I'm a 66 yr. old female, planning a first visit to Scotland's Highlands and Islands in late spring. I will be traveling alone and am on a fairly limited budget. My tentative thoughts; use public transportation, stay in B&Bs, choosing 3 to 4 towns as bases. Perhaps Oban (to see Iona), Mallaig/Arisaig (I love 'Local Hero') and Inverness. Any suggestions, please?
Why not try the Rick Steves Scotland tour? We have not done it but his tours are great. You will enjoy the Highlands and Inverness no matter how you decide to do it. Have fun.
I think also you'd have an easier time driving in the Highlands. For Iona, you will have to have a car or join a bus tour because the ferry is located on the very end of Mull (a long, twist and slow drive). I don't think there is any public transport there - if there is, it's limited and may only run in the summer.
You might want to consider spending a night on Mull, then starting for Iona early in the morning. It can be done as a day trip, but it's a long day - especially if you are driving - the roads are all one lane with pullovers (minus a mile or two) which requires very alert driving.
I think there's a small ferry from Mallaig to Skye, which would be a fun trip. Skye is gorgeous - even a day or two is worthwhile.
Just be careful to make sure you don't end up spending too much time travelling - spend at leat two or three nights in each place.
Thanks for your kind suggestions. I've visited Edinburgh, part of trip including London, York, Chester and Penzance-whew! Did it all on public trans. Thought I'd like a leisurely exploration of a smaller area, this time, preferring smaller towns and getting to know the Scots, whom I liked very much.I drove several thousand miles around the western US last year and thought it would be nice to watch the scenery rather than the road. Any advice on getting from San Francisco to Oban?
I would suggest San Francisco to Dublin and then a discount airline (Ryanair, Easyjet) to Scotland. I have done this several times with good prices and connections. I always use my first day as jet lag day and spend it in Dublin instead of transferring to a flight to my primary destination. Avalon House hostel is great for an overnight, and there is plenty of bus transportation between Dublin and the airport.
I was in Scotland a couple of years ago. I really needed the rental car I had to explore the Highlands.
(Oh, yes, I am a 60 yo woman who travels on my own a lot.)
If Continental goes out of San Francisco, you might want to consider connecting via Newark to either Glasgow or Edinburgh. From either, you can take a train or bus to Oban. I would strongly advise against connecting at Heathrow as you risk losing your luggage and your sanity. Also leave plenty of time for connections at Newark.
If you want to see Iona, you'll need to join a tour - the day long ferry trips from Oban only run in the summer. One lesser known way to get around in the Highlans are the postbuses: http://www.royalmail.com/portal/rm/jump2?catId=400130&mediaId=7500097
Liz, We have travled to the UK (including Scotland) more than 40 times in just over 20 years. We have NEVER driven. We always use the trains and buses. Inverness is especially easy! Driving in the Highlands is NOT easy and NOT cheap. Gas is extreamly expensive. You can do LOTS of day trips out of Inverness; including: Orkney, Isle of Skye, Ellean Donnan castle, parts of the Whiskey Trail, the Great Glen, etc. There are tour companies that will do a "one way" day trip- start in Inverness and end in places like Oban, Orkney, etc. Feel free to contact me for more ideas, info, etc.
I am a 64 year old female and I'm irretrievably jealous. Remember that smaller English cars get better mileage than big American ones. Both Kent and Kate always give good advice. Imagine what you'd miss if you depended on public transport. Of course you can look at scenery instead of the road but you'd have so much more freedom. Besides which it looks like you like to drive.
What great ideas! I'm getting excited. I just saw Water Horse with my grandson and must see Loch Ness. Should I do that from Inverness? Also, any B&B suggestions for Oban, Mallaig/Arigaig, and Inverness? Thanks to you all.
As Laurel above mentions, if you depend solely on public transportation you will miss a lot. For example, if you are on a bus going from one place to another you go thru some beautiful quaint village that you would love to spend some time in but you can't. If you were driving you could stop where ever you want to. Driving in the Highlands isn't hard, you just have to take your time. Again, as Laurel mentioned the cars over in the UK get a lot better milage then cars here. I would really consider renting a car for at least for part of your trip. A post above mentioned traveling to the UK (including Scotland), Scotland is also the UK.
Liz- There are several day trips around/up Loch Ness from Inverness. The small village of Drumnadrochit is wonderful to visit on those trips. Yes, there is some hokie stuff about the monster, but there are also a couple of great pubs and some good shops to visit. We actualy got to spend several days with friends who live in the village a few winters ago. It was a dream trip. The barman at the "local" pub will set up a nice whiskey tasting for you if you ask. Check out Canney Tours. They do some nice day trips out of Inverness. They keep the groups small and do "off the track" things. We have never found the need to drive in the UK and have always gotten away from the crowds/off the track using public transportation.
In Oban we liked the Raniven Guest House listed in Rick's book. It's very comfortable and in a great location just three blocks from the city center and two blocks from the harbor.
As to the Dublin idea...sounds good, but I would check carefully because RyanAir and EasyJet both recently have instituted a lot more fees (checked luggage, check-in etc.) and stricter luggage limits. Thus they can be more of a hassle than they're worth other than for short trips. Ryan Air charge you to check in at the airport - required to check a bag, and for each checked bag.
In particular, you have to be careful about checked and carry on luggage weight/size limits. The weight limits for the discount airlines (especially RyanAir) are usually less than for the big airlines. Whilst you'd be allowed two 23kg items checked to and from the US, you could probably only take one 15kg or 20kg bag on a RyanAir or EasyJet flight. And have a smaller limit for your carry-on bag.
I have had very good experiences with Continental and am willing to spend a bit more to have more flexibility with luggage, meals and help if I miss a connection.
Might be a good idea, but do the research first.
You can do the Loch Ness tour out of Inverness - there are several agencies that post in the Tourist Infromation Center (TIC) that run day tours all over.
As has been mentioned, you can do one-way tours as well. We drove when there, but in some ways I wish I had relied more on the public transport - it would have allowed more chance to see the scenery instead of just watching for cars (or sheep, or cattle) on the road.
You could take the train or bus from city to city, and rent a car while in each destination, allowing you to tour around and explore on your own.
Feel free to e-mail me if you want for more info, it was a great trip for me, and I'm insanely jealous that you're going - I can't wait to go again!
I've done a bit of searching on the net and find fares from San Francisco to Dublin on Aer Lingus,to be quite attractive.I thinks its because service to SF is new for them. I could then take Aer Lingus to Glasgow (about 30 pounds) or perhaps there's a ferry to western Scotland as my current plan is to start my trip in Oban. Any thoughts? Looking at the map, it seems that Mallaig would be a good starting place to explore Sky as there is a ferry- but no one seems to suggest that, making me wonder if there's something that I don't know. Thanks again for all the helpful advice- it is great to get ideas from people who have been there.
P.S. Rick Steves sugests 'waterproof shoes'-exactly what does that mean?