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Advice please for a trip to Scotland

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by quartz, Jan 1, 2013.

  1. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

    So, my 25th wedding anniversary is this year. My husband planned our honeymoon and did not do very well, and has promised me a second honeymoon for this year. We are looking into Scotland, and possibly Ireland as well, although I would be perfectly content with just Scotland. We have never travelled outside of North America, so this is quite the huge deal for us, as well as a considerable expense, and we want to get it right. Currently my husband is thinking a coach tour is the way to go, as then we don't have to figure out travel routes, accommodations, car rental,etc, and he won't have to drive a vehicle on the "wrong" side of the road. We can basically just sit back and enjoy the scenery. Has anyone ever done a coach trip? Pros? Cons? Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated!
  2. KatieC

    KatieC So peaceful

    I did a coach trip years ago and enjoyed it. Your husband is quite right that it does take a lot of the anxiety away, and you do get to see things and hear about things you wouldn't if you did the whole thing yourself. If you go that route do try to find a leisurely tour - not one that has you in a new hotel every night, and spending days on the road. I understand they've really made some changes to bus tours so it's no longer "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium." The best thing to do is give yourself a couple of days at the start just to arrive and get over jet lag, get your bearings, then take a tour, then more days for exploring at the end. The best part is that if you do find someplace you'd love to explore more, you can take yourself back there the next time you go! Hope you have fun. Try checking with a travel agent - they know the best tour operators and if you book with them you're automatically covered by their insurance if something goes wrong with the operator.
  3. Sylvia

    Sylvia Prepping for club comp. season!

    Try and make it to the Isle of Skye! :)
  4. JasperBoy

    JasperBoy Aging in a great place

    Yes, a coach tour is a good bet. It does take care of any driving difficulties, as well as much of the luggage handling, plus getting you directly to the more isolated sites. The main drawback is that you normally need to have "bags out" by 6:30 AM and hit the road about 8:30. Insight and Trafalgar have good tours, and ones that stay for a day or two in one hotel, with day trips from that base. I see you are in Ontario, so try DeNure tours. They don't have a lot of departures, but their tours are well planned without a lot of different hotels.

    If you are taking a coach tour, I suggest you work out a system for optimum use of the shower. If one person showers at night, the other can shower in the morning. There won't be time for both of you before you have to board the bus!

    Isle of Skye for sure! And be prepared for all the woollen and whisky shops you will be visiting.
  5. attyfan

    attyfan Well-Known Member

    Most tours have a set up where you can get to the place a day (or sometimes more) early and/or stay a little extra. Some even have special packages (extra city tours). This will let you see the Isle of Skye, even if it isn't on the tour (and it is well worth seeing)
  6. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

    Thanks! I should add that my main thing is castles, the older and more decrepit the better. Also, Eilean Donan castle is my absolute must see, which is in the Isle of Skye area (thanks Sylvia!), and the tours we were looking at started in Glasgow, and looped up and around the highlands and back down to Edinburgh. Does anyone know anything about train tours as well?
  7. A.H.Black

    A.H.Black Well-Known Member

    If you start in Glasgow, don't miss Culzean - http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Culzean-Castle-Country-Park/. It has palm trees! Really! It's been ages since I was there but I remember loving Scotland. We also went to Castle Frasier, Craigievar, Crathes Castle, Haddo House, and others.

    Does your husband like to golf or fish? My brother was able to arrange to play golf on one of the St Andrews courses while he was there. I think he made reservations almost a year in advance, though. Lots of good fishing in Scotland too.

    Finally - there is this candy. Robertson's Orkney Fudge. It has to be Robertson's. It's not chocolate - more of a brown sugar type fudge. I found it in one of the gift shops in the Scotish Houses. Oh my. It's my perfect candy.
  8. kwanfan1818

    kwanfan1818 I <3 Kozuka

    Rick Steves is famous around Seattle, and his company offers 10-day tours of Scotland from the beginning of May to the end of September. (I'm not sure what your dates are.)

    This is the web page:

    I've never taken one of his tours, but if they follow his philosophy of travel, they would be better than a lot of tours I've heard about from people who've taken the 48-people-on-a-bus types.

    If nothing else, the list of activities might give you some ideas.

    I don't know if Canadian universities' alumni associations have travel options, but in the US, a lot of them do, often around a theme. I know UBC continuing ed has theme-based travel.
  9. Rogue

    Rogue Sexy Superhero

    My trip to Scotland was a do-it-yourself by train, so no driving difficulties. We stayed at B&Bs for the most part. One of my favorite stops was in Pitlochry which allowed an easy visit to Blair Atholl and its castle. At the time, the duke still maintained his own private army and at certain times of the year you could watch them on maneuvers. Not sure if that is still an option.
  10. Marge_Simpson

    Marge_Simpson Well-Known Member

  11. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

    I took the train from London to Aberdeen. It is a beautiful trip once you get past York. The train goes through Edinburgh ( I stopped overnight on the way back) and Dundee. On the way north the train travel along cliffs above the sea and you can see ancient manor houses. When it gets to Arbroath the train runs along the beach.

    I stayed with a friend who rented a car for the occasion and we toured the countryside around Aberdeen. Beautiful highlands and unspoiled countryside (we saw salmon swimming upstream). Castles open for tours everywhere. Donnatur (sp?) Castle is outside of Aberdeen (the castle in the opening of the Laurence Olivier Hamlet movie). It is a ruin but it sits on a rock cliff island with just a narrow walkway from the mainland and is very picturesque and spooky. We also drove to Inverness for the Highland games. You can take ferries from Aberdeen and Inverness to Orkney and Shetland Islands.

    If it is castles you want, they are everywhere. If you are going on a tour I'm sure they will stop at several. I think if you don't know anyone in Scotland the bus tour is a good idea. The north is beautiful countryside, but it is sparsely populated outside the cities, I wouldn't want to be lost and running out of gas, and in bad weather I would think the Highland roads would be treacherous.

    I did some touring on my own in England and Wales (by train) and found the B&Bs quite reasonable. It is also a good way to meet locals, which is sometimes a problem on organized tours.

    I stayed with a friend in London which was NYC expensive!
  12. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Hit ball, find ball, hit it again.

    Excellent advice already. One thing to consider is a "split tour" where you tour with the group for X days, then do some wandering by yourself before rejoining the group. My friend did this on her Scotland trip. She stayed in St. Andrews for a few days, then took a train to meet up with her group.
  13. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

    Gosh people! You are awesome! Thanks so much!
  14. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

  15. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

  16. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

  17. I'm not a big fan of coach tours in general, but it sounds like it might be best for your style of travel. And of course not all are created equal -- the Rick Steves definitely sounds better than the average. Another outfit that offers flexible hop-on-hop-off bus tours through the Highlands is MacBackpackers -- they tend to cater to a somewhat younger crowd which may or may not be comfortable for you.

    I've done self-drive a few times in Scotland. I'm not a fan of driving near Ediburgh or Glasgow, but outside those major centres I've had no problem. Even when I was driving alone with no navigator (but with a navigator it's much easier).

    Another tour you might try to fit into your schedule & budget is a boat tour to see some of the outlying islands like the Hebrides and/or Orkney. They vary from 1 day to several days. Here's one site with info, there are others. I like Skye well enough, but I like the Hebrides even more -- they're just a lot further away.

    And if you're in Glasgow, be sure to take in some of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh locations. I share Marge Simpson's lottery fantasy re: staying in castles, but I'd also have a house done in Rennie Mackintosh style.
  18. jeffisjeff

    jeffisjeff Well-Known Member

    We visited Cluzean too, during our short visit to Scotland. It is beautiful and the drive there from Ayr is just gorgeous - right along the coast.

    If you do combine the trip to Scotland with a trip to Ireland, you can easily get between Scotland (Troon, I think) and Northern Ireland by ferry.
  19. reckless

    reckless Well-Known Member

    I'm not a big fan of coach trips, particularly for a place like Scotland where driving is very easy. While it is on the "wrong side of the road," you adjust quickly and, in much of the country, the roads can be down to single lane for both directions, particularly in the Highlands. (To pass, one car pulls off the road.) In the cities, you won't need a car at all, so I would suggest that you visit Edinburgh first (and maybe Glasgow, though it is more industrial and not as interesting) and then rent a car. In Edinburgh, you can pretty much explore the city yourself and do a few walking tours.

    If you want to enjoy the scenery, the west and north of Scotland is amazing. A friend and I rented a car in Edinburgh and spent about a week touring the Highlands, which were spectacular. We spent a few days in Edinburgh to begin and then drove west. Day one, we drove to Stirling (explored the castle), Loch Lomond, and Lochgilphead (because I wanted to see the neolithic sites at Kilmartin Glen). Day two, we drove along the coast to Oban (great fish and chips there, plus a distillery tour) and stayed at Fort William, by Ben Nevis. Day three, we went to the Isle of Skye, which is not to be missed. (Eileen Donan castle is just before you cross the bridge to Skye.) Day four was spent mostly hiking around and touring the Isle of Skye, though we spent the night in Plockton, which is back on the mainland (and, oddly, despite being in the artic circle, has a temperate climate and palm trees). Day five, we drove to the northwest corner of the Highlands and stayed in Durness, which is spectacular country. I had always wanted to see live puffins, which we were able to do from a relatively close distance on the coast. Day six, we drove to Inverness and Loch Ness. If we had a few more days, we would have gone east to Aberdeen, but we didn't have any more time. There were a lot of sites and castles along the way. Part of the fun of the trip is that we did very little planning ahead so we were able to enjoy things without feeling like we had to rush to get to a destination. It helped that we were in a low tourist season (which meant it was cold and sometimes rainy), but we had no trouble getting accommodations at local tourist information centers. With the internet, it would probably be even easier today.

    Keep in mind that summer in the Highlands may have the best weather, but can be uncomfortable due to midges, which are biting insects that come out in late spring/early summer.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  20. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

    reckless, that is fantastic info, thanks so much!
  21. AnnieD

    AnnieD Active Member

    I remember being on holiday on Vancouver Island and telling a family we were talking to at a campsite that we were planning on driving across the island to Tofino. He shook his head and warned us to leave plenty of time because it was "A single track road with passing places." Of course when we started the drive we realised the North American description of this was vastly different to our experiences back home in the Highlands and that he actually meant a two way road with occasional lanes for overtaking!

    I've seen a shockingly small amount of my own country but I would definitely recommend Skye (very beautiful) and you pass Eilean Donan Castle on the way. I also love the scenery around Glen Coe - I only drove through it for the first time last summer and it's spectacular.

    City-wise, Edinburgh is much more interesting than Glasgow (although that's me being a bit biased). Glasgow has a lot of art museums but Edinburgh is stunning. It gets ridiculously busy during the Fringe Festival in August so unless you want to come specifically to see that I'd avoid that time. The whole city centre is also still in the process of being dug up for trams to be introduced (it's only taken about 6 years and they're still not bloody ready yet). Other than that I'll throw in a recommendation for my wee town, Linlithgow. If you're staying in Edinburgh and fancy a day trip it's only 20 minutes away by train. We've got a beautiful ruined palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born (in fact, Chanel just used it for one of their fashion shows a month or so ago) and it's just a lovely, historic little town.

    Hope you enjoy your trip, don't forget your midgie repellant for the Highlands, plus a rain mac and a good strong brolly!!!
  22. LilJen

    LilJen Reaching out with my hand sensitively

    <guuuuhhhhhhh> <-----me drooling at all these ideas. . . dh and I will celebrate our 20th anniv in 2014 and we are talking about FINALLY taking a trip to Ireland that we've been fantasizing about for the last many many years. Of course we would HAVE to add in Scotland, and England, and because I was there for 2 months and still have a friend or two there AND because it's an amazingly cool place, Malta.
  23. reckless

    reckless Well-Known Member

    Glen Coe is beautiful. The entire area around Loch Lomand, Glen Coe, Ben Nevis and Fort William is beautiful and is really on a logical path from Edinburgh and Stirling/Bannockburn to the Isle of Skye. (My trip detoured a bit to the southwest because I have a long-standing obsession with neolithic standing stones, and wanted to see the ones at Kilmartin.) However, though I love that area and the Isle of Skye, the most truly breathtaking scenery in Scotland I saw was Lochcarron, which is northwest of the Isle of Skye. My photos from that trip are not digital, because I think they are even more beautiful than the ones I'm linking. However, these pictures kind of give a sense of the place: here and here.
  24. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

    My knowledge of Scotland isn't great, but last time I checked it was most certainly not in the Arctic Cirle. :confused:

    The temperate climate is likely, as it is in Ireland, to be an effect of the Gulf Stream.
  25. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned Edinburgh Castle which contains the Scottish crown jewels. I could see it from the train, it is the reason I got off in Edinburgh!

    The link I provided for Dunnotar Castle has 2 suggested driving tours which include villages and half a dozen castles open for tour. The Cairngorns are also worth a drive through.
  26. Oreo

    Oreo Well-Known Member

  27. Aside from being a lovely village in a beautiful highland setting, another reason to visit Plockton (despite it not being in the Arctic Circle ;) ) is that it doubled as Loch Dubh in the fabulous televised adaptation of the "Hamish Macbeth" books by M.C. Beaton. It's also pretty easy to get to, a short detour on the way to or from Skye.

    As for Edinburgh vs. Glasgow, I can't disagree that Edinburgh is the more obvious tourist destination, especially for a first-time visitor. It's a beautiful and historic city with everything you could possibly want for a quintissentially Scottish trip. But I also love Glasgow, for different reasons. It's more modern and urban, but also beautiful in its own right. Especially if, like me, you have an interest in architecture -- the legacy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the School of Architecture is on practically every streetcorner.

    And, as others have said, you can't go far in Scotland without hitting a beautiful and historic castle, but I want to give a shout-out to a couple of my favourites:

    Bothwell Castle, between Glasgow and Edinburgh -- excellent example of 13th century architecutre. But the completely biased reason it's a favourite of mine is that when we lived in Scotland for a year when I was a child we were able to play everywhere and climb all over the castle walls. My brother and I still call it "our castle." Fences now prevent that but it's still a great locale to visit.

    Doune Castle, near Sterling. Another great castle in its own right ... but extra special because it doubled as the setting for almost all of the castles in Monthy Python and the Holy Grail. :D (Are you sensing a theme here?)
  28. Nan

    Nan Just me, retired

    I got this television series for Christmas this year and if it was all filmed in and around Plockton, it is a truly beautiful place.
  29. quartz

    quartz Take off, eh!

    You people are awesome, although you do realize that I will now need a 3 month vacation to see everything you are suggesting!