When Michael’s mom turned a milestone birthday in mid-2013, Michael wanted to give her a special gift. And, what better gift than the gift of travel?
He told her to pick a place to explore for a week or so and he’d pay. Towards the end of 2013 she decided upon Scotland and we promptly got jealous. Michael had been to Scotland in 2009 with friends – and loved it – but I had never been. We already had plans to leave in February 2014 for Africa and South East Asia but… if the Scotland trip was after we returned, then we could go too! And, an added benefit would be that we could plan and organize the trip, rather than the likely alternative of a group tour.
So, it was decided that Michael, Michael’s mom, Michael’s aunt, Michael’s sister, and I would all go to Scotland at the end of August 2014. We scrambled over the next few weeks to put together an itinerary and make bookings before we left for South Africa because we weren’t sure when we were returning from our international travels (except now we know we have to be back before the end of August).
TIP: I’m a fan of using the Lonely Planet Travel Guides as background and reference material. However, for Scotland we found these two books the most useful:
Alright ya’all, the long awaiting Scotland itinerary is here! Flights are booked, hotels are booked, cars are booked, boats are booked and we’re set for departure on Saturday, August 30th.
Day 00 (08/30): Depart Newark at 9:55pm for our overnight flight.
Day 01 (08/31): Arrive Edinburgh at 9:45am local time. We’ll have the day to get settled and explore, maybe take a nap, etc. We’ll retire for the next two evenings at a hotel close to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh castle.
Day 02 (09/01): A second full day to explore Edinburgh. We’ll pick up our sweet-ass 9-passenger van, a Mercedes nonetheless, sometime in the evening and park overnight.
Day 03 (09/02): Depart Edinburgh early (7am) for our first day on the road and learn how to drive on the other side of the road. We’ll have a bit of a drive with a couple sweet sights on the way before arriving in Aberdeen to board a 5pm ferry, destination the Isle of Orkney. The ferry is about six hours and we get in pretty late. Once on land, we’ll have a bit of a drive to the house we’ll be staying at. The accommodation for the next three nights will be a nice old 3-bedroom house, a private rental that’ll serve as our base for exploring Orkney.
Day 04 (09/03): A full day to explore Orkney.
Day 05 (09/04): A second full day to explore Orkney.
Day 06 (09/05): We’ll get up reaaaalll early to drive a bit and be at the ferry by 5:30am (our earliest morning!). This is a shorter ferry that takes us back to the mainland. It arrives in Scrabster at 8am and we’ll begin a drive down to the heart of the Scottish highlands. We’ll arrive noonish in the greater Inverness area and do some exploring in the highlands. Tonight we’ll stay at a bed and breakfast in Aviemore. This is our only actual B&B stay and we’ll take all 3 rooms in the house, so we’ll be sure to take advantage of a nice Scottish breakfast in the morning.
Day 07 (09/06): Depart Aviemore in the morning after breakfast and head west, where we’ll pass Loch Ness on the way to the Isle of Skye. This will be a nice drive, fairly long, with some great stops and scenery on the way. We’ll drive to Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye and stay for the next three nights in another private rental.
Day 08 (09/07): A full day to explore the Isle of Skye. Tonight we have real dinner reservations at The Three Chimneys, a restaurant that’s been rated among the 30 best in the world.
Day 09 (09/08): A second full day to explore the Isle of Skye.
Day 10 (09/09): We’ll leave Dunvegan early to catch a 9:55am ferry from Armadale to Mailiag, back on the mainland. The drive today will be down the famed “Road To the Isles” (which will be the Road From the Isles for us), supposed to be one of most scenic drives there is. We’ll be driving down the west coast of Scotland a bit and over toward Ben Nevis, the highest mount in the UK, and Glencoe, a famous battle site that Braveheart used as a backdrop. We’ll have some time to explore, maybe get lunch in Fort William, and then we’ll stay the night at a well-known old inn, the Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe. We’ll give our livers a workout at the hotel bar, supposedly the area’s best selection of “Real Ale”, traditional cask-conditioned British ales.
Day 11 (09/10): We’ll leave Glen Coe and head south to Glasgow, the other major city in Scotland. Glasgow is the modern, industrial counterpart to the more historic Edinburgh, but there’s still plenty of great old sites to see (including a huge graveyard with a “killer” view – see what I did there?) and a taste of some more modern stuff including art, nightlife, pubs and food establishments. We’ll stay the night at a well-placed hotel in the heart of Glasgow.
Day 12 (09/11): We’ll have some time to explore Glasgow more (or not) before heading back to Edinburgh, about an hour drive, to ditch the van and enjoy our last afternoon and evening in the old picturesque city. We’ll stay in a quirky little hotel near the main drag.
Day 13 (09/12): Depart Edinburgh on a 12:05pm flight back to good ole Jersey.
That’s it! Some of it’s a bit packed, and we’ll spend a decent amount of time in the car, but we’ll have plenty of time to really get out into the country and explore the different regions and isles. Somewhere along the way we’ll stop off at a distillery or two to take a tour and sample some Scotch. We’ll see a shit-ton of castles. You’ll have the chance to discovery Nessie (and buy PLENTY of Nessie souvenirs). We’ll eat world class meals and hopefully you’ll join me in some good ole working-class haggis and blood pudding. If you don’t like fish and chips, now’s the time to get a taste for it!
Another fun fact: A bit after we leave, on September 18th, Scotland will go to the polls to vote for Scottish independence from the UK. This battle is heating up a bit, and it appears to have a chance to pass, so I’m sure we’ll hear all about it as we enter the thick of the debate. Should be interesting!
Pack your kilts and brush up on your bagpipes and we’ll see you in August!
– Mike & Sara
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