To see or not to see in Scotland

Aug 13th, 2000, 12:38 PM
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To see or not to see in Scotland

I'm planning a vacation to Scotland for May 2001. I want to plan the trip myself, rent a car and drive. This is my first time outside the US. I've read these travel guides about Scotland: Fodors, Frommers, Frommer's Best Loved Driving Tours, and The Rough Guide. While reading these books I made notes about specific sites that seemed interesting. Then I thought I would design a route around visiting these various sites but here's the problem: (1) I kinda doubt it's possible to see everything on my list in two weeks. So, which do I eliminate? (2) Are the sites I've listed worth the time and are there other "must see" places I've not included? (3) How much time do I allocate for any given area or site? I could sure use some suggestions from anyone out there that has travelled to or lives in Scotland. Here is my current (it continually changes) list of places I want to see while I'm there.

Edinburgh (3 days?) - Natl Gallery of Scotland, Scottish Natl Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, St Giles Catherdral, and time to wander and shop. Also nearby - Craigmillar Castle, Crichton Castle, Rosslyn Chapel, Linlithgow Palace, Blackness Castle, Lenoxlove House, and Tantallon Castle.

Melrose area (1 or 2 days?) - abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh, and Dryburgh, Abbottsford House and Mellerstain House. Also Manderston, Hermitage Castle, Drumlanrig's Tower, Traquair House.

Other castles and palaces: Stirling, Doune, Campbell, Loch Leven, Falkland and Scone Palaces, Glamis, Blair, Braemer, Crathes, Dunnottar. Also, Threave and Caerlaverock. (I love castles, history...Nothing like that in the US, 250 yrs is as old as it gets here.)

Distilleries: Glenfiddich or Glenturret and Strathisla. (Yum, love whisky too!)

More Castles: Cawdor, Brodie and Dunrobin Castles. Inverary and Dumbarton. Maybe Hill House.

Islands: Isle of Skye (1 or 2 days), Mull and Iona (2 days).

Other stuff: Glen Coe, Culloden battlefield, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Culross Parish church & cemetary.

Let me know which things to "X" off or add. Or just general comments would be much appreciated.

Aug 13th, 2000, 01:05 PM
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This is a lot of places. How many days do you have in total? It is difficult to comment without this information.
Aug 13th, 2000, 01:07 PM
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I doubt you'll be able to squeeze all the castle/large manor homes in, but you'll have fun trying. Don't eliminate Cawdor Castle, my all time favorite. It is really a family home and the family moves down the road for the summer so visitors have the run of the house and grounds.
Aug 13th, 2000, 01:23 PM
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Congratulations on a very well researched and intelligent question.

Whilst everyone's taste varies, and I hope lots of people express their preferences for you, here's my take on your list

Edinburgh (3 days?) - Natl Gallery of Scotland, Scottish Natl Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, St Giles Catherdral, and time to wander and shop. - you could spend a lifetime in Edinburgh, and not know it properly. 3 days is good for first immersion. I have a list I keep in a word document of other things to see and do as follows:-

The New Town
The Royal Mile
Valvona and Crolla
Greyfriars Bobby
The Meadows
Dean village
the Scott Monument
Calton Hill
Arthur's Seat
Hollyrood- Park as well Šs palace
The New parliament
The Museum of Childhood
Cafe Vittoria
St Giles Cathedral
Parliament House
Make sure you visit the National Museum of Scotland (Chambers St) in Edinburgh. It just opened and is incredible.

Also nearby - Craigmillar Castle, - you could miss this.
Crichton Castle,-never heard of it Rosslyn Chapel,- OK
Linlithgow Palace,- very good less visited castle.
Blackness Castle,- also never heard of it (this is not a criticism of anything but my ignorance)
Lenoxlove House,- now more famous for its restaurant
and Tantallon Castle.-worth seeing.

There's a big question about the Borders. Very pleasant, but (and I hope any Borders will not take offense), it just doesn't compete with the Highlands for scenery. However if you want to go then you've got a good list.

Melrose area (1 or 2 days?) - abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh, and Dryburgh, Abbottsford House and Mellerstain House. Also Manderston, Hermitage Castle, Drumlanrig's Tower, Traquair House.

You might want to add Eyemouth and St Abb's Head and Neidpath Castle. And you should go to Kelso.- Floors Castle

Other castles and palaces: Stirling,-good
Loch Leven,-yes but more for the hsitory than the building
Falkland-YES yes yes
and Scone Palaces,-iffy. Lots of carpets and china- modern (?) building
Blair,- yes; great for tourists
Braemer, -not so special by comparison with some of the others
Crathes,-lovely wee castle great gardens
Dunnottar.- stunning location and great history( and it was in a movie!)
Also, Threave and Caerlaverock. - if you do Dumfries and Galloway too, you'll have no time for anything else. I don't know them except by their (good) reputation
(I love castles,
Good castles you are missing include:-
Brodie, Culzean, Cawdor,Eilean Donan, Craigievar, Drum, Dunrobin, Fyvie

Good history abounds. You might add:-
Elgin Cathedral, Kildrummy Castle, St Andrews Cathedral, Ruthven Barracks, Urquhart Castle, the Clava Cairns, a stone circle or two, Temple Wood, Kilmartin, St machars Cathedral in Aberdeen,

DDistilleries: Glenfiddich- possibly tthe best tour but NOT the best whisky Glenturret and Strathisla.- or Edradour at Pitlochry or Royal Lochnagar on Deeside

More Castles: Cawdor, Brodie -see above
and Dunrobin Castles- great but very far north. Inverary - very like Blair in style
and Dumbarton.- no comment
Maybe Hill House. - when are you going to sleep?

Islands: Isle of Skye (1 or 2 days), Yes, for sure
Mull and Iona (2 days). -yes if you've time (although personally I'd do Islay/Jura instead.)

Other stuff: Glen Coe,-not to be missed Culloden battlefield, - a must see
Glenfinnan Viaduct,-if you had to you could live without this but it's sort of on the way back from Skye
Culross Parish church & cemetary.- the village is better than the church

Make it a month and you might fit it all in. Feel free to come back for more advice.

Aug 13th, 2000, 02:32 PM
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For Julian and others: Forgot to add that we will have around 15-17 days for sightseeing. Wish it were more!

Sheila: That's exactly the kind of info I wanted. Very helpful. Thanks for the other suggestions. Could you explain some of them? What is: Valvona & Crolla, The Meadows, Dean Village. Also, why Eyemouth & St Abbs Head and what is Templewood? Thanks a bunch.
Aug 13th, 2000, 03:01 PM
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An obviously well researched trip. Scotland is amazing, some of the most beautiful scenery you'll ever, ever see. I do believe, however, that you have too much emphasis on castles and that after the first 10, you'll probably start to look for something different. You may want to consider alternatives such as archeological sites, hiking trials, and small Scottish towns and lakes. Lots to see and do.

As far as castles, definitely add Urquhart, eerily beautiful. In that area we also toured Stuart Castle, a hunted castle. This addition may offer a different type of tour, both fun and a lot of interesting history. They have rooms for rent (The Murray Room is the one hunted; popular with honeymooners... go figure). Tour Loch Leven in a sunny day, if possible. The tower castle (the prison where a pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned and where she lost twins), is in a small island you get by boat; windy and desolate. Worth it, though. Cawdor Castle gardens are very beautiful. A little pricey, though. I didn't see Balmoral in your list, was that intentional?. Is open only the summer weekdays; close if the Royals are in. The site of the Battle of Culloden reminded me of Gettysburg; somber, but with so much history. My husband's favorite, I had to literally dragged him on to the next site.

As far as time, a regular tour is anywhere from 30-45 minutes. Estimate an extra 30-45 mts on your own. That should be plenty. I suspect you already have, but make sure to get familiar with Scottish history; it will definitely make your trip much more enjoyable. Strongly recommend to try to get to some highway rest areas. They were, in average, very well supplied with excellent maps and brochures for sightseeing around the particular area (free!). Also, try to get the Great Britain A-Z Road Atlas, typically found in gas stations and rest stop areas as well. Very detailed, great souvenir. Also, if you like fiction, there is a Mexican-American writer called Diana Gabaldon that writes beautiful fiction based in Scotland. Highly recommended on this forum.

Please, please, please don't forget to post a report when back! Have a wonderful time!
Aug 14th, 2000, 12:17 AM
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Valvona and Crolla is the best italian deli in the world

The Meadows,is a large open space sort of park in the middle of Edinburgh
Dean Village is a planned worker's village in the centre of Edinburgh
why Eyemouth & St Abbs Head - Eye mouth is a pretty fishing village on the coast and St abb's Head has high cliffs overlooking the North Sea not far away
what is Templewood? - It is a site with masses of prehistoric stuff in Kilmartin Glen south of Oban

Have a great trip
Aug 14th, 2000, 06:49 AM
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You seem to be mising out the western highlands.Inverarie castle is there & in your list, also temple wood - amongst other things (circles, tombs) it has Dunadd, an ancient fort where the kings of Dalriada were crowned.
Aug 14th, 2000, 08:10 AM
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A few of my favorites that you didn't mention: Culzean Castle, Applecross Road (spectacular views of the Islands), Hopetoun House, views of the Forth Bridges (from underneath and from Hopetoun), Haddo House.
Aug 14th, 2000, 09:49 AM
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Well done on all your research and planning so far. As it's your first trip abroad, do bear in mind that you may enjoy yourself more and have better memories of the trip if you don't try to cover too much. Someone mentioned you plan to see alot of castles - I would suggest that you're planning to see too much of everything! If you are planning to drive, then plan to take some 'time out' from sightseeing and simply spend a few days hiking or driving through the amazing countryside. When we visited Scotland 2 years ago we used the Michelin green guide, and discovered some truly wonderful drives in the Western Highlands - that region is a must. Also, why not decide on two or three favourite themes and plan your holiday around those? For example, we are quite interested in architecture and design, so found it interesting to visit some of Charles Macintosh's buildings in Glasgow, and Hill House, which is an absolute gem. Remember, when on holiday it's the quality of the experience which matters far more than how many castles or musuems you've ticked off a list - believe me, I've learned this from experience.
Aug 14th, 2000, 11:52 AM
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As the above posters say and you suspect, you're trying to cover way too much. It's only natural to want to see "everything" on a first trip but, as Lydia says, experience teaches that it's the quality, not quantity, that counts. Plus, the more you research in depth, the more you realize that you literally can never see everything. I've spent an academic year in Scotland and been back four times, and there's still plenty left.

One thing that may help is to categorize places and then pick just one or two places from each category. For example, both Tantallon and Dunottar are ruins above the sea. They're both worth visiting, but on your first trip, you could pick the one that fits in best with your itinerary. Similarly, while all of the border abbeys are worth seeing, both Melrose and Jedburgh are in towns, so maybe you could pick one. Try to bear in mind that after the trip you will remember all of the good things that you did see, and not regret the things that you crossed off the list.

No matter how much you love castles (or stately homes or neolithic cairns or whatever), too many in too short a time will inevitably blur together. One of my favorite trips was my two weeks in Wales because I saw a little of this and a little of that -- a couple of grand ruined castles, a couple of small ruined castles, a coal mine, a nature reserve island, a garden, a few cairns -- and left time to just see the scenery and sit and drink tea.
Aug 14th, 2000, 07:09 PM
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Threave is my favorite castle - it it truly unique. Caerlaverock is nearby and also excellent.

You have way too much to do in two weeks. I might suggest getting a Michelin green guide (I think there is one for scotland) which I find very helpful in estimating the time required to visit. Also note the open times. Then I would estimate 30 miles per hour on non-freeway roads. Start planning and I'm sure you will realize it is way to much.

I think a maximum of two sights per morning and two per afternoon is really pushing it unless they are very close.

For example, the Threave and Caerverlock castles are very near, but visiting them should take most of the morning or afternoon.

If you are just going by yourself, B&B's are the way to go, if you are with a family, I would recommend staying one week in a cottage - cheaper and less hectic. I stayed in Callendar which we found centrally located for the middle part of scotland
Aug 14th, 2000, 08:46 PM
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Thanks Steve for some good advice.

I know there is way too much stuff on my list, that's why I need help. I thought of another way to ask my question...If you only have 2 weeks to spend in Scotland, and may never return, what things would you want to see? Realizing that tastes differ, I would still appreciate comments. Hiking or biking isn't really an option though. My mother will be traveling with me and even though she's in good physical condition at 60 yrs. I know that's not her idea of fun. If I were traveling alone I would probably go full speed and try and take in as much as I possibly can. My mom's different though, she will help to keep things at a slower pace so we can savor our time there. I can't wait!!
Aug 15th, 2000, 06:41 AM
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Could I suggest this as the outline of your days. We can help you fill in the details afterwards, as you like.

Edinburgh 2 days
Borders 1 day
Edinburgh 1 day (all from an Edinburgh base)

Aberdeen 1 night (following a trek up the east coast)

Speyside 1 night (following a drive up Deeside)

nr Inverness 1 night (following a trip to Elgin, Cawdor, Culloden etc.

Skye 2 days

Oban 3 days (including a day for Mull/Iona)

Glasgow 1 day

Edinburgh to finish

Edinburgh 1 day
Aug 15th, 2000, 12:04 PM
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Sheila, I really like this suggestion. Except for the Glasgow part. I'm not sure why but it just doesn't appeal to me. Maybe because I'm seeing it as just another big city and I don't want to give up a day that could be spent somewhere else. What I know about Glasgow (which isn't much at all) is from the travel guides and nothing I read grabs me.

Here's a tentative travel schedule using your suggestion: Leave the states Thur. afternoon, arrive London early Fri. a.m., see a few sights in London, catch the Fri. p.m. sleeper train to Edinburgh. Arrive Edinburgh early Sat. a.m. then follow your schedule: Edin(Sat,Sun) Bord(Mon), Edin(Tue), Aber(Wed), Spey(Thu), Inv(Fri), Skye(Sat,Sun), Oban(Mon,Tue,Wed), ??(Thu), Leave Glasgow to London to US(Fri) and arrive back in the states Sat. I think I would like to use that extra day somewhere besides Glasgow. Maybe Aberdeen/Speyside/Inverness? How does that sound?
Aug 15th, 2000, 04:24 PM
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Fodors is eating my posts. If this one works I'll come back to the beginning.

Borders(Mon). This is the first time you need a car since you are about an hour's drive from the Borders; lovely rolling hills and some lovely stately mansions including Abbotsford which was owned by Sir Walter Scott- whose memorial got mentioned above.

Drive east from the city and follow the coast road past North Berwick to Tantallon; stay on the coast past Dunbar and when you get to reston take a left and go down to St Abbís, then follow the little road round to Eyemouth. From Eyemouth go inland to Manderston just outside Duns, then stay west to Mellerstain, then south to Floors at Kelso, come west again to Dryburgh Abbey, past Melrose to Abbotsford and then Traquhair, then come north past Peebles and Neidpath Castle, and through Penicuik and back to Edinburgh for the night. Thatís about 150 miles, so, given the roads and stuff about 4 hours of the day will be spent in driving. You might want to do it in reverse order, since Traquhair (the last one on that route with a formal opening time) closes at 5.30pm. Whereas you are only looking at things after Manderston (which also closes at 5.30pm). If you do do it in reverse order, you can logically dine at Clarissaís at Lenoxlove on the way home.

Now Iím bushed and itís nearly midnight, so Iíll add more tomorrow. Questions?
Aug 15th, 2000, 04:29 PM
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I'm fed up fighting this web site. I've now tried to post the rest of this about 12 times and it will not go. E-mail me Micki and I'll send it on (fortunately I have saved it in Word)

Aug 15th, 2000, 04:46 PM
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Micki remember many castles and sights
do not open until 10:00 A.M. and close
5:00 or 5:30 p.m.. Fyvie castle was great but Bramear was poorly updated in the early 1900's. We had a heritage pass so we didn't have to pay extra to see it but it wouldn't have been happy if we had.
Aug 19th, 2000, 08:51 AM
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Aug 19th, 2000, 02:00 PM
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My favorite place to skip: Aviemore. Some investors' bad dream of what a plastic, quasi-Colorado ski resort should look like, complete with fern bars, disco music, and parking lots.

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