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Our Coast to Coast Tour: From St Andrew to St Columba
Saint Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland and Saint Columba is the Irish missionary said to have first brought the teachings of Christ to the Highlands. While this tour can be undertaken as a pilgrimage to ‘The Cradle of Christianity in Scotland’ it is more regularly taken as a beautiful route through the Scottish Highlands. It offers the chance to explore a rugged landscape, taste local produce, hear stories of Scotland’s rich history, and even look for monsters!
DURATION: Five Days
HIGHLIGHTS & KEY LOCATIONS: St Andrews, Dunkeld, Central Highlands, Loch Ness, Argyll, Iona
DAY 1: After pick-up from your hotel in Edinburgh or Glasgow we will head through the Kingdom of Fife, stopping for photos at the Unesco World Heritage listed Forth Bridge and the charming fishing villages of the ‘East Neuk’, arriving in St Andrews in time for a walking tour of the town before lunch. St Andrews is internationally famous for its golf courses and its university, but it also provides a fascinating introduction to Scotland’s history: its ancient cathedral once housed the bones of St Andrew, the disciple of Christ, and was one of the most prestigious religious centres in Europe; while its castle tells stories of murder and social and religious upheaval.
After lunch we will head north across the Highland Boundary Fault into the Scottish Highlands, where we will stroll along the banks of the River Tay, visiting the town of Dunkeld and its ruined cathedral. Here we will hear of St Columba and why this was chosen as his resting place in a time of Viking raids, we will also hear of the role the town played in the first of the famous Jacobite Uprisings when the Scottish Stuart kings tried to regain their rightful place on the throne.
DAY 2: Today we will explore the beauty of the Central Highlands. In the morning we visit a distillery for a private tour (and tasting of course!) before heading through the mountains to Loch Ness. The afternoon will see us cruising on the loch, investigating its depth and the legend of its monster; it is often forgotten that tales of the monster date back to the 6th century when St Columba is said to have saved a follower by banishing the monster into the murky depths of the loch.
DAY 3: Heading south and west from Inverness we will reverse the route taken by St Columba as he spread the word of Christianity from his island base off the west coast, into the lands of the ancient Picts in the northeast. We will take time to walk by the Caledonian Canal, an impressive feat of Victorian engineering; to photograph Ben Nevis (weather permitting!), the highest mountain in Britain; to visit a ruined castle and hear stories of battles between the highland clans; and to tour the delightful fishing town of Oban, where we may taste the local seafood, before boarding our ferry to Mull and onwards to Iona.
DAY 4: This is a full day devoted to exploring the delightful Hebridean island of Iona, ‘The Cradle of Christianity in Scotland’. Take time to visit the restored abbey and ruined nunnery before walking to the ‘Top End’ to explore the white sandy beaches captured by the Scottish Colourist painters of the early 20th century, or follow the pilgrim’s route to Columba’s Bay on the southwest coast, where St Columba is said to have first landed.
Walking across the truly ancient rocks, some of the oldest in the world, of this small and relatively undeveloped island always leaves a lasting impression on visitors.
DAY 5: Today we will return to the mainland to explore the delights of Argyll. The morning will provide an opportunity to walk through Scotland’s pre-history, exploring the standing stones, burial cairns, and rock art found in the archaeological landscape of Kilmartin Glen.
Loch Fyne offers excellent local produce for lunch; seafood, beef, or beer. In the afternoon we will visit Inveraray, with its magnificent castle, ancestral home to Clan Campbell and more recently a location for the filming of Downton Abbey. A drive through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, before returning to your hotel in Glasgow or Edinburgh, will make a fitting end to this excellent introductory tour of the Highlands.
OVERNIGHT STOPS & ACCOMMODATION: 4* accommodation in Edinburgh, Dunkeld, Loch Ness and Glasgow; simple but comfortable hotel on Iona
This tour can be readily extended to incorporate other islands such as Staffa, Mull or Islay. It also provides the opportunity for extra days in the Highlands, perhaps for fishing, walking or additional whisky tasting.
Real or fictional, picking a person can be an interesting starting point for your holiday.
Above we have used St Columba and Mary Queen of Scots is followed on another of our example tours. Harry Potter could have provided a more light-hearted option, taking you from Edinburgh to Skye via Glencoe and the Hogwarts Express in three days, while Bonnie Prince Charlie would be more extensive, his campaign to regain the throne for the Stuarts taking you on a far longer journey through Scotland’s history and landscape.