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Scotland
Old 01-20-2013, 05:06 AM   #1
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Scotland

Sometime within the next 2 years my wife and I plan to travel in Scotland. This is a trip I have been wanting to take for decades and now we have the time. For a first exposure I thought maybe a cruise would give us a taste before exploring on our own. But now I think renting a car and driving around might be a better experience.

Our funds are modest and we would like to enjoy as much as possible in the 2 weeks we can be away from our animals. The internet and GoogleEarth are both good places to start my research but I thought that recommendations from folks here that have experience traveling in Scotland would be an even better place.

We are in our mid 60s. My wife is very active and likes hiking and exploring outdoors. A few back surgeries make agressive hiking more challenging for me but I don't intend for it to keep me from trying to keep up with her. Also want to check out as many castles, drink as much stout, and enjoy as many of the smaller towns as we can.

Any suggestion, recommendations, etc. on planning our trip, websites to visit, modest places to stay, sights to see would be appreciated.

Cheers!
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:54 AM   #2
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I grew up in England but my parents were both from Scotland so I've spent a lot of time there. Personally I love the west coast and the islands in particular. The Isle of Skye is beautiful and has some great hiking in the Cuillin mountains too. Mull is another very attractive island too. Some of the outer Hebridean islands like Lewis and Harris, are interesting, but somewhat desolate!

On the mainland, the area around Fort William is very attractive, and you can tackle Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis, from there.

As for cities, I think Edinburgh is my favorite city anywhere in the world, so I would definitely try and get there. My family's all from Glasgow, but that city is more of an acquired taste! It's certainly worth a day or so, though, since you will likely fly into there anyway.

We always stayed in Bed and Breakfasts when we travelled round Scotland. They're not really the same as B&B's you'll find in the US. More simple and more reasonably priced, but usually with very friendly hosts and great food. I always liked the ones on farms the best - they really gave you a 5 star breakfast.
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Old 01-20-2013, 07:09 AM   #3
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+1 on the B&Bs. In the UK it used to be the very cheapest way to get accommodation. Now standards and prices have risen, but not to the levels you see in the US, where it seems to me that many B&B owners are trying to show off how creative they are.

Scotland can be challenging weather-wise. Expect Seattle/Vancouver-like weather: lots of rain, and rainy days are pretty well always cold days. Pack accordingly. In some parts, there will be a lot of midges (tiny cousins of mosquitos) in July/August, so take DEET.

The scenery is fantastic - the food may be less so outside of major centres (you can eat wonderfully in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and maybe find good seafood in other places, but don't expect to be able to turn up at 8pm in a random town and have a wide choice of interesting food).

The GBP is falling a little at the moment, and apparently may fall a little more, which may help with your budget.
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Old 01-20-2013, 07:29 AM   #4
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We did a relaxing Scottland trip in the same way - getting a rental car in Glasgow and having some budget awareness. After landing we headed for lochness (inverness) and then generally to the east coast down to Edinburgh. At your first stop - buy the "Historic Scotland Explorer Pass" (Scottish Heritage and History Explorer Pass | VisitBritain Shop it will cover entry fees at most of the sites you will want to visit. We used that map often to decide where to meander to next.


Roads/cars are right hand drive left hand lanes.. and the nice car rented was a manual shift - so there were a few "learning experiences" along the way.

We had been lucky to pre- buy a phone SIM card with data off ebay and also bought a garmin GPS with scottland map for teh GPS before the trip. The phone had covereage 80% the trip so im glad we had the Garmin for contnued route directions. The garmin was awesome in announcing each roundabout (lots of them) you are entering and which exit to catch it also had a "walk" mode with self contained batteries so it was handy around Edinburgh.

We had booked an inexpensive Holiday Inn Express for our first night in Inverness as a destination after airport. It was comfortable, clean and affordable. We used the cell phone web browser every afternoon to decide where we would sleep that night, then tapped in the hotel to the GPS. - booking hotel on line with credit card ... sorting by rate usually. The Holiday Inn Express was often one of the lower end prices and we ended up staying in at least 5 properties the trip.

The cell phone web browser was also handy to use Yelp to decide eating options.
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Old 01-20-2013, 08:23 AM   #5
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I loved Scotland! It is a good place to meander. Great local ales/beer/whatever they call them.
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Old 01-20-2013, 10:27 AM   #6
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Our only real Scottish experience was on a tour using the Rick Steve's guide for Britain. You might check that out of the library and just look at the Scotland section. We were in Edinburgh which I think is a very nice city and worth at least a few days.

A few trip design thoughts. Do you really want to be doing a whole lot of 2 night stops? I think the more relaxing approach is to find maybe a couple of central points to rent from and then explore out from that region. But I don't know Scotland well enough to give those central points. Edinburgh might be one of them.

Also I wouldn't want to be getting used to a stick shift while driving on the "wrong side" of the road plus getting used to somewhat different road signs, etc. We rented an automatic from a US based outfit.

I'll be watching this thread as we really want do a lot of Scotland on a UK bound trip. We would like to do London, then Bath, then up into Scotland.
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Old 01-20-2013, 01:59 PM   #7
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I and DW visited two years ago. If you can, I highly recommend that you go in August when you can see the Edinburgh military tattoo. Make sure you get tickets ahead of time. Google it to see what it is, as it is truly fantastic. We also loved the Isle of Skye. Take warm clothes, it can be cold anytime of the year. We were there in August and never took off our light water-proof jackets.
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Old 01-20-2013, 03:01 PM   #8
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Back in 1998, DH and I took a 14-day Globus tour called The Islands and the Highlands. We started and finished in Glasgow and went all around Scotland including the Hebrides and the Orkney Islands. We went the last week in August and the first week in September and we had ONE day of rain and that's when we were way up north.

There was a warning when you booked that you were going to be doing a fair amount of walking but we had folks from 39 (me!) to about 85. Still the best vacation we have ever taken. Our Globus tour guide was outstanding and we learned an enormous amount about the history (very complicated!) and culture.

I just looked at the Globus website and they still have the trip ($2799 plus airfare).
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Old 01-20-2013, 03:33 PM   #9
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Great suggestions and a lot to consider for researching B&Bs, car rentals w/automatic, cities and towns, clothes considerations, and areas to explore.

Can never have too many suggestions and recommendations for frugal travel that doesn't skimp on making it a trip of a lifetime.

Looking forward to checking here often for more of everyones ideas and experiences.

Thank you,

Cheers!
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Old 01-20-2013, 04:38 PM   #10
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+1 on renting a car and using B&B's.

In 2011 we found that Enterprise had by far the best deals. As you say, be sure to request an automatic if you don't like stick shifts.
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:04 PM   #11
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As for cities, I think Edinburgh is my favorite city anywhere in the world, so I would definitely try and get there. My family's all from Glasgow, but that city is more of an acquired taste! It's certainly worth a day or so, though, since you will likely fly into there anyway.
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+1 We truly loved Edinburgh. The "ghost tours" and strolls through the city and parks were truly memorable. Gorgeous walkable city.

We decided not to drive, instead we based ourselves in Edinburgh and went on tours through "Rabbie's" - they have great local guides and some trips incorporate overnight B&B stays.

Neist point on the Isle of Skye was truly breathtaking.

The biggest downside to Scotland for us is the food. Bland and overcooked. We did halve some excellent Thai food in Edinburgh.

I'm jealous! Have a great time.

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Old 01-20-2013, 05:23 PM   #12
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When we went, we took buses and trains to various locations and based ourselves out of Edinburgh. Beautiful city with lots of places to explore. We also chose to stay in a hostel and the ages of visitors there ranged alot which made for interesting conversations. You can grab day tour buses out of there as well (we couldn't pass up going to Loch Ness).

If you like zoos, the Edinburgh zoo does a penguin walk where the people form the edges of the road and the penguins all wander by you. The botanical gardens were absolutely amazing as well and free to boot! (The zoo sadly is not free but was fun nonetheless).
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Old 01-20-2013, 05:40 PM   #13
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Now I'm starting to get excited about Scotland with this thread. I noticed Rick Steve's has a Scotland tour and this is good for at least trip planning itinerary ideas: Best of Scotland Tour: Edinburgh, Loch Ness & More in 10 Days by Rick Steves

I forgot to mention that when we were in Edinburgh for a few days we just parked our car at the B&B and used public transportation. So one might just rent for going outside the city.

Rabbie's looks interesting to for day trips or extended trips.
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Old 01-20-2013, 09:11 PM   #14
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Scotland. Beautiful and historic. We were there in Spring of 2008. DD was studying abroad at University of St. Andrews. We went over to visit her. (Any excuse to see Scotland. )

We flew into Manchester and drove up. Caution: driving is difficult because everything is backward. It took me a week to finally get the hang of it. Hint: traffic circles are a challenge. Remember that you can go around more than once before you exit the circle. That gives you time to decide on the correct exit strategy from the circle.

We drove up to St. Andrews first and stayed in B&B's most on the time, mostly a pleasant decision where you get to meet some local Scots and have breakfast. Our route after St. Andrews, a beautiful town with ruins worth exploring, was up through central Scotland into the Highlands, Inverness, Loch Ness, up to the NW coast, and back down to St. Andrews. Next we went to Edinburgh which was wonderful for many reasons. There's far more to see there than we had time for, but we loved it.

I hope to return someday and visit the west coast. We visited Moulin, a small village in the lower highlands, and discovered a small pub full of locals. Everyone was so friendly, and we eventually used some of the features to build a similar pub in our basement! That turned out to be a great decision for us and all our friends.

You can't go wrong on a trip to Scotland, land of my ancestors. Dress for cool and damp weather.
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Old 01-21-2013, 04:13 AM   #15
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In 2011 we found that Enterprise had by far the best deals. As you say, be sure to request an automatic if you don't like stick shifts.
Automatics are rare in Europe and consequently expensive to rent - they tend to only be available on fairly high-end cars. When I was in my "don't want to shift with my left hand" phase, I would sometimes reserve a "manual" (stick) car when renting in the UK, and then ask at the counter if they could up-sell me to an automatic. If they had cars available then this can sometimes be done for 5 or 10 per day.
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Old 01-21-2013, 06:47 AM   #16
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Automatics are rare in Europe and consequently expensive to rent - they tend to only be available on fairly high-end cars. When I was in my "don't want to shift with my left hand" phase, I would sometimes reserve a "manual" (stick) car when renting in the UK, and then ask at the counter if they could up-sell me to an automatic. If they had cars available then this can sometimes be done for 5 or 10 per day.
Nice trick, as long as OP is prepared to drive a manual if they don't have an automatic.
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Old 01-21-2013, 07:14 AM   #17
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I have driven lots of stick shifts in the USA. I had no issue at all using the left hand to move the gear lever (unexpected, but there was literally no issue adjusting). And the foot movements are the same (clutch left foot, brake right foot). Turnabouts are pretty easy once you are familiar with them.

Driving on the left hand side was a much bigger adjustment but not that tough. My first time ever was in Glasgow and the surrounding countryside. I carefully observed and experienced traffic before renting my own car and that helped a lot. I found that I didn't center the car on the same part of the road, not being used to sitting on the right hand side of the car while driving. My uncle in the passenger seat was always there to shout out guidance, which helped.
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Old 01-21-2013, 07:18 AM   #18
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+1 on the automatic. I have driven both kinds in England, Scotland & Ireland. For one thing, with a stick shift I ended up with a (literally) bruised right hand (reaching instinctively with my right hand first for the gear shift). It is not the handedness of the roads, or the road signs that present a problem to me - you mind pretty quickly makes the shift from left to right. IMO, for an American driver, it is the NARROWNESS OF THE ROADS that require your attention and vigilance. This is especially true if you get off the motorways and A roads.

Loch Ness, assuming you avoid the tourist traps, is quite nice. Not sure how you feel about battle sites, but I definitely remember my trip to Culloden. To be honest, it felt a little creepy. I definitely felt like I was intruding on hallowed ground and that I was being....ummmm watched, sort of..... (sounds dumb I know).

Edinburgh is neat, but I found it on the pricey side - lodging in particular.

Lots of folks think of golf when they think of Scotland. I've done many of the famous courses, but it is a wonderful experience just to find and play the local municipal courses. Used to be that some of them had no clubhouse - just a till box on the first tee to drop a few pounds in before playing!

Have a great trip! It is well worth it - almost like a different country! :^)
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Old 01-21-2013, 07:58 AM   #19
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It is not the handedness of the roads, or the road signs that present a problem to me - you mind pretty quickly makes the shift from left to right. IMO, for an American driver, it is the NARROWNESS OF THE ROADS that require your attention and vigilance. This is especially true if you get off the motorways and A roads.
Couldn't agree more. On our last trip to the Lake District, I had no problem with the shifting or the left hand drive, but driving between some of the smaller villages with drystone walls lining the roads and no shoulders was harrowing in the extreme.
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Old 01-21-2013, 12:28 PM   #20
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I think Rosetta Stone has a series of tapes for Scotch, which I with I'd studied before going there years ago. My queries as to how to get to Berwick were answered with, "it is Bearrrr-wick, lad. You'll never get there asking for Bur-wick".
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