Please sign in to post.

RS Best of Scotland August Trip Report (detailed)

Day 1- Edinburgh New Town

We transferred from our Airbnb to the Rick Steves’ tour starting hotel, the Parliament Hotel in the New Town area near Calton Hill. We took an Uber. Uber works just fine in Edinburgh. But all of August seems to be surge pricing, so a taxi may have been cheaper. Since it was too early to check in, we left our bags at the hotel in a public storage area off of the lobby and walked the steep steps up to the top of Calton Hill to see the monuments and the incredible views. We walked back down and over to Rabbie’s café for lunch before we walked back to hotel at 1 pm to find our rooms were ready. Our room was on the third floor even though the room number was 402. This was the only hotel during the tour that had an elevator. Our room was very nice, and this hotel was the nicest hotel of the tour. The hotel also had excellent Wi-Fi and served a filling breakfast each morning.

We met our tour group in the lobby at 4 pm and met our tour guide, Julia. As we would find out as the tour went on, Julia is full of knowledge about Scottish history, geography and culture. She knew all the insider information about the restroom locations and the location of restaurants. And she is musically talented, which she surprised us with during our trip to Iona. As we approached our destinations for the day, she would give us historical information needed to appreciate what we were going to see. At one-point mid-trip, she wondered if she was talking too much and if anyone was listening. I emphatically assured her, that we were listening and on the last day of the bus trip, my wife and I were able to recall facts she had told us during the trip in order to win some remaining Cadbury chocolate bars that she was giving away in a trivia contest.

We once heard Rick Steves speak live at a travel show. He had said that if you learned about the history or relevance of what you were going to visit, this would double the value of your ticket admission or trip. We took that to heart, and we retained the information she conveyed. Just because we knew that Margaret was the only Scottish royalty to become a saint doesn’t mean we’re geeks. It just means we want the chocolate!

Julia gave us our whisper quiet headsets with earphones and gave a brief welcome and then led us on a walking tour of the New Town as we walked from St. Andrews square past Charlotte square to the West end for group dinner at a restaurant.
At dinner, she gave us an overview of the week, but did not do introductions. We were on our own to meet and greet the other tour members and start to learn their names. We did not play any name games or ice-breaker games (which most people don’t like) and we picked bus buddies as we sat for dinner. Julia bought us each an alcoholic drink prior to dinner, in lieu of meeting at a pub, and then a drink was provided at dinner. Dinner was very good.

From our dinner location, some of us decided to walk back to the hotel via Princes Street, while others were going to take the tram back with Julia. Because this Monday was the big fireworks show marking the end the International festival, Princes street was closed off to traffic and the tram. So, when it appeared that part of the group would be stranded at the tram stop for several hours, Julia hired three taxis to bring the people who went with her back to the hotel.
The rest of us walked down the center of Princes Street through the crowd that was now gathering to see the fireworks show from Edinburgh Castle. In about a half hour the area would be standing room only.

(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

We arrived back at the hotel around 9 pm. Some of us decided to walk over to area near Jacob’s ladder (a steep stairway) with a view of Edinburgh castle rather than climb up the steep stairs to the top of Calton Hill. I’m sure the views from up there would have incredible, but hundreds of people were already crowding the steep path up to the top. The fireworks show lasted almost an hour and was in 4 sets, so it was worth the walk and the wait to see them.

My conclusions about the tour of the New Town area is that it’s Georgian architecture, which means symmetry. The streets are organized in a grid pattern and frankly- monotonous and boring. The Old town and Royal Mile are much more interesting as we were to find out the next day.

Day 2- Tour of the Royal Mile

At 9:00 am, (the latest departure time for the entire tour) we met Andi, our tour guide for Edinburgh. She is a native Scot with a wry sense of humor and a light Scottish accent. (In comparison, Julia, our tour guide, had no accent, as she is not a native Scot, so I understood her lectures and instructions perfectly. Our bus driver, Mike, had a thick brogue and I still can’t figure out half the things he said.)

Andi led us from the hotel down a path through a hillside cemetery that took us directly to Holyrood palace and from there we walked up the Royal mile stopping at various points to listen to her stories or history about Edinburgh using our wireless headsets. While some people on the tour thought the walk was very strenuous, (the distance from Holyrood Palace to the castle is 1.6 miles uphill) my wife and I were fine with the pace and the distance, as we had been walking uphill all week during our pre-tour week in Edinburgh and were now acclimated to the terrain. The other noticeable factor today was that the crowds were gone because the Festivals had ended but the Royal Mile was still closed to vehicular traffic which made walking up the royal Mile a pleasure.

We took a break at St. Giles church. Some of us went into the Old Parliament court house to see the wigged and robed barristers for a few minutes, while others had a coffee break in the café in the basement of St. Giles. After the break, the tour visited one of the closes (alleyways) and then went to see the Heart of Midlothian mosaic in the sidewalk and we were given the opportunity to spit on it (as the locals do). We continued heading uphill on the Royal mile and then walked down colorful Victoria Street (the inspiration for Diagon Alley according to HP fans) to the Grassmarket area and then over to National museum of Scotland, to see the Lewis chess pieces, where we ended our walking tour for the day. Andi’s tour was very informative, but she doesn’t cover any of the Harry Potter or Outlander sites or Greyfriars Bobby.

Tour participants were free to wander the museum on their own, but as a local told us- you could spend a week in the museum and still not see everything. As the day was sunny, we did not want to spend our free afternoon inside a museum, so we left to find lunch and visit Edinburgh Castle.

All tour participants were given Scottish National Heritage passes (good for a week) and we had the option to visit the Castle on our own. I think this was a good plan as most of the site visits during the tour didn’t spend as much time as I wanted (while others thought too much time was spent at the same sites.) Touring Edinburgh castle on our own but at the tour’s cost made sense to us. We rented the audio headsets and spent 2 1/2 hours here visiting the Castle buildings ,the Scottish Royal Jewels and the stone of destiny. We are Royal history fans, so all of this was very interesting to us. (But can see how after an hour, this might be enough for other people.)
(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

By late afternoon, our feet ached, and we were tired, and since we already had spent a week in Edinburgh pre-tour, we walked down from the Castle to the Princes Street Gardens and enjoyed the park on this sunny day before walking back to our hotel. The only tourist attraction we wondered whether we should have visited was Real Mary’s Close. If you have visited this, let me know how that attraction was. Maybe next time. Total walking distance for the day was 7 miles (according to my iPhone app).
At dinner time, we were so exhausted, that we opted to eat dinner at Howie’s restaurant, which was the closest restaurant from the hotel. The food was very good, but a moderately expensive restaurant.

Day 3- Culross and St. Andrews and the Kenmore Hotel

This morning was the first time we had to be packed and checked out of the hotel with our luggage and ourselves on the tour bus at a specific deadline. We vowed to be on time and perhaps even early every day, but some days that was a struggle. But we were never late. All the members of the tour group were prompt and on time.

It was a short walk on a cobbled street from the hotel to the bus, so it was a struggle to wheel the luggage the short distance to the bus. For us, this tour was part of a 10-week vacation. We had packed for the hot weather of Greece as well as the cold and rainy weather of Scotland. The night before, we had separated clothes into two bags, our Rick Steves items into a wheeled carry-on and the remaining clothes into our large checked suitcase, We knew that hauling around four bags was unwieldly and excessive for a Rick Steves’ tour, where most people followed Rick’s recommendation of having only one carry-on sized wheeled suitcase. We asked Mike, our bus driver, if we could just leave the large suitcases in the bus storage hold for the entire week and he put them in a separate area, and we did not see them again until the last bus day.

We drove to Culross Palace for our first tour. We had a guided group tour and since this place was a major Outlander filming site, the guide covered that information. We then drove to St. Andrews for a two hour stop for lunch and sightseeing.

At St. Andrews, the bus parked at the Golf Museum, which was in sight of the Swilken stone arch bridge between the first and eighteenth fairways on the old course. Golf aficionados know that this bridge is where the golf winners get their picture taken with the Old Course clubhouse in the background. So, I walked there first to get my picture on the bridge to send to friends who are golf fanatics (and hopefully make them envious). My wife walked with Julia and others to the St Andrews Cathedral Ruins.

Prior to our trip, we had purchased UK SIM cards (via Giff Gaff) with an ample cellular data plan, so we were able to use “Find My Friends” on our iPhones to locate each other in town and used Apple Maps and TripAdvisor to see the names, locations and reviews of restaurants. We met up for lunch before heading back to the bus. We are not golf fans, so the Golf museum had no attraction for us.

We spent two nights at the Kenmore hotel, in the very quaint village of Kenmore, near Aberfeldy. The hotel advertises itself as Scotland’s oldest inn. The rooms are quirky, and some people on our tour complained about the toilets that didn’t flush well, but our room in a far end of the inn (no elevator and 39 steps in three sets of stairs) was good sized with ensuite that had spa sized bathtub with shower. It was the only hotel bathroom during our tour that had a bidet. The hotel Wi-Fi was good and per Julia’s suggestion, I made on-line reservations at an Inverness restaurant for the following night, as she knew that good restaurants would be busy on weekend evenings.

(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

Of historical interest to me at this hotel, was in the original bar/lounge area above the fireplace where there is a poem penciled on the wall by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. They have plexiglass covering it to preserve it.
Our group dinner was in the Kenmore’s modern dining room with views overlooking the River Tay. (And frankly, the Kenmore Hotel was the only place to have dinner in this tiny village.)

Day 4- Crannog, Dewars, Dunkeld and the Hermitage Walk and Bagpipes

Next morning, we walked about 15 minutes over to the Crannog Center along a tree lined road bordering Loch Tay and we took a 9:30 am tour of the reconstructed crannog and learned about the ancient people who lived in crannogs. It was windy and cold the entire morning and then started to rain on us while we were watching the fire-starting demonstration, so afterwards we huddled in the gift shop drinking hot coffee while we waited to board our bus.

At 11:00 am, We boarded the bus to take us to the Dewars whisky distillery in Aberfeldy where we had a tour of the facility and two whisky tastings. It was a fun tour and learning experience, but I couldn’t help but notice that the distillery tour staff were wearing Bacardi labeled shirts with their kilts. (Bacardi bought the company in 1998.) And of course, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but someone from our tour group asked the guide what he wore under his kilt. His response: “A wisp of fresh air.”

It was now past a normal lunch time and with two whiskys in me, I was now “hangry”. We bypassed Aberfeldy and drove further to Dunkeld to have lunch and our rest break. I don’t remember much about the hour and half other than it was raining, and I hurried through the rain to find lunch at the nearest eat-in lunch place for fish and chips called the Dunkeld Fish Bar at 12 Atholl Street. It was the best fish and chips I ever had the entire trip! It was only later that I read the place had great reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp and named one of the top fish and chips restaurants in Scotland by a food magazine.

My wife, on the other hand, was told by Julia, that there was a Beatrix potter Exhibition across the bridge a short walk away in the nearby village of Birnam and off she went. She had a quick lunch at their café after a look at the historical exhibits. Later, I met her at the bridge, and we rushed back to the bus and were the last to board.

From Dunkeld, we traveled a short distance to the Hermitage, a national trust park where the group walked the 1.5-mile loop path through the Perthshire forest. The park had been a pleasure ground for the Duke of Atholl and included a stop at Ossian’s folly and Ossian’s cave. Due to the different walking speeds of our tour group, it took longer than expected for everyone to return to the bus.

We returned to the Kenmore hotel, where another tour member and I took a walk beyond the driving range and up a steep wooded hill to find a geocache. Geocaching, which is my obsessive hobby, is about hiding containers all over the world and then finding them using GPS. Once you find them, you sign your name to the paper log to prove you found it and then log your find online at the website for other people to see it. I have found geocaches now in 11 countries. When the rest of the tour group found out about my hobby, (because my wife had to keep explaining why I was running off in a different direction during our rest stops), it became a good-humored joke. At every rest stop, I would turn on my GPS and see if there was a geocache nearby and then run to find it, and then run back, so that I wouldn’t be late or delay the tour. And every time I boarded the bus, someone would ask “Did you find it?”

(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

We had dinner that evening in a separate dining room at the hotel. As dinner ended, we were entertained by Gilly, a female bagpiper who not only serenaded us with bagpipe music but explained the bagpipe parts, the uniform, how she learned to play and talked about her life as a female piper. Gilly’s recitation of Robert Burns “Address to the Haggis” from memory was awe-inspiring. She then asked for volunteers to try the pipes. Several of us attempted to blow air into the bag as we used our arm to expel the air through the chanter to make the music. It was hilarious! When I was prodded to give it a try, I can’t believe I was able to do it smoothly. Julia told me with my talent, I should buy a bagpipe in Stirling to take home.

Please Don’t discuss politics- I’m on vacation

There is one incident I want to relate- as a cautionary tale. No names will be used.
During the dinner, several other couples sat down at our table. One person opened up the conversation by stating some provocative story that he had heard on Fox News that morning (and later proven false by MSNBC) about a Congressperson critical of a polarizing government official.
My wife immediately stated that we were on vacation and that we would not discuss politics.
The person stated, “Why can’t people calmly discuss political issues anymore?”
To me, that statement was throwing down the gauntlet and I was going tell him why. Unfortunately, our political climate is so polarized by both sides that calm discussion is a rarity when most of our opinions are based on false statements or alternate untruths. Think about your last Thanksgiving with your relatives? How did that go?
Pre-emptively, my wife kicked my shin under the table to remind me of our agreement not to discuss American politics of any kind and I changed the subject by asking Julia, who was sitting next to me, about how she became a Rick Steves tour guide. That diffused the situation.
But for the rest of the trip, this couple avoided me and did not have dinner with us again. I am assuming he found like-minded people at dinner to discuss politics with.
I thought etiquette meant not discussing two topics with strangers- politics and religion. Seems like a good rule to follow on group tours.
Day 5-Sheepdog Demonstration, Culloden battlefield and Inverness hotel

We boarded our bus with luggage at 8:45 and drove towards the Highlands. Around 10:30 am, we arrived at the sheep farm where Neil, the sheepdog owner and trainer, gave us a sheepdog demonstration. This was one of the highlights of the trip. We watched the sheepdogs run over the dale out of sight and then minutes later a flock of sheep came running towards us with the border collie corralling them from behind.
When the sheep got to us, the dogs circled the sheep to keep them in one place, and Neil grabbed one, flipped it on its back and sheared the sheep’s wool. He let us try a few snips of the shears.
Neil is quite a character, so I won’t spoil it for those who may go on this trip, but it was another memorable moment of the trip, especially when he brought out the puppies.

We had lunch of soup and scones at a restaurant along the route before arriving at Culloden Battlefield. We only had an hour and half, which I found to be insufficient to see and read everything. I paid the extra £2 to take the guided tour out to the battlefield sites which I found to be informative but had to skip the movie and most of the exhibits because of the limited time.We arrived in Inverness in the late afternoon and checked into the Glenmoriston Hotel. The hotel is in a good location, by the river, and we enjoyed the walk along the River Ness as we ambled into town. The hotel had two buildings and the tour group was split between the two. Our room at this hotel was the worst one of the trip. Again, our room was on the top floor with no elevator, (but I’m not complaining, I was used to hauling our bags upstairs by now.)

Posted by
224 posts

The room was small and had a view of the back-parking lot. The ceiling sloped over the bed, so the person on the sloping side had to duck when they got up or would hit their head. Only one side of the bed had a nightside. The shower in the ensuite was a pie shaped semi-circle which was too small. When I turned around in the shower, I banged my elbow into the shower sides. And this happened to my wife also. (Yes, we showered separately—and the stall was still too small.)

This afternoon was our one opportunity to bring get our laundry done at a nearby laundry mat. We could drop it off and have it ready to pick up by the next afternoon, though some tour members spent the afternoon at the laundry mat doing their laundry in the self-service machines. We had dinner plans, so I dropped our laundry off. The cost was around £8, but whatever the cost, it was worth it.
Dinner was on our own tonight. I had reservations at the nearby Castle Tavern, which was very good.

Day 6-Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Cawdor Castle and group dinner

Early start today. We were on the bus at 8:15 am in order to make a 9:00 boat cruise departure on Loch Ness. The loch scenery was beautiful, but it was raining hard. So, when we arrived at the Urquhart Castle ruins by boat, we were soaked by the time we walked from the dock to the castle grounds. My wife walked straight to the visitor’s center to get dry, while I walked the Castle grounds and went to the outdoor lecture at 9:45 high on the castle tower, but even the guide cut the talk short because it was raining so hard. I walked up to the visitors center and watched the short movie with a wonderful surprise ending, which I won’t reveal, but in retrospect, I should have watched the movie first before going to the castle ruins, which is what most visitors do if they arrive by bus.
From here, we drove to Cawdor Castle and took the audio tour. The walk through the castle rooms was slow and crowded, but interesting. We had a group lunch of finger sandwiches, scones and tea in their café and we had a little time to walk the gardens and maze before boarding the bus back to Inverness.
We arrived back in Inverness in the early afternoon with several hours of free time before our group dinner. Another guy and I took the long walking route, over a pedestrian bridge and then to a church across the river from the hotel to walk to the laundry mat. We stopped at the church to find a geocache, and a church proctor told us the church was offering a bell tower tour at that very moment. So we climbed up the bell tower and had an informative demonstration of bell ringing. (The bell tower is not a carillon with a keyboard, so to play a “method” (a music piece), several bell ringers are needed. The bell master let us ring the bells to get an idea of how difficult or easy it was. My walking companion found out the bell ringer had the same unusual last name as his and they talked family origins for a little while before we climbed back down from the belfry and walked to the laundry mat.

When I asked for my laundry, the owner gave me a worried look and said that there had been a mix-up and some of my laundry had been mixed up with another load. Fortunately, my bus buddy was there picking up his laundry and she felt those two bags had been mixed together. The owner had us unload our clean laundry on the sorting table and there we sorted our laundry items. I had his underwear. He had my wife’s bra’s, etc. We thought we sorted it out, but later on the bus, his wife gave my wife one of my undershirts. But in the end, we both got the correct laundry back. Later, we had a good laugh about it. Not only were we bus buddies, but now underwear buddies.

(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

The group dinner was at the Mustard Seed, which was another nice restaurant. My wife did some souvenir shopping as we walked back to the hotel. When we arrived back at the hotel, there was a wedding reception in my building. The bride was outside having a smoke, so we congratulated her and went up to our rooms. This was the one time I was glad to be on the highest floor away from the wedding reception, which went on into the “wee” hours of the night. Most of us in our building were kept awake all night long with the loud music and we looked bedraggled and sleep deprived the next morning.

Day 7- Gondola to the Nevis range, scenic Glencoe, Oban

Today was a long bus ride. We had a 10:30 am rest stop at Fort Augustus, where we could see some of the locks of the Caledonian canal connecting Loch Ness to Loch Oich, making it possible for small boats to travel from the east coast of Scotland to the west coast.
We then drove to Fort William to the Nevis Range Scenic mountain Gondola and took a gondola up the top for the views. The place is a ski resort in the winter, but in the summer, it has mountain bike trails and hiking and is a scenic tourist spot. The top of Ben Nevis was 3 miles away and I suppose you could hike it from here, but we only had an hour and half. Most ski resort restaurants have terrible food and this place was no exception. They only sold and served hot food. They didn’t sell cold sandwiches or snacks. Not only did the cafeteria open late and we had to wait for them to bring out the industrial steel bins of food, this was the worst food we had the entire trip. Every hot item they sold was terrible. But we really didn’t have any other choice for lunch since it was the only food available on the mountain. Had we known the cafeteria didn’t open for some time, we would have taken the short hike up to a nearby hill.
After taking the Gondola down to the bus, we drove to Glencoe while Julia told us about the Glencoe massacre of 1692, and we did a drive through of the Glencoe Valley with its scenic waterfalls on either side of us. We took a group picture at a wayside, and then drove to the Glencoe visitors center for restrooms. It was raining hard by now and walking out to the scenic viewpoint was miserable.

We then drove to Oban where the bus did a quick orientation drive through the central area and then we drove to our accommodations along the waterfront. Our group was split into two hotels, the majority in the Glenburnie Hotel and four couples in a B&B two buildings down. Our room in the Glenburnie was the best room we had the entire tour and made up for the other bad rooms. We had a large room with high ceilings and a large bay window that faced the sea. We had incredible views of the ferries sailing in and out of the port. It was a 15- 20-minute walk along the waterfront from our accommodations to the central area of Oban where all the shops and restaurants were located.
We had made dinner reservations the day before, per Julia’s suggestion at a fish restaurant called the EE Usk (fish in Gaelic) and without reservations we would have not gotten a table. It was wonderful seafood restaurant and we ordered Cullen skink for the third or fourth time of the trip.
Later that night, we walked over to a pub called Marky Dans, that hold a pub quiz every Sunday night at 9:30 pm. A bit late for some of us, but the weekly event brings in the locals. This was my second pub quiz in Scotland but this time my team of four people had a difficult time understanding the questions through the quiz master’s accent. And since the questions were geared towards the young locals, we failed miserably at the British sports and current event questions and our knowledge of music from 2000 on was sorely lacking. Still, we had a good time and watching the locals interact with each other was like watching an episode of Cheers. We left after 11 pm, foregoing the championship rounds, which we knew we had no chance to win.

Posted by
224 posts

Day 8- Iona and the Isle of Mull
The group met outside on the sidewalk at 9:00 am and walked to ferry, where we rode the large car ferry for 50 minutes over to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The wind was blowing hard, but at least it wasn’t raining, and we weren’t sure whether the ferry to Iona would be running when we got there. We met Richard our bus driver at the port and he skillfully drove over an hour on the single-track road from Craignure to Fionnphort to catch the ferry to Iona. As he drove, he gave a nonstop entertaining commentary of his life and highlights of the Isle of Mull. He slowed down in front of his house in a rural section of Mull and we all waved to his wife at the kitchen window.

Richard was worried that the ferry to Iona would be cancelled due to the weather, but when we arrived, the ferry was boarding, and we all hurried off the bus and boarded the ferry for the ten-minute ride over to Iona. The sea was rough, and it was very windy, but it was a short ride. So, at the least the journey wasn’t for nothing.

At Iona, Julia walked us over to the Abbey. She brought us into St. Oran’s chapel, a one room stone building and there she sang a Gaelic song for us. Julia is very talented and made the journey all the more memorable for us. She then let us loose for two hours to visit the Abbey and we had to catch the 3 pm ferry back. We had lunch at the St. Columba hotel, but that took a while and it didn’t give us much time to do anything else. We hurried back to the ferry port for some final souvenir shopping before taking the ferry back to Mull and riding Richard’s bus back to Craignure to take the larger ferry back to Oban.

On the Oban ferry, Julia had us meet in the bar, where she bought us all a drink and then she took out her violin and played some Gaelic songs for us. By now I was very impressed by her tour leading ability, but this put my admiration for her over the top. Rick, if you’re reading this, Julia is an absolute asset!

We got back to Oban and had dinner in town at the Oban Fish and Chip shop, which was packed with diners, before walking back to the Glenburnie Hotel.
It was a long day of travel in the wind and rain. But the visit to Iona was worth the journey. I can imagine religious pilgrims enduring even more hardship on their travels to Iona, so I am so thankful that we were able to visit.

Day 9, Stirling Castle

We were packed up and on the bus by 8:30 am for our last day on the bus. We stopped at the small village of Inveraray for a rest stop. The coach parking was in a remote spot away from the main street and waterfront. So, when the departure time came, my wife was the not on the bus. She texted me and told me she was lost and couldn’t find her way back to the bus. I yelled her message to Julia from the back of the bus. Julia sprinted from the bus and ran to the main street with me following slowly behind. My wife reports that the sight of Julia running towards her and escorting her back to the bus made her feel secure and confident of Julia’s ability to guide us safely.
We drove up the hill to Stirling castle for a two-hour visit and lunch. Since we always seem to arrive at a place right at lunchtime, eating lunch is my first priority, because if I don’t, I am too dizzy to visit the site. With the time left, we visited the castle rooms and got a chance to hear a quick music demonstration from the time period. Julia noted that if we wanted to go visit the town, which was downhill, and some people did. But those people had to do the walk back uphill to the castle and the bus. It didn’t seem worth it to us for the short time period we were there.

(continued)

Posted by
224 posts

After the visit, we had the long drive back to Edinburgh. Along the way we passed the Kelpies, a unique statue of two horse heads.
In Edinburgh, the main road to the hotel was closed off because a movie company was filming Fast and Furious 9, but Mike talked the security guards into letting the bus drive into the closed area so we could unload our luggage closer to the Parliament Hotel. Here, we retrieved the rest of our luggage that we hadn’t seen all week.
Our final group dinner was on the Fourth floor of the Harvey Nichols department store where there is a restaurant with views of the New Town. We had our final dinner, said our goodbyes, and exchanged email addresses.

Day 10- Flying away

The next morning, we had to leave at 6:00 in order to be at the airport 3 hours early for our flight home. Thought the hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 7 am, they arranged to bring us coffee and a continental breakfast to our room at 5 am at no extra charge.
They also arranged to have a taxi for us outside promptly at 6:00 am. The taxi cost to the airport was £23.00. I did research other alternatives to the airport: the airport bus or the tram, but we would have had to wheel our luggage a short distance. In the end, the convenience of the door to door pickup and drop off was worth the cost.

Conclusion

We had a great time on our Rick Steves’ Best of Scotland Tour. This was our first bus trip with a tour group, because we usually research, plan and do a trip on our own. We decided to go on a bus trip in Scotland because I didn’t want the stress of driving on the left side of the road.
Even though the tour was organized, and, on a schedule, there was still some free time for us where my additional research and planning came in handy. As I told Julia on the first day, I’m a Type A personality. I have to at least know what’s going on. But by the third day, I was relaxed and had forgotten the schedule knowing that Julia would take us to some great places and get us there safely.
It was whirlwind trip, and at times I felt we didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked at specific sites, but that is a necessary downside of traveling with a group. The group was a congenial one and everyone was pleasant.
We are glad we came into Edinburgh a week early, because the one-day scheduled walking tour can’t do justice to everything Edinburgh has to offer.
I am sure that we will take another Rick Steves tour in the future.

Posted by
390 posts

So much wonderful info— thanks for posting. This tour is one I’m considering and your trip report is very helpful. Iona is a big draw for me and I would want more time there.

Posted by
1161 posts

Derek, on the day you went to the distillerary in Aberfeldy was there anything else to do nearby? My tour starts next Monday and it is the one thing I absolutely do NOT want to do. The smell of whiskey-especially being distilled-makes me ill. If it isn't near anything else, is there at least a visitor center away from the actual distillerary?

Posted by
224 posts

Laurie Beth:
There isn't anywhere else to go once at Dewars, but you can sit in the visitor's center- which is in a different building than the distillery. The visitor center has a cafe, so you could wait there while the tours are going.

Derek

Posted by
1957 posts

I am happy to hear you enjoyed your first ever tour with Rick Steves Co and it was fun reliving the same tour we took a year ago. I personally loved all the places we stayed and their hotels' quaint and clever use of space but if you haven't taken a RS tour before, it must have been a learning experience for you. The geocache-ing sounds interesting, lots of fun and something to keep you very busy! I know a lot of people participate in the sport here in Colorado. "A whirlwind trip"-yes but that's exactly what his tours are designed to be---a "taste" of a country or city you may be interested in and enough information and exploration to help you decide if you would like to re-visit on your own for a longer period. About the politics....In any similar situation, I usually just say "hmmmm" and try to change the subject as courteously as possible; usually with such a clever (probably not) phrase as "how 'bout those Nuggets?" (I live in the Denver area). I know how hard that is to do though, and more often just end up biting my tongue and/or politely excusing myself. Thanks for posting your experiences. I am glad you enjoyed your tour, derek.

Posted by
1636 posts

Thank you for writing such a thorough trip report! This kind of report helps us decide about signing up for the tour and also how to plan alternate activities. I know this took a lot of time, so thank you.

Posted by
827 posts

Omg Derek—— I loved loved your report. I am drooling over it . We took this trip in April 2018. It ranks very high on my list if my 7 tours. This makes me want to go back so bad! We had the same hotels. We had no issues with any rooms. That hotel in Kenmore was kinda quirky. We took a walk to the cemetery and tay river also. I was excited about seeing the name Arthur Inkster on the monument in the cemetery because my maiden name is Inkster and I have Scottish ancestors.

Looks like most dinners we had at same restaurant and listening to Gilley. She was a hoot and loved the haggis story.

We had great weather, no rain. Maybe a few sprinkles. Loved the walk to the waterfall in the forest

We also at at castle In Inverness . Very very good, ate at Eeusk and Cuban-mor In Oban.

We had James as our guide and I just loved him. He also sang to us at the chapel in Iona

Neal and his baby sheep and puppies

Sorry I could go on and on.

Thanks again for letting me re-live my great RS Scotland tour.

Kim

Posted by
1863 posts

Really enjoyed your report Derek and re-living our Scotland visit last summer. We didn’t do RS tour, but followed his driving itinerary, although we substituted Isle of Skye for St. Andrews. Maybe we will see you on a future trip!

Posted by
681 posts

Thank you for your report. We went to Scotland in May and it was so nice revisiting favorite places.

Posted by
15 posts

I was glad to read about your trip as I am thinking of taking this trip next August. I noted your comment about discussing politics during the tour. My viewpoint is a little different. I cheerfully participate in some discussion of this sort because I enjoy hearing the perspectives of people whom I have come to like. It seems like a great opportunity to me. People on the tours I have been on are usually pretty diplomatic, and are certainly able to listen to someone with a differing point of view. Some of the most enjoyable political discussions (sometimes very basic due to linguistic differences) have been with citizens of the countries I have visited. I still remember standing in the ferry line in Bellagio and answering questions about the upcoming election in my very basic Italian. I assured the couple that there was no way for Trump to win.... Needless to say, I was wrong. In any case, thank you for contributing this report!
Anne

Posted by
1984 posts

Derek,
Thank you for posting your thorough account of this tour. It’s on my list of top five tours. I heard from a friend who was on this tour in September that RS is planning to introduce 2 Scotland tours - 14 and 8 day versions, similar to how the Ireland tours are divided. My friend said the plan is to include Glasgow and the Isle of Skye, both places I want to see. I called the office and was told yes, this is in the planning stage and may be offered in 2021. It’s a toss up for 2021, St. Petersburg or 14 day Scotland?

I’m amazed you were on a 10 week tour of Europe and finished up with the RS tour Scotland. The weather y’all had to pack for. I’m not sure you mentioned the time of year? Oops, you were there in August as I reread the beginning. So you felt a week in Edinburgh gave you enough time to cover the sites there?
Thanks again for sharing!

Posted by
8 posts

Wow...what a report. Thank you. I had been looking at RS tours but not found one quite right. I think this may be the one. It helps that Grandpa came over from Scotland. So would be fun to see the "Old Country". I just found some tapes he recorded so will listen to them in preparation. And the one thing I got from your report is....bring good rain gear!

Thanks again.

Posted by
930 posts

I have been to Mary King's Close and felt it was definitely worth it. A very different world and way of living.