My Scotland tour was an Insight Tour with agents from all over the world. The tour was led by a seasoned guide with Insight that they pulled out of retirement for this. Extremely knowledgeable and personable. The tour was also hosted by a few employees of Insight - one from Australia-who brought with him the largest country delegation of 7 from Australia.
The Insight tour experience was really wonderful. The roomy bus makes a huge difference, no matter what people say. The cleanliness, the WIFI, the comfort were all great features. The bus driver spent every night cleaning the bus inside and out preparing for the next day. The guide and the driver took such pride in their roles. You could tell they LOVED their jobs and the company they worked for.
The accommodations were very nice too. The hotels had great amenities and super comfortable beds! We had a lot of included meals and dined at restaurants they use on regular tours. So yummy!! Even in our smallest hotel in the Highlands the food was good. The set menu options were always well rounded with vegetarian and local specialty choices. I had Haggis every which way and they were all wonderful! Fresh fish was also a popular choice.
Mike (our guide) was excellent. He provided many of what Insight calls “flourishes.” Special, surprise experiences that take place when the guide wants. Mike modified the itinerary and added little “flourishes” depending on the day, weather, etc. We were kept much busier than a normal tour would have been, but he did a very good job of making it seem not so overwhelming. He gave us time to just sit and have a cup of tea and a scone when needed!
We left Glasgow and headed north towards Ballaculish into the Highlands. Our fist stop was Inveraray Castle beside Loch Fyne. It is the home of the Dukes of Argyll and seat of the Clan Campbell. The castle is still the family home and the present Duke and his family live in the Castle. The Duke greeted us and welcomed us to his home. (He shook my hand - I have crossed off “meet a Duke” from my bucket list) If you are a fan of Downton Abbey you will recognize the castle as the home of “Uncle Shrimpy” and was used in the episodes where they visited him in Scotland.
We took a boat trip on Loch Lomond and visited the Oban whiskey distillery. (Like a winery-only Whiskey!) We sampled a wee dram of Highland whiskey and had a tour of the distillery. We then headed further North of Oban to our hotel in Ballachulish. This area becomes much more remote and rugged. It is a great area for active, independent travelers. Lots of hiking, biking, and other outdoorsy things.
After leaving Ballachulish, we continued further North in route to Inverness. This day was long and filled with scenery. We were to ferry to the Isle of Skye, but due to weather (all ferries cancelled) our guide modified our route. We stopped at several sites today: Commando Memorial, Ben Nevis-Scotland’s highest mountain, Eilean Donan Castle, Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Glenfinnan.
From Inverness we spent a day experiencing the Highlands. We visited Culloden battlefield, the site of where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army was finally defeated, and stopped at the Clava burial cairns dated back to around 2000BC. Next stop was one of only a few still working Highland farms. The farmer demonstrated herding sheep with his trained Scottish boarder collies. All of the herding is done by voice commands and whistle. The dogs each have their own special whistle.
We left Inverness and the Highlands towards Edinburgh. The tour included a visit to Blair Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl. (Sadly-no Duke to greet us…as this line of Duke’s does not live at the castle) The Castle has a rich history filled with treasures. Queen Victoria was a frequent guest of the castle as well.
I loved our stop at St. Andrews. Got quite a feel for the layout and where the old course and clubhouse are. I took some time to walk through town and went through the grounds of the cathedral ruins. Had a quick lunch and just sat and watched people. It was a Sunday afternoon so it was kind of quiet. Saw a lot of families out and about.
Finally, we crossed the Firth of Forth and arrived into Edinburgh. We were here for two nights. Had a city tour and visited Edinburgh Castle. We had a free afternoon so I visited Holyroodhouse Palace, did a little shopping and had a pub lunch.
As you can tell from the photos it was chilly and rainy everyday. I was bundled in layers. I didn’t releive the tights until the last few days in Edinburgh. I did the full two weeks in carry on only. It was very nice not to have a ton of extra clothes and extras. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I loved the independence of not having a giant suitcase to carry around. At the end of the trip I STILL felt like I overpacked!
The weather did not take away from the beauty of this country at all. The people are so nice and they put much emphisis on their heritage.
By, Jennifer Nangle