This was a first time visit to see whether Scotland lived up to its reputation; and for a group of Silver Travellers, it needed to be fairly leisurely – and it succeeded beyond all expectations. To begin with, for a late September trip, we took waterproofs, boots, umbrellas and warm sweaters but needed none of them. The weather was dry, partly sunny and 15-17 degrees every day!
The trip began in Edinburgh, staying at the very convenient and central Parliament House Hotel and we enjoyed the open top bus tour, stopping to see more of Holyrood House (an excellent tour and commentary), the new Parliament Building and in the Queens Gallery a quite remarkable display of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings. In the evening, we discovered and can thoroughly recommend Hewat’s Restaurant near the University area to the South of the city centre.
Then it was northwards to the Inverness area and the small town of Beauly on the Southern edge of the Highlands. This was a base for a day-trip eastwards to Nairn on the Moray Firth and the historic Culloden Battlefield, where the displays in the visitor centre were dramatic and state-of-the-art. This route also encompassed the Cardhu Distillery (just one of the several it was difficult to pass – among the total of 102 distilleries in Scotland). From Beauly, it was also quite easy to head into the more spectacular scenery of the Highlands and take a gentle climb in the foothills of Ben Wyvis. On the way back, we diverted eastwards to Black Island where we watched a beautiful sunset (exactly as advertised) from the terrace of Kinkell House before dinner.
Our itinerary then took us through the mountains and down to Ullapool, once a thriving port where a fleet of over 30 steamers provided links to the West coast islands – but now a small but attractive fishing port. From here we were recommended by the tourist office to take the coastal route to Skye and along the way, every view surpassed the previous one as we rounded each loch and bay.
Over the bridge to Skye might not have the same ring as “Over the Sea…..” but the rewards are still there in an island which is much larger than expected, with its own mountain ranges and lochs and varied scenery (and distilleries). In the north of the island was Dunvegan Castle, still occupied by the McLeod of McLeod family and full of traditional Scottish history. We stayed at Carbost on the edge of Loch Harport (close to the Talisker distillery). And in the same part of the island was Three Chimneys, a well-known Michelin-rated restaurant with some unique items on the menu – more affordable for lunch than dinner!
Then it was time to head south again, admiring Ben Nevis from a distance and driving through the Grampian Mountains to find the small town of Crieff in Perthshire and the excellent Barley Bree ‘restaurant with rooms’ in the nearby village of Muthill.
Also nearby was Drummond Castle with its quite stunning formal gardens which more than compensated for the fact that the castle itself is still occupied and not open to the public.
And so the seven day tour ended with the journey back over the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh en route to home with memories and images of the Highlands and Islands, the history and traditions, the distilleries and the full Scottish breakfasts — memories which will last for years.
This route and itinerary was self-made – but it can be recommended to any Silver Travellers seeking a flavour of Scotland in a week (but I cannot promise the weather will always be so good!)