Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Scotland: Highlights, Islands, and...Covid

Scotland: Highlights, Islands, and...Covid

Old Jun 13th, 2022, 09:10 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 329
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Scotland: Highlands, Islands, and...Covid

After 2.5 years I'm so glad to be posting a new trip report! Although, as the title indicates, this trip wasn't free from Covid-related drama...but more on that later. I chose Scotland for no particular reason other than that it's one of the many beautiful places I wanted to visit. Because I was traveling solo and didn't want to navigate driving on the "wrong" side of the road and car, I opted to stitch together two Rabbies 5-day tours: the Iona, Mull, and Skye tour and the Outer Hebrides and Scottish Highlands tour.

All of my photos were taken with an iPhone 8 plus or a Canon T3i with 24-70mm or 10-18mm lens.

My original travel itinerary was:
Days 0-1: Travel
Day 2: Edinburgh
Days 3-7: Iona, Mull, and Skye tour
Days 8-12: Outer Hebrides and Scottish Highlands tour
Day 13-16: Edinburgh
Day 17: Travel

Day 1
Travel from the US through Amsterdam and into Edinburgh was pleasantly uneventful. I arrived in the late afternoon and easily caught the Airlink bus from the airport to St. Andrew Square. The bus ride quickly gave me an introduction to Edinburgh's unique architecture. I'm not sure how people described Edinburgh before Harry Potter because it's not storybook or fairytale-like in the same way that Germany and France are, but it certainly does feel like you're entering a different time and place!

From St. Andrew Square I walked a relatively short distance to The Place Hotel. My third-floor room (no lift) was larger than expected. The mattress was a bit saggy, but overall this hotel was more than adequate. I had planned to eat dinner at the Guildford Arms, but when I arrived there was a sign saying that the kitchen wasn't serving food that night. Even though it was a Monday night, there was a wait at most of the restaurants around St. Andrew Square, so I wandered a bit before a table was available for me at Amarone. I chose this Italian restaurant solely based on the stylish interior; the margherita pizza I ordered was fine but nothing special. After dinner I made a quick stop into Sainbury's Local to pick up some shortbread. I ended the night in my hotel room with tea and a shortbread taste test (I prefer the texture of Dean's and the flavor of Walkers.)


Looking up to Old Town from Princes Street


Edinburgh's beautiful architecture


Day 2
I had a full day to spend in Edinburgh before my tours started. I grabbed a cardamom bun for breakfast at Soderberg, walked through a portion of Prince's Street gardens (where the rhododendrons were in full bloom), and meandered my way up to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. I had a 10am entry ticket for the castle, but I arrived a little early to take photos of the views. The views are incredible - so much unique architecture - and the partly sunny/partly cloudy weather meant that the light kept changing, so of course I had to keep going back to take photos of the same view. Shortly after I entered the castle and was sorting out my audio guide I heard music. It was the changing of the guard ceremony, which is accompanied by a military band. It was quite the procedure, but fun to watch!

I spent about 2.5-3 hours leisurely exploring the castle. I didn't see everything or listen to the entire audio guide, but I felt like I got a good feel for the castle and had a nice experience there. Although the site houses a smallish palace and the Scottish crown jewels, the main focus is the castle's military history. Since I was very early on in the trip I didn't buy anything at the gift shop, but I kind of wish I had. The goods in that shop were much higher quality than the cheap stuff in the shops on the Royal Mile. This is usually the first site on any list of attractions in Edinburgh, and I wondered if it would actually be worth the money. I enjoyed my time there and am glad I went. That being said, I had more on my itinerary than I could get done in a day, and I think I would have been equally happy using that time to wander a neighborhood or visit an art museum.

After the castle I walked back to New Town for lunch at The Ivy. I did a good amount of research on restaurants before the trip and had reservations for most meals, but this was a new addition to my itinerary. I'm a sucker for a restaurant with a pretty interior, so when I couldn't get in for dinner the previous evening, I immediately made a lunch reservation for the next day. I had a two-course lunch special of chicken and gnocchi with lemon posset for dessert. The food was good and it's one of the prettiest restaurants I've visited; I'd recommend it!

After lunch I walked back to Old Town to wander down Victoria Street (the inspiration for Diagon Alley) and Grassmarket. I stopped in at Armchair Books but didn't find anything to buy and tried to catch the attention of some sleepy cats in the window of a cat café. Next I visited the Writer's Museum. I have to admit, my familiarity with the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson is limited, and I know even less of Robert Burns. Still, I enjoyed this quaint (free) little museum and reading more about the lives of these three authors. By this point it was nearing 5pm, and most of the other attractions on my itinerary for the day were closing. I opted to listen to a Rick Steves audio tour while walking down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile was much busier than it had been earlier in the day! I had to cut the walk/tour short to get to my 6pm dinner reservation at Greyfriars Bobby's Bar. I had a sweet potato and goat cheese pie that was HOT! This American is not used to savory pies, and it took the roof of my mouth a few days to recover!

I was tired and even though it stays light until after 10pm, most things (aside from the pubs) shut down around 5, so after dinner I headed back to my hotel. The efficient route I'd planned for the day had been thrown off by lunch at The Ivy, but I'm glad that I spent the day walking around so much. The time I'd planned to spend in Edinburgh at the end of the trip would be drastically altered by Covid, so it ended up being a good thing that I was able to explore Old Town as much as I did.


Princes Street Gardens

The striking Scott Monument

Edinburgh Castle from below

Castle entrance

View from the castle

View from the castle

Inside the castle

Scottish National War Memorial

Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle

Cannon at the castle

The Royal Mile

Victoria Street

Scotland's national animal is the unicorn


Lots more to come!

Last edited by memejs; Jun 13th, 2022 at 09:35 PM.
memejs is offline  
Old Jun 13th, 2022, 10:12 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 69,729
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
Didn't realize when reading your 'covid' thread that you were in Scotland. Really lovely photos -- looking forward to the rest of your TR. Hope you are feeling better.
janisj is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 03:56 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 2,617
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Happy to see your report. We are thinking of visiting Scotland next year. What is the weather like in June? Your photos are beautiful. Hope you are feeling better. Are you still in quarantine?
KarenWoo is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 04:23 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 1,266
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Am loving your photos, we hope to make it to the Highlands one of these days, so far we have only visited Edinburgh, Glasgow and neighboring parts.

Hope you’re fully recovered now, take care 😊
geetika is online now  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 05:17 AM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 329
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The title should say Highlands, not Highlights! I made the edit but the change isn't being reflected. Does anyone know how to change the title of a trip report?

janisj & geetika Thank you, I am home and feeling much better. Today will be my first day back to work and a normal schedule, so we'll see whether or not covid has impacted my stamina.

KarenWoo The weather was all over the place! Temperatures were mostly in the 50s and 60s. It rained many, if not most, days I was there. Most of those days it was scattered showers, but there were a few days with more consistent, heavy rain. There's a reason Scotland is so green! I'd say the weather negatively impacted my experience at Glen Coe and on Skye, but fortunately it was lovely and sunny the days I was on Iona and at Luskentyre Beach. I wore a base layer, a sweater, and a jacket most days...but I tend to run colder than the average person. I loved seeing Scotland, but I could never live there; I need much more sun!
memejs is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 05:40 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 2,617
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Memejs, thank you for your detailed response. My husband runs colder than others, too. So I think July or August would be better months for us. He is miserable when he is cold and wet!
KarenWoo is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 06:07 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 69,729
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
Originally Posted by KarenWoo View Post
Memejs, thank you for your detailed response. My husband runs colder than others, too. So I think July or August would be better months for us. He is miserable when he is cold and wet!

KarenWoo: Do not choose July or August based on potential weather. Or any month for that matter. June could be warmer than July . . . or not. Anytime between say April or May and October you could have warm weather, occasionally hot, cold, rainy, windy . . . sometimes all on the same day

The wet weather memejs hit this year could be completely different two days after he left. August would probably be my least favorite month unless I was visiting the Fringe/Edinburgh Festival/Tattoo. Really bad crowds, and lots of midges. May or June or September probably my favorite months.
janisj is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 07:30 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 1,266
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by janisj View Post
KarenWoo: Do not choose July or August based on potential weather. Or any month for that matter. June could be warmer than July . . . or not. Anytime between say April or May and October you could have warm weather, occasionally hot, cold, rainy, windy . . . sometimes all on the same day

The wet weather memejs hit this year could be completely different two days after he left. August would probably be my least favorite month unless I was visiting the Fringe/Edinburgh Festival/Tattoo. Really bad crowds, and lots of midges. May or June or September probably my favorite months.
Karen, janisj’s advice is spot on. Out first visit to Edinburgh was in July and it was cold and raining. My husband played golf at St Andrews one morning while I wandered around town and we had gorgeous weather. By the afternoon it was raining sideways, was happy DH got his round of golf.

A few years later we went in August for the Tattoo, which was a fabulous experience. But it was like a zoo everywhere, the Royal Mile was packed with tourists, food and souvenir stalls, etc, etc. We escaped to Glasgow in a few days and enjoyed Glencoe, Loch Lomond, etc. Though I must say it was warm and sunny everywhere.
geetika is online now  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 07:55 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 69,729
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
Originally Posted by geetika View Post
My husband played golf at St Andrews one morning while I wandered around town and we had gorgeous weather. By the afternoon it was raining sideways, was happy DH got his round of golf. . . .
I took two different pairs of friends on golfing trips in June 2 years apart that included the Old Course, Carnoustie, Dornoch, Prestwick, etc . . . The first trip the guys wanted the full experience so it was argyll vests, one even bought plus fours to wear on the Old Course to 'look the part' in the pictures. And it was without doubt the hottest day I've ever experienced in St Andrews. The sea was like glass and there wasn't a breath of breeze. One guy was sensible and stripped down to just a shirt and rolled up his sleeves . . . But Alan darn well wanted to look posh in the video/photos so sweltered the entire round in a heavy wool vest. Almost the same date 2 years later one of the previous pair went with a different friend and he told his buddy that it would be warm . . . I tried to tell them . . . but no dice and they didn't take wet weather outerwear. You guessed it -- about 55° and raining sideways. The Golf shop sold them about $300 of foul weather gear
janisj is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 08:00 AM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 329
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
@KarenWoo I also initially assumed later in the summer would be warmer and drier, but looking at average precipitation, March-May are the driest months, which is why I chose to go when I did. I think this spring may have possibly been wetter than usual because many of the B&B hosts commented on the amount of rain. The weather changes frequently, so like others have already mentioned, even if it's pouring in the morning, there's a good chance it will stop or even be sunny by the afternoon. It's so far north that it's never going to be sunny and warm like the Spanish coast or southern France, so it's just a completely different experience than a summer vacation in a more southern climate. I will say, that based on how lush and in bloom everything was, I think May was a great time to visit Scotland!
memejs is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 08:12 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 69,729
Likes: 0
Received 50 Likes on 7 Posts
memejs: "B&B hosts commented on the amount of rain." They always comment on the rain, kvetching about the weather is a national pastime
janisj is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 09:08 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 9,798
Likes: 0
Received 21 Likes on 2 Posts
memejs, Looking forward to reading about your trip. Karen, as many people told me, you dress for all four seasons in a day in Scotland. On June 3 in Inveraray, it was shirt-sleeve weather. As a matter of fact, most of the last five or six days of our trip was mainly shirt-sleeve type weather (maybe a vest for the wind, however) in Oban, Inveraray and Glasgow. You never know.
maitaitom is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 09:09 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 22,333
Received 4 Likes on 4 Posts
Originally Posted by janisj View Post
memejs: "B&B hosts commented on the amount of rain." They always comment on the rain, kvetching about the weather is a national pastime
It isn't even kvetching, it is the sound we use to fill in conversations with people when we have nothing to say. Brit's conversation starters are How are you, and Look at the weather.
bilboburgler is online now  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 09:16 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,630
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Beautiful photos, memejs! I love how the sun and clouds really come together for dramatic effect!

I spent a year in Edinburgh as an undergraduate and what I remember is how the weather varied dramatically over the course of a single day! There would be clouds, rain, but around 6 every night the clouds would break for sun!

My husband and I also went one July and the weather was very rainy. My memory is that May/June and September/early October are the best times to travel.
progol is online now  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 03:09 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 2,617
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you everyone for your comments about the weather! I love some of your stories! So funny! This is very helpful to me. I would probably lean towards May or June or September. Memejs, what were the exact dates of your trip? I haven’t done any research yet. We are thinking of possibly 2 weeks in Scotland with friends and then 2 weeks in Ireland with just the two of us. Haven’t been to either country.
KarenWoo is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 05:44 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 11,472
Received 26 Likes on 4 Posts
"I had to cut the walk/tour short to get to my 6pm dinner reservation at Greyfriars Bobby's Bar."

That was fun to see, my father-in-law, John Yates, having been the owner once upon a time.

Very nice photos, thanks for this.

MmePerdu is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 05:49 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,950
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Loved your photos. Edinburgh is one of my favorite places to visit but, just like you, I couldn't possibly live there for an extended period of time.
Treesa is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 06:49 PM
  #18  
twk
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,408
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great start. Looking forward to the rest.
twk is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 07:42 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 329
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for reading and commenting everyone!

@bilboburgler - Ha! My family would fit right in; we're always talking about the weather!

@KarenWood - My intended trip dates were May 22-June 8. I ended up staying until June 12 due to covid.

@MmePerdu - That's so cool that your father-in-law once owned Greyfriars Bobby!
memejs is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2022, 09:00 PM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 329
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Day 3
This was the first day of the Iona, Mull, and Skye tour with Rabbies. I'm not really a "tour person," but, as already mentioned, I wanted to see a lot of Scotland without having to drive myself, so based on many positive comments about Rabbies on this forum and from others I know, I booked two back-to-back 5-day tours. In hindsight, opting to take a long bus tour while Covid numbers were rising was a spectacularly bad idea...but when I booked the tour numbers were declining, and by the time May rolled around I was just so excited to finally be traveling again that I didn't think too hard about the possibility of contracting Covid from a fellow tour participant. The ironic thing is that I was so paranoidly careful about wearing a mask in the weeks leading up to the trip because I did NOT want anything to prevent me from going!

My first tour was small, just two other couples and me. The couples were 20-40 years older than me, but it ended up being a really fun group. Our driver/guide was Gill (pronounced like Jill), and she was absolutely fantastic! She knew everything from geology to mythology to current forestry practices. Her commentary was always interesting (never excessive) and I found her recommendations for cafes and restaurants to be spot on. She freelances or Rabbies and is also a licensed tour guide who runs her own private tours. I can't recommend her highly enough, so please message me if you'd like her contact information.

Our first stop were the Kelpies, two gigantic horse statues depicting beasts from Scottish mythology. I loved the drama of these giant figures!

Next we moved on to Luss, a small village on the bank of Loch Lomond. The village is really tiny, but it's become such a popular tourist stop that it has a large parking lot for cars and tour buses! We had about an hour to see the loch and wander the village. I spent some time in the graveyard surrounding the church and photographing the many peonies, foxgloves, and rhododendrons in bloom around the village. Scotland is so lush! I was continually wowed by all of the flowers in bloom.

We drove to Inveraray for lunch. Gill recommended Brambles café as a good option, and although it was busy and the service was a bit slow, I really enjoyed the sandwich I ordered. Inveraray Castle was closed that day, which was kind of disappointing. Just like here in the US, most every restaurant and shop in Scotland had a hiring sign in the window. Many shops and some tourist sites (including Inveraray Castle) are closed 1-2 additional days per week because they don't have the staff to run a full schedule.

Shortly after lunch we made a roadside stop to see a castle (I didn't note which one). The castle was situated a good distance from the road, but there were some sheep grazing in front of the castle, and I thought that I could get a great photo if I could just get a little closer. No one else from my group was interested in walking through a muddy field to get closer, so I - not wanting to keep everyone waiting too long - made the mistake of rushing down the path. I soon slipped and landed flat on my back in the mud. Luckily I wasn't hurt, but I sure was dirty! I continued down the path to snap the photo, which, after all of that, turned out to be a very mediocre shot! I felt bad about getting my seat on the bus all dirty, but luckily my clothes dried relatively quickly, so I wasn't too uncomfortable.

Our next stop was St. Conan's Kirk, a church that incorporates architectural elements from a variety of cultures and religions. I really liked the dolphin chairs as well as all of the blooming flowers surrounding the church.

My favorite part of the day, and one of the highlights of the entire trip, was our drive through Glen Lonan to Oban. This "road of the kings," once the route used to take kings to their final resting place on the island of Iona, is a small lane through a valley that is gentle and bucolic. By this point in the day the sun had come out, and everything was vibrant and shining in golden light. There were tons of sheep with their lambs and...coos! I was really hoping to see and photograph some highland cows, and I got the first of several chances here. If I had been driving myself I probably would have stopped a dozen times along this lane and taken a hundred photos, but one of the downsides to a tour is that you don't have that kind of autonomy. We did stop for the cows, but I don't have any other photos that capture the magic of that place, so I will have to just keep it in my memory.

This seems as good a place as any to stop and give my thoughts on traveling via tour. I thought the tour was a great way to get an introduction to Scotland. I was introduced to places and information I would likely not have found on my own, which was a positive. On the negative side, there were places I wish we could have stopped or spent more time and other stops I could have easily skipped. We spent more time on the bus than I had anticipated, but there's really no way to cover as much ground as we did without a lot of driving. Luckily the scenery in Scotland is spectacular!

We arrived in Oban in the early evening. My first impression of Oban is that is was a bit ramshackle and not as charming as Rick Steves made it out to be...but it grew on me in the two short nights I was there. I stayed at Kathmore B&B. Rabbies booked all of my accommodations, and I was happy with all of my lodgings. I ate dinner at Coriander, an Indian restaurant just down the street from my B&B. It's not a seafood or waterfront restaurant, but it was some of the best Indian food I've ever had! I got the chicken tikka starter and saag paneer. It was delicious and well priced.


Kelpies

Loch Lomond

The charming village of Luss

I love the moss growing on this gravestone

When the sun was out, the colors were vibrant. I haven't enhanced the colors on this photo at all!

I got covered in mud for this less-than-amazing photo!

I learned my lesson about rushing through soggy fields early-on!

Highland calf in Glen Lonan
memejs is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information