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Magnificent Scotland

Length: 18 Days
Departing: August 2023

Scotland may be a compact country, but it offers an enormous number of treasures… architectural masterpieces, some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, hospitable people, fabulous seafood, and one of the largest wilderness areas left in Europe, with a diverse and beautiful array of wildlife.

Scotland’s history is fierce and fascinating… captivating tales of clan warfare, displaced kings and queens, and of course, battles with those dastardly English, abound and are brought back to life in the very castles and landscapes where they played out hundreds of years ago.

Quite rightly, the Scottish are proud of their cuisine in the 2020’s… delicious fresh seafood, beef and venison, and fresh organic vegetables come out of the kitchens of some of Europe’s top chefs, now creating gourmet waves in Scotland. And the whisky… whether you love a sweet and succulent Scotch from the Lowlands, or a smoky number that tastes like it just came out of a peat bog on the Isle of Islay, it’s all here for you to try and maybe expand your repertoire!

And of course, we mustn’t forget the scenery… the wonderful, spectacular, breathtaking scenery of Scotland. There is nothing like it in the world. And while I can’t show you it all in seventeen days, I will show you some of the most memorable sights in this beautiful land; the wilds of Glencoe and the Cairngorms, the elegant outlines of the Quiraing, and the stunning mountain-trapped lochs such as Loch Ness and Loch Leven, that lie scattered throughout the Highlands.

I have had the pleasure of organising many tours in Scotland, and have refined the itineraries to present to you a Scottish experience that will create indelible memories.

The accommodation has been chosen to reflect the atmosphere and traditions of Scotland, all amongst awe-inspiring landscapes. From Baronial mansions to historic castles and a mix of contemporary and traditional city hotels, I’ve chosen the most inspiring in each area so that your leisure time is pleasure time and you can relax and enjoy your surroundings. In all these hotels, you may choose to stay in the standard room category to free up your budget for more shopping and whisky (!) or you might wish to ‘splash” on a more expensive suite… I also have different hotel options in Edinburgh, so I have different price ranges on offer for this tour.

Finally, a major highlight of this tour is the Edinburgh Festival and the Military Tattoo. This is a “bucket list” experience and the spectacle of the modern-day Tattoo, with the most talented pipers in the world and a spectacular light show backdrop against ancient Edinburgh Castle, is something you will not forget for the rest of your life. It is truly something exceptionally special.

 I look forward to taking you to Scotland!

MAGNIFICENT SCOTLAND – DETAILED ITINERARY

Tuesday 22nd August, 2023
Our tour begins with welcome drinks at one of our hotels in Edinburgh, the historic 5-star Balmoral Hotel. I am offering a choice of hotels in Edinburgh and the alternative is the Market Hotel, which is a boutique hotel a short walk from the Balmoral. Please see hotel descriptions and links at the end of this itinerary. This evening we enjoy a welcome dinner at The Balmoral’s renowned restaurant, No. 1. (D)

Wednesday 23rd August – Old Town of Edinburgh & Rosslyn Chapel
I have the most wonderful Blue Badge guide in Edinburgh who has been looking after my groups for years and today she’ll be sharing her extensive knowledge with us as we explore the city. Beginning with a walk through the Old Town, we end at the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Founded as a monastery in 1128, and situated at the end of the Royal Mile, this magnificent residence is closely associated with Scotland’s turbulent past, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived here between 1561 and 1567. Did you know that David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary, was stabbed to death in 1566 here in her chambers by some Scottish lords (including her husband, Lord Darnley), because of a rumour that he had had an affair – and impregnated – Mary? Despite a bloody past, successive kings and queens have made the Palace of Holyrood House their premier royal residence in Scotland, including our current Queen Elizabeth.

The rest of the day is free at leisure; you may like to attempt the the two-hour walk (a little strenuous but suitable for anyone with a reasonable fitness level) that takes you to the summit of Arthur’s seat, the ancient volcano that is the highest hill in Edinburgh, with fantastic views over the city and the Firth of Forth. (B)

Thursday 24th August – Rosslyn Chapel & Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia
Rosslyn Chapel has had a resurgence of interest during the last few years, due to its place in the story of “The Da Vinci Code”, but it has been an important part of Scotland’s heritage for hundreds of years. A Category A listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument located in the village of Roslin, approximately 7 miles south of Edinburgh, it was built between 1446 and 1484, and has been described as an “Architectural Wonder” and a “Library in Stone”. Practically every surface of Rosslyn Chapel is covered with carvings of individual figures and scenes.  People travel from all over the world to see the carvings, and there are many different interpretations of their meanings.  Myths, legends and Hollywood fiction writing have given Rosslyn a unique sense of mystery and wonder. It really is an awe-inspiring site, where history comes alive right in front of you!

How I love the Royal Yacht Britannia! It’s a highlight of Edinburgh, in my opinion! The Yacht is a wonderful experience and offers a fascinating insight into the private lives of the Royal family. Situated in Leith, Britannia was de-commissioned in 1997, and the Queen is said to have wept at the ceremony, over the loss of her beloved yacht – one of very few times she has shed a tear in public. This afternoon we discover the life of the ship both above and below deck, seeing crew’s quarters, officer’s quarters, the Royal bedrooms, state dining room and much more, including the double bed that Charles had installed specially for Diana for their honeymoon, the yacht previously being only equipped with singles! It was a sad day when The Queen finally bid farewell to a ship that had served her family for over forty years. All the clocks on Britannia are stopped at 15:01, the time The Queen was piped ashore for the last time. (B, L)

Friday 25th August
Today I’ll take you to explore some other neighbourhoods in Edinburgh Old Town, with iconic sites such as the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died in 1872; the curving cascade of cobblestones and colourful buildings that is Victoria Street, “the prettiest street in Edinburgh”; the Grassmarket, which boasts some of the most beautiful and fashionable cashmere shops in the city; and visit “The Real Mary King’s Close”.

Buried deep beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile lies the city’s deepest secret warren of hidden streets that has remained frozen in time since the 17th century. In the company of an entertaining guide, we’ll explore this unique site and experience what it was really like for the people who lived, worked and died here (the stories of the Plague are… well… horrifying!). This visit is only an hour long so you will still have plenty of free time if you wish to join me.

After free time for lunch in the Old Town we will walk down to the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, where I will have lined up a tasting of their fabulous gins! We taste different gins and gin liqueurs from their award-winning range, next to their stills ‘Caledonia’ and ‘Flora’, and hear about the history of gin in Edinburgh and distillation and production processes.

Located – as the name suggests – on Castlehill by Edinburgh Castle, The Witchery By The Castle is the most atmospheric dining destination in Edinburgh, and tonight we’ll enjoy dinner together in this unique location. (B, D)

Saturday 26th August – Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Today we’ll pay a visit to majestic Edinburgh Castle, location of the famous Military Tattoo. The Castle is the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating back to the 12th century and dominating the skyline of the city. It lays claim to being the “most besieged castle in Britain”, which is a big call given Britain’s turbulent history, but it has survived 26 sieges in its 1,100 year history! There are some great stories here, such as the attempt by the Jacobite forces to capture the castle during the Rising of 1715, which failed thanks to poor planning – the ladder they brought to scale the ramparts turned out to be too short.

This afternoon, you will have a free afternoon to further discover Edinburgh on your own, enjoy the sights and sounds of the Festival, or do some shopping for the famous woollen knits or whiskies! Throughout the Edinburgh Festival the streets come alive with buskers and the vibe is wonderful. Even if you don’t catch a scheduled performance, the entertainment on the street is fabulous. And you’re likely to trip over a celebrity or two… last time I was there I tripped over Stephen Fry on North Bridge, and chatted to Robbie Coltrane in the lobby of The Balmoral!

This evening… our Bucket List experience… The Edinburgh Tattoo! I can honestly say this is one of the highlights of all my travels, anywhere in the world. It is stirring, awe-inspiring, entertaining and extraordinary. Apart from the beautiful, inspiring performance, a stunning light show plays out against the backdrop of the Castle. I have cried every time I’ve been! (Mind you, I’m a sucker for the bagpipes!) The show finishes with a spectacular firework display and this is the last performance of the Festival so it is very special. Please see notes on ticket categories at the end of this itinerary. (B)

Sunday 27th August – Transfer to the Highlands via Stirling
Today we transfer to Fort William for the next spectacular part of our tour, through the glorious Highlands. First stop – the Kelpies. These stunning 30m high metal sculptures may look like horses, but in fact they are modelled on figures from Scottish folklore, that are malevolent aquatic spirits and in the past were used to keep children from playing too near to lochs and dangerous rivers… maybe still are today!

We also travel via Stirling, one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was also one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, very much a palace as well as a fortress. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, as a tiny baby of nine months in 1542. It’s said she howled throughout the ceremony – can you blame her?! We’ll have lunch at the pub next door to the castle.

We arrive late afternoon in Fort William, after passing through Glencoe, one of the most spectacular landscapes in Scotland (we’ll return here for a longer look in a couple of days). We are staying at Inverlochy Castle Hotel – of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to stay throughout the world, this is one of my all-time favourites. Nestling in the foothills of the mighty Ben Nevis, Inverlochy is a beautiful 19th century Baronial-style manor house surrounded by the luscious hues of the evergreen trees and the sparkling blue from the nearby loch. My friend William will be there to make sure our stay is exceptional (here I will admit that delightful as William is, he is also my friend because he can offer one of the largest range of whiskies I have ever seen!).

During a trip to Balmoral in 1873, Queen Victoria spent a week at Inverlochy sketching and painting where she wrote in her diaries “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot”. This evening we will dine in the hotel’s beautiful restaurant, one of Michel Roux Jnr’s famous establishments. (B, L, D)

Monday 28th August – Jacobite Express
We start our day today with a spectacular train ride on the fabulous Jacobite Express to Mallaig, off the coast of Skye. Described as one of the great railway journeys of the world, and also known as the “Hogwarts Express” of Harry Potter fame, this trip takes you through some extraordinary countryside. Starting near Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, it visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar; the shortest river in Britain, River Morar; and finally arrives next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. The train stops en route to Mallaig at the village of Glenfinnan, just after crossing the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, which you may have seen on travel shows and in the Harry Potter movies. Beyond Glenfinnan are the beautiful villages of Lochailort, Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig. From here, on a clear summer’s day, you can see the “Small Isles” of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and the southern tip of Skye. The train continues on from here passing Morar and the silvery beaches used in the films “Highlander” and “Local Hero”.

Dinner this evening in Fort William, at a restaurant overlooking Loch Linnhe. (B, D)

Tuesday 29th August – Glen Coe
The deep valley and towering mountains of Glen Coe were carved out centuries ago by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions, and the Glen is one of the most beautiful and other-worldly places in Scotland. It’s been featured in films such as James Bond’s Skyfall and several Harry Potter movies (you can’t escape Harry in Scotland!) and today we’ll explore the whole area thoroughly, including pretty Glencoe village, at the foot of the mountains on the shores of Loch Leven. Glen Coe is also the site of the famous Massacre, when members of the MacDonald clan (including women and children) were slaughtered by soldiers of the Campbell clan, under the orders of the Earl of Argyll, after they had accepted their hospitality for more than a week. (B, L)

Wednesday 30th August – Skye
Today on our way to the famous Isle of Skye, we take in some of the finest scenery Scotland has to offer as we drive to one of its best known and most photographed castles, Eilean Donan. Built in the 13th century to protect the McKenzie clan from invading Vikings, this mystic castle has featured in movies such as “Highlander” and James Bond’s “The World Is Not Enough” and overlooks three sea lochs. The history of Eilean Donan is Game of Thrones-type stuff; among other bloody incidents, in 1331 Randolph, Earl of Moray had 50 men executed here and had their decapitated heads put on display along the castle walls. No wonder there are reputed to be ghosts; one apparition is a Spanish soldier killed here during the Jacobite Rebellion, who has been seen often in the gift shop, clutching his head underneath his arm.

Thursday 31st August – Skye
The Old Man of Storr is an iconic landmark of Skye and is a large pinnacle of rock that stands so high that it can be seen for miles around. The Storr was created by a massive ancient landside, leaving one of the most photographed landscapes in the world! The hike all the way up to the Old Man is a little challenging but we’ll take it slowly and walk halfway up for some spectacular views. Next we will drive further north to one of the most dramatic scenic spots on Skye – the Quiraing.

After our spectacular morning, we will have lunch at the lovely Skeabost House Hotel, overlooking the strangely named Loch Snizort. (B,L)

Friday 1st September – Skye
This morning we once again head north, to Dunvegan Castle. Dunvegan is home of the MacLeod clan and the gardens are absolutely gorgeous, overlooking Loch Dunvegan. You may have gathered by now that a bloodthirsty history is almost de riguer for any self-respecting Scottish clan! The MacLeods are no different; descended from the Vikings, the stories of goings-on at Dunvegan dating back to the 13th century will make your blood run cold. No surprise then that they are one of Skye’s best known families!

As we can’t forget our stomachs, after Dunvegan we’ll head up to Uig and lunch at the Ferry Inn, known as one of the best restaurants on the island and well known for its menu of local produce sourced exclusively in Skye. Then as we also must not forget shopping priorities, on the drive back to Kinloch we just happen to pass Skye Silver, where they have been designing beautiful jewellery – Celtic, Scottish and modern designs in silver and gold – for 35 years. (B, L, D)

Saturday 2nd September – Skye to Inverness
Today we drive to Inverness, at the very end (or start, depending which way you look at it) of the Great Glen. Inverness is a lovely little city that sits on the banks of the River Ness and is the perfect base to explore some of the most iconic sites in the Highlands. Yet another scenic drive (yes, another one – I’m so sorry!) takes us through Plockton, an exquisite village known as “the Jewel of the Highlands” and the setting for the TV series “Hamish Macbeth”, amongst other productions. Time for a wander and a cuppa before we continue towards Loch Ness, stopping on the way for lunch at local pub, the Glenmoriston Arms.

On the shores of Loch Ness we will find one of the most iconic sights in Scotland, Urquhart Castle. Here unfolds another fascinating story… It is said that St Columba visited around AD 580; Adomnan, his biographer, tells of the saint’s encounter with a monster in the loch. Is it the same monster we know now? Don’t forget to keep an eye out for her! There are many, many people who believe in her, and many locals that claim to have seen her, so don’t be too cynical! Urquhart Castle is a beautiful ruin, with a long and intriguing history. We’ll discover the castle as we walk around it but also from the water as we take a scenic one-hour cruise on the loch.

We’ll arrive in Inverness late afternoon, settle into the hotel and enjoy dinner at the lovely hotel restaurant. Ness Walk is a beautiful contemporary hotel with the salmon pools on the River Ness right outside the door! (B, L, D)

Sunday 3rd September – Inverness
So many amazing places within an hour of Inverness! Our first stop today is Culloden Moor, scene of the last major battle on British soil in 1746. We’re standing on the ground where the Jacobite Rebellion finally died. On that pivotal day in Scottish and English history 1500 Jacobites died, compared to 100 Government soldiers. The Visitor’s Centre at Culloden is absolutely wonderful, with fantastic interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict; and then a walk on the battlefield itself, with the memorial stones to so many clansmen that fell on that day, can be a sobering and moving experience.

Have lunch at leisure at the Visitors Centre when you have finished your tour, and then we’ll continue on to the Clava Cairns, a pre-historic clan chieftain burial site dating back to 2,000 B.C. Seen Outlander? Diana Gabaldon apparently drew inspiration from the Clava Cairns when writing of her fictional “Craigh na Dun” and the standing stone through which Claire falls into the past to the Jacobite Rebellion and the gorgeous Jamie. I’ve been several times and have not yet encountered Jamie, but one can always dream….

This evening you’re free to discover one of the excellent local restaurants in Inverness.(B)

Monday 4th September – Pitlochry 3 nights
Leaving Inverness today we’ll be heading for the famous Cairngorms, the largest National Park in Scotland and home to five of the six highest mountains in the UK. A beautiful drive along the western edge of the park, stopping at the Dalwhinnie whisky distillery for a delicious tasting of whisky and chocolate (yes, I have to subject you to that – my apologies!), our destination is the picturesque town of Pitlochry, in Perthshire. This is our base for the next three nights and almost the end of our tour. But we’ll be making it a memorable finish! This is a beautiful region; less rugged, softer than the Highlands, but a taste of the quintessential Scotland that attracted the English monarchs to nearby Balmoral Castle.

Pitlochry is home to the wonderful Pitlochry Festival Theatre, an outdoor theatre particularly renowned for its Summer season of plays, operatic performances and musicals. Closer to our trip, we’ll take a look at the program and organise tickets to your performance of choice. (B, D)

Tuesday 5th September
We have a fantastic day planned today, with a Highland Safari… and you thought those were only in Africa!

“With our personal kilted safari Ranger, we have an exclusive adventure planned for our group. Through our Ranger’s local knowledge and expertise, we may see the majestic Red Deer, the Famous Grouse, the elusive Mountain Hare or the soaring Golden Eagle as you travel through forests, mountains and moors on private hill tracks. This safari will inspire you with an insight into this magnificent natural wilderness and leave you with memories to last a lifetime. Included in our private safari are lunch, tea, coffee, Kenmore shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky in one of our Mountain Bothies, surrounded by inspiring mountain views.”

This evening you are free to enjoy dinner in the hotel restaurant or one of the wonderful local pubs in the area. (B, L)

Wednesday 6th September
This morning we will take a short drive to the “Queen’s View”, where the scenery from the lookout on the edge of Loch Tummel is superb. Queen Victoria visited the lookout in 1866, and assumed it was named after her, but in fact it was already named that after Isabella, wife of Robert the Bruce. Then a visit to the Athol Palace Hotel to visit their museum, which charts the history of the hotel from when it first opened as a Hydropathic establishment in 1878 through to its re-opening after World War II and beyond. It’s a captivating museum with stories of bankruptcy, colourful entrepreneurs, Victorian servant’s, unusual and torturous spa treatments, renovations, and war time evacuees turning hotel to school. We’ll enjoy lunch here too and then you will have time to have a wander in Pitlochry; perhaps enjoy a spot of shopping or afternoon tea at famous Hetty’s Tearooms! If you choose to walk back to the hotel (an easy 10-15 minutes) you could stop and enjoy a pint at the delightful Port-na-Craig Inn by the river. This evening you are free to enjoy dinner in the hotel restaurant or one of the wonderful local pubs in the area. (B, L)

Thursday 7th September
Today we depart Perthshire to return to Edinburgh, driving via the beautiful town of St Andrews… also famous for golf! On the way we will stop at Loch Leven’s larder for a coffee and then make our way to St Andrews to have a wander and enjoy lunch, before making our way back to Edinburgh. We’ll book a fine Edinburgh restaurant for dinner tonight to celebrate a wonderful and unforgettable tour! (B, D)

Friday 8th September
This morning after breakfast we say goodbye and you are free to make your way onwards to other destination in the UK or Europe.

On this tour I offer a choice of two hotels in Edinburgh; The Balmoral (5*) or the Hotel Indigo (4*). The Hotel Indigo is a boutique four star hotel just a 10 minute walk from the Balmoral. I also have an excellent 3-star option nearby if you prefer, and can adjust the tour price accordingly. Please ask me at time of booking! Please note that pickups each day will be from the Balmoral, for easier bus access.

TOUR PRICE INCL. THE BALMORAL:              TOUR PRICE INCL. HOTEL INDIGO:

£8960 per person twin/double share                  £7390 per person twin/double share

£5330 per person single supplement                  £3940 per person single supplement

INCLUSIONS:
17 nights’ accommodation in Classic/Standard rooms; breakfast each day; nine gourmet dinners including wine; seven lunches including wine; all entries & tastings as per itinerary; Blue Badge guide in Edinburgh; private coach with driver; 1st class train journey on Jacobite Express; and the full-time services of your tour director Sue Heine.

All of the hotels offer a range of room categories and I can book the category of your choice, with an adjustment to the tour price. Please have a look at the hotels via the links below and let me know if you would like to upgrade to a different room category in any of the hotels.

Tickets for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo are not included in the tour price, as we do not yet know what the 2023 prices will be. When these are released in October 2022, we will offer tickets at all price levels and book your choice of ticket category for you.

I can buy you seats of any category when I order the tickets but if your budget permits, seats in the Royal Gallery, with the accompanying privileges, is a very special experience. In 2019 these cost 500 pounds per person and included:

  • A four-course dinner – specially selected Scottish menu with half a bottle of wine and a dram of Whisky with your starter and dessert, followed by coffee or tea and Scottish fudge
  • Your personal copy of the menu with a map of Scotland highlighting the regions from which your food was sourced
  • A brief recital by members of The Tattoo cast
  • A host to escort you from The Scotch Whisky Experience to the Castle Esplanade
  • A VIP seat in the covered Royal Gallery
  • A Tattoo Gift and an official Tattoo Show Programme
  • The producer’s post-show Champagne Reception, held in The Royal Gallery – this was so much fun! We met the elite of Edinburgh, in all their finery and glistening military uniforms of every description, including the Lord High Constables of Edinburgh (very affable chaps!) and many of the band members who had competed. The Reception truly topped off an experience of a lifetime.

TERMS & CONDITIONS

Deposit for the tour is £1000 pounds = $1800 per person. The final balance is due 90 days prior to departure.

180 days prior to the tour: Deposit is refundable
180 – 120 days prior to the tour: 50% of the deposit is non-refundable
120 – 91 days prior to the tour: 100% of the deposit is non-refundable
90 days prior to the tour: Final balance is due and the full amount is non-refundable after this date.

Please ensure that you have taken out appropriate travel insurance – we can offer insurance with Covermore or Go Insurance and offer a 10% discount for tour guests.

HOTELS

The Balmoral, Edinburgh:
Greeted by charming Scots doormen in kilts (of course!), this hotel is five star in every sense – from the friendly staff, beautifully appointed rooms, excellent restaurants and fabulous location to the beautiful framed movie posters of Sean Connery in every room! https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/the-balmoral-hotel/

OR

Hotel Indigo, Edinburgh:
Considered the best boutique hotel in Edinburgh, the Hotel Indigo is located in a historic building on an elegant Georgian street, a 10-minute walk from the Balmoral. With funky furniture and an excellent bar, it’s a delight to stay at! https://edinburgh.hotelindigo.com/

Inverlochy Castle, Fort William:
Inverlochy Castle is a destination in itself, as described in the itinerary above! The magnificent salons, sweeping staircase and beautifully appointed rooms will make you feel like royalty. https://inverlochycastlehotel.com/

Duisdale House, Skye:
Duisdale House began life as a hunting lodge in 1860 and although the beautiful landscaped gardens, wonderful views and historic exterior remain, inside you will discover a modern and stylish boutique hotel and a renowned gastronomic restaurant. https://skyehotel.co.uk/duisdale/

Ness Walk, Inverness:
Nestled on the leafy banks of the River Ness, just 10 minutes from Loch Ness. Surrounded by a dramatic canopy of impressive trees, Ness Walk allows you to experience a secluded atmosphere in the heart of the vibrant city centre. Originally a 19th century house, our lovingly restored Grade B listed building still retains many of its period features. https://www.nesswalk.com/

Fonab Castle, Pitlochry:
Nestled in the heart of Highland Perthshire, Fonab Castle Hotel & Spa is lovingly restored and draws inspiration from its historic past and breath-taking surroundings whilst adding a contemporary twist. It really is ‘beyond the ordinary’. https://www.fonabcastlehotel.com/