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Our May 2024 Scotland trip - Orkney, Mull, Kilmartin, Edinburgh and more

Our May 2024 Scotland trip - Orkney, Mull, Kilmartin, Edinburgh and more

Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:08 AM
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Our May 2024 Scotland trip - Orkney, Mull, Kilmartin, Edinburgh and more

Hubby (dh) and I recently returned from a 14-day trip to Scotland (May 14-28, 2024), where we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. (We had initially planned to go a year earlier, on our 30th, but realized we needed that full year of advance planning.) As always, when we return from our trips, I try to write a trip report to pay it forward for all the online help I received. I’m the planner in our family, and I always hope that by detailing what we learned during our trip I can help someone else in the future.

My usual warning, though: I’m very detail oriented and my reports tend to turn into novels by the time I’m done (and those were merely the 7-10 day trips), so If you don’t like lengthy reports (and many, many pix), you might want to stop now. Just fair warning! Otherwise, on with the trip report!

Last edited by scraphappylady1; Jun 24th, 2024 at 07:22 AM.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:11 AM
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Prior to the start of our trip, we encountered a few pesky problems, chiefly with flights. Nothing terrible, and honestly, I expected some change because we booked both British Airways and Loganair (to Orkney) so far in advance, but it was a bit annoying. With some diligence on our part, though, all worked out. BA ended up changing our seats (which we paid to pick from the start) four times, each time they changed the type of plane we would take. I only ever got one email about a change.

So, after the second time, I began to go online each Monday morning, from about five months out, and double check our seats were still the same. Each time our seats were changed, I was able to pick new ones we were happy with in the price range we had chosen. Our Loganair seats never changed, but there were minor issues with them, too.

Four months before the start of our trip, Loganair emailed me to let me know our original 9:30a flight from Edinburgh had been cancelled; we were now on the 7:30a flight. Well, ok, except I had booked us a hotel (for the night before) in the middle of Old City Edinburgh, about 25-30 minutes’ travel time from the airport. And we always try to get to the airport for domestic flights at least two hours ahead.

So now we would need to leave the Old City at 5a-ish. And get up even earlier to re-pack, as we were required to check at least our bigger bags for this flight; plus eat breakfast and hope traffic wasn’t bad. Just didn’t work for me. I regretfully cancelled our castle-view Old City hotel room, and re-booked at the Hampton, a few-minute walk from the terminal. At least breakfast there started at 4a.

BA also gave me a few heart stopping minutes with about three months to go. I was getting ready to start my routine at the gym when I got a text our BA flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh had been cancelled. Well, I wasn’t going to rush home, as I was at the gym already, but it was the longest hour of exercising I ever did. When I got home, I saw they had booked us on another flight and gave us a layover time of . . . . 5 minutes. Obviously, they just threw us into any old slot, but it was very annoying.

It turned out in our favor, though. I went online, scrolled through the many Heathrow to Edinburgh flights that day, picked one that gave us a new, five-hour layover, and called BA customer service. I politely asked to be re-scheduled on my new choice, and within 5 minutes had it booked. We liked the new seats even better. And, with more time on the ground now, we would be able to leisurely take a shower and have breakfast in the lounge (business class, we treated ourselves) before going on to the rest of our day in Edinburgh. Win there.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 07:17 AM
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Day Zero, Tuesday, May 14: our Day Zero, as I like to term it, was traveling overnight Philadelphia to Heathrow, leaving around 6:40p, and landing around 6:30a Wed, May 15, then continuing on to Edinburgh. We had gotten to Philadelphia a few hours early, and with only carry-on luggage, got through security quickly, and spent some time in the lounge before leaving. The flight left almost on time.



Here's to a successful trip!

Excited to get started

Dh in his little pod on BA

My little pod

Sunrise about an hour before landing at Heathrow
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 08:14 AM
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I love a detail-oriented planner! But --oof-- flight changes... I hate having to babysit reservations for months and months.

Looking forward to reading your report.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 10:41 AM
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Jean - for me, planning is half the fun of taking a trip, so maybe I tend to go overboard just a tiny bit?

And, yes, I agree, flight changes are the worst. I like your word - "babysitting" - the reservations for months. Good term for it. But, as I said, I knew this might happen since we are fairly early bookers when it comes to flights. For this trip, I jumped on the tickets the minute I saw a price I liked. Some six-plus months ahead, though. Sigh.

Much more report coming - just organizing the pix to go with.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 10:47 AM
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Day 1, Wednesday, May 15: coming into Heathrow, we were running about twenty minutes late, but since we had a long layover, we didn’t rush to de-plane. We came into the Terminal 5 satellite terminal B, and as always seems to be the case, the shuttle tram to the main Terminal 5 was jam packed. On the advice of others online, we decided to go to the BA arrivals lounge outside of security, on the notion that it was larger and wouldn’t be so crowded. Well, seating was a bit tight, but it was an even longer wait for a shower room.

In the past, dh came through this same lounge frequently and had always gotten a shower room in less than ten minutes; when he came through early last year, most of the 30 or so showers appeared to be operating. But not so this time. When we walked by them this time, almost half were not being used. We don’t know if it was budget cuts, lack of employees or what, but it took us almost an hour and a half to get one. We were given beepers and sent off to get something to eat while we waited.

After a shower, and back to finally feeling human again, we still had plenty of time before our Edinburgh flight. We decided to head back through security first, and then over to the North BA lounge, so we would be closer to where our flight departed from.

Security was quick and we had time to use one of the ATMs in the terminal. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one that used the free LINK system and ended up paying a few pounds fee to withdraw money. But we wanted to get British pounds here in London, before heading to Scotland. I had read several posts discussing how shops in England often won’t take Scottish money, because they are unfamiliar with it.

We figured we’d visit England/London again in the future before Scotland, so we would be better off with leftover English pounds, rather than Scottish ones. As it was, we did use money several times – as opposed to the cards – and only came home with about twenty-five pounds in notes, one of which was a Scottish five-pound note. If we can’t use it in the future, it will make a nice souvenir.

With the longer layover, we ended up arriving in Edinburgh after 1pm. But with only a ten-minute walk to the Hampton near the terminal, we dropped our luggage in our room by 2p, quickly found the Airlink 100 bus stop a short walk away and got return tickets to Princes Street for £8 each (easy contactless on our phones, pay on the bus.) Traffic made the trip a bit slow, but after about 35 minutes, we were off the bus, heading to Dishoom for a late lunch/early supper.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 10:52 AM
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Earlier, in our hotel room, we had tried to book online, as lunch is available to book but not supper; but every slot was full. We figured we’d give it a shot anyway and walked into a half empty place when we got there.

We both like Indian food and it was very good. (Familiar restaurant to me, new to dh). Dh chose a half order of the sali boti (a chef’s special), while I went with murgh malai (spicier dish for dh, not so much for me) and we shared an order of garlic naan and a paneer roomali roll. We both opted for mango fennel lassis. No desserts, but we would eat plenty of those in the coming days.


My murgh malai

Sali boti for dh

Garlic naan and a paneer roomali roll

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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 10:56 AM
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It was a beautiful day, even a bit warm in the bright sun (close to 68F), so after we ate, we spent some time walking near Waverley train station, and the Scott Memorial, an area that was new to us from our prior visit. A meander up to the Royal Mile to spend some time in a favorite - St. Giles Cathedral - and to visit a few (very touristy) shops, and then we were on our way back to the hotel. With plans to be down at breakfast by 4:30a, we were in bed before 8p. As the sun sets so late this time of year, the light blocking curtains were welcome indeed.


Near Waverly

Scott Memorial

Princes Street Park

St. Giles Cathedral - a favorite of ours

St. Giles

St. Giles

St. Giles

Looking down the Royal Mile - seemed busier than around the same time six years ago.

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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 11:21 AM
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Love your photos of Edinburgh! We were there last June for 4 nights, and wish we had an extra night or two. Where did you take the photo labeled Near Waverly from? I like your version better than ours. Looks like you were at a higher vantage point.
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 12:08 PM
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Karen - thanks! We loved Edinburgh when we visited six years ago and had hoped to see more of the city again this trip, but sadly we had very little time to explore. It was almost a pass through point (kind of like London/Heathrow) for us, so we definitely have it on our list to go back to in the future.

As for the photo - if I remember correctly, we were just at the top of the Waverly Bridge street, coming off Princes Street, between the Monument and the Waverly Market/Mall. The road is blocked off to traffic there, and a street performer was singing for a crowd. I was aiming up toward the Cathedral and wanted to get a pix over everyone's head.

Thanks for following along!

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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 09:51 PM
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Following your TR keenly, Scotland is one of our favourites. Thank you scraphappylady1 ! We spent a few days in Orkney, as part of a larger NC500/Northern Highlands focused roadtrip in May 2023.
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 02:54 AM
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Well, thanks for following along, ANUJ! I never knew how many people have visited or want to visit Orkney, until we started planning our trip! I jump right into the Orkney section next . . .
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 02:58 AM
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Day 2, Thursday, May 16: a very foggy morning, but our Loganair flight to Orkney never ended up being delayed or cancelled. We got through check-in/bag drop and security quickly; still had to take our belts and watches off but could leave the shoes on this time. And we also needed to drag out the iPad mini and the 311 bags, but they did offer UK 311 bags prior to the start of security. It was a simple matter to drop our Ziploc baggies into the new ones. I grabbed a few for the return flight.

We waited only about 45 minutes before our gate number was put up on the board. There was no gangway, simply a short bus ride out to our little plane and up the stairs.


A very foggy start to the morning

Our little plane to Orkney

Boarding right from the tarmac


Upon entering the plane, we were asked if we could sit in the front emergency exit row. We agreed, put our carry-ons up top (nothing allowed in front of us in that row) and waited for take-off. The plane wasn’t quite full, and we had plenty of room overhead for our bags. I had rigorously packed them, nervous over Loganair’s smaller dimensions, but needn’t have worried so much – no one gave them a second glance. And just an observation – Loganair likes their tartan!
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:04 AM
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The flight took a little over an hour, and about halfway through, we saw breaks in the clouds. We landed in Kirkwall to gorgeous sunny blue skies. It was funny to see our luggage come into the terminal on the same small little belt we had just passed coming into the building.


Coming in for a landing at the airport

Tiny terminal. We got off the plane onto the tarmac, too.

Field right next to the airport.


We had reserved a car from Drive Orkney, and a few days ahead received an email with very good instructions on how to find it in the airport parking lot. DO was very easy to deal with and the entire rental went smoothly. When booking (about four months out), I had requested a zero excess for CDW but could only get it down to £700. We were careful, though, and didn’t have any damage when we returned a few days later.

The car keys and rental contract were simply left in the (unlocked) car at the airport. Since everything was done contactless, a diagram was included, on which DO noted any current damage (a crack in part of the windshield that grew a bit while we were driving, but not by our efforts, so no worries) and we made sure to take pix before and after the rental. Because of our scheduled flight change, we arrived earlier than expected, but still within the 24 hour/day limit of the rental, and the car was conveniently there already, so we were on our way shortly after landing.

After a quick Google search for a car park in Kirkwall, we input the postal code into the sat nav (included in the rental this time, not like six years ago when we had to specifically reserve a car with one.) And the postal codes were so helpful, taking us very close to the spot we wanted to go. They weren’t pinpoint precise, but so much better than trying to use Google maps and our precious data.


Heading into Kirkwall; cruise ship already in port

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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:08 AM
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my favorite isle, on for the ride
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:11 AM
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We spent the next several hours touring the Earl’s Palace and the Bishop’s palace (both ruins; we have quite a thing for European ruins!) Foot traffic increased as the day went on, since there was a German cruise ship in port, but nothing overwhelming.


St Magnus Cathedral

Next, on to the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces










We had a leisurely lunch and did a bit of souvenir shopping at Judith Glue Café, right across from St. Magnus Cathedral. The homemade food was very good – sandwiches for both of us, then a few baked goods and cappuccino for dessert. Some of the items offered in the attached gift shop were made by crafters on the island. I did a bit of damage to the credit card here, while dh was back at the parking lot “feeding” the digital meter for another few hours.


Nice place for lunch and shopping

Kirkwall Harbor
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:19 AM
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After meandering around town a bit more post-lunch, we headed back to St. Magnus Cathedral. We were taking a small group (limit of 6 people) behind-the-scenes, upper-level tour of St. Magnus Cathedral at 2p, and took a bit of time to view the Cathedral from the ground floor first.

Our tour started with the triforium and finished outside at the very top of the cathedral. Very interesting but a bit nerve-wracking, especially using the circular stairs on the way up and down. So much so, that we were shown pictures ahead of time, of people navigating the stairs and narrow corridors, and asked if we wanted to back out - before being charged. I thought it was very smart of them to offer, but we all opted to stay and had a wonderful almost two-hour tour.


Looking up from the ground floor

Quite impressive

We started our tour in the Triforium

View from the Triforium

Beautiful views from up here as well

Still haven't gone all the way up


Slow and steady on the stairs was the key; that and very handily placed ropes to hold onto. The cost was £10.60/pp and well worth it. We had reserved about two weeks before our trip began (by phone) and got the last two spaces. We considered ourselves lucky.

Not for the faint of heart

Getting closer to the top; we learned that the bulbs in those lights don't get changed very often

We had the chance to ring the bells, too.

View out over Kirkwall

Felt the need to document how far up we came

What a view!

Last edited by scraphappylady1; Jun 25th, 2024 at 03:26 AM. Reason: forgot a paragraph
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:27 AM
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Thanks for following along Bilboburgler!
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:31 AM
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it is worth noting that Orkney has one of the highest density of City and Guild trained crafter in the UK. Many of the things you can buy have been made by real artists at the end of their career or children of real artists sent away for the best skills education you can get. Your wallet may groan now but the items can be of the highest quality.

Judith Glue is sort of the middle of the range shop but still very nice stuff indeed
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Old Jun 25th, 2024, 03:42 AM
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I'm not surprised Orkney has so many well-trained crafters - most of the items we saw all over the island were very well made. I did check out the online Orkney magazine before we came, and noted the many little shops on the island. We were able to get to a few of them, not as many as I would have liked.

I certainly didn't mind paying what they were asking; it was really worth it. And it was nice to start our trip off buying "local." I'm a big believer in supporting the local economy. I would only say the wallet (and dh ) were groaning because I didn't limit my buying to just one thing!


Last edited by scraphappylady1; Jun 25th, 2024 at 03:45 AM.
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