6 or 7 nights in Scotland

I am beginning to think about our next trip to Europe for probably May 2014. I looked at Rick's 10 day map but we will only have 7 nights, at best. I need ideas for an itinerary. Flying in to Edinburgh. Are places as easily accessed by train, as in the rest of Europe? We really are not interested in renting a car.
We are an active couple , mid-50's. not into museums, unless it is raining. Thanks

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2846 posts

We've 'done' much of Scotland by train many times. There are some areas that are not as well served, but you can see and experience a great deal (and watch some lovely scenery go by, too, without the worry or expense of driving).
We like to go from Edinburgh to Aviemore, stay 2-4 days there (if you like outdoor activities then more time maybe). Aviemore is in the Cairngorm mountains. You can take the funicular up Mt. Cairngorm, or hike some of the trails. There is a microbrewery that gives tours (and samples) and Aviemore makes a good base for some day trips to distilleries, Blair Athol and Blair Castle. The Rothmurchie Estate has canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, etc. There is also a restored steam train that does round trips along the Spey River (lovely, peaceful!). Then we take the train to Inverness. We have stayed anywhere from 3-5 nights. It also makes a great base for many day trips (and it has the best Tourist Information Offices I've ever seen). You can even do a (long) day trip up to Orkney from there. You can take a cruise on the firth and one on Loch Ness with a stop at Urquhart Castle and Drumnadrochit village. There are day trip to Isle of Skye and Eliean Donnan Castle, the Great Glen, Glen Coe, and other lovely sites.

Posted by Christy
Macon, GA, USA
108 posts

Thanks, Toni,, that should give me a good starting place for planning.

Posted by Kathleen
Camano Island, WA, usa
331 posts

Gee...I want to go on Toni's tour right now! We have been to Scotland 2 times...once in April...rainy...once in September...fabulous weather. Since you are only going for 6 days you probably won't miss having a car. We drove both times because we love staying in Farm B & Bs and going to out of the way Castles. Now that we are getting older I might enjoy someone else taking care of us. Do go to Edinburgh Castle even though it is really a Military Museum. Lady Stairs House is fun too. Have fun!

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

All fine and dandy to get to the "bases" by train. However, the base will be useless without a car.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7973 posts
Posted by Kathleen
Camano Island, WA, usa
331 posts

I think I hinted that if you actually want to see Scotland away from the towns that it is best to drive a car. They have few trains north of Edinburgh. Did you know that Scotland is supposed to be less densely populated than most of the other European countries because of topography: Mountains and Lochs and the climate which is like Southern Alaska.This is why so few trains. I bet if you check you will find that depending how many are in your party and the size of your auto it is cheaper than the train. Unless you want the train experience...but remember time is worth money too. It is sooo nice to come and go as you please.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2846 posts

I have to disagree... You can see and experience a great deal of Scotland without having to drive yourself. Use the train to get from one base to the next (you can actually watch the scenery and not worry about driving on the 'other' side of the road, shifting with the 'other' hand, driving on some ONE LANE roads, driving through VERY lonely places that may or may not have cell phone service (and good luck finding a place to stop with a phone and help), and paying the very high petrol (gas) price and looking for the scarce and also expensive parking). Use tour companies that use small vans for day trips. You can actually enjoy the ride that way. If you REALLY LOVE driving, and the things I mentioned above don't bother/worry you, then go ahead. But don't skip Scotland, or think you can't really see and enjoy without driving.

Posted by Christy
Macon, GA, USA
108 posts

Thank you all for your input... This is all very valuable to me with my planning.. More research definitely in order.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Again, the key word here is "base". Yes, you can travel from city/town to another via train. But how will you get to areas outside the base. For instance, from Inverness, how will you efficiently get to Culloden, Cawdor, Loch Ness, etc.?

Posted by Marty
Rockville, MD, USA
70 posts

David asked how to get from Inverness to Culloden. According to the Culloden website, "There is a public bus service (12) which leaves from outside the main Post Office in Inverness in Queensgate and which goes to Culloden battlefield." The Drive Yourself versus Public Transportation versus Hired Transportation has been discussed here many times. In my opinion you will need to look at the plusses and minuses and see what is more important to you. Stress-free travel? Saving time? Saving money? Visiting a lot of rural areas? You don't have a lot of time so you will have to read about the sights and decide which ones are important to see this trip. Some of the train rides are incredibly scenic if the weather is nice. http://www.scotrail.co.uk/content/scenic-routes.html Have a great trip!

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7973 posts

Toni has her route. It has merit and it suits her - - great. Otherwise, there's just a bit of exaggeration: Shifting is muscle memory, you can do it with either hand (if you're right-handed you can get a beer to your face with your left hand without a great deal of mental anguish). One-lane roads have little passing spots which everyone uses very courteously. The novelty of driving on the left wears off in ten minutes. I've never been out of phone service by more than a couple of hills and that's in the really outback. Scotland is lonely and desolate, that's part of it's beauty. A day trip from Inverness to Portree must be at least three or four hours each way. If it's three hundred miles from Glasgow to Thurso, gas will stiff you all of sixty bucks. Continuing with David's thought and since I never, ever exaggerate, among the first timer's 'must sees' after the Royal Mile, Stirling, Arthur's Seat, and the Edinburgh castle, but not served by train are: Cape Wrath Mull Head the Callanish circles #Scara Brae John O'Groats the Fort Augustus locks the drive along the north side of Loch Tay Ullapool *etc In fairness, however, the most excellent grub and beer at McKays in Pitlochry is only five minutes from the train station.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2846 posts

While many of the sites mentioned cannot be 'seen' INDEPENDENTLY without a car, most, if not all, are part of day trips offered by the many excellent tour companies in Scotland (especially those based in Inverness, in my experience). I just don't want someone to NOT go to Scotland if they don't want to drive. You can see and experience much of it without driving yourself. If you are comfortable driving in the UK, more power to you. It's just not something we were willing to do. Yet we still LOVED our trips there (more than 40 in just over 20 years of travel).

Posted by Betsey
New England
269 posts

I've made four trips to Scotland, so far, and the fifth one (fingers crossed) next April. I am having a blast on my trips and no plans to rent a car (when stressed, my left/right reactions start to go haywire - I really don't want to experience something going wrong from the stress of driving on the "wrong" side of the road and on streets unfamiliar to me!). The day I can't figure a way to get to something that I want to see, then I will have to re-evaluate, but with so much to see and do that is available by either public transport or mini-bus tour, I think that I will be happy for many more trips. The internet is such a great friend for trip planning. Seven nights really isn't that long to be in the country. Browse the tourist web sites (ex: http://www.visitscotland.com/) and list all the interesting stuff (interesting for you, I mean). Pare down to what you can actually do comfortably on your trip and then you'll also see if your choices require more access than public transport. Cheers,
Betsey

Posted by Simon
Gloucester, UK
17 posts

Hi Christy - yes, you can do Scotland without a car. There is an airport bus from Edinburgh Airport to Waverley Station in the heart of Edinburgh (they are building a tram line which just may be open by May 2014, but may not be). Edinburgh itself is pretty compact and, of course, has black cabs which you can hail. It also has a good bus service. There is also a bus out to the village of Roslin, where Rosslyn Chapel can be found. You can also get the train to such historic places as Linlithgow and Stirling. Take the Highland line from Stirling to Inverness. There are a number of pretty places along the way - the village of Dunkeld, Pitlochry (which has a nice theatre). The scenery is beautiful, and you have much more time to enjoy it than when driving. You can also get the train from Inverness down the Great Glen, alongside Loch Ness to the Kyle of Lochalsh. From Kyle, get the bus to Skye, and around Sky, and travel back from Skye by the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, which is a pretty fishing port. From Mallaig, take the West Highland Line (which has THE most fabulous scenery of any rail line I've ever been on) to Fort William. From Ft Wm, carry on to Glasgow - more wonderful scenery, and the trip over the desolate Rannoch Moor. Glasgow itself has great museums - Kelvingrove, the Burrell Collection, and one of the few intact mediaeval cathedrals in Scotland. And thence to Edinburgh. So yes, you can do it by rail.