A Circuit of Scotland – Part 1: Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, and Oban

This post covers part one of our Scotland trip, including time in Edinburgh, on Loch Lomond, and in Oban. In the second part, we visit Fort William, Skye, and Inverness. The overview covers some of the logistics and planning details. 

Days 1 & 2: Edinburgh

Kyle & I arrived in Edinburgh after a redeye from JFK — we’d been upgraded so we were rested, but not well rested.

From the airport, we took Bus 100 downtown. This is a convenient and pretty quick way to get into town, and it spared us renting a car and having to drive on the opposite side of the road while tired. We dropped our luggage at the hotel, Apex Waterloo Place.

Our usual post-redeye routine is to wander and try to keep ourselves awake, so for this day we grabbed some coffee and breakfast at Pep & Fodder and headed to the Scottish National Gallery

From there, we walked the Royal Mile and then to Calton Hill, where lazy clouds floated over the city. 

After a decent dinner at Wedgewood, we headed to sleep.

The second day, we started by heading east, where we visited the Scottish Parliament. Through a self-guided tour, we took in the beautiful architecture and waited out some passing showers.

Scottish Parliament

Our next stop was a quick look at Holyrood Palace, before wandering up Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. The ulex were in full bloom and quiet lovely, even under grey skies. Arthur’s Seat offers great views back over the city, and was one of the highlights of our time in Edinburgh for me.

By this point, it was time for lunch, so we headed Outsider Restaurant. The food was enjoyable, and the view out the window to Edinburgh Castle was even better.

Outsider Basserie

After lunch, we proceeded up the hill to Edinburgh Castle, which we explored until near closing. This was one of our more crowded and more touristy stops, but we appreciated the history and the views of the city.

Arthur's Seat, through a cannon-port at Edinburgh Castle

From Edinburgh Castle, we walked back to Calton Hill for golden hour.  That night, we ate at Magnum, which was again a decent meal.

Days 3 & 4: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

After two days in Edinburgh, it was time to leave the city for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. After a quick breakfast at Martone, we picked up our car (a Ford Focus hatchback) from the train station, picked up our bags from the hotel, and set out for our first destination.

Craigmillar Castle, just 5 kilometers away, began construction in the 14th century before eventually being abandoned in the 18th century. It’s a large, old ruin for wandering around, and offered a contrast to the restored, maintained, and more recent monuments we had seen in the city center.

Craigmillar Castle

From there, we headed further north, passing through Stirling. We skipped Stirling Castle — other than some views from below — and instead spent some time at Stirling Bridge, site of the 1297 battle in the First War of Scottish Independence. We also stocked up on groceries so we’d have food for lunches in the coming days.

A short while later, we entered the Trossachs National Park, stopping at the Falls of Leny. We passed the trail a couple of times before eventually finding it and taking the short walk to the waterfall.

Falls of Leny

From the Falls of Lenny, it was another short drive to Ben A’an, a short hike 2.3 mile (3.7km) to a spectacular view. The trail was under some renovation, probably adding a half mile over the published distance and a good bit of mud, but when complete it should make for sturdier footing. From the summit, we had wonderful views under broken clouds (and occasional showers), looking out over Loch Katrine and Loch Achray.

view from Ben A'an

We then drove the rest of the way to our bed and breakfast, Lomond View Country House in Tarbet. As the name implied, it had lovely peak-a-boo views of the loch. We did not pause to enjoy them for long, though. Arriving during shoulder season meant the restaurants close a bit early — and not all were open — so we dashed off for dinner at nearby Slanj restaurant.

The next day, we awoke and walked down the loch, where we purchased tickets from Cruise Loch Lomond (~$18 per person).

Loch Lomond

A short boat ride brought us to Rowardennan, where the “tourist route” starts up Ben Lomond. The hike winds its way through a small bit of forest before breaking out into the open. Once in the open, it offers expansive views all around and a sturdy, stone tread underfoot. We enjoyed a leisurely — and windy — lunch on the summit, taking in views of all the Trossachs.

on the way up Ben Lomond

To descend, we followed the steeper and muddier Ptarmigan Ridge route. The route which descends off the summit and then along closer to Loch Lomond. This made for a nice loop back to Rowardennan and the ferry.

Ptarmigan Ridge leading down from Ben Lomond

After cleaning up, we made the short drive to Arochar for dinner at the Village Inn, including some delicious mussels with chorizo.

Day 5: Oban

From Tarbet, we drove to Oban, following a scenic route along Lochs Long, Fyne, and Awe. We made short stops on the way along Loch Fyne and at Inveraray Castle and at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe.

We arrived in Oban on a grey afternoon, making our first stop at the namesake distillery. As we had arrived ahead of our scheduled tour (even in shoulder season, it was recommended to call ahead to book), we wandered the town briefly. Upon returning to the distillery, we enjoyed the excellent tour and tasting.

We had time for one more stop at Dunstaffnage Castle, three miles from town, where we wandered the 13th century ruin and coast. We returned to town and checked in at our bed and breakfast, the Glenrigh Guest House, which was cozy despite being battered by wind and rain. From there, we walked to dinner at the Waterfront Fish House, which was fine but a step down in food from most of our previous meals.

In the morning, after another hearty breakfast, we made one last stop in Oban, at McCaig’s Tower. John Stuart McCaig commissioned the tower as a monument to his family in 1897. At the time of his death in 1902, it was incomplete and remains that way.

We then set out for Fort William, and our trip continues in part 2 of our circuit of Scotland.

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