Scotland in Summer - Need Help!

Nov 17th, 2013, 08:20 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2013
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Scotland in Summer - Need Help!

Hello, all,

My husband and I are planning a trip to Scotland next summer (2014) for about 10-12 days. Our dates are flexible at this point--I'm a teacher, so we can go anytime between mid-June and mid-August.

This will be his first trip to Europe, and my first since childhood! We are excited, but a little daunted by all of the information out there. We took an amazing roadtrip in the US Southwest a few years ago and fell in love with the roadtrip style of travel: no strict schedules, masters of our own destinies, etc., so we would be happy to rent a car, though I'm a little nervous about driving on the left.

Here are our interests:
1. Interesting museums, castles, gardens
2. Highland games - We'd love to spend a day at a festival, if the timing works out
3. Beautiful scenery, nature walks, light hiking
4. Time to relax, walk around, enjoy a pint, enjoy the locals, not feel scheduled

We don't really care about whisky or golf and would be fine to skip those aspects.

We are flying from Baltimore/DC. It looks as if it's a bit cheaper to fly nonstop to London and take a train to Edinburgh or Glasgow, but I'm not sure if that's a huge PITA...should we just pay a little extra for a flight to Glasgow or Edinburgh? It would require a connection in either Reykjavik or London.

Has anyone done a trip like this? Our emphasis is on the quality of our time, not the quantity of sites. I've read so much at this point that all the info has melted in my head and I feel a bit paralyzed. I know that one person's "must-see" is another person's snooze-fest, but I'd still love to hear advice from those in the know. Any advice would be much appreciated, especially in the form of a suggested itinerary, with locations and lengths of time!

amelville is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 08:31 AM
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Fly into Edinburgh and stay there for a few days and see the castle, museums, and shopping. Then rent a car and head towards Inverness -- the capital of the highlands. Using Inverness as a base puts you in a good position for Loch Ness, Culloden, Clava Cairns, the Cairngorms, Black Isle, Ullapool, Fort Augustus, etc. You can also get to Isle of Skye.

There are several books out on short hikes and treks in the highlands. I suggest picking one up.

As far as Highland Games go, I can't offer a schedule for you. Our friends in Scotland always like to rib us about the Highland Games in the U.S. being bigger deals, and more highly attended than the ones in Scotland.
sparkchaser is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 08:34 AM
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Definitely make sure that your rental car has a GPS.
sparkchaser is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 08:53 AM
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I would fly directly into Edinburgh (nonstops from Newark and Philly, otherwise numerous connection possibilities; personally I'd skip Heathrow if possible.) The airport-to-train yoga in London is very tiring after a transatlantic flight, and not cheaper when you add it all up.

Regarding timing, through most of August Edinburgh is in the grips of various festivals, and while the city is absolutely electric in that time, accommodations become tight and expensive, so advance planning is very important.

While your preferred style of touring (mine too) is certainly doable, accommodation in some areas (e.g. Skye) is limited and you might find it hard to arrange on an ad hoc basis. You might consider picking one or two places (outside Edinburgh) as bases for a couple or three nights, and then just do day trips from those. Driving is not hard; you'll get used to it pretty quickly, and once outside of the cities the roads are more than adequate. (You'll be far from the only right-side drivers present; the number of people from the continent will amaze you.)

While the Highlands are a big draw and rightly so, don't overlook some of the other areas, such as Fife, East Lothian, Aberdeenshire and the Borders. Some of the most beautiful scenery is in these areas, as well as lovely little fishing villages, market towns, castles and other attractions.

You have plenty of time to do your research; it's worth the effort and you won't be disappointed.

Highland games listing -
Gardyloo is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 08:57 AM
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Here's a great website about Highland Walks, with lots of trip (walk) reports:

(Note: if hiking, it's worth learning about midges:
dfourh is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 09:19 AM
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I was going to mention midges. They are at their worst in July and August and are no joke. They descend in clouds and are tiny, so get to places you wouldn't expect
MissPrism is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 09:29 AM
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I would fly to Scotland. we stayed a week in Callendar (Leny Lodge self catering), a nice location for day trips.
bigtyke is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:02 AM
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First, I would say fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Given the short amount of time you are talking about, losing any of it taking a train from London just doesn't make any sense.

If a road trip appeals to you then you can certainly do so just as you would in the US Southwest. Don't listen to anyone telling you that you need to book ahead. I never do and have never had to sleep on a park bench yet.

If you want to visit Edinburgh on arrival or pre-departure, fine, book that if you wish but don't worry about whether you can wing it the rest of the time. If you want to road trip the entire time I would only book the first night. You'll be jet-lagged and it will be enough to just get from the airport to your first stop.

Gardyloo has given you a link to the list of Highland Games, no problem knowing where they are when.

Re hiking, no shortage of places to do that either. There are plenty of online sites as well as books.

I would start by first getting the flight question answered. That will determine your start and end points. Then I would look at a road map and plan a route.

A road trip is about seeing and doing things along the route, not about fitting a route to a list of places. It's a cart and horse question. Most people don't actually understand what a road trip really is.

Once you have a route picked out, then is the time to look for info on what is available along that route. Otherwise what you are going to get here is a list of places that OTHER people like and want to tell you to see, without any regard to whether those places are on your proposed route or not.

Your route will differ if you start from Glasgow vs. Edinburgh for example. Starting from Edinburgh I would probably head first for the Fife coast which Gardyloo mentions. If starting from Glasgow I would probably head first for Loch Lomond and probably never get to Fife.

You say 10-12 days. That's very short and especially if it includes your arrival and departure days which are basically a write off. So you need to pin that down as well, before looking at a route. Bear in mind that your speed will be lower than it would be in the US Southwest for example. An average of 50 mph can even be hard to maintain in some areas. So don't plan to try and cover too much ground in such a short time unless you want to spend the majority of each day just driving.

Here is one route for example. I don't know if the link will work so here are the place names it includes as waypoints on Mapquest.

Glasgow, Ft. William, Inverness, Wick, Thurso, Ullapool, Inverness, Ballater, Stonehaven, Pitlochry, Killin, Glasgow.

Mapquest says it is only 17 hours total driving time but believe me you will take longer than that and find more than enough of interest along the way to fill all your time.
dulciusexasperis is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:08 AM
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Thought I'd link to a tiny trip report I filed after a high-speed visit in June. As you can see from the linked maps, one can cover a lot of ground in a few hours if one is mad enough to try. I'm not recommending a repeat of this, only showing what's technically feasible.
Gardyloo is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:14 AM
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Yeah, the link just takes you to the basic map. Put in the list of place names above and you will see it is a figure 8 route.

Re midges. Personally, I find them highly over-rated. I have backpacked in Scotland during their season and while swarms of them have surrounded me, they have not bitten me while I was using Avon Skin So Soft as a repellant. They are definitely a nuisance, getting into everything including your mouth, ears, etc. but mosquitoes or black flies if you are familiar with them, are far worse.

Anyone used to hiking in areas with black flies or mosquitoes probably knows enough to minimize their affect and still enjoy a hike.

As you will see in the link, the way to deal with midges is the same as with mosquitoes or black flies.
dulciusexasperis is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:15 AM
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Oops, Gardyloo posted between my first and second posts. My comments refer to my first post.
dulciusexasperis is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:44 AM
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Fort William, Inverness, Thurso and Wick
Right. I had an aunt in Thurso and have probably made more trips to Scotland than you have had hot dinners. I wouldn't recommend any of those places.
Inverness is quite a pleasant town, but it isn't really a tourist destination.
I also repeat that it is best to avoid the midge season unless you enjoy having small biting insects exploring your eyes, nostrils and other parts not completely covered and even parts that are.
MissPrism is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 10:50 AM
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Wow, you guys are amazing! Thanks so much for your help!!

So, we'll fly straight to Scotland--thanks for talking me out of a bad idea. Glasgow's most likely where we'll land, based on current pricing, but it's too early to book flights, so we could end up starting in, is there anything wrong with landing in Glasgow and driving straight over to Edinburgh? I was thinking that a counterclockwise journey might be nice, as Skye and Loch Lomond would fall at the end of our trip, and those areas seem a beautiful way to end the journey.

How would this work?

1. Land in Glasgow. Drive straight to Edinburgh. Stay 2-3 days, explore Edinburgh, Stirling, Drummond Castle Gardens
2. Drive through Fife, Dundee Botanic Gardens, perhaps stay a night? (or maybe stay 1 night in Edinburgh and 2-3 in Fife?)
3. Drive to Aberdeenshire and stay about 2 days, explore Cairngorm, wander around, get lost (or would you say Pitlochry offers more than Aberdeenshire as a central base?)
4. Drive to Skye, 3 days (long enough?)
5. Drive to Loch Lomond area, 2 days (is that too long?)
6. Drive to Glasgow, fly home.

Does that look like a feasible, if skeletal, plan? Again, I can't thank you all enough!
amelville is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 11:03 AM
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Staying in central Edinburgh with a car is extremely problematic; parking is scarce and very expensive. And frankly if you haven't driven on the left, starting by traveling on very busy highways through Glasgow (the airport is to the west of city, Edinburgh is to the east) and then across the Central Belt, while jetlagged... oy.

Fly into Edinburgh, and don't pick up the car until you're ready to leave. You'll probably save a lot more money than you would by flying into Glasgow and getting the car there.

Your route is fine. Personally I'm not a huge fan of Pitlochry, or, truth be told, the Cairngorms in general, if one is comparing that area to, say, the northwestern Highlands (up the coast from Skye.) However if that's what you decide, it's more than fine; an embarrassment of riches as they say.
Gardyloo is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 11:26 AM
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Late to the Party - and you have received a lot of good advice. >>Personally I'm not a huge fan of Pitlochry, or, truth be told, the Cairngorms in general,<< could not agree more. Compared to some other parts of Scotland anyway.

Pitlochry is a touristy place which I only visit when/if I am going to the theatre. The Cairngorms aren't knock-your-socks-off like LOTS of other places. They are something to drive through enroute . . . not really a destination IMO.

I'd start in Edinburgh car-less and then do the driving bits after you are over the jet lag. You can fly into EDI - OR - fly into GLA if the fares are substantially lower and take public transport into Glasgow and the train to Edinburgh. A bit of a schlepp but not terrible. Fly into EDI if you can though.
janisj is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 11:54 AM
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Again, you guys are awesome. What did people do before the internet!?

Okay, straight to Edinburgh is it.

For those of you who aren't fans of Pitlochry, I hear you. You've confirmed my concerns--it looks a little...flavorless?

But are you saying we might want to skip the northeast generally? Is Aberdeenshire worth a stay? Are there any off-the-beaten-path regions we might want to try instead that I haven't included in my initial itinerary?

Thanks again!
amelville is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 11:55 AM
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I guess I should add that I'm particularly intrigued by the northwest Highlands, north of Skye. Anywhere you'd recommend for a base camp up that way?
amelville is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 12:01 PM
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>>Is Aberdeenshire worth a stay? Are there any off-the-beaten-path regions we might want to try instead that I haven't included in my initial itinerary?<<

Aberdeenshire is absolutely 'worth' it. It is just that you have a short time and need to be selective (and start planning your second trip as soon as you get home )

The NE has places like the 'Castle Trail', Crathes castle/Gardens, Dunnottar, some gorgeous coast, the Dee, lots of neolithic/pictish sites, etc.

Its your choice whether you take it slower and see fewer places with time to explore . . . or . . . dash around seeing a lot of places in passing.
janisj is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 12:07 PM
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First, you need to nail down dates. If you have no interest in the various festivals in Edinburgh in August, then go in June or July. Edinburgh explodes with people in August.

Second, you need to consider a hub-and-spoke approach so you don't have to keep changing lodging and popping off into the countryside.

Don't drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh - if you must fly into Glasgow, take a train. You don't want a car in Edinburgh until you're ready to rent and leave for traipsing around the country. Edinburgh was not designed for cars.

There's more than enough to do in Edinburgh for 3 days. If you want to go to Stirling and Drummond Castle (go to Scone Palace in Perth, seriously) then either add days to Edinburgh or pick a place in Perthshire to stay for a couple of nights.

Look up the Falkirk Wheel.

Pitlochry is a lunch stop on your way to someplace actually interesting.

Aberdeenshire can take care of any castle needs: Drum, Fraser, Craigevar will start you off . . .

Inverness area is great as a hub. The city is meh. The nearby highlights include Culloden, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Castle and sites that do not start with "C" such as Dunrobin Castle, and Loch Ness.

If you go in June, the aquatic birds will be all over the place (it's Puffin Fest!) - Janis probably has this info off the top of her head.
BigRuss is offline  
Nov 17th, 2013, 02:10 PM
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MissPrism, clearly you don't know what a road trip is as you took the list to mean places to visit. As for those who have followed your lead, the same applies. A common enough lack of understanding.

However, that's no excuse for not reading what I wrote "A road trip is about seeing and doing things along the route, not about fitting a route to a list of places. It's a cart and horse question. Most people don't actually understand what a road trip really is."

That should have given you a clue.

I proposed a ROUTE for a road trip, not a list of places to stay. Where someone stays on a road trip is where they end up at the end of the day, there are NO pre-planned stops normally. It seems 'road trip' really isn't even what you meant amelville, not just what others don't understand. I made the mistake of taking you at your word. Mea culpa.

A road trip is about the ROAD you choose to drive. The route I suggested was chosen on that basis, not on what places are on the route or nearby.

For example, the route follows the Great Glen and then follows the coast around the northwest. The intent is to choose ROADS that lead through interesting geographical areas. That route may or may not encompass places most people want to visit as a tourist. That's why I wrote that if I started in Glagow I might well not even go to Fife. Conversely if I started in Edinburgh I probably wouldn't pass Loch Lomond on the return for example. What isn't on the ROUTE, isn't on the route.

In fact, the classic road trip is Route 66 in the USA. You start in Chicago and end up in Los Angeles. What you don't do is visit a list of places that are no where near that route. You visit things of interest along the route. Even the Grand Canyon gets missed by most who do Route 66 as being too far to detour. It's only an hour north of Route 66!

Here is a site with the classic US road trip routes. You might want to read some of the route descriptions to see how they describe things. From that list I have driven numbers 1,2,6,7 and 11. I do 'road trips'.

What it now appears you actually want to do amelville, is 'car touring' which is an entirely different thing. A tour is a list of places you want to visit. Whether for a day or as a base to explore a small surrounding area. Nothing wrong with that, I thought you actually meant a road trip that's all.

As for Wick and Thurso MissPrism, (with John O'Groats in between), The route from Inverness via those places and Ullapool is perhaps the only real route of note as a road trip in Scotland. The only long distance road trip of note for the UK is of course Lands End to John O'Groats. Both of which I have driven. The circle around the northwest of Scotland is a road trip I would say ranks highly in interest, even though it is very short.

And as for your 'hot dinners' MissPrism, congratulations on totally misusing a phrase that is rarely used properly.

"have probably made more trips to Scotland than you have had hot dinners"

Given that most people have a hot dinner every day and my current age, that would mean you have visited Scotland many thousands of times. Entirely illogical as it is almost invariably when used by most simple minds.

Her is the phrase used correctly. I am a native of Scotland, I have had more trips IN Scotland than you have had hot dinners. Now that one you can take to the bank.

Enjoy your tour wherever you go amelville.
dulciusexasperis is offline  

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