SCOTLAND 2019: Our Three Week Driving Trip Around the Scottish Highlands – Part 1

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Our plane flights to Edinburgh via Atlanta & Amsterdam

I have had a wish to return to Scotland for some time, and to venture up into the Scottish Highlands.  That desire stems from one of my personal “bucket list” items – to see Loch Ness (and maybe even Nessie as well  Emoji - Happy ).

I had actually visited Edinburgh once before, back when I was working for Sensient Technologies in 2001/2002.  I lived and worked in both England and Wales for about 6 months over the course of winter 2001 and spring 2002.  While there, I took a long weekend break during which I flew to and visited both Dublin Ireland and Edinburgh Scotland.  It was a bit of a whirlwind weekend but I did set foot in Edinburgh.

Since Deborah also wanted to visit Scotland, and since we had not taken an overseas trip since our trip to Italy in 2014, I began planning our trip to Scotland in late 2018.

As I typically do, I began by creating a master PowerPoint for the trip.  By the time we began our visit, that PowerPoint had grown to over 200 individual slides, which actually exceeded the size of the master Italian trip PowerPoint I created.  However, to be fair, I included many pictures in this single, Scotland PowerPoint.  For the Italy trip, which also included a 3-day stopover in London on the way to Italy, I broke that out into many individual PowerPoints for each of the cities which contained most of the pictures.

If you happen to be interested in the type of information I typically include in one of my vacation PowerPoints, I have a post on my blog for that (naturally).  You can locate it with the URL …

My Travel PowerPoint’s  raison d’etre

As with most of the locations on this trip, my PowerPoint includes information about lots of potential places that might be of interest all along the route.  The intent is certainly not to try and do everything.  That would be a fool’s errand and has never been the intent of all of my trip planning.

My overriding travel principle is to identify as many potential things to see and do as possible so that we will have many choices available to us on any given day.  An occasional day, or portion of a day, which can be relegated to just kicking back and maybe not going somewhere, or just reading a book, is perfectly acceptable.  What I want to avoid are two major things.

  1. Days when we have to say “Well, what is there to do today?”
  2. Going to see or do something, and then finding out when you get there that the attraction either no longer exists, is closed that day, or closed for the season, or you just simply cannot find it.

By planning thoroughly, I always want to have available numerous options, that I know are at least open, if we choose to try and see them.

I also enjoy researching because through research, I often discover many things that I otherwise might never even have realized were noteworthy, or potentially interesting.

One other thing that I always try to look for when planning a trip is a theme for taking pictures.  Photography is an integral part of any trip we take.  In fact, I would be lost without a working camera when on vacation.  Not only does the camera capture events on the trip that you can relive, and share, if you to choose to.  For me, photography adds an extra element to almost everything we see and do.

So when I say photographic “themes”, what I mean is that I am looking for pictures of related things that I might be able to combine into a collage when putting together remembrances of the trip.

For example, when we visited Paris, during research I had been intrigued by the ornate, metal structures that typically signified the entrances to many of the Paris Métro stations.  They were designed by artist Hector Guimard.  So, while in Paris, one of my goals was to find and take pictures of various Guimard Métro entrances.  Tracking these down took me to areas of Paris that I may not otherwise have seen.

Here is the collage I created from some of those pictures that I took on that trip to Paris.

SCOTLAND 2019 - Our Three Week Driving Trip -Guimard Metro Entrances

For this Scotland trip, I discovered artist Andy Scott in my research.  He is a Glasgow native who creates metal sculptures and has many all around Scotland in addition to numerous ones in other countries as well.  Finding many of these sculptures was one of my picture theme goals while in Scotland.  A separate post to this blog, Scotland and Artist Andy Scott, will contain pictures and information about that particular quest.

In addition, we sought out locations from the filming of the TV series (and books by the same name) Outlander.  We also sought out locations and activities related to Harry Potter, since JK Rowling did her early writing in Scotland.  I will also have separate posts that relate to both of those themes – Outlander Locations and Harry Potter Experiences.

Arrangements Begin

The first thing I did for this trip was to research plane fares and routes.  Since we wanted to visit in the late fall in order to avoid the crowds, I concentrated my search initially for a 3 week period in October 2019.  However, that morphed into November for a number of reasons.  It finally included returning on Nov 21st so that we would be in Edinburgh as their holiday lights were turned on.  As it turned out, that was not all that big a deal.  More on that in the Edinburgh section of Part 3 of this series of posts.

I decided to finalize the airfare as soon as I could in order to be able to reserve seats that were as comfortable as possible, without being the exorbitantly expensive Business or First Class seats.

Trying to wade through all of those potential airfares, and upgrade charges, can be quite a challenge.  You always want to try and get the best fares possible but no matter what you do, you almost always find out that someone did better.  We sat next to a woman on our return flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta whose own itinerary had originated in Sweden.  Her ticket was over $300 less than what we had individually paid for our fares and she was obviously sitting in the same location.  Oh well.  I definitely tried to do the best I could.

There will be more on tips about searching out airfares in another of my posts to follow –  New Travel Tips.  That will be a supplement to other posts I have written about travel tips which can be found on my blog Home Page, near the top of the left side bar, under the flyout menu … TRAVEL > TRAVEL TIPS.

Once the airfare was finalized, I then began planning the individual stops along the route, and searching out places to stay in each location.  We typically like to stay in VRBO’s (Vacation Rental by Owner) and have stayed in them in the U.S., Europe, Mexico and in the Caribbean.  I also searched out AirBnB’s for this trip to expand the number of possible places to stay since a number of places we would be staying in were rather small villages.

The basic route took shape rather quickly.  I had in mind to fly into Edinburgh and then begin our trip by driving up to Dundee the day that we arrived.  We would then make our way counter-clockwise around the Scottish Highlands and finally finish up with a 4 night stay in Edinburgh.  The itinerary stayed pretty much the same as my original idea, with two exceptions.

  • That first day, we decided to stop in St Andrews rather than Dundee, since we thought that would be a more interesting place to spend our first night. It was also a bit closer to Edinburgh and therefore a bit shorter drive after our long flight.
  • We also decided to add a day for driving to, and then staying one night on the Isle of Skye. To do that, I shortened our stay in Torridon from 3 nights to 2 nights.  Although we really liked our place in Torridon, deciding to spend a night on the Isle of Skye, as opposed to making it a day trip from Torridon, turned out to be a very wise decision.

Here is the final itinerary slide from the PowerPoint for this trip.

SCOTLAND 2019 - Our Three Week Driving Trip - Itinerary map

The Adventure Begins

Our trip began well on Oct 30th when we flew Southwest Airlines to Atlanta and stayed overnight at an airport Holiday Inn.  The following morning, we then caught our international flight from Atlanta to Edinburgh (via Amsterdam) on KLM Airlines.  Since we can fly free on Southwest (thanks to the many points I accumulated on Southwest during my travels for API) it made sense to have two round trip airfares – one free from Albuquerque to Atlanta, and then a separate airfare from Atlanta to Edinburgh.  There were many more, and lower priced options flying roundtrip from Atlanta rather than initiating our flight in Albuquerque.

The flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was long but not too exhausting, although neither Deborah or I slept much at all on the flight. We had a long layover in Amsterdam but then just a relatively short flight to Edinburgh.  We had no problem going through customs and were greeted with a traditional bagpipe welcome at the airport.

We picked up our rental car with only a relatively minor issue relating to insurance coverage.  More on that can be found in my post to follow – New Travel Tips.  Since they drive on the “wrong” side of the road in the U.K., our car was a right hand drive Vauxhall Astra.  I had months of experience driving on the left when I lived in England and Wales, so I did not worry about that too much at all.  In fact, I had learned to drive a right hand drive car, when my brother Dennis brought a right hand drive Triumph TR4A back from England when he returned to Wisconsin from Vietnam in the late 1960’s.

Rogers Air Force Experience - TR4A

We then began our drive to St Andrews at about 10AM local on Nov 1st.  One of the things that we had realized rather late in the planning was that we would need to account for the short daylight hours during this trip.  It began getting dark around 4PM and was quite dark well before 5PM.

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To view Part 2 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …

To view Part 3 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …

To view Part 4 of this 4 Part series of posts on Scotland …

To view a PDF which includes some of our best pictures from our entire, three week Scotland trip …

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