2002 – Highlands & Islands of Scotland
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to Scotland's stunning west coast, truly one of the world's most scenic coastlines.
This nine-day odyssey explores a wide-range of the west coast's glorious gardens, its fascinating history and heritage, and its art and culture. All this, combined with the warmth of traditional Scottish hospitality, superb food and some of the freshest, most delicious seafood ever!
We have been operating tours on and along Scotland's west coast since May 2007 and our sense of adventure remains undimmed, and our love of these parts undiminished. This is truly the Highlands – as much a mindset as it is a landscape – and a little understanding of Scottish history, especially of the Highland Clearances, one of its seminal events, won't go amiss.
We explore an ever-changing landscape from Ross-shire in the north to Argyll, a county with a longer coastline than that of France, in the south. And, whilst this tour remains, ostensibly at least, a garden tour, we are constantly in touch with the landscape's history and heritage, and the various communities' art and culture.
The gardens on the west coast of Scotland flourish because of the mild air brought to Britain's west coast by the Gulf Stream, in much the same way as Cornish gardens do, far to the south.
We visit a wide-range of gardens, from large, well-known gardens like Inverewe Gardens, in the north – on the same latitude as Gothenburg in Sweden or Sitka in Alaska – to smaller, private gardens, open for charity as a part of Scotland's Gardens and, in selecting the gardens, we would like to acknowledge our indebtedness to Kenneth Cox and his excellent and authoritative work Scotland for Gardeners.
Sleeping & Eating
Besides our first night, at Ashtree House Hotel, close to Glasgow International Airport, we spend the first half of the tour in Plockton, one of the west coast's most memorably picturesque fishing villages, at the Plockton Inn, a family-run inn which we have enjoyed returning to year-after-year, ever since our very first Highlands & Islands tour, in 2007. In a similar vein, we spend the second half of the tour on the water's edge overlooking the Sound of Jura, at Crinan, a tiny harbour village at the western end of the Crinan Canal, at the Crinan Hotel, run by the owner and artist Frances Macdonald and her son and artist Ross Ryan, and another venerable institution, where we have returned to for several years.
Both the Plockton Inn and the Crinan Hotel have superb kitchens, and we dine-in twice in Plockton and twice at Crinan, and dine-out on three evenings, at the wonderful Plockton Shores, along the road from the Plockton Inn, at the remote Applecross Inn, looking out to the Isle of Skye, and the award-winning Kilberry Inn, on the remote western side of the Kintyre Peninsula.
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26 April – 3 May 2020 | 8 days
DAY 0 – SAT 25 APRIL
The joining point for this tour is Ashtree House Hotel, and we ask that you arrive at Ashtree House at anytime during the course of today. This first night's accommodation is included in the price, and we include it so that we may leave at a reasonable hour tomorrow morning, the first day of the tour.
If you wish to arrive at Ashtree House earlier than today, to stay additional nights, or you cannot arrive at Ashley House today, then please let us know.
Ashtree House is a 15-room independent, family-run establishment in central Paisley, some ten minutes by taxi from Glasgow International Airport, and Paisley is immediately south-west of central Glasgow. The town has a rich history, from its 12th century abbey to its world-famous fabric patterns. We have been staying at Ashtree House since 2007.
NB. Dinner is not included in the price.
DAY 1 – SUN 26 APRIL
We cross the mighty Clyde, leaving Glasgow behind us, and drive north, along the length of Loch Lomond, and into the vast openness of Glencoe, where we will stop for photographs, before continuing past Fort William and beneath Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, to the Glenfinnan Monument, where we'll stop for coffee or – for those of you who are Harry Potter fans – to photograph the railway viaduct, along which the Hogwarts Express runs!
It's then just 30-minutes to Mallaig, from where we take the ferry to the Isle of Skye and, a little more than one hour later, we will be on Skye, enjoying a brief stop at Ragamuffin – stockists of the very best British and Irish designer knitwear – before visiting the gardens of Armadale Castle, a part of the Clan Donald estate, and its superb Museum of the Isles. The ruined castle, the lovely spring gardens, with views back to the mainland, the excellent café and the superb museum make for a restful and highly enjoyable afternoon.
From Armadale, it's an hour's drive north – returning to the mainland by bridge – to Plockton, where we'll arrive at the Plockton Inn in the early evening, in good time to check-in, meet for a drink and enjoy a wonderful dinner, at the Inn.
NB. Because the ferries will be on a 'Sunday service', with fewer sailings, we will need to take a slightly earlier sailing than usual from Mallaig to Skye, at 13.00, and we will need to leave Ashtree House no later than 08.00.
Today's driving is about 185 miles/300 km
DAY 2 – MON 27 APRIL
Our day starts on Skye, so that we can take you across Kyle Rhea – the straits between Skye and the mainland at its narrowest point, where cattle drovers traditionally swim their cattle to market – on the Glenelg Ferry, the world's last remaining turntable ferry! Close to where Gavin Maxwell set his book Ring of Bright Water are the Glenelg Brochs – Dun Telve and Dun Troddan – two of Scotland's best-preserved Iron Age Brochs, which we will visit before a scenic drive, with wonderful views of the Five Sisters of Kintail, to visit the Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland's most iconic images. Situated on an island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, the site has been inhabited since the 6th century and fortified since the mid-13th century.
After lunch at Eilean Donan, we drive to the shores of Loch Carron, for a private visit to Attadale, the stunning garden of the late Nicky Macpherson, an artist and gardener. The gardens were created by Baron Schroder in the late 19th century, when some 20 acres/8 ha of conifers and rhododendrons were planted around the house and surrounding hillsides, though the garden you see today is very much the work of Nicky Macpherson. Nicky's daughter, Joanna, has taken over the running of Attadale and will guide us around this wonderful garden.
We return to Plockton for dinner at Plockton Shores and a night cap and some traditional music at the Inn.
Today's driving is about 70 miles/115 km
DAY 3 – TUE 28 APRIL
This morning we head north, driving along Glen Carron and then Loch Maree to visit Inverewe Gardens, the world-famous gardens overlooking Loch Ewe. Created by Osgood Mackenzie in 1862, Inverewe is one of Scotland's most popular botanical attractions and is home to the most northerly planting of the rare Wollemi pines. It is home, too, to more than 2,500 species of other exotic plants, flourishing here because of the warm currents of the Gulf Stream – and the foresight of Osgood Mackenzie, who planted over 100 acres of woodland to shelter his garden!
Loch Ewe was the chief anchorage for the wartime Arctic Convoys to Russia, later becoming an important anchorage for NATO's Atlantic Fleet during the Cold War, and we will call in at the small RAC Museum, and visit the memorial to those who lost their lives serving on the convoys.
Dinner is at the wonderfully remote Applecross Inn, returning to Plockton over Britain's highest public road and, if all goes to plan, we time our ascent with a glorious sunset over Skye and the Hebrides beyond.
Today's driving is about 170 miles/275 km
DAY 4 – WED 29 APRIL
We spend today on Skye, stopping for photos of the breathtaking scenery as we cross the island, to Dunvegan Castle, the 800-year old ancestral home of Clan MacLeod. We have all morning at Dunvegan, which is plenty of time to explore this ancient-and-still-lived-in castle and its treasures, and time too to explore and enjoy Dunvegan's interesting and ever-improving garden, which, although originally laid out in the 18th century, has undergone considerable replanting, and more than one wholesale abandonment!
After lunch at Dunvegan, we will explore the Trotternish Peninsula – Skye's northern most point – and visit the award-winning Skye Museum of Island Life, a preserved township of thatched cottages, each one depicting, as closely as possible, the conditions prevailing on the island at the close of the 19th century.
If time allows us to, we may stop in Portree, the island's 'capital', for a brief exploration and a cup of tea, en route home to Plockton, for dinner at the Plockton Inn.
Today's driving is about 150 miles/240 km
DAY 5 – THU 30 APRIL
Our day starts with a drive south, to Fort William, for coffee and a walk around this famous Highland town, one of three forts built after the 1715 Jacobite uprising – Fort George, Fort Augustus and Fort William – spanning the length of the Great Glen, and named for George II's three sons.
Fort William is about half way to Arduaine, the famous gardens created by James Campbell on a windswept, seaside hillside. Not the ideal site for a garden, but he was not deterred when, according to his journal, he "turned the first sod" in August 1895, creating a garden which, when he died in 1929, contained some 220 rhododendrons. We have lunch at Arduaine and plenty of time to enjoy the abundance of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias.
Our drive south to Crinan takes us through Kilmartin Glen, one of Europe's most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains and, if time allows, we will stop at one or two of the cairns and standing stones, arriving at the Crinan Hotel, in plenty of time to check-in, relax over drinks and dinner in the Seafood Bar.
Today's driving is about 175 miles/280 km
DAY 6 – FRI 1 MAY
Ross Ryan, son of Frances and her late husband, Nick, Ryan, owners of the Crinan Hotel, has a beautiful, if unpronounceable, boat, the Sgarbh and – weather permitting – Ross will take us out for the day on it.
The Sgarbh, Gaelic for cormorant, is a fully restored classic motor boat moored right outside the hotel. Built in 1947 on the River Clyde as a herring fishing boat, she retired in 1953 and was fitted-out for cruising. She is built of teak, fully varnished, completely original, the last of her type and, weighing over 20 tons and at 40 foot long, she is solid and safe!
Our plan is to make the best of the prevailing conditions and, if it is particularly fine, we may take a picnic lunch with us and find some sheltered beach on which to enjoy it! Whatever we do, it will be fun and interesting and we will be surrounded by stunning scenery.
Dinner at Crinan, in the hotel dining room.
DAY 7 – SAT 2 MAY
Our day is spent on the Kintyre peninsula, starting with a drive to Tayinloan for the 20-minute ferry across to the Isle of Gigha, to visit Achamore Gardens, Gigha's jewel-in-the-crown. Created by Colonel Sir James Horlick in 1944, with his inheritance from the family-owned hot-drinks company, and with the assistance of Kitty Lloyd Jones, Achamore Gardens is the home of Horlick’s renowned Rhododendron and Camellia collection. The garden flourishes in Gigha's warm microclimate, it is home to several champion trees and hosts unusual plants and trees from around the world, including the Wollemi Pine.
Leaving the island on the lunchtime ferry, we continue south to Campbeltown, one of the largest towns in Argyll and once, when it boasted 34 distilleries, it was the self-proclaimed 'whisky capital of the world'! Today only three survive, but luckily it includes Springbank Distillery, one of the finest, which we will enjoy a tour of. Founded in 1828 by the Mitchell family, it remains in their hands still. Late in the afternoon we return north, along the east coast of the peninsula to the wonderful, award-winning Kilberry Inn for dinner.
Today's driving is about 150 miles/240 km
DAY 8 – SUN 3 MAY
Our last day of the tour starts with a drive along the shores of Loch Fyne, for the morning at Inveraray Castle, home to the Dukes of Argyll and Chiefs of Clan Campbell – and the Grantham's Christmas getaway in Downton Abbey! The castle we see today was inspired by a sketch by Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, in the 1700s, and replaces a series of castles dating back to the 15th century.
After lunch at Inveraray Castle we make our way back to Glasgow International Airport and Glasgow Central Railway Station, where the tour will end.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
We endeavour to be as faithful as possible to our published itineraries, but changes do occur occasionally, either necessarily or unavoidably.