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Scotland October 2019 Trip Report

It's been a few months since our last adventure (Scotland) and unfortunately it's going to be a few (or more) months until our next adventure. We were supposed to be departing for Spain next week - at least I've had a lot of time to "grieve" - but I'm still bummed. It's hard not to feel a little lost right now with all the changes in our world these days. One of the things I've missed is all the activity and travel hub-bub and discussion on this forum. So, I thought I'd share a short trip report of our wonderful time in Scotland last fall!

Scotland really blew me away - it's such an incredible country. Loads of history, friendly people, incredible scenery, and more. I was pleasantly surprised by how much great food we ate there! I didn't have high expectations but we ate really well almost every meal.

I have never had so much difficulty planning a trip as I had with Scotland. Like so many places, there is so much to see and do. But, unlike other places, everything is close enough together that it feels like there are countless combinations for a trip itinerary. Of course, I wanted to see and do it all. But, we all know that's not possible!

I finally settled on this / this is what we did:

Day 1: (half-day) Edinburgh: Eat Walk Edinburgh and Real Mary King's Close
Day 2: Edinburgh: Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Palace, Whisky Tasting at Jeffrey Street Whisky
Day 3: Edinburgh: Rabbie's Outlander Adventure Tour Day Trip & Mercat's Doomed, Dead and Buried Ghost Tour
Day 4: Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle & Edinburgh Gin Distillery
Day 5: Pitlochry: Falkland Palace, Edradour Distillery, Falls of Bruar
Day 6: Portree: Drive to the Isle of Skye, Brother's Point Hike
Day 7: Portree: Hike the Quiraing Circuit and driving the Trotternish Peninsula
Day 8: Portree: Hike the Fairy Pools, Talisker Distillery, and Hike the Old Man of Storr
Day 9: London: Culloden Battlefield and Clava Cairns (plus evening flight from Inverness to London)

I was really torn on whether or not we should go to the Isle of Skye. From everything I'd read and been told in advance, I knew the weather could be an absolute bust and we may go all that way to not be able to hike. Luckily for us, we actually had some great weather (I mean we still got cold and wet but I was expecting that). What I mean by great weather - we actually saw the sun at times! We learned the weather can be very temperamental there and change on the drop of a dime.

As far as hiking gear goes, we learned a lot. Layers and waterproof gear are definitely essential in the highlands. We had some of what we needed, but I would do it differently if returning. For a future trip, I would pack a lightweight waterproof layer of pants that I could pull over a base layer. I would also bring a cover to protect a day bag from the rain while hiking. I am not nearly as sure-footed as my husband so I was very glad to have my trekking poles. I learned my rain jacket which had served me well on other trips was either simply water-resistant (not waterproof), or just worn out. I got wet. Thankfully I had layers and our apartment had a fireplace so we hung our stuff up to dry by the fire each night.

Like I said, there is never enough time - we didn't get to everything we wanted to see in Edinburgh but we did see a lot. I was happy with our time allocation there. I regret that we weren't able to see Stirling Castle but I just couldn't find a way to fit it in this trip. I absolutely loved our day at Falkland Palace and Edradour Distillery, it was a wonderful day out exploring the area and a great way to break up the long drive. We also didn't have enough time on Skye; while I have no regrets at all about going to Skye (our Quiraing hike is my favorite highlight of our entire trip), I really wish we had at least one more night there, two more nights would have been even better. To be continued:

Posted by
6369 posts

Thanks for the report Julie. My daughter is planning on Scotland for next year and is doing research on various day tours. What was your experience with the Outlander tour and the Dead and Buried ghost tour from Edinburgh? Was doing them both in one day a good idea?

Posted by
602 posts

Skye was incredible. There is just so much to see and do there and we barely scraped the surface. I would absolutely go back in a heartbeat - I don't think I've ever "oohed and ahhed" so much on a drive as I did while in that part of the Scottish Highlands. We've seen some beautiful countryside over the years but my goodness, that place is truly stunning.

I also want to share a friendly reminder that it is absolutely worth printing a paper copy of your rental car agreement - we had a very dishonest encounter at Hertz at Edinburgh Airport. Fortunately, I was able to pull out my paperwork and the guy was quick to backtrack on what he was saying. We've rented cars several times now on different trips and I've never had an encounter this bad. It's a good reminder to not get complacent with bringing copies of important documents.

If you love pictures or want a more in-depth trip report, feel free to check out the link to my personal blog in my profile.

I'd love to go back to Scotland and I hope we will. Just like anywhere else, I think it will take several trips to be able to see everything that we're interested in. I got a lot of help and great advice from some wonderful folks here on the forum and I'd like to give you a big thank you for helping us have an amazing trip! I appreciate it and I hope you are all well and safe right now! :)

Posted by
602 posts

Hi Nancy! I actually really enjoyed the Rabbie's Outlander Tour. I was conflicted about going on a group tour (would we have a nice group of people, would I have enough time at each stop, etc.). But, I really wanted to see some of those places (especially Culross, Doune Castle, and Linlithgow Palace), and I just couldn't find a way to fit them in without really chopping up our itinerary. We had a great time on the tour; lots of friendly folks on our bus and a great guide. Doune Castle was undergoing extensive renovations (lots of scaffolding) so I couldn't get pictures like I wanted. We also encountered an unusual wait at the ticket counter which made me super nervous that I wouldn't have enough time there. So I rushed it (which I didn't have to). We still would have had enough time. As far as the Midhope stop goes, just know that the place is in ruins. Holywood had a LOT of freedom with the place. At the time of our visit, there were a ton of other tourists; it's a well-beaten path at this point. The Outlander-effect I guess! We really enjoyed the other three stops as well. I honestly wasn't super excited to see Blackness Castle but it was a cool stop. Oh, and I need to add, my husband (our driver), really enjoyed having a day off driving.

The timing worked really well for doing the Mercat's Doomed, Dead and Buried Tour after Outlander. Yes, it was a big day and we were definitely tired by the end of it. The tour is fun with a sufficient level of creep factor but I didn't have trouble sleeping that night. If she only has time to do one "close" tour, I would recommend the Real Mary King's Close tour over the Mercat tour unless she is a big ghost tour person. While both tours are very well done and I'd recommend either of them, I think the RMKC tour has a lot of great history to it. But I nerd out on that kind of thing so that gives it the edge for me, personally.

Posted by
5222 posts

Hi Julie - glad you had a great trip. Our last time on Skye was really wet, too.

But, at the risk of bringing up a bad subject, what were the particular issues the Hertz guy was disputing? Glad that handing over your printout resolved the matter - but what was he trying to assert?

We also missed seeing the inside of Sterling Castle. A long, slow drive in pouring rain got us to the castle 15 minutes before it closed, so we just saw the outside. Next time . . .

Posted by
602 posts

Hi Cyn, it all worked out ok in the end and I don’t mind sharing. The first thing that happened was that the agent said we’d have to buy insurance because our rental didn’t come with any because we rented through AutoEurope. The opposite was true; we had paid for full coverage. I had to pull out our paperwork to prove it and then he magically said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I see it here in my system now”. 🙄

He then asked us where we were going. I told him the Isle of Skye and then he proceeded to tell us that we needed a different car and he could give us a wonderful deal on an upgrade (so wonderful that it cost over double our prebooked rental if I remember correctly). He said the upgraded car would come with Sat Nav. Since the last several rentals we’ve had have all come with sat nav, we assumed this one would as well. My husband point blank asked the guy is our prebooked car had it and he said no. I said well then we’d just use our phones and he said that it wouldn’t work, our reception would be bad. I said then I guess we will buy an road atlas and we left. And wouldn’t you know it, we got to our car and found that it came equipped with sat nav already. He flat out lied to us about that. I guess we should have asked to see our car during the middle of the discussion - his tune may have changed again! Absolutely crazy experience.

I had read some people preferred Stirling to Edinburgh Castle. I would have loved to find out for myself which I preferred. I love castles!

Posted by
681 posts

We went to Scotland last summer and had a wonderful time. I have been binging on Outlander and now I want to go back and just drive and go ooohhhh and aaaahhh. Your trip made me smile. Thanks, I needed that today.

Posted by
5222 posts

Julie - thanks for the additional info. What would you have done with double insurance? Been covered for twice as many wrecks? But he was right, you know, you are required to have, at the very minimum, a new Jaguar rental on Skye. Rolls Royce SUV’s are really preferred, but they’ll at least let you on the island with a Jag. 😄 So was he angling for a big commission by insisting you “upgrade,” or was he just covering for not having the car you reserved, and trying to make it your fault that Hertz dropped the rental ball?

We did make it to Doune castle, really a great stop. There’s a door in its back wall now, which probably didn’t exist when it was a functioning fortress. Had we not stopped to see Doune, we could’ve made it to Sterling that day, coming from Fort William. So we just missed seeing 2 castles in 1 day, but Sterling’s on the agenda for our next trip. It was supposed to be this July. Thanks again for the report on your trip last year!

Posted by
602 posts

Hi Cyn, lol. I think it was an Audi 🤔 it probably had to have been a commission thing. There wouldn’t be another reason to waste time talking without it.

Sounds like your stop at Doune was even better than ours. The inner courtyard was covered in scaffolding when we were there. Not a lot to see. I hope you have a wonderful time when you go back. I’m not sure which part of Scotland we will cover next when we return! So many choices!