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10 1/2 Day Driving (and camping?) Tour of Scotland

Hi all... first trip to Scotland ...at least for me.  My wife and I will be flying into Edinburgh from Iceland (after a 15 day ring rd trip) on Aug 23.  We'll pick up car or camper van on 24th Aug, and return back to Edinburgh on September 3, to fly to Milan Italy later that evening. The reason I mention a camper van is..... we think it will give us more freedom to pick and choose the places to stay and for how long. Especially if a place strikes our fancy. An occasional B&B is not out of the question some nights, if camping doesn't fit into the area we have chosen.
Our British friends threw out a list of places that run a mostly northern and western circle from Edinburgh. Heading north, Pitlochry, Aviemore, Inverness, Kyle of Lochaish, Isle of Skye, Mallaig, Glencoe, Loch Lomond and Stirling. These places were mentioned also. Inverewe Gardens, Applecross Peninsula and Loch Torridon. Anyway.. this seems like a lot and maybe they are just on the route as we pass thru. We will want to visit some castles (for sure), hike some beautiful mountain scenery, and walk along some of the beaches on the coast. If we choose to travel the camper van route, we will likely fix breakfast and lunch and maybe a few dinners. We're not opposed to eating out dinner or visiting a pub or two when the situation presents itself. Would probably prefer it most nights, unless we are at a simply spectacular camp site. 
This is not our usual way we like to travel. We usually find a couple of places to base out of for a few days, and then take day trips. In this case, we think moving everyday makes the most sense to get a good taste of Scotland for our ten days. I'd welcome all opinions and suggestions on camping (not camping), better route, castles, beaches, hiking places to eat/drink etc.....
Thanks Howard and Debbie from Colorado

Comments

  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    In my  searches I just found the North Coast 500.  This might be the perfect loop with a bit of Skye and Loch Lomond. So much to see. I love it!
  • VisitScotlandAmandaVisitScotlandAmanda Member, Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @powderglut! Welcome to the community :)

    Our resident expert for this type of query is @Horizons - I'm sure she'll have some ideas and suggestions in mind for you!

    Side note - I see you've mentioned Skye - if you do intend to stay here I do encourage you to book as far in advance as possible - it's very popular over summer time and gets booked up very quickly!

    I'm sure you'll have an amazing trip and the amount of time you're here allows you the opportunity to see and do a lot before you move on again. Time to start preparing the bucket list :)
    Kiwi gal, relocated to Scotland. 
    Instagram
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    edited November 2017
    Thanks Amanda.....I think we feel confident in getting a camper van and doing a big circle from Edinburgh including the North Coast 500.  Then on to Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond. The nice thing is, we can do it at our own pace. If we really like a place, maybe we'll stay an extra day. Hopefully weather will be nice enough to see it all. Still doing my homework for this area. Just looks amazing. Anyone wanting to chime in on their favorites would be greatly appreciated.   
  • VisitScotlandAmandaVisitScotlandAmanda Member, Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Make sure you check out our North Coast 500 mega thread - it has lots of local tips and tricks that I'm sure you'll find useful!
    Kiwi gal, relocated to Scotland. 
    Instagram
  • HorizonsHorizons VisitScotland Contributor ✭✭✭✭
    edited November 2017
    powderglut, there is one more powerful advantage camper vans give you, the freedom to switch out your initial plan based on the weather. From personal experience, I can tell you that this is a needed gift, for example, if the 2 days you planned to be on Skye rain out, there is not point visiting the island those 2 days. Also, finding a new stop each day or couple of days is a generally good idea for Scotland. Giving you my idea of an ideal itinerary with links to my own experiences in blogposts.

    NC 500 is a good trip for 3-4 days and the megathread has some great recommendations. Torridon is my personal favourite but mostly due to a spectacular hike in the area that I had to reserve a day for.

    I very highly recommend detouring to the Orkney mainland for 2 more days. It is one of the best places to visit in Scotland IMO.

    Also highly recommend taking the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway, staying overnight on Harris or Lewis, seeing Harris' spectacular beaches and then taking the ferry to Uig, Skye the next day.

    Resources: the UK campsite website to find campsites, you'll need to call a couple of days in advance atleast to find a space. CalMac to book ferry spots if you're visiting the Outer Hebrides. Orkney should have car spaces but check with Northlink / Pentland Ferries based on your choice. WalkHighlands for some spectacular walks.

    Putting it all together, I recommend this itinerary, as soon as you reach Edinburgh or a day before that, check 7 day weather forecasts for all major spots on the route, decide on clockwise / anticlockwise direction based on how the weather will be favourable, make bookings as needed and only then finalize your trip. I know this seems to put everything off to the last moment but it is quite easily possible to spend your entire time sulking in the rain if you have fixed plans. OR fix a plan but if the weather turns unfavourable, try to make cancellations and make one on the fly.

    Edinburgh - Inverness (see Perthshire sights on the way such as Queen's View, Pitlochry, Hermitage @ Dunkeld) - NC 500 via John O'Groats - Orkney (optional but highly recommended) - Ullapool - Stornoway - Luskentyre / Huishnish - Tarbert (Harris) - Uig - Glenbrittle campsite Skye - Eilean Donan castle - Glencoe - Stirling - Edinburgh
    We're a globetrotting travel blogger couple. Find us on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 Week (fully by public transport)

    See Scotland with us (incl: SkyeMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban)
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    @Horizons thanks for your input. I will definitely look at weather the day before we leave Iceland. Do you have any best website for weather in Northern Scotland?
    Perhaps we'll get to Harris and Lewis (really does look incredible)... actual route is still in the planning stages. And yes....obviously weather will decide whether we are hiking and exploring beaches/ mountains or.... in a museum /castle. 
    I've wanted to see the coast and Highlands of Northern Scotland more than any place in Europe. Getting to do both Iceland and this part of Scotland in one trip, is a huge "check" on our Bucket list. Hopefully weather in August and early Sept will work in our favor. The camper van should give us the freedom to pick and choose if the weather falls apart. I think we'll put a list together.. of all the places we want to see in each area. Then try to hit them all on the way.  10 1/2 days should give us a pretty good taste.
  • HorizonsHorizons VisitScotland Contributor ✭✭✭✭
    BBC Weather works well generally. MWIS for Scottish mountains. Enjoy your holiday!
    We're a globetrotting travel blogger couple. Find us on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 Week (fully by public transport)

    See Scotland with us (incl: SkyeMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban)
  • VisitScotlandAngelaVisitScotlandAngela Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @powderglut

    I see you are planning a visit to Loch Lomond whilst you are in Scotland in August.  Loch Lomond is amazing, although I am biased as I live and work here.  :p  I agree that travelling by motorhome is a fantastic and flexible way to explore Scotland and there are some amazing campsites where you can stay overnight.  Wild camping is also great although please keep in mind that within Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park that wild camping bylaws are in place between March and October.  This means that there are designated areas to stay overnight in a campervan or motorhome which require a permit.  You can find out more information about camping in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park here.
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    Yes.. thanks for that info. We will leave Edinburgh (Kelty) and head north to Inverness on Fri Aug 24. Take our time on NC 500 probably counter clockwise. If weather is completely fabulous we may ferry over to Harris and Lewis....otherwise continue on thru the NC 500 then over to Skye. However many days we have left after Skye, will determine where we can still go before we return vehicle on Mon Sept 3.
    My wife and I are both avid hikers and will likely feel the need to traipse somewhere for "at the least" 2 hours each day.  If it looks good, we will probably need to see it up close, and get out of the car. So.....I really can't quite gauge, what pace we will travel at. Weather will likely play a big part in the speed in which we travel. Loch Lomond is high on my list, and I really hope it fits in as we head back from Skye. I also will have my fly rod, and will take an opportunity now and then, to see if I can entice a trout, salmon or char on our way thru the countryside. Doesn't really look like you can go wrong anywhere in Northern Scotland.
  • HorizonsHorizons VisitScotland Contributor ✭✭✭✭
    Doesn't really look like you can go wrong anywhere in Northern Scotland.
    You have no idea how true that is. A tiny correction would be to remove the "Northern" bit. The rest of Scotland has some stunning gems that are rarely talked about but that's where people like me like to spend some time exploring away from the madness of the crowds. I also hope the community will be able to shine a spotlight on those areas more with time.
    We're a globetrotting travel blogger couple. Find us on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 Week (fully by public transport)

    See Scotland with us (incl: SkyeMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban)
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    I really changed this trip up from my original plan. We were going to fly into London, then head into Wales, then the Lake District, Scotland and back to London. Once I realized how easy it is to fly into Edinburgh from Iceland...we started talking about simplifying the trip, and doing less driving, and concentrating on a smaller area. I think we'll be a lot happier keeping this trip just in Scotland. Shorter days of driving. 
    Since this is a three part trip, I have been working on my Iceland list lately and put this Scotland part on the back burner. Will still gladly take any stops or suggestions we must see and do. This site is really a gem for putting together a Scotland trip!
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    So @Horizons, I'd love to see Orkney, but not sure whether to park the vehicle at John O'Groats and do the 40 min passenger only ferry ride and then do the maxi bus tour as a return day trip. (Not really bus tour people) or use the car ferry from Scrabster -Strommnes (correct ferry to take a car?) and stay a couple nights and tour it on our own.
    The more I hear about how busy the NC 500 gets in August we think perhaps a visit to Harris and Lewis might be worth a couple nights too. Wondering if we do take a ferry from Ullapool to L&H and return thru Skye, whether the section between the Kyle of Localsh and Ullapool should be backtracked and visited as I hear it is a very scenic section we will have missed because of ferry route. Obviously weather will play a part on the routes we choose.
    So far I think we will just put a list of where we would like to visit and see if we can check off a bit of the list. I like the idea of visiting some of the islands. Thanks everyone for your help so far.
  • ScathachScathach Member ✭✭
    If you are heading toward Mallaig there is an amazing campsite in Arisaig: Camusdarach. There is also an amazing beach very close by.

    To find info about campsite I usually use this great website: Coolcamping. I found some great places in here.
  • HorizonsHorizons VisitScotland Contributor ✭✭✭✭
    @powderglut Instead of backtracking the whole distance to Ullapool, I would suggest driving from Kyle to Applecross on the Bealach na Bà, the most spectacular road in Scotland IF your vehicle is suitable for the road. The rest of the NC 500 from Ullapool onwards should make up for the missed section between Applecross and Ullapool.

    As for Orkney, I would highly suggest staying on the island for 2 days and you should definitely drive to the islands. Also, I would suggest checking out Pentland ferries from Gill's Bay as another way of getting to Orkney, I believe it is faster.
    We're a globetrotting travel blogger couple. Find us on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 Week (fully by public transport)

    See Scotland with us (incl: SkyeMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban)
  • powderglutpowderglut Member ✭✭
    @Scathach thanks for that link,  a very scenic camp site for sure. A wee bit spendy for a night of camping, but I actually haven't looked at what most of the other places we may be staying charge too.  I actually haven't determined a route from Skye back to Kelty (camper rental) yet.
    @Horizons thanks for that ferry link. Discussing with my wife about making a crossing to Orkney for a couple nights. We really weren't sure we wanted to do a bus tour once on the island.
    After looking at the potential ways to get to and from L&H , I'm thinking of continuing the drive from Ullapool, and finishing out the the route to Kyle, and then heading into Skye. There are probably some beaches and hikes we'd like to do in that stretch.  If weather holds, we can do a RT ferry from Uig to Tarbert. A bit of backtracking in Skye.... but I always say, things look different from the opposite direction. And...I hear Skye is as pretty as it gets. I know this is still a busy time of year and may need to make some reso's  a few days ahead.  Will monitor weather a few days ahead. I imagine it is somewhat similar to what we'll see in Iceland for the 16 days prior. You guys are not that far away from each other.
  • ScathachScathach Member ✭✭
    @powderglut I know, it's a bit spendy for a campsite but it's totally worth it for the location. I had a great time there!
  • HorizonsHorizons VisitScotland Contributor ✭✭✭✭
    I imagine it is somewhat similar to what we'll see in Iceland for the 16 days prior. You guys are not that far away from each other.

    @powderglut I would not make any assumptions about weather and natural conditions at either place. Multiple people have been swept away into the South Iceland ocean at the Vik beach as it has perennially strong currents. No place in the UK can make any such claim. And I felt Scottish winds were stronger than Icelandic winds in my limited experience.

    What I can say for sure is that you should come prepared for heavy winds and rain in both spots.
    We're a globetrotting travel blogger couple. Find us on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 Week (fully by public transport)

    See Scotland with us (incl: SkyeMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban)
  • KatepickKatepick Member
    It's always a good idea to have a plan B when touring Scotland. Nowhere is dreadfully far away - by US standards - although our roads are not at all like yours . If the North West is drizzly and mizzly and you can't see 2 inches in front of your nose - it's not much fun but chances are over on the East things will be bright and sunny - and vice versa. As you are taking a camper van - apart from making sure you're booked for your 'must do's' which only you can determine, the time frame you have chosen is outwith our local school vacation time so things may be a little quieter, giving you some flexiblity and freedom to follow the weather. Scotland is a wonderful destination wherever you finally choose. Oh, and about that fishing - just be sure you've got a permit if you need it as not all landowners will be entirely happy with you casting on their lochs and rivers. For freshwater fish and migratory fish you need written permission from the land owner - usually some sort of permit - you can find out about all that online so you don't fall foul of any local restrictions.
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