Scotland Trip Report

Old Jul 20th, 2006, 07:30 PM
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Scotland Trip Report

We returned from our 3-week trip last weekend. It was excellent, and here is what was supposed to be a wee report, but now looks quite long!

First, I want to once again thank all the good folks here at Fodors who helped with our itinerary decisions. We were very satisfied with how it all turned out. We never felt rushed, but could easily have spent more time in ANY of the places we visited, there was so much to see.

The weather was ... well, Scottish. Gray, cool, and windy was the norm, putting a slight edge on enjoying being outdoors for too long. We quickly learned that you could tell the locals by how many layers of clothing they were not wearing. However, towards the end of our trip back in Edinburgh, a Scotsman in our dinner restaurant announced that he saw some blue sky! It seems everyone was ready for a change. Our last two days it was sunny and pleasant, so if you guys are having gorgeous weather now you can thank us for leaving the country.

Edinburgh

As expected, an enjoyable and picturesque city. We spent 6 days there, two up front and four at the end of the trip, staying in a small hotel on Coates Garden near Haymarket Station. Cheap and convenient enough (20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to town center), but we think that Bonnie Prince Charlie slept in one of our mattresses.

The usual sites were all fantastic, and we greatly enjoyed the Royal Yacht, Mary Kings Close, and especially a half day trip to Rosslyn. The chapel, in spite of the crowds, is something to see, an incredible work. The protective barrier on the roof actually gives a rare opportunity to get eye to eye with flying buttresses. Now we'll have to go see the movie.

We took a day trip to Stirling Castle, which was probably our second favorite castle, after Dunnottar. In our tour of Great Scottish Gift Shops we made our biggest purchase there: a tapestry that will soon hang in our bedroom. Seeing the work in progress on the Unicorn Tapestries there was really fascinating. A half-day trip to Linlithgow was also rewarding. We felt these places are different enough that they are all worth visiting, and give you a better sense of what life was like in them. Fortunately we had enough time.

The National Gallery and National Portrait Museum were outstanding and worth far more than the couple of hours we spent in each. These turned out to be the only two museums we visited. We planned to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Dean Gallery and the Museum of Scotland our last two days, but the weather turned so nice we decided to spend time outdoors: Linlithgow, Carlton Hill, and just walking the streets.

Our favorite restaurants will perhaps be surprises: Hendersons Bistro, a vegetarian place in New Town, and Viva Mexico, yes, a Mex joint off the Royal Mile. We knew about Hendersons in advance. It lived up to billing (we even bought their cookbook), but we stumbled upon Viva Mexico, only to later see it listed in "Best of Scotland". Talk about good mole sauce!


Skye / Kyle

No matter how much time you have on Skye it won't be enough. The whole island is like being in a painting. We did learn that the wind is your friend there, at least during midge season.

We took the train to Fort William for an overnight stop, then the steam train to Malliag. I asked the engineer when we would cross the famous viaduct so I was positioned by an open window to get a photo as the train crossed, particles of soot blowing in my face. Great fun! Kenny from Kyle taxis delivered our rental car to the ferry pier at Armadale as promised.

I hired a guide and climbed Blaven on our first full day, while my wife hung around Broadford. Blaven is geologically a Black Cuillin, but separated from the main ridge. Rumor has it there is are good views on this mountain, but we had 50 meter visibility at best on the summit. Still, a rewarding outing, the hike up and down below the clouds was gorgeous.

The next full day was the Skye pipe band festival in Portree, which was a blast. My wife learned the tune to Scotland the Brave, and that became her theme song for the rest of the trip. "Do do do-do-do do-do, do-do do-do do-do. Prreeetttt"! (That last is a drum roll.) If folks thought she had been sampling too many drams, no one said so.

We spent one full day touring Troternish, and another Waternish. It was pretty wet when we were at the Quiraing, so we only hiked about a mile of that trail, but that was fantastic. Some of our favorite spots were the Fairy Glen near Uig, the Neist Point lighthouse, the Dun Broch on the Sligachen road, the Kilmuir Souterrain, and the Tote Pictish stone, which we saw after an evening rainstorm brought on a rainbow.

We did not book a lunch at Three Chimneys - not wanting to be committed in advance in case that turned out to be a perfect weather day. We did have a most enjoyable lunch at the Flodigarry Hotel. I can easily see spending several days at that spot if we ever return. A memorable and delicious dinner was at the Old School Restaurant near Dunvegan. My wife asked if they could use Drambuie instead of Talisker in our cranachan. The waitress responded with a knowing smile. We got the Drambuie.

We also spent two nights in Plockton. The better part of a day was spent at Eileen Donan. We happened to catch it in a lull from the tour buses and wandered about in relative quiet. Found a swallow's nest in one of the exterior rooms and enjoyed watching mom and dad return with bugs for the kids. We returned to the castle at night to see it lit up as the sun set. Beautiful!

I hiked the Five Sisters of Kintail with the same guide from Blaven the next day. A superb and classic ridge walk, 8 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Weather was clear but hazy that day. No complaints. My wife stayed at Plockon and walked to Durnish to have a look at the highland cattle. Watch out for number 047! The little tyke thinks camera-toting tourists are fascinating, and he likes to get up close and personal.

Nairn

Three nights in Nairn at a lovely B&B - Greenlawns. One day we took the bus to Cawdor Castle, which was great to tour. The rooms are beautiful (too bad no photos - the dowager countess still lives there in winter). The room descriptions, written by one of the family, are informative and very funny. They are in the official guide and worth having. Then we had a superb lunch at the Cawdor Inn, and walked six miles back to Nairn along the river. Very lovely, saw lots of birds.

Next day we went to Elgin, visiting the ruined cathedral, and touring the Glen Moray distillery. Having recently read "Pillars of the Earth" (a rare foray into fiction) made the ruins more evocative, thinking of the lives of the people who built the cathedral.

We have nothing to compare the distillery with (it was the only one we visited), but the tour was small, informative, and felt personal. They did not scrimp on the dram samples either, my wife and I decided to call for a cab back into town, rather than walk! I bought a bottle of 16 year old - even my wife liked it.

Stonehaven

Two nights here, with the full day for the RSPB bird sanctuary and then Dunnottar castle. The sanctuary was incredible, to see thousands upon thousands of seabirds nesting in the cliffs. Someone pointed out two lonely puffin near a cave for us, and a couple more floating on the water in the distance. This information paid off at Dunnottar.

In many ways Dunnottar was our favorite castle. The ruined shell on its dramatic cliff-top setting with all the birds was just fantastic. Add to that all the history that happened there with notables such as William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Crown Jewels, and it is the sort of place to set you dreaming. We spent hours hanging around, in spite of a particularly windy and cold day.

My wife used her new-found puffin spotting skills to pick out dozens of them sitting in the water, and then we learned that they are nesting on the cliffs just below the gents WC. Stand to the left of the entrance, as close to the building as possible, and look straight down over the rail. Binos help, but they are close enough to see with naked eye. The ticket seller kindly gave us a ride back to Stonehaven when the castle closed.

A wonderful trip, this barely touches on it. It may be a few weeks but I'll eventually get some photos uploaded. I can post a note in this thread when I do that, if anyone is interested.

Thanks again for all the help.
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Old Jul 20th, 2006, 08:09 PM
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What a great report - I remember when you were planning and trying to figure out which parts to drive/which to take public transport.

Isn't Dunnottar fabulous! I think the first 4 or 5 times I was there it was cold/blustery and raining a couple of times. THEN I finally hit it on a warm glorious day and stayed about 5 hours.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 03:27 AM
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So glad you enjoyed it so much.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 03:40 AM
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Great trip report, Nelson. It sounds like your trip was well paced; good walking and lots of interesting sights. Thanks for providing the details about logistics and restaurants. We've been to Henderson's (and have the cookbook also!) but it's very nice to know of good Mexican. I look forward to the pictures - please do post a note on this thread.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 04:30 AM
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Janis, my wife thought that the wind and rain at Donnottar made it even more evocative than if it had been a sunny blue sky day, but maybe that was just rationalization! She was happy to finally get to The Ship Inn at Stobehaven to warm up with a glass of cider. (She really enjoyed the ciders in the pubs, adding a bit of red currant syrup if they are too dry - that tip coming from a kindly gentleman at the bar when she was sampling some.)

noe847, Believe it or not, there is also a GREAT Mexican place in Nairin: El Latino. We were not planning to go there at first - we have great Tex-Mex here in Colorado - but looked at the menu as we walked by. They also have mole sauce, so in we went. Absolutely the BEST margs we have ever had outside of Colorado, and we have a two decades of searching for good margs under our belts.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 04:55 AM
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Hmmm... guess Scotland is my next trip! I've been once before, but you've got my bones aching for the ancestral lands again! (great-grandmother was a McKenzie).

I loved Skye and would happily spend many weeks there, too. It was indeed lovely, like I was some ancient Pictish settler or Viking.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 05:01 AM
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Great report. Scotland really rewards the walker, no? Some good ideas for next time -- thanks.
 
Old Jul 21st, 2006, 05:27 AM
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Nelson,

Your trip report was excellent and much appreciated as my husband and I leave next month for a 10 day trip to Scotland. Now that I have been following Fodor's for the past several months I cannot imagine planning the trip without it.

I was in the site this morning reading about the use of Euros, British Pounds, Cash, Credit Cards, Debit Cards, terrible DCC and ATM's along with everyone of these wanting to get into the currency conversion fees as well. Although I have a credit union VISA that only charges 1% conversion fee it looks like I need to take the good old 'buyer beware' attitude along on the trip. (By the way, what is the use of Euros in Scotland? All of my bookings at B&B's needed to be in British Pounds.)

My questions for you are regarding your comments under "Edinburgh" since this is where we will spend our first five days. We will not be renting a car while there but instead relying on public transport. Is it possible to get to Rosslyn's Chapel and Stirling Castle by way of public transport or at least by way of tour bus? I would hate to miss either of these because of not having a car on the trip. I really don't mind the small tour busses because the drivers always add so much to the local folklore that you would never hear or learn about while driving a car and as I have mentioned in this site before, Scotland is much better off by not having me drive a car there! Thanks again for an excellent and helpful report. Go Fodor's!
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 05:47 AM
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MargaretandTony: Not Nelson but I'll answer until he sees your post -- yes you can get to both places w/o a car. Stirling is an easy train ride from Edinburgh - no need to take a tour. And for Roslin/Rosslyn Chapel - you can take a local bus - but only on weekdays.

Nelson: "my wife thought that the wind and rain at Donnottar made it even more evocative than if it had been a sunny blue sky day, but maybe that was just rationalization!" I know - that's exactly what I rationalized too (and also about Skye - I think I visited Skye 3 or 4 times before I "saw" the island. They don't call it the "misty isle" for nuthin) Dunnottar is wonderful whatever the weather - but glorious on a fine day.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 05:47 AM
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Thank you for the trip report! We are planning an Edinburgh/Fort William/Skye leg on our journey also. Where did you overnight in Fort William? I'm glad to hear that you can have a rental car delivered to the ferry stop. Did you contact Kyle Taxis by internet? Also, were you pleased with your accommodations on Skye - any recommendations?
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 06:26 AM
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Nice report.

I would also like to know where you stayed at Plockton.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 06:36 AM
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The 15A bus which goes from Edinburgh to Roslin (where the Rosslyn Chapel is) did only run on weekdays until recently; but apparently it now runs at weekends too -

http://www.lothianbuses.co.uk/timeta...15_mon2fri.asp

www.lothianbuses.co.uk/timetables/r15_sat.asp
www.lothianbuses.co.uk/timetables/r15_sun.asp
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 06:42 AM
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GreenDragon, my husband's great grandmother is a MacKenzie also - in fact my daughters wear kilts in weathered MacKenzie tartan for solo competitions.

Nelson, we also have great Mexican food at home. When we travel one of the (few) things we look forward to about coming home is eating Mexican! We don't actually look for Mexican food on our travels, but we have strayed into Mexican restaurants on occasion, and are usually disappointed. I will make a note of the Nairn restaurant. We won't get north of Bridge of Alan on our August trip, but I really hope to get back up that way next year - my favorite spot in Scotland is Pluscarden Abbey, not terribly far from Nairn.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 06:57 AM
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Caroline - Thanks for the info and schedules - once again very helpful!
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 08:20 AM
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Thanks for the comments and further responses everyone!

To answer the questions I saw:

We used our bank debit card to withdraw cash from ATM machines. They charge a flat $2.00 per transaction, which I can live with I withdrew £300 each time, so at these exchange rates that is a negligible charge. Better than changing money or travelers checks or hitting my credit card for cash, IMHO. (The exchange rate was killing us, by the way!)

Yes, as noted we took the Lothian 15A bus to Rosslyn, a bit more than half an hour trip. It can be picked up by St. Andrews Square or along Princes Street. It's worth it to buy the £2.30 day pass. There were some nice pubs to have some warm soup and a beer at Rosslyn while we waited for the return bus.

And we did take the train to Stirling (less than an hour), and walked up the hill to the Castle. Stirling is a nice town, and is worth several days actually.

In Fort William we stayed in the St. Andrews Guest House, just a few minutes walk from the train station:
http://www.standrewsguesthouse.co.uk/

In Skye, Portree we stayed at the Quirang Guest House, which we really liked. You have to love a hostess who puts Baileys Irish Cream in your breakfast porridge (after all, you are on holiday!). The place was very clean and efficient, conveniently located just outside of town on the A87. I don't have a website at the moment, but can post one later.

In Plockton it was the Plockton Hotel. We stayed in one of the annex rooms which was cheaper, but still very nice. They serve great food there also. http://www.plocktonhotel.co.uk/

noe847, Our hostess at the Greenlawns (http://www.greenlawns.uk.com/greenlawns.html - GREAT B&B!) recommended El Latino, but we said, nah, we can get that kind of food at home. When we walked by, however, the menu grabbed us and we had a memorable meal.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 08:26 AM
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P.S. We contacted Kyle taxis via E-mail.
http://www.lochalsh.net/taxi/

In fact the entire trip was arranged online back in February - March.

When he dropped the car off Kenny gave me a few valuable tips for driving on the left, and on single track roads (at the same time)! By the second day I was feeling pretty comfortable with it.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 12:09 PM
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Terrific report, Nelson. Really glad you liked the place. Come again.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 01:12 PM
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Nelson-we too enjoyed that Mex restaurant off of the Royal Mile. Also, we are in Fort Collins so I'm wondering what margs you are thinking of here in CO that are hard to beat elsewhere? Couldnt possibly be from the Rio, eh?
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 01:38 PM
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Rio? Never heard of it ...

We are regulars there, going back to when it used to be on College Avenue! Most Sundays and Tuesday at about 6:30 PM. Sundays because it's the day before Monday, and Tuesdays because of the salsa dancing upstairs. We can meet sometime, maybe?

Sheila, thanks much, and for all your earlier help. The trip is growing sweeter the more I think back on it.
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Old Jul 21st, 2006, 02:06 PM
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Well done, Nelson - great report!

Jim
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