A perfect town in the Scottish Highlands

Hello. My husband and I plan to spend 5 days in the Scottish highlands in September (in addition to 2 days in Edinburgh). We are the kind of travelers who like to stay in one or two locations and take side trips rather than drive to a new place every night. We are looking for a wonderful village in the highlands to make our home base. We realize the highlands covers a large area, and we just want to experience the best of it...not all of it. Our fantasy "perfect town" must be on the coast and scenic, and have a nice B&B that's not over-the-top expensive but has very friendly hosts. Most of all, we want to experience the authentic highlands, getting to know people and the culture. We love folk music and storytelling, but not the made-for-tourist shows. We would enjoy a private guide who might be able to tell us stories about the places we see. We are not huge history buffs, and we don't want to spend a lot of time in museums, but we do love the storiesboth true and legendsthat go with a place. Does anyone have a suggestion? Or am I just dreaming to think there is a perfect town? Thank you!
Carolyn from Houston

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7822 posts

Sounds like "Brigadoon", lol , sorry not helpful , but I hope someone can suggest a place as it sounds idyllic

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3308 posts

One option is one of my favorite hotels, The Anderson in Fortrose on the Black Isle. To be honest there is not much to the town, but The Anderson is great. And you can see the Moray Firth and is a sweet little town. The advantage is that you can get to the west, to the south (Cairngorms) the north and even the east from there very easily. We used to stay in Strathpeffer at the Richmond. The hotel has been through some ownership changes. Strathpeffer is an interesting Victorian Spa village. It's a destination for retiree tours, but they all stay in the big hotels, so no worries. Before choosing this hotel check on local restaurants as there weren't many choices and the hotel seems to only serve on weekends. You might also look at these towns: Pitlochry, Aberfeldy, or Dunkeld in Perthshire. Beautiful country and lots of easy day trips. They aren't coastal. For coastal you might want to look at Plockton, Gairloch or Ullapool. The down side is that the day trips are wee bit more limited. Pam

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2846 posts

Our coastal 'base' was Inverness- not a village, but a great city and a wonderful base for day trips. From there you can see Elien Donnan Castle, Isle of Skye, Glen Coe, The Great Glen, Ft. Agustus, or do a very long day trip up to Orkney. Our favorite 'Highlands' village is Aviemore. It's in the Cairngorm mountains and is a good base for day trips to places like Blair Castle, the Speyside whiskey distilleries (like Dalwhinnie, Belvinnie, and many others), see the Heather Center, a reindeer preserve, take hikes, etc. There's lots to do there- a restored Steam Train that makes round trips along the Spey River, the funicular up Mt. Cairngorm, tours of the local microbrewery (they give samples, too- try the Blessed Thistle or the Golden Cairngorm- hubby's favs).
Kingussie or other nearby villages would also make good bases.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Anyplace on the coast is going to be one one side of the area, and thus inconvenient to make trips to all sectors. I would suggest Pitlochry as being fairly central, offering access to Oban/Glencoe to the West, Aviemore to the north and even Inverness to the northeast. The Craigatin House and Courtyard is a wonderful b and b serving a marvelously sophisticated breakfast. Martin is a wonderful "tour advisor" and can help you with ideas and directions.

Posted by Carolyn
Houston
6 posts

Thank you to everyone who responded, but i wasn't clear enough in my question. We don't want to tour the Highlands from one home base. We don't want to spend more than one or two hours a day driving. We want to experience fully one corner of the Highlands and immerse ourselves into the culture of one lovely small town that is quaint and not a tourist Mecca. Somewhere no tour busses stop. Does anyone have a favorite quaint, scenic small town somewhere on the coast in the highlands where there is a good B&B, a nice friendly pub, but not a ton of tourists? Perhaps on an island? If there was a pebbly beach nearby where one might find sea glass that would be perfect! Also, we don't want to see a dozen castles, but we would love to visit one or two really lovely ones enroute. Does anyone have a favorite castle? We are not interested in visiting Loch Ness or battlefields, but I do want to experience a moor enroute.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7973 posts

Inverary, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Brodick, Thurso, Ullapool, Talbert. Not all have everything, but they're all pretty close to checking the boxes. Inverary is the most touristy and the loch is at least tidal. Probably none are in many guidebooks. I'm not so sure I'd chase myself all the way across Skye and up the islands to get to Lewis. There's a perfectly good ferry that runs from Ullapool to Stornoway.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3308 posts

You could think about Mull. I surprised Monte hasn't come on to suggest Islay. : ) I think I would go to an Island. That's where you'll have the best experience. I really like Orkney, but it's a very scenery from classic Scotland, but it's a wonderful place to immerse yourself in. I don't know if I would do Kirkwall. I might do Stromness or one of the smaller towns on the Mainland or maybe St. Margaret's Hope. As I said Mull, Tobermorey would be a good place. If you really want to get away, think about Applecross. I think actually Ullapool, Gairloch or Plockton would all work. The ultimate place might be Inverie in Knoydart. The only way there is by boat or a very long, rough walk. I would suggest that you use the website Undiscovered Scotland to check out these different villages. BTW check out McPhee's book The Crofter and the Laird for life on an island. Pam

Posted by Carolyn
Houston
6 posts

Thank you all! I will check on these places online. What a wonderful RS community. I will let you all know about our trip when we return. Does anyone have a favorite Scottish castle? Carolyn from Houston

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7973 posts

'Does anyone have a favorite Scottish castle?' The ones in Wales? But I think the English built most of them. Eileen Donan is arguably the best looking/sited one.

Posted by John
Pantego, NC, USA
704 posts

Castle Mey is a 20 minute drive from Thruso, Scotland.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3308 posts

I love Stirling. The location, the history, the restoration all combine to make it wonderful. Check out Historic Scotland to learn more about castles. But I also enjoyed Castle Doune. You even could buy some cocoanuts. Glamis Castle was wonderful. I enjoyed the ghost story. Aberdeenshire has lots of castles. The medieval ones such as Kildrummy are mostly ruins, but the more recent ones are fascinating to visit too. I thought Corgarff Castle was interesting as was typical of what many tower houses and castles were like. It wasn't a Royal Castle or a Duke's or Earl's Castle. It was more primitive. And oh my what a beautiful view. Pam

Posted by Kacie
Cincinnati
13 posts

The Melvich Hotel in Thurso was wonderful. Beautiful area to explore, no tourists (well, us...), amazing food, northern coasts, private pebbly beaches that you get to by walking through the cattle and sheep pastures...perfect:)

Posted by Betsey
New England
269 posts

Hi, I don't know if this is a "perfect" town, but I sure loved my first visit and need a return trip. In the gorgeous seaside town of Stonehaven, I stayed with Frank and Anne at the Gleniffer, http://www.gleniffer-stonehaven.co.uk/ The fish and chips at The Bay (http://www.thebayfishandchips.co.uk/) were wonderful, and the strawberry tart at Robertson Bakers was absolutely delicious!! More Stonehaven info: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/stonehaven/stonehaven/ You'll just miss the season for a unique local attraction--the heated sea water pool--but nearby is the highly recommended Dunnottar Castle, http://www.dunnottarcastle.co.uk/ Cheers.

Posted by Marty
Rockville, MD, USA
70 posts

I second Ed's recommendation of Inverary. And my favorite castle is Castle Campbell near Dollar. We stopped there on our way from Inverary to Edinburgh (driving) and the hike up the glen makes a nice break. Have a great time!

Posted by Kathleen
Camano Island, WA, usa
331 posts

Check a folk festival schedule for September on line and that might lead you to your locations. It may not be in that scenic out of the way town...but if you are looking for music and culture that isn't just for tourists that could be what you are looking for...also university or college towns and churches may work. Otherwise most Scots are at home watching the telly. I also like Inveraray for convenience of location and fondly remember Dollar Castle for being a lovely out of the way place. By the way...if you are imagining "real medieval castles"...they are in Wales. Edinburgh Castle is a must see...even tho it is mostly a museum.