Our Self-Guided 3-Day Tour of the Scottish Highlands
Here is the story on why this Self-Guided Tour exists (skip to the itinerary below if desired):
When we arrived in Edinburgh, we thought we would be able to take a day trip up to the highlands and see Loch Ness as well as a few other things. Thus, we looked into booking a tour at Timberbush Tours. Seeing that they had an amazing 2-day tour up to Loch Ness with other stops along the way, such as the Eilean Donan Castle, Glencoe, the William Wallace Monument, Ft. William, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct (from Harry Potter), made this seem like a great deal for the advertised price of only £82! - however, when we attempted to book the tour, it turned out to be quite different. I should note that the price said *from* £82, and that this price was for the low season only. Our cost was going to be closer to £96 for the tour... but that's not all. It also did not include the price for our hotel stay on the first night (as mentioned in the fine-print at the bottom of the brochure), nor for admission to the Wallace Monument or Eilean Donan Castle!!
The price of our 2 day Eilean Donan tour from Glasgow does not include accommodation but we reserve it for you. Approximate costs per person per night: Youth Hostel: £18-£25, Bed & Breakfast: £40-£65, Hotel: £75+. Single supplement may apply. OPTIONAL EXTRAS: Wallace Monument, Eilean Donan Castle
Thus, as we originally thought to pay roughly £164 for the two of us, the price jumped to £192, and then £312 after we added in the Bed & Breakfast, and we still didn't have admission to two of the places we thought were included from the beginning. Although we weren't too interested in going inside the Eilean Donan Castle, we were interested in going inside the Wallace Monument, which would cost us an additional £21, up now to £333 (at that time, a whopping total of $439.72 for a 2-day tour!). Additionally, that did not include food or drink costs.
We could see where this was going... it was an easy way to get people interested, hook them, and then make a lot more from their planning services and partner accommodation and entertainment sites.
We then thought that we might try to get a discount by emailing them to let them know we'd be writing up a review on a travel website and blog post. The response was that they weren't interested in giving discounts of any sort:
Hello Timberbush Tours, ... Would you be open to providing complimentary tickets or special pricing for us on one of these tours so that we can provide a review? ...
Hi there, Thank you for getting in contact regarding your blog. Unfortunately we are unable to provide complimentary tickets however I hope you enjoy the tour if you decide to take one of them.
As we were unable to secure a trip on the tour services of Timberbush, we decided to put together the trip on our own and see how much that would cost. In hindsight, we probably should have just used TourRadar.com. However, here is the itinerary that we used:
When you're doing your own trip, you'll need a bit of transportation. As we know how to drive manual vehicles and don't mind having a small car, we opted for a value vehicle from Europcar for $19.86 per day. Because we picked it up at the Edinburgh Airport, we also had to pay $4.30 per day for Road Usage and Premium Location fees when we returned it.
Total cost so far: $72.48 (for 3 days, not just 2!)
The Wallace Monument
The first stop was the Wallace Monument, and it was loaded with the history of the real William Wallace (a name more recognized after the movie Braveheart). There is a nice view of Stirling Castle from the top of the monument. The entry fee here was £10.50 per person. £21.00 turned out to be $27.73 at that time.
Total cost so far: $100.21
Kilmahog - Highland Cattle
The second stop was in Kilmahog to see some Highland Cattle. We actually found the same exact spot that Timberbush stopped at by chance! Viewing the cattle is free as they are next to the parking lot. You can find this location by looking up the "Trossachs Woollen Mill" in Callander.
On our drive up we were able to stop at many different spots that we thought were picture worthy, and also stopped in Glencoe for a quick lunch. If we had only stopped in Glencoe, I think we may have been slightly disappointed. Glencoe is definitely beautiful, but there are so many other wonderful places to see that it would have been sad to not get the opportunity to stop at them. Even we missed a few amazing ones!
The next major stop was at the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This location is known from the Harry Potter movies as the bridge the Hogwarts Express crosses over on the way to Hogwarts. While there is no actual cost to the Viaduct itself, there is a parking charge which ran us $3.96. Additionally, as we wanted to fly our drone here (something we probably wouldn't have been able to do on the Timberbush Tour) there was an additional charge of £10 from Alistair as this location is Private Property ($13.25).
Total cost so far: $117.42
Ft. William & Ben Nevis
Unfortunately, we didn't spend too much time in Ft. William apart from having dinner at The Lochy Bar & Restaurant - which was fairly decent, as we weren't staying overnight here due to prices being a bit higher at the last minute than we desired. I won't add in food costs until the end because, as they weren't included in the Timberland tour, the comparison here should also be without the food costs.
We stayed overnight in Tain for $36.11 per night - which was a joint cost, not a per person price like Timberbush offered (£40-£65 per person is $53-$85 PER PERSON, or $106-$170 for the two of us). So, we saved quite a lot on accommodations but we ended up quite a distance from where we wanted to be. Additionally, we decided to stay for 2 nights to also add in a day at Isle of Skye and allow us to drive back around the eastern coast of Scotland instead of doing a non-stop drive back to Edinburgh straight through the middle of Scotland. Our accommodations were at a very sizable house that can be viewed here. In hindsight, we would have preferred to stay in Plockton or Isle of Skye. Timberbush also had an Isle of Skye package that we could have replicated had we stayed there instead.
Total cost so far: $189.64
On our way down to Plockton & Isle of Skye we needed to stop for some gasoline. That came out to $46.44.
Total cost so far: $236.08
On our way to Isle of Skye, we stopped in Plockton as it was recommended by our Airbnb hosts in Tain. Plockton is an oddity - a quasi-rainforest like beach town sitting in a unique climate zone. It was certainly worth the stop and had some great views. We only ate lunch here so no additional costs at this point (food costs listed at the end).
Isle of Skye - Kilt Rock
The Kilt Rock was the farthest spot we wanted to go, so we made sure to stop there first. Additionally, not only is the viewing area free, but so is the parking! No extra cost here.
Isle of Skye - The Old Man of Storr
The Storr was our next stop. This place is a bit of a hike and quite a tourist attraction - perhaps more so than Kilt Rock! Many vehicles are stopped here so it is difficult to find a place to park. We decided to simply photograph from the ground as we were short on time as we had a few more places to see - even though we typically like a good hike!
Eilean Donan Castle
This castle makes for amazing photos and was a part of Day 2 of the Timberbush tour. We arrived here just before 6pm, which was great for sunset photos and also for flying the drone - as drones are not permitted until after 6pm. The photos speak for themselves, this is a place you need to stop!
Accommodations for Night 2
While we headed back to Tain for the night, we would highly recommend staying in either Isle of Skye or Plockton if you have the choice. We did end up driving through Portree, the main city in Isle of Skye, but we didn't get to do any wandering as we were running low on time. Isle of Skye was so beautiful that we wish we didn't have to spend a few hours driving to/from our place in Tain and think anyone would prefer our recommendation over our uninformed choice.
On our way to Loch Ness, we had to stop again for gasoline as we were so far off the beaten path in Tain. Note: Fuel costs could be reduced by getting your accommodations in Isle of Skye or Plockton as well. This fuel cost was $50.63.
Total cost so far: $286.71
Stopping at Loch Ness is worth the effort. We didn't go to Inverness - we went through it - but we did stop in the tiny town of Drumnadrochit where the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition is located. As we didn't actually do the exhibition and just had lunch here, the cost was for food only (listed at bottom).
Our drive along the north coast didn't have many places to stop for pictures, unfortunately. However, we were able to stop in Aberdeen near the shore off Esplanade Road near Donmouth Local Nature Reserve. While it was raining and misting while we were there, and as we were limited on time (again from staying in Tain), we decided to continue our journey around the coast.
The drive around the coast is long and it is difficult to find any decent spots to stop and take photos as the roadway is distant from the water and the view is not so great. To get decent photos, you really need to detour from the highway. One such place we saw that looked like it would be amazing for pictures - but unfortunately missed the exit as we noticed it too late - was Stonehaven. We did manage to stop in Dundee for dinner, but as the time was getting late again - it made sense to just continue back to Edinburgh for the evening. Crossing the Queensferry Bridge, with the two Forth bridges next to it was quite an amazing sight as well. One last stop for fuel when we returned did cost us $25.47.
Total cost for 3-day Self-Guided Tour = $312.18
Savings over the Timberbush 2-day Tour = $127.54 (Timberbush was $439.72 for 2-days as seen near top of page)
Our total cost for food during this 3-day trip was $133.24, but it was also not included on the Timberbush Tour, so please keep that in mind. Our savings almost completely paid for our food over our 3-day trip!
We'll post a recommended itinerary that combines the best parts of this one as well as the places we stopped in Cairngorms soon. If you don't see it posted yet, please reach out to us and we'll work to get it finished quickly!