36 and have no issues hiking 4 or 5 miles at 800 feet elevation caring both kids. Not sure if that matters but I know next to nothing about Scotland and am trying to give you'll an idea of US.

O'Michael and Ginny

Edit!!

We want to spend at least 10 days out in the "country"... not big normal cities...we love meeting people.

Posted by
447 posts

First off read everything here on the website re Scotland under the "Explore Europe" and " Travel Tips" sections ( not just the forum). Then spring for the actual Scotland guide (latest version comes out in April). The guidebook will give you some budgeting guidelines, budget lodging and meal suggestions, etc. Also information on transportation like car rentals and entrance fees. Then make your plan and see if your budget is realistic.

Yes it's cheaper to buy food in a grocery store. Rick Steve is a big fan of picnicking in Europe and his guide will have suggestions for cheap eats.. I know in the larger cities there are plenty of options for premade meals (sandwiches, salads, etc) at the grocery and the department stores. I pack a kit with utensils, a thin cutting board (dollar store), paring knife and a couple of disposable plastic bowls.

Would not suggest going in Aug as it's the high tourist season and Edinburgh will be especially busy with the Tatoo going on.

Posted by
3944 posts

I would imagine that the best rafting would be in the spring when the rivers are swollen with the winter rainfall and boy are we getting some rainfall this year ( half the U.K. is currently on flood alert this weekend!). I have never seen requests for rafting on this forum, so Google is likely to be the most use.

September would be a better time to visit, once the schools return. Once you get out of the major cities, food can get to be expensive - eating out on Skye was more expensive than in London. Supermarkets are generally good value.

Premier Inns are good value accommodation in towns and cities, but twee B&Bs are expensive in popular tourist areas - £100+ per night for a double. Are you going to be bringing tents etc with you? Campsite fees can rack up as in many places you pay for the pitch and for each adult and child. For many sites, you need to be members of the Caravan Club or the Camping and Caravanning Club before you can stay on their sites.

The weather can be variable - expect some rain. I was last there in June and a local lady said it was the same temperature on 21 June as on the 21 December! I had daytime temperatures as low as 7 degrees in June.

The maximum speed limit on U.K. roads is 70 mph. It will take 6+ hours without stopping to get from Edinburgh to Thurso on the north coast using major roads. On Skye or the Ardnamurchan, expect to average less than 30mph.

Posted by
226 posts

To purchase plane tickets check Skyscanner which is an agregator that pulls in 30 plus sights i.e. Expedia, etc. There are no direct flights between the US and Glasgow.
According to my 2006 RSEs Great Britain guidebook, expect temps to hover between 52 degrees to 64 with an average of 15 days of no rain in Aug, 49 to 60 degrees with 14 days of no rain in Sep and 44 to 54 degrees with 14 days of no rain in Oct. The best weather is in May and Jun.
Keep in mind that today, 1GBP = 1.30USD making the United Kingdom one of the more expensive places to travel. Furthermore, driving is on the left and the steering wheel is on the right making driving more challenging. I checked travel.state.gov > International Travel > Country Information > Scotland > and did not notice that an international licence was mandatory.
If you're serious about going to Scotland, you should purchase RSEs guidebook. You can download an electronic version from his app. Someone replied saying an updated version will be available in the spring. but according to RSEs website his Scotland book won't be available until Oct'20. I would purchase the one that's available now.
It takes 5h 30m to drive from Edinburgh to the northern town of John O'Groats which is not very scenic. A good tour would be to fly in and out of Glasgow and spend the night before taking a direct train to Edinburgh for a couple nights before renting a car. You can then drive to East Nuek > St. Andrews > Dundee > Oban with boat trips to the isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa > Glasgow.

Posted by
1040 posts

Cars are a lot cheaper to rent then in the US.

Trains and buses are even cheaper.

Lodging seems to be over 100 US a night easy but we would be
interested in camping or using the car as a base of operations.

B&Bs can be a cheap option.

Posted by
128 posts

Time to come

Plan early -mid September as the worst of the holiday crowds will have gone home. Days are still long so you will have plenty of daylight. Check sunrise and sunset times for Edinburgh here.

https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/uk/edinburgh?month=9&year=2020

The further north and west you go, sunset is slightly later .

Weather is usually good (although you can never guarantee that!)

Travel distances

Don’t underestimate the time needed to drive between places. Distances may not seem far but will take a lot longer to cover than you might expect. Edinburgh to Thurso in the far north is 263 miles. Depending on traffic this is going to take 7-9 hours to drive PLUS stops. If using google maps to estimate drive times the usual advice is to add 25% to the times given. Once you leave motorways and main trunk roads, many roads are very slow and 30mph may be a reasonable estimate.

Hiring a car You won’t need a car for Edinburgh or Glasgow as public transport is good and parking expensive and a nightmare!

Make sure you rent from a reputable company. Arnold Clarke is recommended. Avoid Green Motion or Easirent which may look a lot cheaper but are notorious for hitting you with all sorts of excess charges. They get really bad reviews.

Accommodation

Premier Inn has already been mentioned. There is also Travelodge. These are both chains that offer cheap but good accommodation. The price is per room but doesn’t include breakfast. Think motel type accommodation but there is no fridge in the room and just a kettle. If booked well in advance you can get really good rates but most of the accommodation is on the edge of the larger towns and you won’t find it out in smaller villages.

It is sensible to book accommodation as soon as you have sorted out your itinerary. Places like Isle of Skye get booked up really early. Also the further you get from main settlements, the less accommodation there is anyway.

Food costs

Difficult to say. Supermarkets are the cheapest. More isolated settlements may only have a small village shop which will be a lot more expensive. Petrol garages often sell sandwiches if you are wanting a quick lunch. Your accommodation will be able to advise you where to eat or buy food.

Walking

All over Scotland! use this website to find walks. It is the best and also has decent maps marking the route.

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/

Road Atlas

Don’t rely on sat nave. Buy a decent road atlas. AA is one of the best with scale of either 3” or 4” to 1 mile. They are readily available once you arrive (supermarkets, petrol stations, cheap bookshops) or buy off Amazon.

Dirt bike riding

Have a look at the 7stanes mountain biking trails which have been developed in forests across the south of Scotland.
https://forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/activities/mountain-biking/7stanes

Glentress and Innerleithen will be the nearest to Edinburgh. They are graded according to difficulty with black and orange being the most difficult (and I mean that but if 'man' enough to try them, they are exhillarating!!). Many have cycle hire too.

White water rafting.

Lots of opportunities. Do a google search for white water rafting Scotland and it throws up lots of companies offering this (Too many to list)

Continued...

Posted by
128 posts

Ruined castles (and Abbeys)

You are spoilt for choice. Many of the properties are in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. Smaller, less visited places are free but there is a charge to visit those with a custodian. Have a look here.

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/explore-by-region/

If you are planning on visiting a lot of properties, it might be worth buying a pass which gives free admission to all their sites that charge. The Explorer pass is aimed at visitors and is valid for 3, 7 or 14 days. either buy in advance or at the first property you visit.
https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/explorer-passes/

One of the best websites on Scotland...

The Undiscovered Scotland website is one of the best, especially once you have decided on an area to visit. Start with the relevant map and follow the links to text pages with lots of information and pictures. This covers places the guide books have never dreamed about and there really are some hidden gems. I use it to plan all my trips to Scotland.

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/

I also like DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Scotland (pick up cheaply from Amazon. It doesn’t need to be the latest edition as long as you check current visiting information from the web). This has a wealth of detail along with some superb pictures and reasonable maps to get you started. It also covers many places ignored by the other guides.

AND FINALLY

Start to think about an itinerary. In two weeks don’t try and see everything! Allow plenty of time to relax and enjoy Scotland. It really does have the WOW factor. If coming off a long distance flight, allow at least one day to recover from jet lag - usually Edinburgh or Glasgow depending where you fly into. Hire a car when you leave them.

Don’t try and do too many one night stops as they give little time to see much of your destination and do take up a lot of time just unpacking and packing up again! Plan 4-5 main stops and use these to explore the surrounding area. Don’t be afraid to go to places not on the usual tourist itinerary. Enjoy your planning - this is your trip and you know best what is important to you. Just because I say you mustn’t miss..... doesn’t mean that you will love it as much as me!

Posted by
2 posts

Holy cow!

Thank you'll for the leads. Wife and I are going to spend some time digging into all those links.

I was already able to find some places to stay in our price range and they are out in small towns or the middle of nowhere... those are the kinds of places we love.

Just wanted to say thanks, ill be back with more questions soon.

Michael and Ginny

Posted by
3079 posts

Echoing what’s said above, it does rain in Scotland - expect rain, any time of year. One August, we were driving from Fort William (big mountaineering hotspot - not sure about whitewater) towards Edinburgh, through Glen Coe. Sunny start to the drive, then it absolutely poured. The fastest setting on the wipers could barely keep up with the deluge. And boy, did that slow down the traffic - we were part of a long line of cars and trucks, creeping along in the downpour.

And you’re prepared for driving on the left side of the road, steering from the right side of the car? Arnold Clarke worked well for us, price and service. We picked up our rental in Inverness and dropped it off at the Edinburgh Airport, just before flying home.

For what it’s worth, we’re planning on bicycling the relatively new John Muir Way, a trail that crosses Scotland from the east coast to the west (or vice versa). It appears to get a lot of hikers, and even equestrian users, and you can do sections or the whole thing. Appears some parts are gravel roads, easy passage, but there are more technical stretches, too.

Posted by
226 posts

RSs has two Scotland guidebooks. The second edition of his Scotland book will be available in Apr and his Best of Scotland comes out in Oct. You can learn more about each book on his website.

Posted by
16589 posts

The "Best of..." books are always less complete than the others. It would be no contest for me, but I believe the "Best of..." books have some color pictures.

Posted by
506 posts

We flew into Glasgow (not direct, changed planes in LHR), spend two nights there getting over jet lag, then drove our rental to Inverary. It's a lovely small town with a (relatively modern) castle and not too far from a prehistoric hill fort. After two days there we visited Edinburgh for two days and then Newlands (in the Borders). Never got to the highlands at all but we had only a week that trip. I mention it because I think you might like Inverary.

Try to plan at least two nights (three is better) at each stop to reduce the stress and waste of time that is packing, unpacking, and settling in. Keep an eye on the weather predictions and dress appropriately. It will rain some of the time. Take a look at the Trip Reports section of this forum to see where others have gone and to get a feel for what is a typical "pace" of travel for a relaxing vacation.

Hope this helps,
Marty

Posted by
226 posts

Hi Acraven, it does say “detailed” info, but my guess is the same as yours. The Scotland book probably cuts to the chase.

Posted by
16589 posts

You can find comparisons of the guidebooks right on this website, here. Click on "Is This the Right Book for Me?"