Top Tips for your Scottish Highlands Adventure
Of course, every good guide book has a section dedicated to useful hints and travel tips, and we are sure that they have plenty of advice about all sorts of things to help you during your stay. However, we have found that they usually miss out some of the most useful information that you really need to know. So, in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps, here are a few tips based on the experience with our guests at Inverglen Guest House. We hope this will help you during your travels in Scotland. If you think there are other things we should include in this guide then please let us know.
Travelling Around Scotland
If you are spending most of your time visiting the large cities or towns then it is perfectly possible to do so by public transport. Good links exist between major cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, and once there you will also find that getting around the city by public transport or taxi is relatively easy. However, if you intend to explore our wonderful countryside then you will either need a car or the services of a specialist tour provider.
Many people are worried about driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but be assured that it is simple and you’ll be fine as long as you take it carefully. We only have 5 million people living in the country so away from the major cities, you will rarely be in heavy traffic.
Don’t despair if the thought of driving is a little too much for you. There are many specialist tour operators who will gladly take you to all manner of places. These tours can range from pre-determined schedules right through to fully bespoke tours designed specifically for you. Why not check out some of our local operators on our website – http://www.inverglenguesthouse.co.uk/boat-trips-and-tours
Just a word of caution if you intend sampling some of our fine whisky or delicious beers – Scotland has strict drink drive laws and at the time of writing the legal limit is just 50mg in every 100ml of blood. This means even 1 drink can put you over the limit. Our advice is to not drink at all if you are driving.
A Sat Nav / GPS or Paper Map
So you decided to go with the car option. The first thing you may notice is that Scotland is bigger than most people realise, and many places are remote and sparsely populated. Consequently, it isn’t always possible to stop and ask someone for directions, and road signs may be in short supply. Luckily modern technology in the form of a Sat Nav or GPS can pinpoint your position to within a few meters, and keep you on the right track. However, they aren’t foolproof and you should treat their advice with a degree of caution. Also be aware that if your system works via the mobile phone network, you may find that some areas have less than perfect coverage.
In the UK we use Postcodes (see tip below) to pinpoint locations, and in main towns, a postcode will often be all you need for the Sat Nav. However, outside of the main population areas, you may find that the postal code is a little vague (possibly covering a large area rather than an exact location). Therefore always enter the full address if possible. We certainly recommend a Sat Nav or GPS for getting you from A to B, but you can’t beat a good old-fashioned paper road map for giving you the bigger picture.
If you only focus on the route from one place to another, you may well be missing some fantastic places that lie just a few miles off the direct route. If you would like some inspiration on places to visit why not take a look at our Things to Do Pages.
The locations pictured below are hidden gems that are so easily missed if you stick to just the main routes.
What is a Post Code
If you are using a Sat Nav or GPS then you are going to become very familiar with postcodes as they are an integral part of finding a specific location. Every address in the UK has a Post Code. These are specific to a small number of addresses and within large cities a full postcode will cover a relatively small area (just a few properties).
Postcodes comprise a combination of letters and numbers – for example our postcode is IV2 3NW. The first part of the code “IV2” tells you two things. Firstly the IV letters refer to Inverness (as EH would be Edinburgh, and GA refers to Glasgow). The number then gives an indication of how close an address is to the main city. So, IV1 would be right in the very centre of Inverness, whereas IV2 is just a little further out. At the extreme end, for example, Portree on the Isle of Skye (over 100 road miles from Inverness) is IV51.
Whilst in most towns and cities a full postcode (comprising between 5 and 8 characters) will give you a very specific geographic location, in rural areas a single postcode may cover a much larger geographical area.
When planning your trips it is often advisable to consult with one of the online route planning services. Google maps is definitely worth looking at, as are the services provides by The AA and The RAC. Distances and journey times can be difficult to predict, especially in the more remote locations where roads may be single track requiring you to stop at regular intervals to allow vehicles coming in the opposite direction to pass.
Whilst the online resources attempt to give you an idea of how long a journey may take, the reality may prove a little different. Always expect the journey to take longer than you are told, and if it turns out to be quicker you have more time to enjoy being there.
For those not used to driving in the UK a roundabout can be very daunting. We have spent many a morning after breakfast trying to explain how they work. The basic rule is that you always stop before entering a roundabout and you always give way to traffic coming from your right. If in doubt wait until there is a good gap before entering the roundabout and always give a clear indication of where you intend to exit. If you spot your exit late, don’t try to turn off quickly, just go around again and get it at the second (or third) attempt.
If you want to get properly ready to drive in the UK you can familiarise yourself with the rules for driving by checking out the Highway Code
Have a Mobile Phone
In all but the remotest locations Scotland has good mobile phone coverage, and as public telephone kiosks are become rarer you will be grateful for the convenience. We recommend you bring your mobile/cell phone with you, or you can buy one when you are here – a basic pay as you go phone can be purchased for around £25.00 (or even less) and many shops sell “top up” vouchers for calls.
Pre-book the things on your ‘Must See’ List
Scotland in the height of summer can be incredibly busy. Major events like the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and T in the Park, to name but a few, need to be booked well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Also don’t risk just turning up at the ferry port hoping to catch a ferry to one of our many islands as you may be disappointed! You should also think about pre-booking for key visitor attractions such as Edinburgh or Stirling Castles, or if you want to enjoy the 3D and interactive elements at the Battle of Bannockburn site. At the very least pre-booking can save you a lot of time otherwise spent waiting in line.
In Inverness it may be advisable to pre-book if you wish to take the popular train journey to Kyle of Lochalsh, or for a cruise on Loch Ness.
Why not check out some of the main events happening in and around Inverness and Loch Ness on our Events Page.
Restaurants and food
In the major cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen you will find that there are many restaurants of all types that open all day and will continue late into the evening. However, in other places the choice of restaurants may be very limited and they are likely to stop serving at 9pm (or earlier).
If visiting Scotland in the winter months do check with your accommodation provider to see what the local restaurant situation is like. In some places you may have a very limited choice.
Inverness has a wide selection of excellent restaurants (check out our recommendations page – http://www.inverglenguesthouse.co.uk/local-restaurants-cafes-and-pubs ) but many of these stop serving at about 9pm. You will also find that some are closed on a Sunday and Monday. From about May through to October the most popular restaurants are very busy and reservations are essential.
Scotland has a truly wonderful larder of produce and you can be assured of some fantastic food and drink on your travels. Almost everyone knows about haggis (try it and you may be pleasantly surprised), and our salmon is world famous, but why not try Cullen Skink (a smoked fish chowder), Cranachan (a desert of oatmeal, raspberries, cream and whisky), or Crowdie (a delicious cream cheese). We have a fantastic range of food and drink and we love helping you discover new things to delight your taste buds.
Check Opening Times
We may enjoy long summer evenings (it stays light up until almost midnight in the far north at the end of June), but many attractions still close at around 5pm. This comes as a surprise to many and means that they miss out seeing some of the best places. The long daylight hours can fool you into thinking it is earlier than it really is so keep an eye on your watch. Always check the opening times for key attractions you wish to visit.
Also check for seasonal opening variations. Some attractions may be closed over the winter months, and indeed one of the best castles near Inverness (Cawdor Castle) doesn’t open until May.
Visiting a Distillery
Scotland is world famous for its Whisky, and there are many distilleries you can visit to learn about the production process and also sample some of the produce. Not all distilleries offer tours, but many do and if this is something you wish to do then you will find plenty of choice within easy reach of Inverness. Whilst there are no distilleries within Inverness itself, within 25 miles there are 4 distilleries (Glen Ord, Tomatin, Dalmore and Benromach) all offering tours. If you are travelling north of Inverness, you may wish to check out Glenmorangie distillery in Tain, or just a little further north is Balblair distillery.
If you are looking for more choice then the epicentre of the Speyside whisky industry is around Dufftown which is just over 50 miles from Inverness and here you will find plenty of distilleries, large and small, all waiting to impress you with their amber nectar.During the summer months most distilleries are open from Monday to Saturday (many also open on Sunday). The first tours are usually around 10am with the last tours at around 4pm. Outside of Summer you may find much more restricted opening times, and many do not open at weekends.
Please remember that Scotland has strict drink drive laws and we recommend that you do not combine the two. There are many companies offering Whisky Tours so you can fully enjoy the experience without having to do the driving.
Seeing Dolphins, Red Deer, Red Squirrels & Other Wildlife
Scotland is a haven for wildlife and there are several species that should be on the must see list. Scotland’s big 5 are, Golden Eagles, Red Squirrels, Red Deer, Otters and Harbour seals, all of which can be found in the Highlands.
Near Inverness on the Moray Firth we have a resident population of Bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins regularly appear near the city and land based dolphin watching at Chanonry Point is a popular pastime. The best chance of seeing the dolphins is on a turning tide as it moves from low tide. Just ask us and we’ll let you know the tide times.
Another popular species that can be seen in Scotland is the Osprey. This magnificent bird is a summer visitor to the UK and they can be regularly seen fishing in the local area. There is a specialist viewing point at Loch Garten where Ospreys can be seen nesting.
Of course there are lots of other animals for you to enjoy such as Red Kites, Basking Sharks, Pine Martins, Grouse, Scottish Wildcats (rarely seen), Roe and Sika Deer, Mountain Hares and many others. If visiting Loch Ness you may even be lucky enough to see our very own Nessie!
Scotland has a rich tradition of music and you are never too far away from the skirl of the bagpipes. However, we have much more to offer and in Inverness there is a wide variety of live music with performances taking place on every night of the week.
Regular folk sessions take place at several pubs in the town centre and music is often a main attraction at Eden Court Theatre and The Ironworks.
How many photographs will I take?
Guest often ask us where they can buy additional memory cards for their cameras. We can only conclude that people under-estimate how many pictures they will take. Our advice is that you should plan on taking at least twice as many memory cards as you normally expect to need. Cards are fairly cheap these days but it is better to have spare capacity rather than run out of room just as the most spectacular scene opens up before you.
For inspiration on places to visit why not check out our webpage showcasing some of our wonderful wildlife and scenery. http://www.inverglenguesthouse.co.uk/highland-scenery
Favourite Photo Locations
As you may know, we also run photography workshops (single and multi day trips), and on our photography website we have started a blog giving details of our favourite photo locations. Why not visit our blog for a little inspiration as we add more locations – Inverglen Photography Blog
Enjoy every day! – This is our best piece of advice.
With so many things to see and do an early start and a well-planned route will ensure you have treasured memories and spectacular photographs!
We want all our guests to get the most out of their visit to Scotland. We really enjoy helping you plan your day so just ask if there is anything you want to know.
Inverglen Guest House is the ideal base from which to explore the highlands of Scotland.
We look forward to welcoming you to our home, where we hope you will also feel like it is your home as well.