There are thousands of great Hotels, Guest Houses and Bed and Breakfasts in Scotland, not to mention hundreds of budget backpacker hostels and loads of camp sites. Finding somewhere to stay, while it is often harder in the busy periods, is usually manageable. We strongly advise that you book in advance and do not leave it to chance. If you arrive in Fort William at 19:00 on a Friday night in June, you may as well go home, if you have not already booked your overnight stay. Even though Fort William has more guest beds per head of population, than any other town in Scotland, for a lot of the year it is booked out and lots of other places are, too, especially in school breaks and at weekends.
If you are planning your break in advance, then you have lots more opportunity to find the special places that you will most enjoy staying in. There are lots of unique places to stay and we thought we might suggest a few for you –
On the lower Northern slopes of Ben Rhinnes, in the whisky wonderland of Speyside, with around 50 distilleries within 20 miles. Many of these are open to tour and do tastings, but make sure to have a designated driver. The little road to (almost) nowhere, wanders up and over the highest mountain on Speyside, passing the Hobbit Hideaway. This is a very peaceful location, with little or no noise pollution except the little waterfalls in the stream below the garden and at night, there is very little light pollution, allowing you to use their stargazer telescope.
Winner of the European Best Green Holiday Home, the dome above the main room lets light stream in and in the night, allows a direct look at the stars from inside. This is a quirky, but extremely comfortable place and the kids will love it. Quirky little bunks for the kids and luxurious bamboo mattress on the main beds for the adults.
The new, more substantial form of glamping, storm pods, are now found on the islands of Skye, South Uist and Coll, but the ones we saw first are on the beautiful whisky island of Islay, the Queen of the Isles. Only a few hundred metres walk from Lagavulin Distillery and right on the ocean’s edge, in a beautiful bay full of jagged, rocky islets. There are now nine whisky distilleries on Islay, one of which also makes gin, plus one other small gin maker. Miles and miles of white-sand ocean beaches, pretty whitewashed little towns and rocky cliffs, Islay is a stunning holiday destination for whisky lovers, but also for families who love wandering Scotland. Each island in Scotland is different, but Islay is probably our favourite!
There are lots of castles across Scotland, where you can spend a few days. Run as hotels, they are an interesting mixture and spread all over the country. Amhuinnsuidhe is different. Normally taken as a whole castle for up to 18 guests, from GBP20,000 for a week, including 5 fishing boats and ghillies and all meals, the castle also offers the chance to spend 2 or 3 days just taking one room or suite. It is in a glorious position, by the shore of sea Loch Leosavay, 8 miles down a single track road, twisting and turning and swooping across the stunning granite island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Guests dine together, the four course dinner included in the price of your stay, which starts at just GBP185 a night. Be prepared to dress for dinner. No dinner jackets needed, but don’t forget your tie, gents.
Tiny little Fair Isle, a dot on an imaginary line between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, half way between the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands with only 55 permanent residents and only 7 square kilometres of storm-tossed land, has more species of birds sighted than anywhere else in Britain, possibly more than anywhere else in Europe or even the whole world. It is a staging post on migration routes for hundreds of species, it is a nesting home for many more. From Spring to Summer 250,000 birds nest on Fair Isle – Puffins, gannets, skua and, petrels in great numbers. 390 species of birds have been recorded on wee, little Fair Isle.
Most visitors stay at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, or they did until it burned down in 2019. The new observatory will hopefully be up and running by Summer 2021 and will have space for about 30 visitors at a time, in a mixture of room sizes and each bedroom has an en-suite bathroom. All meals are included with your stay, which is as well, as there are no restaurants on Fair Isle. There are up to three daily, 25 minute Summer flights, from Shetland, except Sundays and carrying only about 10 passengers at a time and the small supply boat, Good Shepherd IV makes the 2.5 hour choppy crossing from Shetland, 3 days a week, carrying just 12 passengers at a time.
It is very possible to get stuck on Fair Isle, so work a couple of extra days into your schedule just in case. If you can’t get off the island, then nobody can get on, so at least you will be guaranteed your accommodation, when the Observatory finally re-opens.
This runs from the island of Westray in the Orkney Islands, to the even smaller island of Papa Westray. Papay, as the 80 or so locals call it, is a lovely island with a lot of interesting archaeology and history. The flight only lasts 2 minutes. You can fly daily to Westray from Kirkwall and there is a ferry service also. The flight only takes 10 passengers but you get a certificate to prove you took the shortest flight. If you stay on Papay, you get a cheaper flight. The best option apart from a couple of cottages available for rent, is the community operated Beltane House hostel with singles from just GBP33 and twin/double rooms from just GBP55 and triples from GBP70. All bedrooms have en-suite shower rooms and there is wifi, which is not always the case in more remote locations like this.
Stay where General Dwight D. Eisenhower had his vacations. As a thank you from the people of Scotland for his command of Allied troops in Europe, in World War II, the Marquess of Ailsa, when he gave Culzean Castle to the National Trust for Scotland, asked that the suite be kept for Eisenhower’s use and he subsequently had four vacations at Culzean before he died. Perched above the Clyde Estuary and the Irish Sea, in lovely wooded grounds, this is an amazing place to stay. If you golf, some of the best golf courses in the world stretch up and down the coast from here. Turnberry is just 5 miles South and Royal Troon is 22 miles North and both are regular hosts of The Open Championship. There are many other excellent Links courses on this stretch of coast.
On the beautiful island of Islay, in the heart of the famous Ardbeg Distillery, you can rent the original Manager’s Cottage from just GBP220 a night, for up to six people on the edge of the sea, with three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Ardbeg’s Kiln Café, inside the distillery, is the best place for lunch on the whole of Islay. This is a great place to stay and at just GBP36 per person, per night, a bargain!
Less than an hour by train (to Balloch) from the centre of Glasgow, lies Loch Lomond. Lochs are the Scottish word for lakes and Loch Lomond has the largest surface area of 71 square kilometres. It is also very beautiful, with mountains rising up to the North from the banks of the loch. There are 49 islands on Loch Lomond, each different and most empty of people. Inchconnachan has a little colony of wallabies. The wallabies have been there since the 1940s, safe from humans and too far offshore to escape. Only Inchmurrin is really big enough to have accommodation and there are a collection of cottages, lodges and apartments for self catering, plus a restaurant and bar and a foot-passenger ferry in the Summer. The sprinkling of islands across the loch make it even more beautiful.
The word Inch comes from the Gaelic Innis, meaning island. It is hard to believe you could be so close to Scotland’s largest city!!
It is fairly easy to get a boat trip out to St. Kilda, far out in the ocean to the West of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides island chain. On a good day it is a beautiful crossing and a great approach to the stunning cliffs and hills of St. Kilda’s group of islands and sea stacks. 40 miles and slightly less than 3 hours from the Isle of Harris, but 85 miles and more than 4 hours from the Isle of Skye. There are Summer day trips from both the Isles of Harris and Skye. These are not cheap, starting from about GB235 for the return day trip, but St. Kilda is a bucket list destination for many people. Very remote, the last 36 inhabitants were taken off the main island of Hirta in 1930, after 4,000 years of habitation.
St. Kilda is the UK’s only Dual Unesco World Heritage site. Once for the history and once for the nature. Over a million seabirds nest on St. Kilda, including Europe’s largest fulmar, puffin and gannet colonies. There are only 39 dual WH sites in the world. The ruins of many of the islanders’ cottages remain, most roofless, but some have been restored and re-roofed and it is possible to stay in these, BUT and it is a big BUT, that turns this from a holiday into a working holiday. Only work parties from the National Trust for Scotland who care for St Kilda can stay on the island, so get in early and I mean the year before, if you would like to experience a unique stay on St. Kilda and help to maintain and restore an important piece of Scottish heritage.
There are a surprising number of remote places in the very small country of Scotland, but Rua Rheidh lighthouse must be one of the most remote. The West coast roads travel through many of the most beautiful areas in Scotland. They wiggle and squiggle and it is impossible to go too fast on these winding, single track roads. When you have gone as far as you can, and they are starting to head back to more populous spots, is where you turn off for Rua Rheidh lighthouse. It is not too long a road, but the 8 mile side road, 3 miles of it a private track, takes you to a different world of no cars, no passing people, no TV, no wifi, no mobile phone signal, but instead, the chance to spot whales, dolphins, basking sharks, otters, seals, sea eagles and thousands of seabirds.
In the Spring and Autumn, the dark skies (no light pollution here…., apart from the lighthouse) often make it possible to see the Northern Lights. This small bed and breakfast also offers a simple but filling supper and if you would like a nice bottle of wine with that, well remember to pack it in your case, as they do not sell it but are happy if you bring it. Cliffs and deserted beaches abound and make this a beautiful place to reboot your energies.