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Help needed with 3 week trip to Scotland!

Help needed with 3 week trip to Scotland!

Old Jan 21st, 2014, 04:18 PM
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Help needed with 3 week trip to Scotland!

We (my mother, a friend and me) are planning a 3 week trip to Scotland in May. This forum has been a wonderful resource, but was hoping for some feedback and specific advice regarding best/most scenic routes, logistics are we missing anything we absolutely shouldn't, is the pace ok or too rushed, etc. Our main interests are amazing scenery, interesting ancient sites, some easy walking (no major hiking, nothing too steep, but definitely want to spend time out of the car and IN the wonderful scenery!), and seeing puffins. Some castles would be nice, no interest in golf.
This will be a driving trip - our friend will be doing all the driving, but we did a similar 3 week trip in Ireland a couple of years ago, and it worked out well, though don't want to schedule too much driving in one day. 2 of us will be flying from overseas, but our friend who will drive is from England, so the roads shouldn't be too challenging.

We'll have 22 nights, here is the plan so far:

May 3 - arrive in Edinburgh, spend 4 nights. ( 3 full days, + half a jetlagged day).
May 7 -leave Edinburgh in the morning, spend next 2 nights in Callendar. Wanted to visit Stirling, Inchmahome priory, Loch Lomond and/or Loch Katrine. Suggestions on how to plan those 2 days in the Callendar area, other things not to miss?
May 9 - leave Callendar for Oban, Plan to take the whole day, visit Glen Coe on the way. May take a walk here, if there are some easy ones? What else would be worth doing this day? Please suggest if Glen Coe is best visited on one of our later days after leaving Oban. Main goal of staying in Oban is to visit Iona and Treshnish Islands. (though of staying in Mull, but as the main things we want to do are go to the islands off Mull, Oban seems a more convenient base and we wouldn't have to rush that day trying to make a timed ferry to Mull. Plan next 3 nights in Oban (2 days).
May 10 - day trip from Mull to Staffa and Treshnish islands (specifically Lunga, to see the puffins! Heard this is one of the absolute best places to see them close up). Full day, return to Oban at night.
May 11 - return to Mull and take ferry to Iona. Spend a while there, return to Mull and take ferry back to Oban in the evening.
May 12 - leave Oban for Skye. Next 3 nights on Skye. we'll probably arrive by the end of the day, so that's 2 full days on Skye (more would be nice, but hopefully not too rushed)?. Suggestions on best/most scenic route, nice stops along the way? This seems like a long drive. Where to stay on Skye that is convenient and will minimize too much driving? What should be absolutely not miss on Skye - don't want to try to do it all in 2 days and rush around too much.
May 15 - leave Skye, next few days all about the scenery along the coast, ending up at ferry to Orkney. Plan to spend first night after leaving Skye in Ullapool. Visit Inverewe Gardens on the way. Suggestions on route, (Applecross drive?), any other good stops along the way? Should we stay in Ullapool, or go a bit further to Lochinver?
May 16 - Drive further along coast, end up in Durness for the night. Drive the small coast roads, ? visit Cape Wrath, walk along some beaches? Need suggestions for where to stop. We could also drive though faster, skip the Durness night and go straight to the ferry for Orkney, but this area seemed worth taking our time and going slower.
May 17- drive from Durness to Scrabster, take evening ferry 9(I think at 7 pm) to Orkney/Stromness. This gives us the whole day for the drive - any good stops along the way? Thought of going a bit past Scrabster to visit Mey Castle.Next 4 nights on Orkney (gives us 3 full days). We'll have a car on Orkney, may also take a small group or private tour if it's worth it.
May 21 - Take ferry back from Orkney at 6:30 am, or we could take the other ferry, Pentland back, at 7:45. Any advantage to taking a different ferry back.
We have 4 more nights in Scotland before our flight back. Not sure exactly where to spend those nights. Any suggestions, based on what we'll have already seen by this point?
I was thinking 3 nights somewhere near Inverness (not in the town), with a day trip to Glen Affric (any easy walks here?) and Urquhart castle/Loch Ness one day, another day to visit Culloden, maybe a castle nearby. We could split up the days but if there's one base that would be not too far a drive from Thurso and convenient for the day trips I mentioned, that might be best. Would like to fit in Dunnotar Castle, so could spend one night around Stonehaven, but I'm thinking that might be too rushed. Any suggestion for where to stay around Inverness? Also, suggestions for good stops along the way from Thurso to Inverness area, and best route?
May 24 --leave where ever we are, drive south to St Andrews - visit the town (beach cathedral, not specifically interested in golf) - stay here or somewhere nearby for last night.
may 25 - drive to Edinburgh airport for flight home (will be after 11 am, so would staying in/near St Andrews that night work?)

Sorry for the lengthy post, really looking forward to feedback and suggestions!
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 04:51 PM
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I like most of you itinerary (It is Callander BTW) . . . except the time in Oban. IMO/IME - you should definitely stay ON Mull. I'd pick Fionnphort myself. The drive over to Oban and the ferry isn't bad at all so you should easily be able to get one of the afternoon ferries. It is only a 2 hour drive so you'd have plenty of time to stop at Kilchurn and Dunstaffnage castles and other places along the route. (Or if you want to loop up by way of Glencoe it is still only a 3 hour drive) I wouldn't stay in Oban since everything you want to see/do is based around Mull. Check out this B&B http://www.seaview-mull.co.uk

Then you can visit Glencoe between Oban and Skye. You actually have your choice of ferries/routes off Mull - but if you go back to Oban - then Glencoe fit better on that leg.

For your 'near St Andrews' stay - I'd choose Crail.
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 06:51 PM
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Definitely agree with Janis about not returning to Oban and then going back out again. The trip to Staffa and Iona both leave from Fionnphortso you would save many hours and some money by not returning to Oban each night.

As I recall it was an hour's drive to Fionnphort from the ferry from Oban and the ferry trip was not quick. We saw puffins on Staffa. It was a walk out to where they were nesting. I was surprised to find that they nested in burrows. I thought that they lived on rock cliffs. My nephews (11 and 14) and I thought that this was one of the most special days of our time in Scotland. We were within just a few feet of puffin burrows and sat there for half an hour or so watching them coming and going.


Iona is a five minute ferry ride from Fionnphort. We left our car behind for the day and enjoyed the walk out to the abbey and exploring the sandy beach.

We were lucky to have a cool but spectacularly sunny bright day in July for our time on Mull.

Duarte Castle on Mull has a gruesome history and is worth a stop.

Dunstaffnage Castle that Janis mentioned is well worth a stop.

You mentioned visiting a castle near Culloden. We spent the morning at Culloden and then visited both Cawdor Castle and Castle Stewart in the afternoon.

If you return from Skye via the bridge Eileen Donan castle is not far. It is the one that is always pictured reflected in the water. It gets mixed reviews, but I enjoyed our stop there.

Have a wonderful trip and enjoy every minute! (And don't forget a trip report, please)
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 07:23 PM
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I knew people wouldn't like the idea of staying in Oban! My first plan was to stay in Mull (and I had the Seaview B&B in fionnphort bookmarked!). But when I looked at what we were going to do on Mull (going to other islands, not really spending that much time on Mull itself), Oban seemed a better base. Also it seemed we'd save some money that way. The all day trip to Staffa and Treshnish ( I think in May the puffins are on Lunga/Treshnish, but likely not on staffa, so definitely want to go to Lunga!) costs the same from Oban as leaving from Mull for some reason. It's an all day trip, so we really wouldn't use our car to see Mull that day. The next day we really wanted to spend most of the day on Iona (unless that's too long?), so again wouldn't use our car on Mull. Therefore I thought by staying in Oban we'd save the cost of bringing the car on the ferry. We'd also have no time pressure getting from Callander to Oban in order to make it in time for a pre-booked ferry. I thought we might want to linger in Glen Coe (originally thought we'd want a night here, but doesn't fit into the itinerary), and see other things on the way. Kilmartin, maybe? Also, thought it would be a more manageable drive from Oban to Portree or wherever we stay on Skye, rather than leaving from Mull, and we'd get to Skye earlier.
Do you still think staying in Mull would be better? How long would it take to get from Mull to Skye, and if we stayed on Mull, what ferry should we take to get to Skye - the Oban one, or take a different route.
Also, do we have to prebook the Mull ferry, and the one to Skye (assuming we should take the ferry to Skye from Oban/Mull, and leave Skye via the bridge)? I was going to prebook the Orkney ferry, but wasn't sure about the others.
Will definitely do a trip report (even if it's a brief one)!
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 09:30 PM
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>>Do you still think staying in Mull would be better?>How long would it take to get from Mull to Skye, and if we stayed on Mull, what ferry should we take to get to Skye - the Oban one, or take a different route. >Also, thought it would be a more manageable drive from Oban to Portree or wherever we stay on Skye, rather than leaving from Mull, and we'd get to Skye earlier.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 02:44 AM
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If you are attracted to Inverewe Gardens, and you should be, you might enjoy spending your three "extra "days in the Aberdeen-Ballater-Balmoral area. It is gently beautiful, with lovely gardens and castles.

That's a lot of time on Orkney, in my opinion, especially if the weather is bad.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 03:36 AM
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The boatman on the way to Lunga called it puffin therapy. There's a bit of a scramble over the rocks, fine if you are young and fit. Being old and unfit, I was forced to accept the help of a husky young boatman ;-)
If you sit still and watch them, the puffins are very tame. They may try to untie your shoelaces
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 04:36 AM
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Miss Prism, love your tale of puffins trying to untie shoe laces!
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 04:44 AM
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Great advice. My trip is similar and I will post soon. I use all of this to help me fine tune my itinerary.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 05:01 PM
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I would love it if the puffins come near enough to untie my shoelaces. Miss Prism, I think my mother will be glad to accept the help of the young husky boatman.

We will reconsider staying in Mull rather than Oban. As I said, that was the original plan.

Any other comments on specific routes, places to stop (to see or eat!) along the way, places to stay? Have not really looked at accomodation much yet. Looking at guest houses or larger B&B's, small hotels would work, but want to stay at places where they have special rates for singles, since we'd need a double and a single.We'd like to keep the cost for the double to no more than 80-90 pounds or so a night, and hopefully around 50 for the single, on average.

Ackislander, 3 days too long on Orkney? I had thought there was a lot to do there, and it might not be enough! Of course, everything is weather dependent, but still.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2014, 05:14 PM
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Since you say you want to see interesting ancient sites and are looking for something to see near Culloden, I suggest Clava Cairns, a group of three prehistoric burial mounds with rings of standing stones.

You asked about easy walks at Glen Coe. There is one leaving from the visitor center that I walked with my friends that provides an easy scenic loop. Maps are available at the visitor center. I believe it is called the woodland walk.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2014, 04:39 PM
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We spent four days on Orkney and found plenty to do - Scara Brae, St. Magnus in Kirkwall, driving down to St. Margaret's Hope past the Italian chapel, Highland Park distillery, and because we were there on Sunday, our B&B host insisted we go have tea at midday where we were the only non-locals - brilliant. You want to book the ferry from Scrabster, and be mindful that it can be really rough crossing even in mild weather.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2014, 04:42 PM
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The next day we really wanted to spend most of the day on Iona (unless that's too long?), so again wouldn't use our car on Mull......

But how will you GET to the Iona ferry if not by car? From Craignish to the ferry on Mull it's 35 miles of single track....
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Old Jan 23rd, 2014, 07:57 PM
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A couple of particulars along your path to consider:

1.Views from the top of the ski lift at Aonach Mor (Ben Nevis). I assume the ski season will be done by then and some very short paths at the top lead to some amazing views.

2. The boat ride to Loch Coruisk on Skye. The single track road is a bit of a trek but what a fun, magical place.

On Skye we stayed with Natasha and Callum at Scalpay View B&B... just checked and they list at 70 pounds for a double and a mere 45 for a single, which fits the budget!. It's their house, with a couple of basic bedrooms but they were terrific hosts.
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Old Jan 24th, 2014, 03:13 PM
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Thanks for the tips, RoamEurope. The B&B sounds great. Did you like the location near Broadford? We had been thinking of staying further north, near Portree or Glendale, but really have no idea which location would be best.

Oliverandharry, did you have a B&B suggestion for Orkney? Given we'll be getting in to Stromness in the evening on the evening ferry, and leaving early in the morning, would Stromness be the best place to stay? We could stay in Kirkwall too if that would be better.
Regarding getting to Iona, I think there are local buses that are timed to meet the ferry from Oban that take you to Fionnphort to the Iona ferry site and bring you back. Anyone know if that's correct? If not, we'd definitely need the car!
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Old Jan 24th, 2014, 05:03 PM
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You can tale a tour from Oban that includes a coach across to the Iona ferry - or there are three buses a day from craignure to Fionnphort so I imagine some are scheduled to coincide with the ferry.

I know it's probably falling on deaf ears, but I'd REALLY consider staying on Mull. You are going in May and it will be light very late, you can explore Mull for hours after the last ferry leaves each afternoon.

Not quite sure why you think Mull isn't worth any time itself. . . . .
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Old Jan 24th, 2014, 06:37 PM
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Janis, I'm definitely considering staying on Mull, not ignoring what you and most others are saying! As I said, that was the original plan. One of the issues is we'll be three people, and may want to do different things. For instance,our friend may prefer to do a day trip to Kilmartin from Oban, while we went on the Treshnish isles/staffa boat trip. Or she may not - but she thinks she may like the flexibility of staying on the mainland so she can decide what she wants to do on the day itself.
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Old Jan 25th, 2014, 08:18 AM
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We stayed at the Karrawa Guest House in Kirkwall, it was lovely. I would not stay in Stromness, it's a bit grim. If you return on the Pentland ferry you will be close to John O'Groats, which is beautiful if lonely landscape. Mull is one of my favorite places in the world, I prefer it to Skye. In Craignure there is a nice B&B called the Old Mill which has single and doubles rooms from 40 pounds pp. We have stayed there and would again - the owner is/was a chef and the breakfast was great. Your friend could drop you at the bus for Iona and have the car for the day, but I echo the hope that you all will see some of Mull. We went on to Skye from the Fishnish/Lochaline ferry.
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Old Jan 26th, 2014, 07:21 PM
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>>>Thanks for the tips, RoamEurope. The B&B sounds great. Did you like the location near Broadford?
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Old Jan 27th, 2014, 04:06 PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. We are going to follow Janis and everyone else's advice and stay 3 nights on Mull instead of in Oban.
Any other suggestions regarding the rest of the route, thinks to see, places to stop along the way?
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