9. Scotland: Orkney and Northern Coast 5-Day Tour
Drive to the top of Scotland on a scenic 5-day tour, and learn the history of the Highlands at sites such as the battlefield of the Macdonald clan massacre, and Stirling Castle. Spend the day on the Orkney Isles, and travel the northenmost coast of mainland Scotland. The tour is by luxury 16-seat Mercedes minibus for a more intimate experience, while bed and breakfast accommodation is provided in Inverness, the lovely town of Kirkwall, and the whitewashed fishing village of Ullapool at the mouth of Loch Broom. Day 1: Depart Edinburgh, heading west towards Stirling. Pass Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, and continue to Doune Castle, used for location shoots in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” Stop in the small town of Callander for refreshments. Then, marvel at the splendor of Loch Luibnaig, Loch Earn, Glen Ogle, and Glen Dochart on a scenic drive over the wild and remote Rannoch Moor. The views of the extinct volcano will take your breath away, and were also the scene of the infamous Clan Macdonald massacre of 1692. Continue north up the Great Glen to mysterious Loch Ness, with plenty of time to try and spot “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster. The evening will be spent in Inverness, with free time to explore the “Capital of the Highlands.” Day 2: Depart Inverness early to cross over the Black Isle and past Andrew Carnegie’s Skibo Castle. From here, drive the northeast coastline, traveling into some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery. Enjoy the views of some of Europe’s oldest landscapes, and the chance to spot wildlife such as golden eagle and red deer. Close to Scotland’s most northerly mainland village, John O’ Groats, board the ferry to cross the Pentland Firth to the Orkney archipelago. It is a short drive on arrival to the famous Italian Chapel, where you will stop for a quick visit before continuing to the Viking stronghold of Kirkwall, your home for the next 2 nights. Look inside Kirkwall’s magnificent Viking cathedral, and wander the winding streets of the historic town center. Day 3: Explore the ancient island of Orkney, and discover a land of contrasts, where fertile green pastures are fringed by shores of golden sands, and washed by the waters of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Highlights include a visit to Skara Brae, the mystical prehistoric stone circle at Brodgar, the standing stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe, where Vikings left one of the largest collections of Norse runic inscriptions in the 12th century. Day 4: It’s time to leave Orkney and sail the Viking waters back to the mainland. From here, travel across the very top of Scotland, driving past the stunning Ben Loyal and Ben Hope mountains, following the rocky cliffs and stunning golden sand beaches of the northern coastline. Go to the far northwest of the Highlands, and admire the grandeur of the wild Assynt mountains. Stop to view the 15th-century ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Continue to Ullapool at the mouth of Loch Broom, a beautiful whitewashed fishing village where you will spend your last night. Day 5: Your morning includes visits to Corrieshalloch Gorge, and the ancient Clava Cairns, as well as exploring the more recent bloody history of the Culloden battlefield. Return south through the magnificent Cairngorm National Park, driving past the ancient Caledonian pine forests of Highland Perthshire, before your drop off in Edinburgh.