2020 Daily Itinerary for the Scotland Highlands and Islands Tour
This is the day by day itinerary for our 2020 “Scotland’s Highlands and Islands” tour. The blue section immediately following details the optional pre-tour extensions, the green section in the middle is the main tour, and the blue section at the bottom is the optional Edinburgh post-tour extension.
Thursday 4 June : About now, traveling to Glasgow
If you are planning to enjoy the full three night optional pre-tour extension, then you should probably consider flying to Glasgow today, so as to arrive, after an overnight flight, tomorrow.
Of course, you can fly earlier to Glasgow if you like, or to elsewhere in Scotland or Britain, and then travel on to Glasgow either on Friday or early Saturday morning, or even meet up with the tour on Saturday in Stirline (ie take a train from Edinburgh).
Friday 5 June : Arriving in Glasgow
If you started your travels from North America or various other countries yesterday, you’ll arrive into Glasgow some time today.
Of course, you might choose to arrive earlier, and maybe not fly to Glasgow. Let us know if we can help you plan any additional activities prior to today.
Saturday 6 June : From Glasgow to New Lanark
We’ll meet up at Glasgow’s Central Railway Station at 10.30am and travel first northwest to the Stirling region, made famous in the movie ‘Braveheart’.
We go to visit magnificent Stirling Castle, one of the largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally, in Scotland.
We will have time for lunch in Stirling, and after lunch travel down to New Lanark, stopping at the amazing Falkirk Wheel on the way.
New Lanark is a very interesting and very beautiful site, south of Glasgow, and was founded in 1786, and which operated as a cotton mill complex until 1968.
It is now a World Heritage Site and shows a good example of an Industrial Revolution cotton mill.
Workers at New Lanark were very fortunate, because during the period it was owned and managed by noted social reformer and philanthropist, Robert Owen, it became an epitome of utopian socialism as well as an early example of a planned settlement and so an important milestone in the historical development of urban planning.
We spend a night at the lovely hotel located in one of the former mill buildings, and have time to tour around the site as we wish.
Sunday 7 June : Glasgow to Culcreuch Castle
For the people who overnighted with us at New Lanark, we’ll return back to Glasgow this morning. We’ll get back late morning, giving you time for lunch as you wish.
All of us going to Culcreuch will meet up at Glasgow’s Central Railway Station at 1.30pm this afternoon and enjoy a scenic transfer up to Fintry, north of Glasgow, and Culcreuch Castle.
This time would allow you to arrive into Scotland this morning and meet up at the railway station, or to take a train from London, Edinburgh, or elsewhere in the country and meet up. Alternatively, and our recommendation, you might choose to arrive into Glasgow the previous day, so you’ve a leisurely Sunday morning with no worries about making our departure at 1.30pm.
It is a short journey to Culcreuch Castle, and we’ll stop on the way for a beautiful view out over the Campsie Fells.
Monday 8 June : Return to Glasgow, main tour starts
We hope you enjoyed your stay at the lovely historic castle last night. Did you encounter a ghost?
After breakfast in the castle’s “dungeon” and cellar area (better than it sounds!) we travel back to Glasgow, arriving late morning, and giving you a chance to find somewhere nice for lunch before the main tour starts this afternoon at 1.30pm.
Please now continue reading in the green section below, from today, Monday 8 June.
This is the end of the optional pre-tour. Please now scroll down to Monday 8 June in the main tour (green) section to continue the tour itinerary.
Sunday 7 June (or sooner) : Travel to Glasgow
If you are leaving from North America, and wish to arrive into Munich for the official tour start date on Monday 8 June, you should start your travels today.
Note that we recommend arriving into Britain and getting close to Glasgow a day or more earlier so as to have spare/emergency time up your sleeve. So you might choose to leave home a day or two prior to today.
Monday 8 June : Tour starts in Glasgow, to Tarbert
The main tour starts at Glasgow Central Railway Station at 1.30pm, to make it possible (but slightly risky depending on where you’re traveling from and by what method) to arrive into Glasgow this morning and join the tour immediately.
We drive along the shores of Loch Lomond and through the Loch Lomond National Park before traveling around Loch Fyne and enjoying an afternoon refreshment stop in the small town of Inverary. Visit their jail – or perhaps the renowned Loch Fine Whisky store and stock up on some rare and wonderful whiskies.
From there it is a short drive on to Tarbert (confusingly, the second town of that name we’ve driven through today but don’t worry, we’ll get it right!) where we’ll spend the next two nights.
This evening we’ll enjoy a welcome dinner giving us all a chance to get to know our fellow traveling companions.
Tuesday 9 June : "The Long and Winding Road" to Campbeltown
Paul McCartney, who lives on the Kintyre Peninsula close to where we are traveling today, wrote this haunting song while thinking of the road we travel this morning down to Campbeltown. Campbeltown is the smallest of the six major whisky producing regions in Scotland, but formerly had many more distilleries than it does now. We’ll have time for lunch in Campbeltown.
We travel on further south to Southend, at which point we’re only 19 miles from the Irish Coast and – weather permitting – we may be able to enjoy a fine view both of Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre.
Southend is reputed to be where St Columba, Scotland’s original missionary who brought Christianity to the country, first set foot on the mainland in Scotland in 563. We see a stone footprint allegedly dating back to the time of his landing at Southend in 563.
We then go up the other (west) side of the Kintyre peninsula and back to Tarbert for a second night.
Wednesday 10 June : Over to Islay
This morning we go a short distance to Kennacraig, where we then take a ferry across the Sound of Jura, and over to the Isle of Islay, famous for its distinctive peaty smoky (some would even say seaweedy) whisky.
The ferry ride lasts 2 hours.
The farmland, woodland and peatland set below the sweeping hills support a wide variety of wildlife from many bird species, including the rare corncrake. Chances are you’ll see many different birds during our two days on Islay.
After lunch, we’ll visit a bird sanctuary, see the ruins of an old church, and then enjoy a distillery tour and tasting.
We spend two nights in Bowmore, the main town on Islay.
Thursday 11 June : Whisky Galore?
Once home for the Lords of the Isles, Islay is the most southerly of the Hebrides and is known for its rich and colorful landscape, shaped by natural forces and human influence spanning thousands of years. We’ll spend some of today touring around Islay, including a visit to Finlaggan, the historical center of the Lords of the Isles.
A highlight of the day will be visiting the Kildalton Cross in a very beautiful and remote part of Islay that normal tours never go to.
We have lunch in a lovely setting – a distillery. Last time we were there, they gave us all a free drink or two of their whisky, which made lunch even nicer!
If people wish, we might make brief stops at other distilleries on our way back to Bowmore.
Friday 12 June : Ferries to Tobermory on Mull
We take an early morning ferry back to the mainland this morning, and then make our way north to the town of Oban.
On the way we’ll stop in the Kilmartin area where you can look at and wonder about some ancient stone circles and burial cairns, and then visit the churchyard containing the largest collection of 14th and 15th century carved burial slabs.
We arrive in Oban in time for lunch in this lovely Victorian era town, considered the gateway to the islands.
And then, proving the validity of its name, we take a second ferry over to Mull. Mull is a beautiful island with moorland, forest and mountains, and magnificent cliff scenery to the south, and we proceed on to the lovely town of Tobermory, where we’ll spend the next two nights.
Saturday 13 June : Scotland's Holiest Place
This morning we travel to the southwest tip of Mull and then take a very short passenger ferry over to the sacred Isle of Iona.
Iona is often referred to as ‘The Cradle of Christianity in Scotland’ as it was here that St Columba first landed after being banished from Ireland in 563AD. Once settled on the island, Columba and his followers built a wooden monastery. This was later replaced with stone when the monastery was turned into a Benedictine Abbey around 1200. Today the abbey has been fully restored and is open to the public.
We have an option – either spending extra time on Iona, or to take an optional launch journey to the distinctive island of Staffa, and Fingal’s cave, made famous in the overture written by Mendelssohn after a visit. The island is composed of columnar basalt and overlying ‘slaggy’ basalt. You’d spend some time ashore if time and currents allow before returning back to Fionnphort on Mull.
Our return back to Tobermory is on one of the most scenically beautiful routes of anywhere I’ve been in Scotland.
Sunday 14 June : To Fort William
This morning we leave Tobermory and take a ferry across the Sound of Mull back to the mainland, and then travel in our coach on some of Scotland’s scenic backroads – places that seldom see a tour bus.
In the past we’ve had locals stop and stare in amazement as we drive past, wondering who/what we are and if we were lost!
Our travels take us up to the fishing village of Mallaig. Fish and chips for lunch, anyone?
After lunch we travel to Fort William, either by coach or optionally on a beautifully restored vintage steam train along the route featured in ‘Harry Potter’ and described as the ‘Top Railway Journey in the World’ by Wanderlust Magazine in 2009.
We’ll enjoy a two night stay in Fort William.
Monday 15 June : A castle for sure; a monster - maybe
After breakfast this morning we go to the eerie and unhappy area of Glencoe, where in 1692 a treacherous group of Campbells betrayed their MacDonald hosts and slaughtered 78 people, acting on the orders of the English king.
328 years later, you can still sense the anguish in this area. The Campbells have been vilified in Scotland ever since, and no wonder so many Scots wish independence from ‘The Auld Enemy’ (England).
But, enough of this. We then drive north to Loch Ness, where we’ll visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. You have great views out over the loch, but we can’t promise you’ll see “Nessie” (the fabled Loch Ness Monster).
Then we’ll visit the Loch Ness Monster visitor center in the nearby tiny town of Drumnadrochit before returning to Fort William for a second night.
Tuesday 16 June : Over the Sea to Skye (and Stornoway)
After breakfast this morning we travel to one of the most immediately recognizable of Scotland’s castles – Eilean Donan, the clan home for the MacRae and MacKenzie clans.
We then cross the revolutionary Skye Bridge, causing the Isle of Skye to now be conveniently connected to the mainland – too conveniently, in the opinion of some locals!
We journey on to the island’s main town of Portree, enjoying gorgeous views over to the impressive Cuillin mountains. We’ll stop in Portree for a wander around and break, before heading to the northern tip of the island to see Flora MacDonald’s grave.
What next? Another ferry ride, this one from Uig over to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
We then travel on our coach onto the Isle of Lewis and to our home for the next two nights in Stornoway.
Wednesday 17 June : Ancient mysteries
We’ll enjoy a fascinating day of touring around the Isle of Lewis today.
We first go all the way up to the Butt of Lewis and the lighthouse there – this is the most northwestern point of the Hebrides.
We then go to the Gearrannan Black House village, which is a living museum showing how the crofters lived until about the 1950s. They have traditional style thatched houses with continually burning peat fires inside, but no chimney. The peat smoke preserves the thatch.
While there we’ll see a demonstration of hand weaving of the famous Harris tweed, which can only come from the twin islands of Harris and Lewis, and must be woven by hand in people’s homes.
Next we visit Dun Carloway, one of the best preserved broch towers in Scotland and dating to about the first century BC.
Lastly we visit the Calanais Standing Stones, a cross shaped setting of stones dating back to about 3000 BC, and from which other stone circles can be seen in the area.
We then return back to Stornoway and a farewell dinner at the hotel this evening.
Thursday 18 June : Tour ends in Edinburgh or Glasgow
An early morning start today when we take the 7.00am ferry from Stornoway back to Ullapool on the mainland.
Our coach then drives us down through the Highlands to Inverness, where we make a quick detour to visit the Culloden battlefield, site of Scotland’s last battle against the English.
Then it is on to the lovely Victorian resort town of Pitlochry where we’ll stop for lunch. After lunch we continue on to Edinburgh, and finally to Glasgow. We expect the coach to arrive in Edinburgh at about 4.25pm and into Glasgow at 5.40pm.
You are free to leave the tour in Inverness, Edinburgh or Glasgow (or anywhere else on the coach’s route from Ullapool back down to Edinburgh and Glasgow).
If you are staying in Edinburgh for our post-tour extension, please keep reading the next blue section.
Please click here to return to the main page for more information about our 2020 Scotland’s Highlands and Islands tour, or continue reading for the optional post-tour extension in Edinburgh, or click the golden up arrow on the right to jump to the top of this page.
Thursday 18 June : Edinburgh
If you’ve chosen to enjoy our Edinburgh extension, today you will leave the coach when we get to Edinburgh at about 4.25pm.
Depending on how long an extension you’ve chosen, you’ll probably be spending two or three nights in Scotland’s capital city.
Friday 19 June : Edinburgh City and Rosslyn Chapel
During the morning we will enjoy a city tour around the major highlights of this glorious and very historic city
After lunch, we will travel a short distance south to visit Rosslyn Chapel.
Rosslyn Chapel was featured in the popular novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ as being the home of the Holy Grail. This was of course fiction, but there are enduring stories connecting this small church with some of the Christian church’s most ancient mysteries.
Rosslyn Chapel also shows strong hints in some of its symbolism of having a link to the Knights Templar. Other strange patterns hint at codes and hidden meanings.
Come visit Rosslyn with us and see if you can puzzle out any of these enduring mysteries.
Saturday 20 June : Free Day or Tour Ends
The chances are you saw lots of things and places on the city tour yesterday that you’d like to return to. The Castle district, and a walk down the Royal Mile, stopping at various tourist sites, museums, shops, and eating/drinking establishments, can easily take a day just by itself.
A bit further out of the central downtown area is the lovely port area of Leith, where the former Royal Yacht Britannia is now moored – an interesting and popular place to visit.
If you are continuing on to join our Devon/Cornwall/Cotswolds tour, you’ll probably travel to Salisbury today or tomorrow.
Thursday 16 July : End of Extension
This is the end of our Edinburgh extension. You can of course stay on in Edinburgh or anywhere else, and with that in mind, please consider now joining us for our Devon/Cornwall/Cotswolds tour in England.
Let us know if we can help you with any further arrangements. We’d love to help make this as wonderful and memorable for you as possible.