First Time in Scotland

Sep 5th, 2001, 01:43 PM
Paul Vassallo
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First Time in Scotland

My wife and I arrive in London on Sept.16 for five days, departing by train on Sept. 21 for Edinburgh, where we shall be until Sept. 25, when we pick up a car for an eleven day trip driving around Scotland. This is the first visit for both of us in Scotland. Our plans are, in broad terms, to go North towards Aberdeen, then to Inverness, Isle of Skye, Oban, Jura and Islay, possibly Arran, then back to Edinburgh, not including Glasgow in our itinerary. As this is our first trip to Scotland we are not including areas, such as the Borders and the Southern Uplands, which we could visit some other time if we so decide. Any recommendations or comments are appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Sep 5th, 2001, 02:04 PM
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I'm not a Scotland expert (as some on this site are), but have spent some time travelling there.

Crail and St. Andrews are nice as you drive up the coast on the East side. Loch Ness and Urquhart (sp?) Castle are good for a picnic.

Inverewe Gardens are pretty.

If you go to Oban, it's worth a trip to Mull, especially Tobermory, and Iona (worth a couple of nights to escape the tour crowds). Loch Etive is near Oban, on the sea side of the mountains from Glencoe. It is starkly beautiful - try a boat cruise there. Glencoe is also lovely, of course.

The sealochs south of Oban were amazing to drive by.

The Trossachs are beautiful and hilly. I liked Stirling castle and Loch Katrine (another good place for a boat cruise).

I like Glasgow. Fun people and very lively, with some beautiful spots. I like the Burrell Collection there. It's a museum based on one man's very large and eclectic collection of every kind of applied art.

My relatives who took the night train up to Edinburgh from London got VERY hot in their sleeper car.

For planning, try the Michelin guide to Scotland. It has ratings of various destinations which may be of use to you.

Have a wonderful time!

Sep 5th, 2001, 02:18 PM
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that's a great itinerary; and I'm really pleased you're taking the time to do it properly.

I'm well known here for not being a fan of Inverness, but you kind of have to go through it.

I have a number of routes saved in Word documents; they have been posted here, but you will see lots of people bitchin' about the search function, so with your indulgence I'll email them to you.

Personally I love Islay and the west, so I'll chuck that one in. A variation on the theme. if you get the timing right, is to catch the ferry from Oban to Islay on a Wenesday afternoon- avoidinga long drive. If the weather's good, you'll love the sail. (If it's not-DRIVE!!)

What especially interests you and your wife? Why no Glasgow?
Sep 5th, 2001, 03:59 PM
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Your whole itineray is well thought out. The one concern is Arran. It is southwest of Glasgow and doesn't really fit in the rest of you itinerary. You could save it for your future trip when you do the Borders - since it is a nice fit with Ayrshire/Dumfries/Hadrian's Wall/the Borders.

Some further suggestions - do stay in Crail on you way towards Aberdeen. Check out the Caiplie Guest hgouse - terrific food and very inexpensive but comfy rooms. it is a good base for all of Fife including St Andrews.

Then just south of Stonehaven visit Dunnottar Castle - one of the best sites in the whole country.

If you have time when you are in/near Inverness (I'm with Sheila - don't stay in Inverness but somewhere in the surrounding countryside) visit the Black Isle - beautiful scenery and the bottlenose dolphins swim withing yard of the shore.
Sep 5th, 2001, 05:02 PM
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With only 5 days, you have cast your net too widely. I would spend at least 2 days in Edinburgh, maybe 3. There is lots to do including the new Museum of Scotland, which is worth 2-3 hours.

With such a short time, I would not do any of the islands. In fact, you could just stay in Ediburgh and take side trips to Stirling, St. Andrews, Pitlochry, etc. I wouldn't try to cover Inverness, Culloden in such a brief time.

Please note that on the map driving distances in Scotland look a lot shorter than they really are. Most of the major roads (except the "A" roads) are only 1 lane in each direction.

If you want to explore other parts of Scotland, you have to stay there a lot longer than 5 days.

Ultimately, however, it is your trip. I would sit down with a couple of good guide books and decide on what YOU want to see--and to heck with all the advice you are going to get on this thread. After all, it is your trip, and whatever makes you happy is what you should do.
Sep 5th, 2001, 05:09 PM
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Lauren, just to clarify, Paul said he'll have five days in London, then four in Edinburgh, then 11 for driving around Scotland.
Sep 5th, 2001, 05:19 PM
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KT, thanks for pointing out my mistake; I sure read over that initial post too quickly.

With 11 days, I would still plan a few based in Edinburgh. I have not spent a lot of time in Glasgow, so--aside from the Burrell Collection (the building is more interesting than the art in my opinion), I cannot give advice on Glasgow.

I would still stick basically to the mainland. I am not a fan of Inverness either, but, if you enjoy Scottish history, you might want to see Culloden and some of the castles in the Highlands.

If you want to do an island, Skye is the one that gets most of the publicity. I have not been there yet. I have been to Arran, but, if you only have 11 days, I wouldn't recommend it.

For shopping, make sure to stop at House of Bruar adjacent to Blair Castle. Best shopping in the Highlands!

In Edinburgh, be certain to stop at Jenner's Dept. Store. It is right out of "Are You Being Served?"

You will get all sorts of opinions about which castles are "the best". I really loved the painted ceilings in Crathes Castle, but that is just my preference.

Please remember that driving around in the car and packing up all the time is exhausting. I would plan to use no more than 3 locations as bases. Then use the locations as hubs to do day trips.

I have done two 3-4 week home exchanges in the Edinburgh area and still have a lot of things in Scotland I would like to see. There is never enough time!

By the way, the people are the most friendly people I have ever met and the food is great (much better than London).

Have a great trip!
Sep 5th, 2001, 09:03 PM
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Lauren - I think you need to read the original post AGAIN. They have 5 days in London, five days in Edinburgh, followed by 11 additional days to tour around by car. Sure - staying in Edinburgh, or anywhere for that matter - for 3 weeks would be great. But 11 days is certainly adequate to do a loop from Edinburgh northeast, across to the highlands, down to Skye and/or Mull, Oban, the Trossachs and back to Edinburgh to travel home.
Sep 5th, 2001, 09:20 PM
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Paul: Your trip sounds great! In my opinon, four days in Edinburgh should be plenty (I liked it very much, but cities make me a little bored and claustrophobic). The only island on which I am qualified to comment is Islay. It was fine, but much more...well, it was bigger than I thought, and there was a much of a muchness to the (lovely but not inspirational) scenery. I thought the distillaries were cool -- I picked up a beautiful bottle of Ardbeg for my brother. I also liked some of the hiking available, though, again, I have hiked in more inspiring locations.

If you are trying to "do" Islay in a day, I would recommend taking the ferry in to Port Ellen in the morning, if possible, as the other port (Askaig, I believe) is quite a drive from most of the distilleries.

Enjoy your time!
Sep 5th, 2001, 10:16 PM
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What a great trip! I agree with many comments in the above posts. Edinburg is a lovely place worth a few days.

We're big fans of the Highland area, and highly recommend you include it, especially if you enjoy scenery with haunting beauty and the feel of semi-isolation. There's so much to see there:
Ben Nevis near Fort William, Eilan Donan Castle, Corrieshalloch Gorge, Falls of Glomach, Falls of Shin.

If I had time I'd recommend swinging northwest from Inverness to take in Ullapool (on A835) then backtracking a few miles to A832 and driving the coast down to Skye via Poolewe, Gairlock and Sheildaig. The views at the top of Kyle of Lochalsh near the bridge to isle of Skye are fantastic.

We toured Skye in 2 days - a bit rushed but worth it. We only had time for the southern loop and had to skip seeing Uig and Staffin. Some points of interest are Kiltrock (rock formations off A855 17 miles N of Protre), and Dunvegan Castle.

If you have time there's an interesting natural site called Fingal's Cave on Staffa Island. I believe you can catch a boat at Iona, Oban, or Mull.

Enough rambling, though. Let me know if there's specifics I can provide and I'll dig out the logbook & maps. Hope you and your wife enjoya great time in one of our favorite places! Enjoy!
Sep 6th, 2001, 12:35 AM
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MT email blew up last night. If I can't fix it tonight, I'll post "longhand" but it'll bore the rest of you
Sep 6th, 2001, 07:05 AM
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Sheila, why not post longhand? I am sure many of us would enjoy reading. Oh, can not for the life of me understand why certain individuals put Inverness down. I thought the city was truly wonderful based on my in-depth 1 hour 10 minutes at the rail station pub!
Sep 6th, 2001, 07:42 AM
Paul Vassallo
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Travellyn, Sheila, Janis, Lauren, KT, ALW, Dee, Roger, and I hope I have not missed any among such a group of marvelous individuals, whom I thank for such responsiveness and for your suggestions. My wife and I love to travel and since I am now retired I have had the time to look at a large variety of resources, yes, including books such as Michelin, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide, Frommer's Scotland's Best Loved Driving Tours, as well as materials I received from the Scottish Tourist Board, and Scotsell, and of course, the Web. Your comments are truly icing on the cake. My wife and I enjoy visiting museums, the theater, opera and ballet, as well as the countryside, small villages and towms,and used to backpack when we were younger. So far, we have hotel reservations only in London and Edinburgh. As to the latter, I panicked when I sought accommodations at several hotels and discovered they were already booked for Sept. 21-22. As a result I booked at the Ben Doran Guest House for Sept. 21,departing the 25th., which is a little expensive. Are there other places in Scotland where we should make advance reservations for accommodations? I thought that we should not have any problem if we call from Edinburgh for the next stop and follow that pattern for the rest of the trip. Again, many thanks for your contributions. Paul.
Sep 6th, 2001, 11:33 AM
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Paul: It has been pretty well covered here. So, I will be brief. Inverness is not that bad. Nothing really norteworthy to see, but not that bad. Like many European Towns and Cities, it has ben "hamburgerized". On our first trip to Scotland, fifteen years ago, you could go to a Pub and get a true Ploughman's. No more. They have succombed to fast food.

If you get to Inverness, however, Elgin is close by (East) and a neat little town. We now prefer to stay here (many B&Bs) when we are in this area. A primarally stone village with an opportunity to see how the Scots live in a very non-touristed area. Much to see around Elgin: Culloden Battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charlie met his demise after some success against the English. Well marked with respect to what happened where. My favorite, Pluscarden Abbey, one of the most beautifully serene ancient sites in all of Europe. The Abbey, the surrounding fields kept by the Monks, the hills, just beautiful. We never miss stopping here. This will give you easy access to the Whisky Trail if you are so inclined. Even if you choose not to have a "wee dramm", the architecture and surroundings are beautiful and the drive ending in Perth is also beautiful; something like the Silverado Trail in the Wine Country of Northern California. If you do choose to imbibe, these are Great Single Malts. If you need a little rest after two or three samples, there are many picnic turn outs with pit, table and water where you can put the seats back and take a little nap. By-the-way, Perth is more enjoyable than Inverness. Edinburgh is a short drive from here. OK, I wasn't brief. But, can anyone be brief when writing about Scotland. Get to go back in May of 02.
Sep 6th, 2001, 01:10 PM
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Paul - if it is just the 2 of you you really don't need to make advance reservations anywhere - EXCEPT for London and Edinburgh as you already know.

For the other places on your itinerary - each town has a Tourist Information office (TI) which have "book a bed ahead" schemes. They will find you B&Bs in their area, or for a very small fee (I think it just went up to £3) will call ahead to the next area on your route. This system works great - especially in the off season since there are so many more places available.

It also gives you lots of flexibility - if you have pre-booked you are essentially locked into an itinerary. If the weather turns horrible, or you learn of a special event/exhibit, or you just fall in love with a place and want to stay longer - it is wonderful to not have everything locked in.
Sep 6th, 2001, 01:23 PM
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I just booked the Roxburghe hotel in Edinburgh for two nights at the end of Sept. for 90GBP per night (regular 150 GBP). You could try that--I don't know if it's cheaper than the reservation you have.
Sep 6th, 2001, 01:45 PM
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I agree about not bothering with reservations other than in London and Edinburgh. As one other poster said, you should have no trouble finding B&B's in the countryside, especially since you will be going after all the children are back in school and the intense tourism of summer is over.

The only problem might be that some sites might have more limited hours. Most things in Scotland, however, are open to the end of September.

Since you belong to AOL, PVass, you might want to check the AOL Scotland message boards as well as fodors. Try keyword "Scotland" and then go to the message boards. When you get there, look for the board labeled "travel". Unfortunately, this board is available only to AOL members, but there are many participants who travel there frequently and you will get tons of advice.

My trip reports for my August 2000 home exchange in South Queensferry (just west of Edinburgh) can be found (in 18 verbose parts) on

When you get to the site, go to the boards, then Europe and finally Scotland. The same reports are on AOL but, because the AOL board gets a lot more traffic, the reports are much easier to find on than on AOL. I do have a recommendation for a B&B in Culloden there, if you want it. The trip reports might give you some ideas of things you want to see (or don't care about).

And, yes, I do need to read the questions more carefully before shooting my mouth off. Please feel free to email me directly with specific questions if you think I can help. The address I posted all of this under is my "real" one.
Sep 6th, 2001, 03:24 PM
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I think my email's fixed and the message has been sent direct. Everything I sent is already on her, so I didn't want to bore those who've seen it all before.

This, however is a few words on Islay, Queen of the Hebrides.

I canít rave enough. The place is magic. Beaches, cliffs, birds, 8 distilleries, nice restaurants, good hotels and B&Bs, tremendous scenery and the best shop in the Inner Hebrides. And Iím giving you 2 days to see it all. Or else!

Have lunch in the Croft Kitchen in Port Charlotte, and dinner in the Lochside or the Harbour in Bowmore. Have you ever had a pint of prawns? Shop in the Croft Kitchen Royís in Bowmore and the Islay Woolen Mill shop- thereís one at the Mill but one in Bowmore too.

You should see

1. The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte
2. A distillery- preferably Lagavulin
3. The harbour at Portnahaven,
4. The Kildalton Cross
5. Finlaggan- the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles
6. the Round Church in Bowmore (so the devil canít find a corner to hide in)

An alternative afternoon involves pony trekking from Kintra on Lochindaal.

Given your cultural leanings I really don't understand why you would miss Glasgow out. So I sent the Glasgow document too.

Agree with janis that you don't need to book anywhere.

If I get a minute, I'll try to tailor something to your timeframe. How fixed is your route?
Sep 6th, 2001, 03:52 PM
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I enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life while driving in the Western Highlands in Scotland. Loch Lommond, Glencoe, Fort Willams, up to Inverness. Such beauty will stayed in your memory forever.
Sep 7th, 2001, 06:08 AM
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