Back to Scotland in a Month: Help Me Plan

We went to Scotland at the end of our extended sojourn in London last year—spending time mostly on Skye and Islay. While planning that trip I’d thought that it would be my first and only trip to Scotland. There are many parts of the world we want to visit as a family, and as we can’t do international trips every year, it didn’t seem likely that we’d double up instead of going somewhere new. But we loved our time in London and our trip to Scotland so much, we’ve been plotting a return ever since we got back. As luck would have it, an academic conference the missus and I were both interested in is taking place in Edinburgh in June; we applied and were accepted. Accordingly, we will be in Edinburgh for four days in early June and will then go up for another week to the Speyside and then further north to Orkney. I have the broad contours of the trip planned but invite your feedback here. 

This is the plan. We will be driving up from Edinburgh to Keith on a Friday. Along with good friends from our town in Minnesota who’ve been in Edinburgh for the past year, we are renting a house in the countryside there for three nights. They will then return to Edinburgh and we will continue north to Dornoch and then up to Orkney for three days before returning to the mainland and back to Edinburgh (from where we will return to London for another 10 days before coming back to Minneapolis). Here is my tentative whisky-related itinerary. Please to inform me if I’m making any major mistakes or if there are other things I should be considering.

Day 1: Edinburgh
Day 2: Edinburgh
Day 3: Edinburgh
Day 4: Edinburgh

There’ll be no whisky action here other than a trip to Cadenhead’s. Please to advise if there’s a whisky bar that should not be missed.

Day 5: Edinburgh-Glamis Castle-Keith. I was considering a stop at Ardmore along the way, but apparently they shoot visitors on sight. Accordingly, the plan is to get to our rented house via Strathisla. Not planning to tour the distillery, just to wander the apparently beautiful grounds and (hopefully) buy one of those Chivas Brothers 500 ml bottles to drink on the trip. (Should I be trying to get there early enough for the last tour at 4.30?)

Day 6 (Saturday): Up to Elgin. Elgin cathedral etc. and a visit to Gordon & MacPhail’s shop. From there to Brodie Castle in Forres. A few questions here: 1) Is Glen Moray worth a stop in Elgin? 2) Is Benromach worth a stop in Forres? 3) Is either worth touring? If so, as I won’t have time for both, which one should I do? 4) Eat lunch in Elgin or Forres? Where? Eat dinner somewhere in the Forres area? Where?

Day 7 (Sunday): Down to Glenfiddich/Balvenie/Balvenie Castle during the morning; lunch at the Glenfiddich cafe. In the afternoon down to Ballindalloch castle via a quick stop at Glenfarclas. I’m going to try to talk the group into a few hit and run stops at some other distilleries along the way—just to look at their grounds. Which ones would you particularly recommend?

Day 8 (Monday): Morning tour of Aberlour (booked), followed by rambling by the Spey and lunch at the Mash Tun. After lunch we carry on north to Dornoch (we’re staying at the castle hotel). The plan is to stop briefly at Glenmorangie to look at the grounds (worth it?) and at Balblair to look at the grounds and maybe get a fill-your-own (worth it?).

Day 9 (Tuesday): Up the coast to Wick. A brief stop at Clynelish along the way (not doing a tour) and then a tour of Pulteney at 2 (booking request in booked). We’ll be taking the 7 pm ferry to Stromness (already booked). Questions here: 1) Where along the coast would you recommend stopping along the way to Wick to ramble? 2) Is there anywhere along the way worth stopping for lunch or should we plan on eating somewhere in Wick (where)? 3) We’ll have to leave Wick by 5 pm to get to Scrabster for the ferry check-in etc. Other than the Wick Heritage Museum is there anything else we should be doing in Wick in the intervening hours? Kid-friendly stuff particularly appreciated.

Day 10 (Wednesday): Orkney. I think we’re set on the sights we want to see. I’ll probably stop by Highland Park at some point. Everything I read tells me that their basic tour is as soulless as Talisker’s? Right/wrong?

Day 11 (Thursday): Orkney. Maybe a stop at Scapa (are their tours worth it?).

Day 12 (Friday): We’re taking the 4.45 ferry back to Scrabster so will have most of the day.

I know this is not very much time on Orkney but it’s the best we could do. Once we’re back on the mainland we’ll drive down to Edderton where we’ll stay the night. Where should we be eating on Orkney? Does it matter?

Day 13 (Saturday): Edderton to Edinburgh. Planning on stopping at Tomatin and Edradour to look at distillery exclusives. Might have time to do a basic tour at one of them—which should I do? Where would you recommend eating in Pitlochry?

Well, those are the questions I have. If there are things I have not mentioned at all that I should be doing, please pitch in with those as well. Thanks in advance!

Also: if any of you are in Edinburgh or within reach (James?), let me know if you’d like to grab a drink one of the nights we’re there. Traveling on work and with family, but I should be able to get away for an hour or two one evening.

11 thoughts on “Back to Scotland in a Month: Help Me Plan

  1. Strathisla: it’s a small and poky distillery that’s quite nice to have a look around. Along with 500ml bottles, they also have a ‘label your own’ (the less interactive brother of a ‘fill your own’) and a distillery exclusive to consider.

    Glen Moray/Benromach: I’d go for Glen Moray of the two, as they’ve got new shiny Frilli stills installed, and it’s a bit different to everything else. I’d also stop there for lunch – good soup and a sandwich.

    Day 7: Tormore has pretty grounds, but isn’t open to the public. Drive past slowly. Ballindalloch is quite pretty, but I’ve only ever seen it from the road. Other than that, if you take weird back roads, you’ll probably find a few distilleries to point at as you go past.

    Day 8: There’s not much to see at either Glenmorangie or Balblair unless you go in. But they’re worth a stop to tick them off the list, and Glenmorangie might have the still room doors open, which gives you a view into the most impressive bit.

    Day 13: Tomatin is probably the one to do a tour of – Edradour is rather tiny, and Tomatin has a cooperage, a mash tun you can walk around in and a condensor to poke your head into. Look at the Signatory shelves at Edradour: they’re are usually a few thing that other people haven’t noticed at launch price.


  2. You have done well.

    So, on Day 6: Elgin Cathedral in the morning; the G&M cathedral right after; then quick lunch at and, if possible, tour of Glen Moray. Off to Forres after that. Go to the castle, skip Benromach. Find a place closer to the sea for dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Where are you staying on Day 6? I’d probably recommend heading back in to Elgin for dinner – The Drouthy Cobbler is pretty good, although it’s worth booking a table as they seem to fill up pretty quick.

      My experience with Forres is mainly walking from the station to a brewery and then to Benromach, which did not inspire confidence in me of culinary delights. In the industrial estate to the west of the station, Meatsnacks Group Ltd have their factory, just opposite a large vetinary surgery…


  3. That’s a great trip you have planned, the stay in Keith is brilliant, I envy you! Check hours carefully in Elgin – especially Gordon & MacPhail. I missed it for being there on a Sunday – the whole town shuts down. Hopefully you’ll be fine on Saturday, but double-check with them. The food we had in Elgin was barely edible, hopefully things have improved since. I don’t remember if you spent time in Glasgow last trip, I like it better than Edinburgh. The latter is more snob, so you should be fine. You’ll want to stop at the Walkers bakery shop in Aberlour, the family will be happy. David OG posted some very nice trip notes from Speyside on the K&L blog last week, including bars & food places, check them out. The hippy cows/coos are a great treat, with any luck you’ll run into a few of them!


  4. I would echo Billy’s comments. I love Glen Moray and Benromach equally, and both offer something very far removed from the Diageo/Pernod experience. I didn’t know Frilli stills had been installed, though, so that’s probably the bigger draw. Make sure to stop off at Benromach, if only to stand in the courtyard below the tun room and smell that sweet sweet, and slightly smoky, wort. The gardens at Glen Grant in Rothes are beautiful and a change of pace as distillery visits go.

    I had a pretty okay meal in Chapter One in Forres, but it was some time ago. Florin is spot on with Walkers Shortbread, though: buy a few packs and if evening dinner plans fall through you shan’t starve. That being said, food in and around Aberlour and Craigellachie has come on in leaps and bounds. The Dowan’s Hotel is decent.

    On the road to Wick there is a lot of coast but not much beach as sea cliffs become a dominant geological feature. That being said, Golspie has Dunrobin Castle (building its own distillery, like everywhere else) and may entertain the kids. Balblair to entertain the adult would be my pick as it is a cute distillery and not far off the A9. The bottle your own should be solid, too.

    No eating recommendations on Orkney but that’s not to say there won’t be anywhere reasonable. It was a while since I was last there. Pitlochry has a real touristy focus so another place that you should probably book ahead. I wish you luck with the quality of fare, however.

    If you can spare an hour or two in Edinburgh it would be great to meet up. You pick the day. Let me know if you need me to send through my number/email again.

    Bars not to miss in Edinburgh: for cocktails, Bramble and Lucky Liquor Company; whisky and cocktails, Devil’s Advocate; whisky, Usquabae; beer, Hanging Bat; ale and whisky, Bow Bar.

    Restaurants to visit in Edinburgh. Fancy: 21212, The Kitchin, Martin Wishart. Less fancy but seriously good: Scran and Scallie, Bon Vivant, Henderson’s (a veggie/vegan institution).


  5. I was on Orkney in 2016. The basic tour of HP was pretty pointless, complete with a guide who didn’t have his facts straight (i.e. all of our barley is malted on site!). The whole operation screamed pretentious to me as well. The people at the Scapa visitor centre seemed much more down to earth. I actually enjoyed my tour of Orkney Brewery more than HP and I’m not even much of a beer drinker.
    Enjoy the sights on Orkney though as there are just so many you will never feel like you could do it all justice. Kirkwall is a cool city for walking and touring. Same with Stromness. The people on Orkney are lovely.


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