Please sign in to post.

Scotland Highlands - Best Central Location

Our family of 5 will be in the Scotland Highlands in late June for 7-10 days. We prefer, when practical, to rent a cottage for a week and do day trips to various points reachable by car within a reasonable amount of time (2 hours each way is usually our max). We're looking for dramatically beautiful vistas more than beaches or pubs. The occasional cute village or castle is always a plus, but it's more about the vistas and potential for great photo-ops and rewarding short hikes. I don't really feel like I have a handle on where a good central location would be for the cottage rental that would maximize the scenery without creating too much driving time. Of course, given six full days to drive in different directions over various loop routes, we also want to touch upon as much of the Highlands as is practical.

I can read a map well enough, but any opinion based on personal experience would be greatly appreciated. Thank you...

Posted by
3419 posts

While we tend to stay in hotels and use trains (and some local buses) to do day trips (we also use local day tour companies), we found both Aviemore and Inverness to be excellent bases. Lots to see and do! There are plenty of apartments or cottages you can rent in either place, or find somewhere in between (they are about 45 min. apart by train). You might consider splitting your time between them, too.

Aviemore is in the Cairngorm National Park and is a lovely small village. There are hikes and walks, the funicular up/down Mt. Cairngorm, a restored steam train that does round trips along the Spey river so you can see the countryside, a heather center, a reindeer preserve, a local microbrewery that gives tours, and the Rothmurchie Estate has canoeing, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities. It is also a good base for day trips to some of the best whisky distilleries as well as places like Blair Athol and Blair Castle. We've stayed at the Cairngorm Hotel. It's right across the street from the train station in the middle of the village. Looks like a miniature castle on the outside and a hunting lodge inside. Their restaurant/pub serves marvelous food.

Inverness is a wonderful small city with nice walks along the river. They also have the best Tourist Information Office I've ever experiences and some great day tour companies. You can visit Isle of Skye and see Eleann Donnan Castle, cruise the firth to see dolphins and puffins, or cruise up the River Ness to Loch Ness and stop at Urquhart Castle and Durmnadrochit (the village at the top of the loch with all the Nessie stuff), drive and walk the Great Glen or Glen Coe, visit Ft. William or Ft. Augustus, even do a long day trip to Orkney. There are lots of other things to do, too.

Posted by
1133 posts

Try the Inverness forum on tripadvisor.com. Lots of experts there plus do a search on that forum for weekly rentals. We stayed about 8 miles from Inverness but in a hunting lodge in the fall. Check out lhhscotland.com or www.unique-cottages.co.uk/cottages/highlands. I found both sites on a search on the Inverness forum.

Posted by
9110 posts

You first need to divide the highlands in two for this short a time. The line is the Great Glen / Caledonian Canal. Then keep in mind that the vistas are going to be either from the coast or interior higher elevations, but, in the interior, the communities are down in the valleys.

To the north, the most spectacular areas are either the Outer Hebs or the Orks. They're way the hell and gone, however, and neither ferry is cheap. Staying on the mainland, Ullapool would work great, but it's on the far end of the stick - - so far that you'd never make it to any of the tourist places.

To the south, Ballater puts everything within striking distance, but you'd have to find a place to stay at a higher elevation in the Cairngorms - - I've seen them but never paid much attention. Pitlochry would work as well but is also down in the valley.

Fort William is a long stretch to Edinburgh. Aviemore is the last place I'd stay for any reason.

Posted by
1525 posts

Thanks for the suggestions so far!

Ed;

We were in Scotland, in and around Edinburgh twice before - pretty much covered that corner of Scotland. This time we're focusing just on the Highlands. I never really considered the Cairngorms area. I'm sure it has appeal, but one place I definitely wanted to touch upon was Skye. So I want to base within driving distance of that (even if it would make for a long day). That pretty much limits us to the Western side of the divide. The question then really is just where within that pocket roughly between Loch Ness and Skye would be best - more Northerly of more Southerly.

We will also have a couple of days after the Saturday-Saturday cottage stay to see either the "top" around Durness and Ullapool or a quick look at the Oban area and Glasgow - depending on which we think (and others think) is the more notable attraction.

Keep the ideas coming (particularly if I'm off base on not giving the Cairngorms more attention)...

Posted by
9110 posts

Randy, I'm wracking my brain. I've spent two months in the highlands just this year, but the need for scenery/vista at the base camp is throwing me.

The drive along the Caledonian is going to disappoint you, especially in the summer, since the strip between the roads and the lochs is so full of trees that you can't see the water very often. I haven't been out to Skye since before they built the bridge, so no help there.

Gut shot is the Fort William end for a better road hub, maybe a bit south toward Glen Coe or Ballachulish where you're either down on the water or up higher where it's more barren. If you want to get into the middle of the loch chain, Fort Augustus is interesting for the boat traffic through the staircase of locks.

Loch Lommond and The Trossachs National Park has areas that are more spectacular than the Caringorms and I've seen cottages up in there. If you're out dorking around, the drive along the high road on the north side of Loch Tay is an eye-buster.

Where in the heck is Pam?

Posted by
837 posts

I have been to most of the areas mentioned. Of the suggestions you have had, I most agree with Ed. First of all, in my opinion, Skye is overrated. I don't recall that it had things to offer, not available in other areas of the highlands. Nonetheless, with 7-10 days, you could certainly spend a couple of days there. I agree with Ed that Aviemore has little to offer as a town. It may, however, have "things to do" as described by Toni. Inverness is a decent place to stay with many nice B&Bs and restaurants. There are many things to see nearby, most far more interesting than Culloden (unless you have particular interest in the Scot-English conflicts). But, my choice would be Pitlochry. It permits day trip access to everything from Balmoral to Glencoe to Inverness. Skye would be the outlier. If you have a strong interest in that area, I would suggest staying there for a night or two.

Posted by
1525 posts

Ed,

Perhaps to clarify; I'm not overly concerned with the picturesque setting of our lodging. Nice view is a plus, of course. I'm more concerned that it is best situated logistically to reach various "best-of-the-Scottish-Highlands" points by car.

And I'll confess that I'm also a bit confused by several of the responses (not just yours) that seem to point to locations that lie somewhat on the edge of what I understood the "Highlands" to mean. Every supposed map of the Highlands I've seen suggests the center (if you can find the center of such an oddly shaped area) would lie just slightly West of Inverness.

But the geographical center of course does not necessarily mean its the best base. I get that. I'm just a little puzzled by how far away from that point some of the suggestions so far, are.

Posted by
3419 posts

Randy, Much of the highlands are vast stretches of moors and mountains. It is very thinly settled except for Inverness and some small towns and an occasional village. Especially north of Inverness it is very 'deserted'. the places I mentioned can all be done as day trips from Inverness, Aviemore, Kingussie and probably from Pitlochary and other, similarly located towns/villages. While some here disagree, I find Aviemore a great place to visit. Yes, it is a bit like a ski resort town- because in the winter it is one. But the people are great and it is well located. There's enough shops (including a butchers and a grocery)and a tourist info office.

Posted by
9110 posts

Geologically the line is the Highland Boundary Fault which runs more or less from Largs to Dunnotar. Culturally, you have to include Arran and the Kintyre Peninsula but lop off the bulge of eastern Aberdeenshire. After that the arguments start based on counties that no longer exist, clan boundaries, kilt-wearing, and language. I stick with the geology. Tourist guidebooks seem to think it's everything north of the Glasgow-Edinburgh line including Stirling and Dundee. To me the center of mass for the mainland portion is maybe the intersection of lines running south from Inverness and east from Fort Augustus.

I'm a bit more than a casual tourist in the area and I've only traveled it by car with a couple of inconsequential exceptions. My idea of the best won't match anybody else's unless they share my nutty interest. I've tried to give you road hubs (by time if not by distance) first followed by maybe too heavy an emphasis on lodging scenery.

Revising, if Skye remains in play, it's Fort William. If Skye is out, it's either Pitlochry or Ballater . If you want to emphasize the three northernmost mainland counties it's Inverness. Staying in Inverness otherwise without and over-riding reason doesn't make much sense since you can drive from Fort William to everwhat the tourist trap town is downhill from the monster museums right near Urquhart.

If I had time to park my butt for a week and just have varied hiking with a camera it'd be either Kirkwall or Stornoway.

Posted by
1549 posts

Randy,
We are now planning out trip to Scotland in Sept of next year. So this information is based on my research, not actual experience. I'll look forward to your family blog next summer.

I was looking for the origin of Golden Retrievers as an interesting and relevant place for my husband and I to visit (we have two Goldens) and came across Tomach Holidays; rents cottages. I think is within your budget for your family. Looks like is 30 minutes to the shores of Loch Ness and less than 2 hours from Inverness and Fort William (based on google maps. May be a bit off the beaten path, but a fun place to go hiking and exploring. And you would be only 1.7 miles from the "Golden Retriever" house ruins.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2391957/101-dalmatians-Theyve-got-222-golden-retrievers-gather-outside-Highland-house-originate.html

http://www.tomich-holidays.co.uk/

Posted by
1525 posts

Toni;

Vast tracts of moors and mountains largely unsettled seems very appealing to me, though I know it may not to others :)

Ed;

Thank you for sharing your time and experience with me. I will be looking more closely into the locations you suggested and trying to figure out what my priorities are. That's the tough part.

Karen;

You won't believe this, but I have the Tomach Holidays lodging bookmarked on my computer already. I just ran across it about three days ago. You are right that it seems affordable and has a certain "wow" quality to it that we always aspire to. The only drawback is that it is located about 20 minutes off the main road, therefore adding 20 minutes (in each direction) to virtually everywhere we attempt to go. We'll have to weigh the pros & cons. Would your trip to Scotland be a first trip, too? Feel free to share any more info you come across in your research.

Posted by
3419 posts

Randy,
Not trying a bit to discourage you- I love the moors and mountains and 'deserted' areas. Just wanted you to know that there aren't many/any places to STAY/RENT there. Those are around the villages/towns/cities. The trouble, as you've found, is deciding which one to pick.

Posted by
5563 posts

It sods to me like you really want the northwest of Scotland. There are several ways you could go. And indeed, you might want to divide it in two. Certainly there is the area near Skye. The Island is wonderful, you could base yourself in Plockton and from there can get to the Applecross area, which i've only seen in rain, but is wonderful and you can go further south to Skye or north toward Achnasheen. The Torridon area is beautiful and has lots of walks. You could get up as far as Loch Maree and Gairloch. There is an amazing garden just north of Gairloch.

Another area to consider would be Ullapool. There wonderful hikes in the Ullapool Hills and Inverpoly is really wonderful. Stac Poly is amazing and Suilvan is a mounting that just stands. You could of course, go South to Gairloch from Ullapool. We did a drive around the top of Scotland and spent the night in Lochinver. The drive we did the next morning out toward the Point of Stoer was unbelievable. Rock, rugged, the rocks almost inserted themselves into the road. I have not explored the area along the A837 toward Lairg, but it looks promising.

Further north yet, is Durness and then across the top in Tongue, Betty Hill and then Thurso. There wasn't much in Tongue, but oh my, the scenery! We did not catch the trip to the Cape of Wrath, which I deeply regret, but the cliffs and the mounts are stark and wonderful. The sands are amazing. This is Sutherland, and my family has ties to this land. The lochs are where the convoys assembled for the North Atlantic crossing. There is a wonderful book, The Sutherland Trail by Cameron McNeish which is about their journey through Northwest Scotland. I recommend it. Tongue is a nice little village. It has a great little hotel. Betty Hill is not far and that drive is wonderful. Betty Hill has a museum for the Clearances. And a very good thing to check out is Strathnaver. It had villages that were cleared and you can walk around in the area and see where the houses were etc. Thurso, is the ferry port and by the time you are there you are in Caithness.

You could alternatively base yourself in the Strathpeffer area. We used to do this all the time for my walking trips and from there you can do day trips to most of these places except the ones to the far north. And from there you can go east to Dornoch which is a different landscape, but beautiful. And, you can easily get to Glen Affric from there!

I had to open up my Tourist Highland Map to make sure I thought of everything. I wish I could have you here at my dining room table looking at it. It's covered with highlighted lines to where we took many of our walking trips.

PM or just ask more questions if you want more detail. I really liked the Foot Print Guide forf Scotland. I am sure that's where I read about the road near Lochinver.

One thing to remember, it all takes a bit longer than you think, as the roads are very wee, and there are such great views that you keep stopping.

Pam

Posted by
1525 posts

Pamela;

Wow, what a wealth of specific information on the far north! I just did a drive out to the Point of Stoer - thanks to Google Maps street view! Gorgeous! I'll be looking into some way to do a loop over the top - maybe just after our week-long stay somewhat farther south. It looks like a great area for a introvert like myself to get lost for a month. I'm not sure how much the rest of the family will get out of it, however. I'll get back to you if I have any more questions about specifics.

Posted by
1549 posts

Randy,
I know you and your family enjoy hiking, so here's a link to a website I found with lists of Highland's walks. You probably already found it, but just in case....

Highland Walks

Posted by
1525 posts

Karen,

Thanks so much for the link. No, I had not seen it before. It seems like the perfect source. I love walks long walks. The family likes short walks (less than an hour, probably), so we have to compromise.

Posted by
5563 posts

Randy, if you need some short walks here are a few suggestions.

Ullapool Hills. It's a great walk and not long. The views are spectacular. You can climb to the top for even more spectacular views, but you don't have to. flyer

Loch Ness. The Falls of Foyers are nice. You can hike all the way down or only to the view of the falls and then go back up. On the north side of the loch is Abriachan Forest where there are lots of trails that should be in your time frame. Great views of the loch and nice woods.

Further north in Sutherland is Strathnaver which is a glen that was "cleared." Here's the flyer on the glen.

Gairloch has a wonderful beach and other walks.

Pam

Posted by
1525 posts

I appreciate all the suggestions and links everyone provided. I just wanted to let everyone know we have chosen our location for our 1-week rentals in both Scotland and Ireland on our trip this summer. You can read about it if you wish on our travel blog.

Posted by
5563 posts

Looks like a great find for Scotland. You are perfectly positioned to go east, west, north and south. Watch the weather the night before, because it really can vary in Scotland. If you see a good day in the West, grab it, as the weather tends to be better in the East more often.

Pam