3 Weeks in Scotland and Ireland

Jul 25th, 2017, 06:03 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2004
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3 Weeks in Scotland and Ireland

I have only recently started a travel log and writing trip reports to help improve my memory of our vacation in my old[er] age. This is one for a 20 day trip to Scotland and Ireland that my family (me, wife Erica, 16 yo daughter Isabel, and 10 yo son Ian) recently completed. We had a blast!

The planning and execution of the trip went quite well, and thanks to the Fodorites who gave advice and answered questions. This was our first time in either country so it was very much a first timers’ itinerary of seeing as much as possible. The idea is to someday go back as a couple or a family and focus on one country at a time now that we know what there is and what we like. We broke it up evenly with 9 nights in Scotland first and then 9 nights in Ireland. We planned it so the longest drive time (not including stops) was ~ 4 hours … this limit works well on our other trips. We got really cheap flights in and out of Dublin (open jaw tickets were running ~ $300 more at the time), so we did have to add two one way RyanAir flights between Dublin and Edinburgh to make it all work out. This ended up not being an issue, and actually forced us to pack more efficiently since I only paid for three 20kg bags for the RyanAir flights.

We knew there would be some iffy weather, so we packed appropriately with many light layers and waterproof jacket s and shoes. Unfortunately we got the brunt of the bad weather in Scotland, but fortunately we had amazing weather in Ireland with only one rain day out of nine. This definitely skewed the family’s (i.e., kids) opinion of the favorite of the two countries towards Ireland, but all in all it was still better than the 100F weather that Austin was experiencing while we were gone.

Here are some other general comments and observations:

1) We were usually out of the accommodation by 9:30-10am every morning and back in the room by 8-10pm, and in bed by 11pm-12am. This worked out well with everyone getting enough sleep and not being too rushed in the morning. The exceptions were plane travel days.
2) Google maps was great again (had a really good experience with 100% Google maps usage in New Zealand recently). Despite what some people say about optimistic travel times, we found that Maps was within 5-10% on every route, and more often than not I found that we beat the predicted drive time by about 5%. They have really done a good job with predictability and real-time traffic and hazard situations. I have the feeling that people who warn against Google maps time predictions either (a) have not given it a second chance in recent years, or (b) are just trying to be cautious because of peoples’ varied driving habits and skills. The only place we didn’t use it was the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye where Three coverage was terrible, but we had the car’s nav system as a backup.
3) Roads and traffic were not as bad or problematic either as I expected them to be or as they were made out to be by some sites/reviews. Yes, they were narrow, but speeds are generally low and most people knew how to drive on them. The entire time I only had one close call with a bus flying around a blind corner in Ireland. And I didn’t feel that Ireland’s roads were any worse than Scotland’s, though Scotland probably had better pullouts on the single track roads. However, Ireland had a more developed highway infrastructure that made travel between cities very easy.
4) For this particular trip, the weather in Ireland was 10-20F warmer and much drier than Scotland, but that was just a bit of luck.
5) Ireland seemed to be “more developed” than Scotland, at least the parts that we toured. By this I mean more tourists, larger towns, bigger/better/faster highways, more convenient grocery stores and petrol stations (more on that later), etc. Not a good or bad thing, just an observation.
6) Every single one of the 8-10 castles we toured were unique and we (I) never got tired of them. I could have probably seen a few more.
7) Everyone we ran into was extremely nice (locals and tourists). It was really nice how fondly both the Scottish and Irish people we talked to, admittedly mostly involved in the tourist industry in one way or another, spoke of Americans. A lot of this seemed to be due to the strong immigration ties between the Scottish, Irish, and Americans. And the subject of Trump only came up a few times. 
8) Packing cubes are awesome! We will NEVER travel again without them. This was our first trip using them (we got an assortment of eBags small, medium, and large) and they made it so much easier, especially since we were moving around quite often.
9) “Three” cell coverage in Scotland was not very good, but it was quite good in Ireland. This may be true of all cell carriers, I’m not sure. We needed a SIM card that worked in both Scotland and Ireland, and the only option in the store we went to in the Edinburgh airport was Three (they didn’t have Vodaphone). The 12GB card was £30 and was only £5 more than the 4GB card, so we got three of the 12GB cards. We ended up using 2GB, 2GB, and 5GB (teenager) on the three phones over the whole trip.
10) We spent more on food than we had planned. We are of the eat-to-travel not travel-to-eat clan, but we found it hard to eat cheaply in either country, with most meals running 10-15£/€ minimum. We had planned to have picnic lunches, which we do quite often on other trips, but we were lazy and unable to find convenient grocery stores in Scotland and we also wanted to try more of the local foods.

Here are the accommodations we stayed at, and would recommend every one of them. We got either family suites or two separate rooms, depending on the availability.

1) Sherwood Guest House B&B – Edinburgh, near Arthur’s Seat, 3 nights
2) The Invernairne B&B – Nairn, on the waterfront, 1 night
3) Drumorell B&B – Portree, 5 min from town, 2 nights
4) Clachaig Inn – Glencoe, 1 night
5) Glendaruel B&B – Aberfoyle, 5 min from town, 2 nights
1) AirBnB apartment – Kilkenny, 5 min from High St, 2 nights
2) Ross Castle Lodge B&B – Killarney, 10 min from Ross Castle, 3 nights
3) Daly’s House B&B – Doolin, right above O’Connor’s Pub, 2 nights
4) Arranmore House B&B – Dublin, on Drumcondra, 2 nights

Day 1: Travel to Edinburgh, Sunday 7/2 – Monday 7/3

We flew from Austin to Atlanta to Dublin on Delta with a longer-than-desired 5 hour layover in Atlanta, but overall we had no issues. The food in coach was not great on the overseas leg, but the shiny new Airbus A330 was very nice. In DUB it took a very long time to get our luggage but immigration was super fast and we have a 3 hour layover before our RyanAir flight to EDI so there was no issue. In EDI the luggage takes even longer (~ 1 hr after landing) and people are obviously frustrated, but that’s where those push-button service review stands come in really handy.
We picked up our Three SIM cards in the airport before getting our rental car. Hertz did not have the intermediate car that we reserved (I’ll spare you the Seinfeld reference about the definition of reservation), so we got a large Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV. I initially wasn’t happy given that it was larger than what we wanted for the small roads and that a plug-in hybrid seemed fairly useless on a vacation like this, but it turned out OK and was a very comfortable car. We never did plug it in, though there were a couple of charging stations in some car parks.

We arrived at the Sherwood Guest House in Newington around 5pm, which is a ~ 30 min walk from the Royal Mile and ~ 15 min walk from Arthur’s Seat. The free parking at the B&B was all full, so we circled a few times with no luck finding a spot. Erica jumped out and met with our hostess, Vivienne, who then moved her vehicle from the lot to make room for us. Vivienne was extremely friendly from the moment we met her, an experience that would be repeated throughout our travels, and we settled in to the smallish upstairs family suite before heading out for dinner. It was a nice evening (60F and sunny) so we decided to loosen the legs with a hike up Arthur’s Seat before crashing for the night. It was a great decision considering how the weather would behave for the rest of our stay. But first we grabbed dinner around the corner at The Apiary, a nice modern restaurant where we had tasty dishes of duck, lamb shank, and baked fish. We then got to Arthur’s Seat by 8:15pm and climbed up the steep face just south of the peak. Ian had a blast clambering up and down rocks and footholds in the dirt, and we had nice views of the entire city from the peak as the sun was getting lower in the sky. It was the perfect start to the trip. We got back to the B&B around sunset and crashed for the jet lag recovery.

Day 2: Edinburgh, Tuesday 7/4

It’s Independence Day, the 4th of July! We started the morning with a nice super-continental breakfast with 4 other couples (there are 6 rooms total). We’re not huge breakfast eaters, so the fact that there wasn’t a typical “English-style hot breakfast” was not an issue for us. We are also not coffee drinkers, but I, Erica, and Isabel were excited to start our 20 days of English tea drinking. It was a cold (50s F) rainy morning, so we bundled up in layers, donned our rain gear, and headed into town around 10am. We first went to the National Museum of Scotland, a great free museum with 6 levels and widely varying exhibitions and displays. The kids loved the science and animal wings, and we enjoyed the Scottish history wing as the start of our Scotland history lesson. We both knew some general information but not a lot of details. We spent 4 hours there, including a pretty disappointing lunch (bland soups and sandwich, dry burger, poor service) at the museum café, but we don’t expect much from museum cafes.

By this time, the weather had cleared up a bit, so we made the snap decision to see the Edinburgh castle, even though we only had a few hours until closing, since we didn’t know what the weather would be like the following day. It drizzled on and off for the 2.5 hours that we were there, but it didn’t affect our ability to see most of the outside and inside sights, including the Crown Jewels, Great Hall, and Queen’s apartment. The lady at the ticket booth recommended getting the 3 of 5 day Explorer Pass for £62, instead of one-time family charge of £54, and this ended up being a great decision as we used it for Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle with large savings. Of course the castle was very impressive and the crowd got pretty small towards closing time.

We spent some time walking down the Royal Mile and enjoying the sights and sounds (yes, we love bagpipes) before finding a pub/restaurant on a corner (can’t remember the name and didn’t record it) where we had good fish and chips and mac n cheese, but a very overdone gammon steak. That would be the first and last gammon steak for Isabel.  We also learned for the first time that lemonade in Scotland is essentially Sprite, which was a big disappointment for my lemonade guzzling son.

At that time we also pre-booked a 7pm Ghosts and Ghouls underground tour with Mercat Tours, which we thought would be a good family activity. Our guide was quite funny and a good actor, and Isabel and I found ourselves mimicking some of his mannerisms throughout the rest of our vacation. The stories were neat, history was interesting, but to be honest the vaults themselves were quite disappointing. We had expected something more like underground crypts, but that was just a matter of lack of education on our part. All in all it was a fun time, and we ended the tour with a complimentary whisky (or “lemonade” for the kids, which our guide came right out and said was Sprite). After that we walked back to the B&B for an early turn-in.

Day 3: Edinburgh, Wednesday 7/5

Light rain and a high of 60F was forecasted for today, so we set out again after breakfast dressed the same as yesterday. The day ended up being mostly dry and partially sunny, so all-in-all it was a pretty good weather day. We headed back to the Royal Mile, where we were going to do some shopping, sight-seeing, and a free Harry Potter tour, via The Meadows park. Here we stopped for an hour or so for Ian to get his playground action on. He’s never seen a playground he doesn’t want to stop at. The zipline was the key attraction. We continued on to Grassmarket Street where we had lunch at a French café called the Petit Paris, where we enjoyed the nice weather outside and had good meals of onion soup, baked salmon, and sausage.

After lunch we headed up the steps to the entrance of Edinburgh Castle and made our way down The Royal Mile once again. We got side-tracked by a couple of shops and street performers, so we missed the 2pm Harry Potter tour. The tour sites were well documented online, so we decided to do our own self-guided tour anyway since the kids are such huge fans. We saw, in order, Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and Tom Riddle’s (Voldemort’s) grave, The Elephant Room café where Rowling first started the series, and Victoria Street which served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley. The graveyard was very cool and creepy, and we had nice French pastries as a bakery on Victoria Street, the same bakery that supplies the desserts for the Petit Paris café.

At this point we headed back to a couple of specific shops on the Royal Mile for two of Isabel’s souvenirs … a set of beginner bagpipes for herself (she’s loved bagpipes since a young girl going to numerous Renaissance Festivals and is a budding young musician on the oboe, so why not!) and a kilt for her boyfriend. With those in hand, we walked down to the Holyrood House, which we knew was closed all week as we had the luck of having the Queen, Prince, and Prime Minister Trudeau in town for official ceremonies. Earlier in the day, a royal procession had passed us quickly on the road, and Erica got someone in the back of a black Range Rover to give here the royal wave, but she was a younger lady so we’re thinking maybe she was a princess of some kind.

We made our way back along the side of Arthur’s Seat on Queen’s Drive, with Ian making a few quick bursts up the side of the hill, and grabbed Chinese food takeout from a local joint, which made Ian very happy as he cannot go more than a couple of days without Chinese food, being half Chinese and a bit picky. 

Day 4: Edinburgh to Nairn, Thursday 7/6

We said happy goodbyes to Vivienne and set out by 10am on our trip to Nairn up near Inverness, via Stirling. First stop was 45 min away at the Kelpies in Falkirk. This is the site of very cool looking 30m tall metallic horse heads thrusting up from the ground as if to suggest their bodies were below the surface of the surrounding waterways. There’s not much to do here but look and take pictures, but it was a worthwhile stop. We decided against the Wheel since we had a couple stops and a long drive to Nairn.

So on to Stirling Castle we went, another 30 min down the road. Weather was nice so far (60F, no rain), so it was a good time to tour the castle. We parked right up at the castle despite the slow traffic to get up there and into the lot, and then we got in immediately with our Explorer Pass (already saved £40 over the two individual Family tickets). The castle was very cool and we had a nice 1 hour free guided tour from a passionate and knowledgeable gentleman who was very animated with his BANGs and BOOMs while describing the battles. We learned of Oliver Cromwell’s history here, and it would quickly become a joke that every ruin or historical location we went to in Scotland and Ireland bore the mark of Cromwell (what a wanker indeed). The kids decided they liked Stirling Castle better than Edinburgh Castle (I would try not to make any such comparisons as I liked them all for different reasons) due to the beautiful, grassy grounds.

Next we drove the 3 hours (actually 2:50, 10 min faster than Google Maps prediction ) to Nairn, first on the nice A9 highway and then on some smaller 4-digit country roads, our first experience with the ultra-narrow roads. By 5:45, we arrived at the Invernairne Guest House, which was nicely situated right on a beach on the Moray Firth. This B&B is more of a small hotel or inn, situated in an 1800s era manor with multiple rooms and a bar and dining room. Very cool … too bad we only booked one night. After settling in, we got a dinner recommendation for a seafood restaurant down at the end of the beach on the other side of town, so we headed down to the beach for an evening walk.

A short walk through the lovely back yard got us to the very nice beach at low tide. Thus some really neat rock formations covered in seagrass and tidal pools were exposed, so we ended up spending about 1.5 hours enjoying the beach and collecting beach glass … we ended up with a small Ziploc bag full of mostly green pieces. The Sun Dancer restaurant was booked for a private event that night, so we got off the beach and walked back through the small town area where we found a small, local pub called Jacko’s. The portions of steak, pepper beef, and fish n chips were quite large, so we were fully stuffed. A fire at a house just down the street prevented us from walking back to the B&B through town, so we cut back to the beach and had another fun stroll, getting back around sunset.

More to come as I get time ...
paulg is offline  
Jul 25th, 2017, 08:22 PM
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Enjoying your trip report. Ireland and Scotland are on my bucket list. Is the weather typical for Scotland? Or was this unusual?
KarenWoo is online now  
Jul 26th, 2017, 12:50 PM
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Well, I think others who have been more than once (or live there) can better speak to this, but based on talking to others and my research, it's pretty typical. What was maybe atypical was the fantastic weather we had in Ireland. I never thought we'd spend so much time on beaches in Ireland, but I haven't gotten to that part of the trip yet. Plan on layers, invest in a good waterproof jacket and shoes, and don't let it stop you from doing things!
paulg is offline  
Jul 26th, 2017, 01:45 PM
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Wow (!) I'm not sure I could manage a hike up Arthur's seat on arrival day after overnight flights . . . Hardy souls

Glad you made good drive times - (Don't tell anyone or I'll lose all credibility )

KarenWoo: You will not know what the weather will be until the day (or the day before if you are lucky) The weather in the UK and Ireland is changeable (VERY) and paulg was unlucky to have rain the whole time they were in Scotland, and VERY lucky to have sunshine the whole time in Ireland. It could have just as easily been the reverse -- or totally different.

(it is just Grassmarket -- not Grassmarket Street
janisj is offline  
Jul 26th, 2017, 02:20 PM
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janisj, while not getting significant sleep on the plane (as nice as the new A330 was, the seats didn't seem to be as comfortable as some others), I guess it was enough and we were wired enough from just being there that the hike up the hill was the perfect way to end the day and then crash hard.

Re: drive times, Google is a pretty smart company. I think they have their Maps act together.

Thanks for the street name correction. I'm not a huge detail person, so you may be making more such corrections by the time I'm done.
paulg is offline  
Jul 26th, 2017, 04:40 PM
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Paul, I am loving your report and looking forward to more! You seem very upbeat about everything which is very nice indeed! Thanks for sharing.
irishface is offline  
Jul 26th, 2017, 07:16 PM
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Day 5: Nairn to Portree, Friday 7/7

We checked out early to start the long journey to Portree with several stops, the first of which was Culloden Battlefield. I had read good things about it, but even being a bit of a war buff I had my doubts since there wasn’t supposed to be much in terms of battlefield relics. Well it exceeded my expectations even though it poured for the entire 45 min drive and 3.5 hours that we spent at the battlefield. We did end up taking the free 45 minute outside guided tour, which was well done, but the bad weather forced us to spend most of our time inside and that is where all the goodies were. There was lots of nice history and information to absorb. We ended up with another average museum café lunch, but that’s OK because it was light and that’s what we wanted.

We were now off to Loch Ness, a necessary stop with kids in tow. Of course the Loch Ness Visitor Centre, which focused primarily on Nessie, was a bit dated and overpriced and underwhelming, but it was not the cheesiest road-side attraction we had ever been to. And the building it is housed in is very attractive. I was more excited to see the Urquhart Castle, so off we went down the road with the weather having cleared up for a bit. I feel this castle is under-rated, but I seemed to prefer some of the more ruined or less renovated/restored sites for their rawness. The grounds alone at this castle are quite stunning, and even something as simple as the large viewing window that reveals the castle after the 8 min introduction movie is a nice touch. We spent a good couple of hours here exploring the ruins and then set off at 5:30 for the Eileen Donan Castle (#4 of the trip).

The drive along the A87 was absolutely gorgeous. This was the most impressive scenery so far, and started reminding us of our last big trip to the South Island of New Zealand. We got to the castle around 6:30 so it was closed. Not a big deal because we hadn’t planned on going in anyway and really just wanted to view it from the outside. It was as picturesque a setting as the pictures make it out to be and my daughter was happy to see the Brave castle as this is one of her favorite Disney movies. There was a wedding happening in the castle that evening, so the guests and wedding party were starting to arrive.

The drive to Portree was also pretty, but the rain was setting in again so it didn’t make as big an impression on us as it did on our drive off of the island (day 7). We made it to our B&B in Portree around 7:30 and checked in with the very sweet lady named Catriona. Her mannerisms and voice reminded us so much of Mrs. Doubtfire that the kids now refer to her by that name when recalling the stories. The Drumorell B&B was situated above the town just a 5 min walk from the main street. The B&B was a cute little house decorated very old fashioned and we got the only two rented rooms which were upstairs. Based on Catriona’s recommendation, we ate at The Café in town and had nice meals of local seafood (langostino, scampi, and fish) followed by ice cream. Before heading back to the B&B we stopped by the local grocery store and grabbed snacks for the car.

Day 6: The Isle of Skye, Saturday 7/8

Catriona served us a nice, big, hot, custom breakfast at 8:30 and we hit the road after that to start our tour of the Trotternish Peninsula. The weather was clear this morning so we wanted to get to our first destination, The Old Man of Storr, quickly. We got to the parking lot around 10am, bundled up (it was probably 50F and VERY windy at this point) in 3 or 4 layers each, and started up the mountain. Let me just say WOW, what a nice hike. This was definitely one of the highlights of Scotland for me. The hike, the change in terrain half way up, the scenery, the views, the wind that could keep you upright when leaning downhill into it, Ian having a blast going off-piste, the dry weather, Erica having to find a hidden spot to “do her business” (don’t tell her I included this) … all really magical. We got up and down in a bit over 2 hours. We might have spent longer, but as we were on the peak enjoying the view, we saw the dark storm clouds blowing in, so we headed down and got to the car right as it started raining. Too bad for the slow pokes that planned on an afternoon hike!

Now 12:30, we drove up to Staffin in the pouring rain with a brief stop at the Kilt Rock car park to see the impressive cliff formation and waterfall into the sea. It ended up being a bit of a Chevy Chase Vacation Grand Canyon moment (Isabel and I reenact that scene all the time in our travels) just because it was so cold and wet out. We stopped at the Columba 1400 Café in Staffin because Catriona’s nephew was the head chef there. It seems like a very nice project, a way to help troubled young people find the right path in life, and the food was decent though not great.

We were back on our way around the top of the peninsula but didn’t make as many stops as we had hoped just based on the weather. We did make a brief stop at the Duntulm castle ruins (#5), but I was the only one that got out to view it. The scenery was incredibly gorgeous and there were lots of great “road sheep,” so it was still a nice drive. At this point we decided to high tail it over to the Dunvegan Castle (#6) to get out of the weather, so we continued around the west side of the peninsula and then cut over to the castle, getting there by 4pm.

The home of Clan MacLeod for over 700 years, this is still an active residence of the 30th Chief. We had 1.5 hours to explore the castle, which was just enough time. We would have needed more to include the gardens, but … well … weather. This is a nicely restored castle with a lot very interesting history, and it they had a key search activity set up for the little ones that kept Ian interested and searching all of the rooms for the 16 or so keys hidden around.

The drive back to Portree wasn’t too bad even with the rain and roads as the tourists (us included!) seem to be doing a good job with the driving. We ended up back at The Café for dinner after learning that our first choice (Café Arriba) closed at 6pm on a Saturday evening (???) and the other popular restaurant on the waterfront had a long line waiting out in the pouring rain. We got seated after a short wait and had tasty meals of mac n cheese, fish n chips, and burgers … too stuffed again for any dessert. Back to the B&B after a long day out. P.S. The WiFi in the Drumorell was very bad, so the kids had a hard time with their usual electronic device wind down.

Next up, Day 7, the road to Glencoe.
paulg is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 09:01 AM
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On for the ride!
jane1144 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 09:49 AM
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Great report so far!

I laughed at the Cromwell being at every castle joke.

Our joke was that the Queen of Scots, "Mary slept here" was scratched onto every castle wall. That girl really got around!
sugarmaple is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 10:41 AM
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Indeed, maybe she and Oliver had a thing.
paulg is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 05:29 PM
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Enjoying your trip report. Thanks.
historytraveler is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 05:38 PM
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Day 7: Portree to Glencoe, Sunday 7/9

Portree ended up being a good choice, with a decent sized town and easy access to the Trotternish Peninsula. But we said our goodbyes to another fabulous hostess and hit the road to our next destination of Glencoe. We had originally planned to take the ferry to Mallaig to get a change of scenery, but the ferry schedule that day was not conducive to getting to Glencoe at a reasonable time since we only had one night there, so we punted on that and backtracked the same way we came. The weather was clear until we hit the bridge, so the drive was much more scenic than upon our arrival to The Isle.

The change of scenery around Invergarry to a more forested area was nice, and this continued to be a beautiful drive down the Great Glen to Fort William and along Loch Lochy (we called it Lake Lakey and reminded me of Boaty McBoatface for some weird reason). For lunch we found a food truck at a pullover on Loch Lochy, so this was a welcome finding as it was the first food truck we had seen and we love the active food truck industry in Austin. Ian and I enjoyed some extra time to skip stones on the Loch as well … he has not yet found a body of water he doesn’t want to throw rocks into.

We arrived in Glencoe around 1pm and stopped at the Clachaig Inn to check on our room status. It wouldn’t be ready for another 2 hours, so we drove down the road to the Visitor Center. It was raining pretty hard again, so we weighed our options. The family was more in the mood for some walks than the MacDonald massacre exhibition at the Visitor Center, so I gave in and skipped it … I made sure we read the Wiki entry next time we were in the car. The 30min Woodland walk at the Visitor Center was not all that interesting, but the kids enjoyed finding a bunch of massive black slugs enjoying the wet weather.

After that we drove into Glencoe village where we parked at the trailhead for the Glencoe Lochan walk. We did the lovely lochan loop and the forest walk with about 1 hour total walking and 1 hour observing and feeding the ducks. There was a group of juvenile ducklings that were hanging out in a reed island, but we managed to coax them out with leftover bread that we had from breakfast (Erica has been taking all of the leftover breakfast toast every morning for the various bird and duck feeding encounters).

Next it was back to the Inn to check in, settle in, and grab an early dinner. The Inn is in a very nice location nestled among the surrounding mountains with great views everywhere you turn. The family room we got was in the Lodge section of the Inn, and let’s just say that it left a bit to be desired. It was quite dated and in need of repairs and renovation, and felt like a basic motel room … but with an epic view out the front door which made it worthwhile. Also, the WiFi was horrific in this section as there is no WiFi in the rooms, but even the WiFi in the common areas was super weak. Combined with a super weak cell reception in this area (though better than Skye) made for a bit of frustration when searching for things. The dinner at the Inn was very nice (hamburger, Cajun salmon, haggis/tatties/mash, pasta).

The rain had finally stopped, so while the kids went to relax back in the room, Erica and I took advantage and set off on a hike directly in front of the Inn up the Clachaig Gully. I didn’t know much about it, but when we pulled into the Inn earlier in the day, I saw that seam in the mountain across the road and declared that I was going to climb that. I later learned that this is where some Hagrid hut scenes were filmed in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

We started on a foot path that went up the right side of the Gully, but this quickly ended and turned into a thick fern covering of the underlying rock. It was pretty tough going the further up we went, so we decided to double back and head straight up the Gully where the water was flowing. Several other couples were attempting something similar but none made it as high up as we did. Climbing up the large rocks in the Gully was much easier going, and we made it up to largish waterfall, beyond which we would have to be doing some more vertical rock climbing and that was not in the cards tonight. Getting down was pretty easy, but by this point, and with all of the rain we’d had in the past few days, my beloved 15 year old Columbia semi-water-resistant hiking boots were at their limit. It would take a couple days of radiator drying to completely dry them out. This was a good vacation to finally retire those old boots. Thoroughly tuckered out, we headed back to make sure the kids were still alive.

Day 8: Glencoe to Aberfoyle, Monday 7/10

There’s so much more I want to see in better weather in the Glencoe area that I’m pretty sure we’ll be back on our next trip to Scotland. But it was time to head to our next B&B in Aberfoyle for a two night stay in the Trossachs. We left Glencoe on a clear morning (this was the dominant weather trend for most of the Scotland trip, clear at night and into the morning, with rain most of the afternoons) and went straight to Glen Etive. This is a beautiful little single track 12 or 13 mile drive along the valley to Loch Etive. The scenery was incredible the whole way and the river gorge had some impressive rapids and gullies. Round trip took about 1.5 hours and we met very little traffic having done it in the morning.

The trek continued to the Southwest towards Inveraray as the rain started right after noon again and continued all afternoon. We got into town and found a pay spot right in the central car park across from the waterfront. There was a mobile carnival set up in the park on the waterfront, but it was completely empty in the pouring rain. The George Hotel was our lunch spot for the day, where we warmed up with hot chocolates and had a decent meal of pasta, chicken Caesar salad, split pea with ham soup, and mac n cheese. We started walking to the Inveraray Castle, but the walk up the drive was quite long and the rain was really coming down, so I ran back to the car park, picked up the car and picked up the family in route to the castle.

Inveraray Castle (#7) was beautiful both inside and out, with a green tint exterior and museum quality interior. It was slightly better appointed than Dunvegan but had a similar overall feel to it. The home of Clan Campbell, we learned about their checkered past with their roles in the Glencoe massacre and fighting on the “wrong” side at Culloden. Isabel and Ian enjoyed the castle quiz that kept them interested in the details and got them a prize in the gift shop (similar to the key finding exercise). Ian bought a stuffed sheep (“sheepy”) which became his new bed partner. Erica was happy that there were Highland cows in the pen across from the castle as she had been trying to find some to get up close to this whole trip.

After the castle the trip continued down the bonnie banks of Loch Lomand where we stopped in Luss for some light shopping (Erica bought some local honey), ice cream, and duck and swan feeding at the pier. Ian got his fingers nipped a couple of times feeding from his hands. Next we went straight to Aberfoyle and checked in at the Glendaruel B&B around 6:30pm, a short < 5min walk from town. Christine and John were extremely friendly and continued to show the warmth of the Scots. John had just retired as the town postman for something like 35 years and was clearly enjoying “retirement” helping out with the B&B. We grabbed dinner at the Forth Inn in town at their recommendation (“the only good restaurant in town”). This pub was very “local” and warm feeling and Isabel and I had a fabulous Atlantic salmon dish for dinner. As per usual, we went back to the house after dinner and turned in early to recover after another eventful day of driving.

Next up, the Trossachs and departure to Ireland
paulg is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 06:40 PM
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>>John had just retired as the town postman for something like 35 years<<

OMG -- I know John! Didn't know he did B&B (I've stayed for weeks at a time down the road from Aberfoyle on Loch Ard and had lots of dealings w/ him)

Probably should have warned you about the 'rustic-ness' of the Clachaig Its all about the location, the views and the FOOD.
janisj is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 07:20 PM
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janisj, sorry I had his name wrong in my notes. It was actually Jimmy not John. I hope it's still the same guy (I think he was the only/main postman in town).

No worries about the Inn. It was a truly magnificent location, so the room really didn't matter, especially for one night. It would probably behoove them to fix those Lodge rooms up a bit, though.
paulg is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 07:41 PM
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OK -- probably a different guy. He lived down near the end of the loch in Kinlochard.
janisj is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 06:57 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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Paul - nice report with great obsevations. We visited Scotland earlier this month and were in Ireland 5 years ago. Agree with your comments regarding roads.

I've been meaning to write a report but work has been very busy.....maybe if I get started and keep it short....
mnag is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 09:00 AM
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Bookmarking. Thanks for the information.
Sberg is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 02:31 PM
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Thanks, mnag. I'm forcing myself to do a bit every night, but I need to finish it up this weekend or the barrier to completing it will get too high. But forget about getting pictures organized with the report ... that's never going to happen.

No problem, Sberg. Good luck with your trip.
paulg is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 07:26 PM
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Day 9: Trossachs, Tuesday 7/11

After a very good hot breakfast, we had a nice talk with Christine and Jimmy (not John) about what we were doing today and about a lot of other things (tourism, B&B business, their travel plans, kids, etc.). What a really nice couple and very easy to talk to. Everyone has been really great with our kids as well, trying to engage them in conversation and always complimenting them on their good behavior (I had to explain that wasn’t always the case, of course, haha). Anyway, it was overcast but not raining yet, so we set out for Lake of Menteith at 9:40am. It was only a 10 min drive, so we were at the boat dock at 9:50am, 10 min prior to them opening, but the boat pilot let us enter early and hang out on the dock to feed the ducks.

He waited for another group to arrive, so at 10:05 we set out for Inchmahome Island and the Priory. The pilot was a nice guy and we talked about the history of why this was a lake and not a loch. After the short ride, it was nice being the first ones on the island as that made a very peaceful and quiet setting even moreso. It rained on and off while we were there, but we were still able to enjoy the very cool ruins of the priory as well as the grounds of the entire island. Isabel enjoyed spinning in Mary Queen of Scots’ tree circle, and of course, we fed the ducks with leftover breakfast toast. The attendant at the little office/store got excited when we learned we were from the US so that he could tell us the history of the California Redwood trees on the grounds.

As we got back to the dock, it was getting to be about lunch time, so we decided to drive to Callander before heading to our next and very exciting (for me) next destination of Doune Castle. We got to Callander and parked in a lot right next to the river where there were, you guessed it, ducks! So we stopped to feed the ducks once again. A few minutes after we joked about Ian needing to be careful to not slip and fall in, he slipped and fell in. The panicked look on his face as he scrambled to not go in was priceless, and Erica was stunned enough that she just stood there and watched him. Luckily the river at that point was only about 3 feet deep, so I hauled him up back onto the walk and he was only soaked from the waist down. Of course this would now become a joke for the rest of the trip anytime we got near water. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring a change of clothes in the car, so it was back to the B&B. This would ultimately cut short some of our plans, but it makes for a good story. Christine found it hilarious and gave Ian a good talking to. Then it was back to Callander where we had lunch at a sandwich shop and did some shopping and had ice cream and baked goods.

On to Doune Castle (#8) where we arrived around 4pm. Despite it being a pretty small and “less significant” castle, it was a great treat for me being a huge Monty Python fan. This is where all but one of the castle scenes was filmed for the Holy Grail movie. The castle itself was a really cool and classic high-walled rectangular structure with a large open courtyard. The best part, of course, was the audio tour narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. It was a nice mixture of castle history and Holy Grail tidbits, including the sites of each individual scene in the movie. Apparently they lost permissions for their other filming sites at the last minute, so budget and timing constraints required them to shoot everything at Doune, utilizing all of the different rooms and angles for the varying scenes. Too cool! The only disappointment was that the battlements were under repair after structural issues were found so we couldn’t walk around the wall and hurl French insults down on the silly Engllish kinnnnnigits. It is also where some of the show Outlander is filmed, but we are not familiar so it had no interest to us. At this point I could go home a happy camper if necessary. Oh, and of course Ian played the coconuts in the gift shop.

Tonight would be an early night due to an early flight out of Glasgow, so we got back to Aberfoyle a bit after 6pm, walked around town a bit and visited the sheep at the Scottish Wool Centre, before going back to the Forth Inn. The salmon was so good that three of us got it this time and Erica tried the pork belly ribs, which were good but a bit overcooked (not uncommon in the UK we are learning). Then it was back to the B&B after 8pm to start packing. But honestly, packing is an overstatement because the packing cubes made it so easy to just keep a few cubes out and then throw them in a bag later.

Day 10: Goodbye Scotland, Hello Ireland, Wednesday 7/12

It was sad to leave Scotland with so much unexplored, but we were also excited to start the next part of our trip in Ireland. We had an 8:40am flight on RyanAir out of GLA, so we planned to leave at 6am to get there by 7am (or earlier) as we still had to return the car. Christine and Jimmy were so accommodating for us and actually got up to serve us a hot breakfast at 5:30 even though we would have been fine with a quick bit of yoghurt and toast. She would have none of that, however. We were off right at 6am, but this is where I committed my first and only gps blunder of the trip. I started typing in Glasgow International Airport, but I didn’t realize that Google Maps stopped at Glasgow International, which is some company or organization located in the middle of downtown. As we got about a mile from the destination and were in the middle of a dense urban area, I realized my mistake. Doh! Anyway, we were 20 minutes off course so got to GLA at 7:20am. Everything after that was super quick, and we got to the gate right as they were boarding the plane … no wait, perfect!

The flight was short and sweet, we had no issues through customs, and Dan Dooley had the exact car that we reserved. Say it ain’t so! We were on the road by 11:30 and absolutely flew down to Kilkenny in 90 minutes on the great M7 and M9 highways. Oh, did I mention that it was sunny and warm? This weather would stay with us for the next 8 days, so we must be doing something right. The original plan was to take our time driving through the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough, and I still wish we would have done this, but I let the family vote on the long day out or getting to Kilkenny directly, and they chose the fast route because we had been up since 5am. This worked out for a reason I’ll explain later.

In Kilkenny we rented an Airbnb apartment specifically to get access to a washer and dryer so that we could do laundry for the rest of the trip since we only brought about 10 days of clothing. The location of the apartment was great, just about 2 blocks from High St and the Castle at the end of Ormonde Street, with free access to a large parking lot. The owner Catherine was going to meet us a bit after 2pm, so we walked down to High St, took in the sights and sounds and ended up eating pretty decent pizza at a restaurant on High St called the Italian Connection. It was 2:30 by the time we got back to meet up with Christine at the apartment and she checked us into the huge two bedroom second story unit. Though we do like B&Bs, it was nice after so many to just have our own place for a couple days.

Kilkenny Castle (#9) was right down the street, so that would be our first official Ireland destination. Weather at this point was amazing (68F and sunny) and this was the first time we had seen a lot of people in shorts and T-shirts … it felt like summer again. We got into the Castle around 3:30pm and toured it for about 2 hours. Funny enough, we met one of my co-workers and his family in one of the first round tower rooms of the castle. We knew we were having some overlap in our vacations in Ireland (they had been to Italy and Scotland before Ireland), and I had joked before we left that I’d see him over there, but we had never compared itineraries to see if there was a real chance. So it was just dumb luck. Anyway, we overlapped with them a bit as we toured the castle and then visited with them a bit more in the garden and fountain outside before going our separate ways. The castle was beautiful both inside and out, though it was mostly replica and renovations as much of the castle was in disrepair after many decades of abandonment. As we went to each of these majestic places I couldn’t imagine how many of them were just abandoned and ignored for so many years.

We toured the massive park outside the castle grounds and the kids played in the playground for a good bit, enjoying some of the contraptions that we don’t have in our parks. Ian was in the mood for Chinese again, and we were all in the mood for something different, so we grabbed Chinese to go from a place called Lotus (not bad), stopped by the huge Dunnes food market (we became big fans of Dunnes while in Ireland) on St. Kieran’s Street to pick up food supplies (car snacks, picnic lunch for tomorrow, breakfast, drinks) and headed back to the apartment for dinner and an evening of chilling. Erica started the laundry but we would soon learn that the tiny dryer was more of a wet clothes warmer. So we actually converted the apartment into a large drying rack for the two days we were there. The dining room table became what we called the “Underwheel” (all of our underwear was placed around the round table) and all windows had clothes handing on or by them.

Next up, a day in Kilkenny and Waterford
paulg is offline  
Jul 28th, 2017, 08:34 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 66,072
Glad you enjoyed it. The Lake of Menteith was my parents very favorite place in all of Scotland and their ashes are scattered in the lake

Did you borrow the Coconut shells and take them out into the castle? Almost every time I've been there folks are clip-clopping around the courtyard.

Never trust a GPS The drive to GLA should have been a doddle . . .

You are not the first to be frustrated by European dryers.
janisj is offline  

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