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Our Highland Explorer: A 7-Day Tour of Highland Scotland
SUMMARY: You could spend a lifetime exploring the Scottish Highlands but on this, our most popular tour of the Highlands, you will experience iconic castles, majestic mountains, and mysterious lochs; you’ll even have time taste uisge-beatha, whisky, the water of life.
As we travel through the Highlands we’ll have time to discuss history and culture, sample food and drink, while appreciating the stunning and ever changing landscape.
HIGHLIGHTS & KEY LOCATIONS: Highland Scenery, Scone Palace, Distillery Visit, Loch Ness, Culloden Battlefield, Torridon, Applecross, Eilean Donan Castle, Skye, Harry Potter Train, Fort William, Glencoe.
DURATION: 7 Days.
ITINERARY: The tour given below both starts and ends in Edinburgh but can be readily altered to begin or end in any of Scotland’s major cities.
Day 1: After collection from your hotel we will make a brief photo-opportunity at the iconic Forth Bridges before charting a course north on our Highland Exploration. Our first stop will be Scone Palace, ancestral home to the Earls of Mansfield and enthronement site for the ancient Kings of Scotland. After visiting this beautiful palace we will head north across the Highland Boundary Fault to the picturesque village of Dunkeld, located on the banks of the River Tay. Here we will here tales of a bloody battle at odds with thew quaint setting of the present day.
After lunch we will head into the town of Pitlochry home of Blair Athol Distillery. Using water from the Allt Dour Burn ‘Stream of the Otter’, Blair Athol produces a whisky with mellow tones and a smooth finish used in Bell’s, one of the most popular blended whiskies in the UK. We will have time to tour the distillery, learn about the whisky making process and sample the excellent product. For those with a sweet tooth, they offer handmade chocolates to compliment the whisky! Overnight in Pitlochry.
Day 2: After breakfast we will make the short trip to Blair Castle, seat of the Dukes of Atholl and home to the only private army in Scotland. Here we will hear the family’s history and the role they played in the Jacobite uprisings (recently dramatised in the Outlander TV series).
Next, we will meander our way northwards through the Grampian mountains to Fort Augustus, on the south-west tip of Loch Ness. Once home to a garrison of government troops, Fort Augustus is now the best place to appreciate the engineering behind Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal. From here we will travel over 20 miles along the banks of Loch Ness and take a cruise on the dark waters (always watching out for the famous monster) before arriving in the Highland Capital of Inverness. Overnight Inverness
Day 3: This morning we will journey east along the Moray coast to the historic town of Elgin. We will visit the weaving mill at ‘Johnstons of Elgin’ an iconic Scottish brandname noted for their lambswool and cashmere, before wandering through the ruins of Elgin Cathedral. Even as a ruin it is easy to appreciate how this grand and ornate building earned its name the ‘Lantern of the North’; take the time to explore and you should find Scotland’s tallest gravestone!
Returning west we will have time for a photo-stop at some Pictish carvings and lunch in one of the local fishing ports or market towns, before arriving at the evocative pre-historic site of Clava Cairns. The Standing stones here are said to have been the inspiration to Diana Gabaldon when writing her Outlander novels. Our last stop of the day will be at the haunting Culloden battlefield and war graves; site of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s final defeat and the last battle on British soil. We’ll tour the award winning visitor centre and take the time to walk the length and breadth of the battlefield, visualising opposing lines of soldiers in the landscape to understand exactly how the battle became a slaughter lasting little more than an hour. Overnight Inverness.
Day 4: Leaving Inverness by the Kessock Bridge and the Black Isle, we will soon leave the fertile land of the east coast behind as we head west to Torridon. Our route will proved views (and photo-opportunities) of some of Scotland’s most rugged and spectacular mountains; Slioch ‘The Spear’, Liathach ‘The Grey One’, and Beinn Alligin ‘The Jewelled Hill’. From Torridon we will follow one of Scotland’s most spectacular driving routes; around the Applecross peninsula and over the the Bealach na B?, ‘The Pass of the Cattle’, enjoying the thrill of hair-pin bends and dramatic views.
After lunching at either an award winning local pub or seafood cafe, we will have the chance to walk though the delightful highland garden at Attadale House before heading south to Eilean Donan Castle. Eilean Donan is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland and for good reason, its spectacular location on a tidal islet accessed by a three-arched bridge is one of the iconic images of The Highlands. Overnight Skye.
Day 5: Today we will take the entire day to explore the Isle of Skye, the Inner Hebrides’ largest and most popular island. With so much to see and so much ground to cover, we will tailor the day to meet your specific interests; perhaps walking, history, or whisky. We will travel through the Cuillin mountains, with its dramatic jagged ridge, for a visit to Dunvegan Castle; home to the Chief of the Clan Mcleod and the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. We will then head round the northern tip of the island to take in the geological wonders of Kilt Rock and the Quiraing.
Skye is a centre of the artisan food industry and plethora of lunch options are available; we can make our choice between Michelin starred restaurants and open air oyster shacks, and everything in between!
After lunch we may wish to visit the Talisker Distillery. Our second distillery tour of the trip will allow us to appreciate the subtle differences in the processes used by different distillers. Alternatively, we may wish to take a boat trip around some of Skye’s marvellous coastline, or undertake a low level hike through some of her outstanding scenery. Overnight Skye.
Day 6: After a leisurely breakfast we will travel along the Sleat Peninsula, whose fertile soil has earned it the name ‘The Garden of Skye’. We will have time to visit the Clan Donald centre before catching our ferry to Mallaig in time to board West Coast Railways’ Jacobite steam train to Fort William. This scenic route will take you past beaches used in the filming the movies ‘Highlander’ and ‘Local Hero’, but it is crossing of the Glenfinnan Viaduct as featured in the Harry Potter movie franchise for which this journey is most famous.
Arriving in Fort William in the late afternoon, we will have time to explore the town before heading to our hotel for the evening. Overnight Fort William.
Day 7: The last day of our Highland Exploration will take us through some of the best scenery in Scotland; Glencoe, The Trossachs, and Northern Perthshire. Our first stop will be Glencoe ‘The Weeping Glen’, today a beautiful and majestic valley in any weather but notorious in Scottish history as the site of an infamous massacre of 1692. We will then head south and east across the bleak and desolate landscape of Rannoch Moor into the northern section of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national Park; Scotland’s first. There’s be the opportunity for a number of photo-stops before we arriving in Balquidder, final resting place of Rob Roy MacGregor, Scottish outlaw, Clan Chief, and hero; made famous by the novel of Sir Walter Scott and, more recently, the film starring Liam Neeson.
We will lunch in one of the traditional towns or villages of northern Perthshire before heading to the beautifully formal Drummond Castle Gardens. The final leg of our journey will take us through Gleneagles, with its famous golf courses, and the Ochil Hills before returning to Edinburgh.
OVERNIGHT STOPS & ACCOMMODATION: 4* accommodation is available at all overnight locations on this tour, but we are happy to advise on a range of alternatives from family run B&Bs to restaurants with rooms.
PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES: As you would expect on this tour there will be photo opportunities galore!
(NB. although photography is generally not allowed within distillery production areas, there are opportunities to take photos in certain places during distillery visits).