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Scotland Trip Report

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Well I'm afraid I'm having to come back down to earth now, following my wonderful trip to Scotland during the last 2 weeks of March through April 2nd. Many many thanks to all those on this Message Board who greatly helped me to transform and shape my trip to become more realistic and to come together so well!

Given the time of year (as well as my budget), I decided to rely on the rail system rather than rental car for point to point travel, allowing me to take in the scenery in comfort on the major legs of my journey. The initial challenge as I planned this, of course, was then to figure out how to make the most of my 1-3 day visits in each place by using buses rather than rental cars to get to the sites I hoped to see. My primary interest was in visiting a number of specific castle ruins and at least some of the prehistoric stone circles, cairns & standing stones. It was an adventure, and I'm delighted to say that it all went incredibly smoothly! As has already been noted in a number of posts here, the weather was very cold & blustery much of the time, with nearly daily brief rain or drizzle (doesn't bother me), a day of snow (well okay), sleet (ugh) and driving wind (ouch!) on 2-3 days. I'm still amazed that on at least 2 occasions when I thought I was approaching frostbite or hypothermia all bundled up in layers of polarfleece & long underwear, most of the younger population were jaunting about with jackets open and midrifs bare! I am exaggerating about the frostbite, but did experience one painfully blisteringly cold day because it started out warm, and I did not prepare for a sudden & drastic change to frigid conditions. Hello, this is Scotland!!

I spent my first 3 days in Edinburgh, staying at the Ramada Mount Royal on Princes Street, which I would fully recommend to anyone. Great location, excellent hotel, and bargain rates can be attained with internet shopping. Spent my first 2 days walking all about the Royal Mile, New Town & Old Town, doing all the usual sites listed in the tour books. This was all on foot and keeping a fairly brisk pace due to the cold. I was not prepared for the constant and rather steep hill-walking in the city, but it was okay. I spent the 3rd day taking a daytrip by train to North Berwick, then catching an easy bus directly to Dirleton Castle, followed by another easy combination of 2 buses to Tantallon Castle. I have to say here at the outset, that I was overwhelmed and touched by the consistent kindness, helpfulness, and generosity of all the Scottish folks I met from start to finish of my journey. Truly remarkable. I never hesitated to approach anyone on the street to ask for assistance in finding the right bus or directions to anywhere--and never found anyone who did not seem to take a genuine interest in providing friendly help. Probably one of my most outstanding memories of my trip. And this is why the train/bus travel seemed so trouble-free. I was able to easily spend about 3 delightful hours at each of these castle ruins, and due again to the time of year, felt like I had them almost to myself! (Added to the amazing atmosphere of the places).

I then took the train to Oban, checked into a very pleasant guest house called the Sgeir Mhaol, and hopped a bus which dropped me right at the Dunstaffnage Castle, 30 minutes north of the city. Several hours there, and had time to do a leisurely walking tour of Oban. The guest house is located just a couple of blocks from everything, and nearly across the street from the car hire where I had rented my only car for the following day. It was well worth the price of the car to spend that day driving down through the Kilmartin Glen, hopping in & out at will, to explore Carnasserie Castle and then all the incredible number of prehistoric sites clustered within this 4-5 mile area of the Kintyre Peninsula. What an experience. Happened that the weather was also perfect! My only disappointment of my entire time in Scotland was that I drove seemingly forever at the end of this day to Castle Sween, and it was for me a complete waste of time. A completely unimpressive ruin which barely warranted a 10-minute visit. Isles of Mull & Iona will have to wait for another trip, as Kilmartin was my priority this time.

The next day consisted of that well-recommended rail journey from Oban to Mallaig, which truly was a feast for the eyes. The landforms are magnificent, and train windows allow for the most expansive views to both sides. I loved it. Took the ferry to Armadale and then a bus directly on to the Mackinnon Country House Hotel in Kyleakin--another wonderful choice which I would fully recommend. The owners of this hotel extended a very special kindness to me while I was there, and clearly took extra pains for all their guests. (Hope that doesn't sound inappropriate, but I hesitate to give the specifics, since I am not sure they would want to have an expectation set up). I did visit the Eilean Donan Castle just from the outside, and was not disappointed. Whether or not it is authentic, the castle is as beautiful as the photos one sees. Skye will also have to wait for my next trip (in warmer weather!), as I deliberately decided to breeze on through.

Next day was another wonderfully scenic rail journey--all the way from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stonehaven, with a 10-minute walk to Heugh Hotel. (I loved every place I chose to stay, and would be happy to try to recall details of any of them, if needed). My only destination here was the half-day I spent at the Dunnottar Castle, which was probably the most awesome experience of my entire trip. Wow. I really haven't found words to adequately describe the feelings this place conjured up. Accessible by bus, but did have to walk the 2-3 miles back to town to avoid an hour-long wait for a return-bus. The walk was all high, level ground along the coast & so was quite enjoyable. I lucked out with great weather on this day as well.

From here I took the train to Birnam/Dunkeld, staying within a block of the station, at the Birnam Guest House for a couple of nights (suggested by Sheila here). Caught a really excellent traditional music session at the Tap next door, though nothing much going on at the Taybank when I was there. I visited Huntingtower Castle (by bus) in Perth, but learned that Elcho Castle was unfortunately not yet open for the season. Sheila, I did not receive your email until I got back, but I certainly appreciate your generous offers to help with so many aspects of my trip-planning! Dunkeld is a nice little town, but not much of a draw for me. Maybe it was the time of year, but there seemed little to do there, and I spent my days in the Perth area.

From there to Stirling, where I stayed at Number Ten on Gladstone Place (a B&B which really should be classified as a guest house--recommended by Janis here). Loved it! Visited Stirling Castle in sleet & gale force winds, and spent a full day touring the old city, the ancient graveyard, etc. Really an enjoyable city to roam. Spent the next day with a carefully pre-planned bus trips to coordinate & spend about 3 hours each at Doune Castle and Castle Campbell. The hike up to Castle Campbell was strenuous, but gorgeous. And the weather cooperated!

And then from there, I returned to Edinburgh for a few days to continue what I'd started at the beginning, using a bus day pass (what a great deal, at 2.30 pounds for 24 hours!), doing the museums, and more walking tours. All of my strenuous walking finally resulted in shin splints and swollen feet by the end of these last couple of days, but I was not slowed down. I think the only place that did not cappture my interest in Edinburgh, was Holyrood Palace. But preferences are such a personal thing, that I hesitate to even mention it.

I'm finding it hard to write this travel report, as there is just so much that seems need to communicate, that the task seems impossible, and thoughts become fragmented with repetitious statements of delight, but with little substance shared. I loved my journey. The castle ruins were all awesome. The people I met were wonderful. I was relatively new to public transportation, and found it a pure joy--will repeat this means of travel in Scotland on my next trip. Will also be happy to elaborate details if anyone requests such.

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