FULL 5-DAY COACH TOUR ITINERARY:
8.30AM – Departing Edinburgh, we travel through Scotland’s Central Belt to Glasgow, our largest city and former industrial powerhouse of the Empire. Here there is time to visit the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, opened in 1901 and still one of the top visitor attractions in Scotland. We then cross the Kingston Bridge over the River Clyde and head north for our next stop at the village of Luss on the shores of Loch Lomond. We are now well and truly in the Highlands and on the far bank of the loch, you should catch your first glimpse of Ben Lomond – the most southerly of Scotland’s 282 Munros (mountains over 3000 feet).
We continue north to the village of Arrochar which nestles on the edge of Loch Long at the foot of the high peaks of the Arrochar Alps. It’s onwards and upwards over the steep pass of Rest and be Thankful for our lunch stop in the village of Inveraray – seat of the Clan Campbell and Dukes of Argyll. The town is lapped by the sea water of Loch Fyne and is famed for its oysters and seafood.
After lunch we follow the course of Loch Fyne to Lochgilphead where we turn north again to our next stop at Dunadd Iron Age Fort. This was the coronation site of kings and queens of Dalriada, the ancient Gaelic speaking kingdom which spanned Ulster in north east Ireland and Argyll. You can literally follow in the footsteps of kings and queens by taking the steep but thankfully short path to the summit of the hill and placing your bare foot on the same rock as the Dalriadic monarchs at the moment of their coronation.
The views north from the summit of Dunadd are of Kilmartin Glen. The Glen is home to dozens of ancient standing stones, rock carvings and burial chambers and our final stop of the day is at Kilmartin Museum. Here you can learn some of the history of the peoples who have lived in this area for the last six thousand years. You will also have time to stroll among some of nearby standing stones and burial chambers.
From Kilmartin Museum it’s a short drive through some stunning Argyll scenery to our first overnight stay in the bustling port and fishing town of Oban. The skyline of Oban is dominated by McCaig’s Tower – a 19th century folly. You might wish to climb the steep hill to the summit of Battery Hill to take in the Tower and to marvel at the stunning views across the islands to the Isle of Mull and mighty Ben More. Sunset views from McCaig’s Tower are among the very best anywhere in Scotland.
Oban has a wide variety of bars and restaurants and, being a fishing town the local fresh produce features heavily on most menus. Many of the bars offer live music in the evenings and if you are up for some traditional Highland entertainment, there is often a music and dance party or ceilidh in the Oban View – don’t worry if you don’t know the steps, the musicians and dancers will show you how it’s done and you are guaranteed a great time.
08:30AM – Departing Oban we travel up the side of Loch Linnhe through the Great Glen to our first stop of the day in Glencoe. Considered by many to be the most impressive glen (valley) in Scotland, in 1692 the towering peaks of this majestic landscape bore witness to the infamous Massacre of Glencoe. Your driver guide will explain the details of this incident and why it was such a turning point in Highland history – stoking the Jacobite Rebellions for many years to come. There will be time for a short hike and many photographs in Glencoe before we make tracks for our next amazing location – Glenfinnan Monument and Viaduct.
Glenfinnan has something for everyone – set on the edge of the fjord-like Loch Shiel, this is one of the prettiest spots in Scotland. It is also the place where in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie set in motion the last Jacobite Rebellion which would end in bitter defeat some 7 months later at the Battle of Culloden. In more recent times, Glenfinnan Viaduct has become very well known to fans of Harry Potter as the magnificent railway bridge crossed by the Hogwarts’ Express. Climb the hill for best views of the Monument to the 1745 Rebellion and the Viaduct.
From Glenfinnan we make travel to Fort William where you have two options –
Option 1 – Take a tour of Ben Nevis Whisky Distillery and see the whole process of how Scotland’s most famous export is made and matured. The tour concludes with a taste of Ben Nevis single malt whisky – the true “water of life”. (£5.00 per adult, £2.50 for children.)
Option 2 – Wander back in time as you explore the ruined late 13th century Inverlochy Castle (free). You can then check out Neptune’s Staircase, starting point of the Caledonian Canal, opened in 1826 and designed by Thomas Telford to link the Atlantic Ocean on Scotland’s west side and the North Sea on its east.
Lunch is in Fort William, the second largest town in the Highlands where the ruined fort was destroyed by Jacobite forces at the very start of the 1745 Rebellion.
Our next stop as at the impressive Commando Memorial statue in memory of commandos who trained near here during the Second World War. Erected in 1951, the statue is a fitting tribute to incredibly brave young men and the site offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains including Ben Nevis – Scotland and the UK’s tallest. From the Commando Memorial it’s a short drive to the charming village of Fort Augustus.
In Fort Augustus you may wish to take a leisurely stroll along part of the Caledonian Canal. However, most visitors to Fort Augustus are drawn to the other side of the village to view Scotland’s most famous loch and maybe spot a monster popping its head through the deep, dark and mysterious waters of Loch Ness. Fort Augustus sits at the very southern tip of Loch Ness and from here you can see the whole 24 mile (38km) length of the loch – there really is no better place for a bit of Nessie spotting.
Our route now takes us into some of the most spectacular scenery in all of the Highlands. We pass through Glenshiel and the iconic Five Sisters of Kintail to the meeting point of 3 sea lochs – Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh – the wonderful setting for Eilean Donan Castle. Eilean Donan is possibly the most photographed structure in all of Scotland and also has a starring role in films as diverse as Highlander, Entrapment, Rob Roy, The World Is Not Enough, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Made of Honor. There is time for an audio guided tour of the castle (£9 per adult) before the last leg of today’s tour, crossing the Skye Bridge over the sea to Skye and our overnight stay in Portree.
Portree is the largest town on the Isle of Skye. It has an incredibly pretty harbour and a clutch of great restaurants and pubs serving meals with the emphasis once again on fresh fish and seafood. The town gets lively in the evenings with frequent live music events – if you are really lucky, you might even catch the local pipe band on one of their regular parades through the town square – always a truly memorable sight and sound.
08:30AM – Can there be any greater feeling than waking to the prospect of a Scottish breakfast and knowing you’re on the actual Isle of Skye? We don’t think so and, once you’ve seen how fantastic the Misty Isle is, we think you’ll agree. As we head north out of Portree to explore the Trotternish Peninsula sit back, relax and marvel as your guide takes you to the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock and the Quiraing. There are geological explanations for how these landscapes were created but we prefer the local folklore so your guide will explain the important part played by Fairies, Fishermen and Giants.
In the far north of Skye in Kilmuir sits the Museum of Island Life (£3 per adult). Charmingly housed within a group of ancient, stone built thatched roof cottages known as Black Houses and artefacts, the museum gives visitors the chance to see exactly how islanders lived and worked on Skye a hundred years ago. Keep your ears alert for the lilting sound of Gaelic – the ancient language of the Highlands and Islands spoken fluently by the keepers of this treasure of a museum.
As we loop around north Skye, on a clear day take in magnificent views across the sea – east to the Torridon Mountains and west to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. We return to Portree for lunch and maybe the chance for a spot of shopping in the many craft and local gift shops in town.
After lunch we head south over the Cuillin Mountains and bid a fond farewell to Skye as we make our way through Kyle of Lochalsh to Loch Carron and the unbelievably pretty village of Plockton. At Plockton there is the option of taking a one hour cruise with Calum’s Seal Tours (£12 per adult). As well as seal sightings and Calum’s unique commentary, on a lucky day you might see Golden Eagles, White Tailed Sea Eagles or maybe even a few Sea Otters. For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there is the option of a short hike through nearby woodland or you could just potter around Plockton until it’s time to be off again.
The next part of our tour takes us via Achnasheen to our overnight stay in Inverness known as the capital of the Highlands. Despite its small size there is a lot going on in Inverness and that’s why we choose to make it our base for 2 nights.
The River Ness flows out of Loch Ness and right through the centre of Inverness. Take an evening stroll along the riverbank or up to Inverness Castle which dominates the city centre and offers a fabulous of the surrounding area. You are also guaranteed a great night out here if you are up for it. Some of our favourite bars include The Castle Tavern – carefully selected craft beers and an extensive list of Scotch whiskies, The Black Isle Bar – locally brewed, organic and delicious beers plus wood fired pizzas and Hootenannies – always busy with locals and visitors enjoying two floors of live music.
08:30AM – We cross the Moray Firth by the Kessock bridge and head north and west because today is all about the wild and mountainous North West Highlands. This is arguably the most rugged landscape in Europe and the mountains here are among the very oldest on earth.
Our first stop of the day is at Corrieshalloch Gorge. There’s a beautiful walk through native Caledonian Forest around the edge of Scotland’s deepest gorge and for those of you with a good head for heights, you can admire the view from Sir John Fowler’s suspension foot bridge. Our journey now follows part of the legendary North Coast 500 Route as we head to Assynt to the ancient ruin of Ardvreck Castle – once a stronghold of the Clan MacKenzie and a reminder of more turbulent times in the Highlands.
After this fascinating and free slice of Scottish history we head to the very wonderful Knockan Crag. Here you can learn much more about the incredible geology of this area and, if you’re feeling very energetic, you can take a high level hike through millions of years of history – the path is very steep and narrow in places so it’s only for serious adventurers with sturdy footwear. If you don’t fancy the hike, there is plenty to keep you amused at Knockan Crag including loads of information about the beautiful surrounding landscape and the geologists who have studied it here for the last two centuries.
By now you might be feeling a little peckish so we head south for lunch in the pretty ferry port and fishing town of Ullapool. This wee town is famed for its locally sourced fish and chips, but many delicious alternatives are available. There is also a brilliant restaurant, bookshop and art gallery housed within the Ceilidh Place.
After lunch today our next stop is at Rogie Falls where, as well as lots of frothing water cascading down the falls, there are gentle trails among the forest. This creates the perfect environment for native flora and fauna and at different times of the year you will see many rare species of wildflower, fungi and mosses.
From Rogie Falls it’s a short drive to the town of Beauly. One time favourite of Mary Queen of Scots the town is home to a 13th century Priory, funded by French monks and an important burial site for local Clans Fraser and MacKenzie. The name of Beauly is thought to derive from the French Beau Lieu – beautiful place, and it really is a beautiful village.
There’s time for one more stop before our return to Inverness – a fantastic photo opportunity from a vantage point high above Urquhart Castle. This is the only castle on the banks of Loch Ness and it has been an important stronghold and look out post for around one thousand years. We then follow the course of the river Ness back to the capital of the Highlands for our last night together – Saturday night in Inverness.
08:30AM – We depart Inverness and dive headlong into some very ancient history at Clava Cairns. These standing stones and Burial Chambers date from at least 4000 years ago. Their precise purpose is still something of a mystery but what most observers agree on is that they probably inspired Diana Gabaldon when she was writing about Craigh na Dun in her Outlander novels.
Our next stop is a significant place in the history of the Highlands, Scotland, Britain and the British Empire. Culloden Battlefield is where, on 16th of April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Army was brutally defeated by a much larger and better equipped Redcoat Army. This was the last battle to be fought on British soil and your guide will explain just how big a turning point in history it was, heralding the end of the traditional Highland way of life and beginning changes which are still felt to this day. The Battlefield is a very moving place, sensitively cared for today by the National Trust For Scotland.
From Culloden we make our way south through the Cairngorms National Park for a quick comfort break in the Highland village of Pitlochry and on to our final stop of the tour at the ancient east Fife town of St Andrews. There is so much to see and do in St Andrews so you will probably want to grab a quick lunch to maximise your time in the town.
St Andrews is known to many as The Home of Golf – most famously of all – The Old Course, which has hosted more British Open tournaments than any other. There is no golf played on a Sunday so you are perfectly free to walk across the course and even pose for a photograph on the world famous Swilken Bridge.
There is more to St Andrews than golf – much more. This medieval walled town is home to St Andrews University, the oldest in Scotland and the third oldest in the English speaking world (most of us do speak English in Scotland, honestly we do.) Wander the university buildings at your leisure and imagine the scene when a certain Prince William met his future wife, Kate Middleton when they were both students here in the early 2000s.
St Andrews Cathedral was at one time Scotland’s largest building. Despite the damage, enough remains of the Cathedral to appreciate how beautiful this near 1400 year old building once was and how important it was to the people of Scotland before the Reformation.
Entry to the Cathedral grounds is free but for those of you with a real interest in Cathedrals (or if you simply want the best view of St Andrews and love to climb tall towers), visit the Cathedral Museum and climb St Rule’s Tower – you won’t be disappointed by either (£5 per adult, £9 per adult joint ticket with Castle).
St Andrews also boasts a wonderful, partially ruined castle. St Andrews Castle sits on the edge of the sea and, if you want to appreciate just how brutal life in prison could be 500 years ago take a look at the Bottleneck Dungeon which is filled with freezing salty sea water at high tide. Another fascinating feature of this castle is the subterranean mine and counter mine. These dark passages are not suitable for claustrophobics but are great fun for kids of all ages (£5 per adult, £9 per adult joint ticket with Cathedral Museum and St Rule’s Tower).
It’s always hard to drag yourself away from St Andrews but in the early evening we will start winding our way through the fishing villages of Fife, across the Forth Road Bridge with views of the Railway Bridge and the Queensferry Crossing, back into Edinburgh around 6:00PM.
This incredible 5-Day adventure must sadly draw to a close on the Sunday evening but your memories, your stories, your photographs and the friends you met along the way will be with you for a lifetime.