Alison Weir Tours

Caledonia: The Splendours of Scotland

 

ITINERARY
 

DAY 1: Friday, 17th May

 

Guests check in throughout the day at the Principal Hotel, Edinburgh

 

Evening

The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

To welcome our guests, we will be hosting very special evening on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, once the floating residence of the Queen, and now moored at Leith, Edinburgh. You are invited to enjoy The Britannia Experience. A Scots piper will greet us as we ascend the red carpet on the Queen’s stairs, the original royal entrance, then we will enjoy a drinks reception in the Salon, with a pianist playing in the background. The piano has notably been played by Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and Sir Noel Coward. There follows a private tour of Britannia, and a four-course dinner in the magnificent candlelit State Dining Room. Britannia’s outstanding Executive Chef has created a sumptuous menu meticulously prepared in the original Royal Galley, and adhering to its traditional high standards.
    Britannia was home to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world. Now you can follow in the footsteps of royalty and world leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Rajiv Gandhi, and discover the heart of this most special of Royal residences. The private tour gives guests a fascinating insight into how the Royal Family lived on board Britannia, and how the crew manned it. The Royal Yacht is now a five-star visitor attraction.

Overnight: The Principal Hotel, Edinburgh   

 

DAY 2: Saturday, 18th May

 

GROUP 1

Morning
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

At 8.30am we arrive at the palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for a private tour before the Palace opens to the public. Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is The Queen's official residence in Scotland. Situated at the bottom end of the historic Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is closely associated with Scotland's turbulent past. It was in the Queen's private apartments that Mary, Queen of Scots, witnessed the murder of David Rizzio, her private secretary, in 1566. Holyrood has served as the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is still a setting for state occasions and official entertainment.
    We will enjoy a very special private tour highlighting Holyrood’s dramatic past and the Palace’s important role today. In the company of an expert guide, we will visit the State Apartments before the Palace opens to visitors for the day, and see the room where Rizzio was murdered.  Private tours offer a unique opportunity to go 'behind the ropes' in selected rooms, and the West Drawing Room, used by members of the Royal Family as a private sitting room and not normally open to the public, is included in the tour.  It is among the most beautiful rooms in the palace and boasts superb royal portraits and one of the finest 17th-century plasterwork ceilings. Morning tours finish in the Café at the Palace and include tea, coffee and refreshments.
     

Afterwards, there will be free time for independent sightseeing and lunch in Edinburgh. Guests may, of course, stay on in Edinburgh rather than continuing with the planned afternoon’s itinerary.

Afternoon

Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian

(Wentworth Prison in Outlander)  

The magnificent ruins of Linlithgow Palace are set in a lovely park beside a loch. Most of the Stewart kings lived in the palace, and Mary, Queen of Scots was born here in 1542. Numerous renovations to its grand facades and chambers were carried out as each monarch sought to create the ideal royal residence. Linlithgow is majestically situated beside 15th-century St Michael’s Kirk, overlooking the peel (park) and loch. The loch has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its wildfowl population. You can see the castle’s magnificent great hall; the elegant projecting oriel windows of the king’s and queen’s bedchambers; the fountain – a beautiful three-tiered ‘wedding-cake’ structure in the centre of the courtyard; and the sculptures: all around the palace are sumptuous stone-carved figures, including beguiling angel musicians in the royal chapel.

 

OR

 

GROUP 2

 

Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

(Bellhurst Manor, seat of the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander)

Set in the 120,000 acre Queensberry Estate, complete with a country park and Victorian gardens, the spectacular Drumlanrig Castle is one of the most important Renaissance buildings in the country. The Dumfriesshire home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, this 17th-century castle with its magnificent rooms and spectacular collections of silver, porcelain, French furniture and art - including Rembrandt's Old Woman Reading - is perhaps one of the most rewarding and romantic of Scotland's great houses. It boasts 120 rooms, 17 turrets and four towers. Discover Rembrandt’s ‘Old Lady Reading’ and family portraits by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, landscapes by Paul Sandby and the Dutch masters, and cartoons by Rowlandson. The Estate boasts miles of beautiful walks and acres of gardens, and you can browse in the Gift Shop and Stableyard Studios, where you'll find local shop-makers and craftspeople. 

 

We have arranged an included buffet lunch in the Castle Tea Room.

 

Dinner is independent tonight

 

Overnight: The Principal Hotel, Edinburgh

 

 

DAY 3: Sunday, 19th May

 

Morning
Dirleton Castle, East Lothian

This magnificent fortress–residence served three successive noble families over 400 years. Badly damaged in Cromwell’s siege of 1650, Dirleton’s fortunes were revived by its new owners in the 1660s. The Nisbet family built a new mansion house nearby to live in and made the picturesque castle ruins the central feature in their new designed landscape. They also breathed new life into the splendid gardens, now home to the world’s longest herbaceous border.

  Here you can see some of the oldest castle architecture surviving in Scotland – the de Vaux towers, built around 1240, and the grim pit prison, pretty chapel and cavernous storage vaults in the Haliburton range.


Tantallon Castle, East Lothian
Spectacularly situated high on a cliff edge, and featuring a massive red sandstone curtain wall, Tantallon Castle was home to the Red Douglas dynasty. Climb to the battlements of the last of the grand medieval castles and marvel at its scale. Thetre are amazing views over the North Sea to the Bass Rock and its large seabird colonies, and spot rare animals, birds and plants among the local wildlife.

   Tantallon was the last truly great castle built in Scotland. William Douglas, a nobleman, built the mighty fortress in the mid-1300s, at the height of his power. The house of Douglas split into two branches in the 1380s: the ‘Black’ and the ‘Red’. Tantallon passed to the junior line – the earls of Angus also known as the ‘Red Douglases’. They owned the castle for the next 300 years, often clashing with the Crown. Lady Margaret Douglas, Alison Weir’s ‘Lost Tudor Princess’, spent her childhood at Tantallon. The castle was besieged by James IV in 1491, James V in 1528 and Oliver Cromwell in 1651. Cromwell’s army caused such destruction that the medieval fortress was abandoned.

 

OR

 

Morning

Free time in Edinburgh, joining the main group for

 

Lunch at the Tweeddale Arms, Gifford.

 

Afternoon

Lennoxlove House, Haddington, East Lothian

Beyond the wild, grassy moorland of the Lammermuir Hills in the Scottish Lowlands stands Lennoxlove House, originally known as Lethington, a 14th-century tower house built as a Border fortification in the warfare between England and Scotland. The magnificent four storey, L shaped mansion with its castellated battlements, stands proudly today as an historic memorial to its proud Scottish family owners, among whom was William Maitland of Lethington, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots.

   Lennoxlove House has an inspiring past that is intertwined with Scotland’s rich, vibrant and at times violent history. It holds a remarkable collection of art, political and historical artefacts. You can see a silver casket and sapphire ring belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as what is claimed to be her death mask. On display are historic gowns, and  the map Rudolph Hess used when flying solo from Germany for a supposedly rumoured meeting with the Duke of Hamilton, a mission that is still shrouded in mystery.

   In the 17th century, Lennoxlove was the home of Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox - "La Belle Stuart" - who was courted by Charles II; the house got its name because of her husband’s great love for her. She  was described by Samuel Pepys as "the greatest beauty I ever saw in my life."    

   Lennoxlove was purchased by the 14th Duke of Hamilton as a family ancestral home in 1947.

 

Dinner is independent tonight

 

Overnight: The Principal Hotel, Edinburgh

 

 

DAY 4: Monday, 20th May

 

Check out of the Principal Hotel, Edinburgh  

 

Morning
Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian

Founded in 1446, as the Collegiate Church of St Matthew, Rosslyn Chapel is one of Scotland's most remarkable buildings, and attracts visitors from far and wide, who are drawn by its unique and mysterious carvings and the beauty of its setting. The chapel took some 40 years to build and its ornate stonework and mysterious symbolism have inspired - and intrigued – artists and visitors ever since.

   At the meeting of the South Aisle and the Lady Chapel is the stunningly carved pillar known as the apprentice pillar. It is said that the master mason was instructed by Sir William St Clair to build a pillar to match a drawing he had provided. The master mason went to Italy to study the original, and in his absence an apprentice produced the magnificent pillar on view today. The story does not have a happy ending: the master mason was so consumed with envy on his return that he killed the apprentice with a blow from his mallet.  

   Today, there are countless theories, myths and legends associated with the Chapel, many of which are impossible to prove or disprove conclusively. The crypt has been sealed shut for many years, giving rise to recurrent legends that it is merely a front to a more extensive subterranean vault containing (variously) the mummified head of Jesus Christ, the Holy Grail, the treasure of the Knights Templar or the original crown jewels of Scotland.

   Rosslyn Chapel came to worldwide prominence in 2003 through Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. In the story, the main character, Robert Langdon, investigates a murder in the Louvre and follows a set of clues to unravel a mystery, which takes him to London and then to Rosslyn Chapel. 


There will be an included lunch in the Stables Tearoom at Hopetoun House.

Afternoon
Hopetoun House, Queensferry, Edinburgh

(Seat of the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander)
Hopetoun is a place of outstanding natural beauty, which has Scotland’s finest stately home at its heart. Situated on the outskirts of Edinburgh in a fabulous setting, Hopetoun is a welcoming and thriving 6,500 acre community.
   Visit Hopetoun and discover a place of beauty, tranquillity and architectural magnificence dating from the 17th century. It has been home to the Hope Family since the late 1600s. Hopetoun House, a remarkable and beautiful stately home, is filled with stunning collections and sits in majestic grounds with nature trails and scenic walks. As you approach, the impressive panoramic view of the main facade is breathtakingly revealed. Designed by William Bruce and then altered and extended by William Adam, Hopetoun House is one of the finest examples of 18th century architecture in Britain. The magnificent interiors, which have remained virtually unchanged for three centuries, reflect the elegance of the Georgian era and are decorated with the best period furniture, paintings, tapestries and clocks, with beautifully crafted finishes of carving, gilding and plaster work.
   The House is the setting for the home of the Duke of Sandringham in Series 1 of Outlander. These scenes were filmed in the Red Drawing Room. The Sea Trail and West Lawn to the rear of the House was the location for the dual between the Duke and the head of the McDonald clan. The rear steps of the house were the scene for a sword fight in Season 1. The courtyard behind the Stables Tearoom features regularly as a Parisian street location in Series 2.

Midhope Castle (access on the day permitting.
(Lallybroch in Outlander)
Midhope Castle is on the Hopetoun Estate and dates back to the 15th Century. Although the exterior is relatively intact, the castle is derelict inside. Please note: The castle is not a visitor attraction, and it is located on a private part of the Estate. Access will be by coach with a permit. The castle is liable to closures for estate activity. We will hopefully be able to confirm our visit nearer the time. The inside of the castle is unsafe and not used in any Outlander filming.

Blackness Castle, West Lothian

(HQ of Black Jack Randall in Outlander)

Blackness Castle stands by the Firth of Forth, at the port that served the royal burgh of Linlithgow in medieval times. Though built in the 15th century as a lordly residence for the Crichtons, one of Scotland’s more powerful families, it soon took on other roles. Mighty fortifications make the castle look like a ‘ship that never sailed’. Blackness was never just a peaceful lordly residence – its enduring roles were as a garrison fortress and state prison.

 

In the late afternoon, we drive into Perthshire and check in at the Gleneagles Hotel.

Evening
Drinks and a ‘Taste of Scotland’ dinner in the Drawing Room at Gleneagles Hotel.

Overnight: Gleneagles Hotel


DAY 5: Tuesday, 21st May

Guests can opt to spend the day at the Gleneagles Hotel. Known throughout the world as the host venue for the G8 summit of world leaders in 2005 and golf’s 2014 Ryder Cup, the 850-acre Gleneagles estate offers an unrivalled array of attractions that includes a five-star luxury hotel, three championship golf courses, an award-winning spa, and the only restaurant in Scotland to hold two Michelin stars. They offer tennis, riding, shooting, off-road driving, falconry, cycling and fishing. There is a variety of dining options and bars.

OR you may wish to join our optional excursion (which will still leave you time to enjoy the hotel)

Morning (depart 10.30am, return 4.00pm)
Doune Castle, Perthshire
(Castle Leoch in Outlander)
The formidable Doune Castle was built for the Regent Albany in the 14th century. It has a striking 100-feet-high keep/gatehouse, which contains the splendid Lord’s Hall, one of the best preserved great halls in Scotland, with a carved oak screen, musicians' gallery and double fireplace. Find out how grand banquets were prepared in the kitchen servery, and enjoy stunning views of the River Teith and Ben Lomond from the battlements. The castle courtyard and cellar, including display, is accessible via a steep, cobbled (but partially timbered) tunnel. Today, you can walk in the footsteps of rulers both real and fictional. Doune is a popular filming location and has featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander. Actor/director Terry Jones narrates an audio tour that reveals Doune’s exciting history and tales from the Holy Grail film set.

Afternoon (with time for an independent lunch)
Stirling Castle, Stirlingshire
Stirling Castle is a great symbol of Scottish independence and a source of national pride. Knights, nobles and foreign ambassadors once flocked to the royal court at Stirling to revel in the castle's grandeur. It is a place of power, beauty and history, and was a favoured residence of Scotland's kings and queens. The castle's long, turbulent history is associated with great figures from Scotland’s past such as William Wallace & Mary, Queen of Scots. 
   Stirling is the grandest of Scotland's castles and one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country. Built 250 feet above the plain on an extinct volcano, Stirling became the strategic military key to the kingdom during the 13th- and 14th-century Wars of Independence, fought against the English. Many important events from Scotland's past took place there, such as the nearby Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her childhood in the castle, and was crowned in the Chapel Royal in 1543.
    There are excellent historical displays, a recreation of the 16th-century kitchens with sensory and interactive exhibits, and the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which details their eventful history from 1794 to the present. The vast Great Hall, which dates from the end of the Middle Ages, has been restored to its medieval glory, and was formally opened by the Queen in 1999. Built by James IV in 1503, it has been restored with a new oak hammerbeam roof, refurbished wall walks, lead-light windows and interior galleries. This is how the original building would have looked, and why it has long been widely admired for its magnificence on the Stirling skyline.
   The first fortification on the site dates to the 11th century. Much of the castle that exists today, including the Palace and the Chapel Royal, is magnificent Renaissance architecture with a strong French influence. In fact Stirling Castle is widely regarded as having the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe. The Chapel Royal, built by James VI for the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594, has been refurbished and features a 17th-century fresco of elaborate scrolls and patterns.

   The Royal Palace at Stirling Castle (1540-42) is the finest Renaissance building in Scotland. Restoration work on the rich decoration of the King’s and Queen’s apartments was completed in 2011.  You  can see the King’s and Queen’s Lodgings as they might have appeared in the mid-16th century. A three-storey structure, the palace boasts an ornate facade of tall windows and niches containing a selection of grotesque carved figures and Renaissance sculptures. The King's Presence Chamber originally had an ornate ceiling decorated with over 100 carved oak heads (the Stirling Heads, above). Many of the heads have been lost or destroyed, but they have been colourfully recreated.

Dinner is independent tonight. Gleneagles Hotel has three restaurants: the 2-Michelin Star Andrew Fairlie, The Strathearn (fine dining) and the Birnam Brasserie.

Overnight: Gleneagles Hotel


DAY 6: Wednesday, 22nd May

Morning

Kellie Castle, Fife

Medieval atmosphere meets Victorian style at charming Kellie Castle. The oldest parts date back to the 14th century, but the whole interior was overhauled in the late 19th century by a famous artistic family, the Lorimers. Crow-stepped gables and fairytale stone towers form the outer frame of the castle, while indoors elaborate plaster ceilings and painted panelling sit alongside fine furniture designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, who spent much of his childhood at Kellie Castle. The majestic library ceiling is one of the oldest ornamental plaster ceilings in Scotland. You can also discover the long-concealed mural by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Outside, take a wander through the Arts & Crafts garden with its magnificent herbaceous borders, filled with the heavy scent of old roses, along with fruit and vegetables which are all grown organically.

 

There will be free time for an independent lunch in the coastal city of St Andrews, where there is a good choices of places to eat. One of Europe's finest towns, St Andrews is a place of history, learning and culture, a wonderful coastal resort, and the world's home of golf.

 

Afternoon

St Andrews Castle, Fife

St Andrews Castle was the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews, and the focal point of the church in medieval Scotland. has been a bishop’s palace, a fortress and a state prison during its 450-year history. It was caught up caught in the struggle for hearts and minds that led to the Protestant Reformation of 1560. The assassination sparked the brutal siege of 1546–47, when opposing sides dug the remarkable mine and countermine into the rock close to the castle battlements.

   Descend into the castle’s unique underground mine and countermine to get a sense of medieval siege warfare. Peer into the bottle dungeon – one of medieval Britain’s most infamous castle prisons. In 1546, the murdered body of Cardinal Beaton was kept in this dank and airless hole. In 1546, Protestant preacher George Wishart may have been imprisoned in the castle’s bottle dungeon before being burned at the stake outside the castle. And the reformer John Knox may have been held here too. You can marvel at the Hamilton Façade, an impressive frontage that reflects the wealth and taste of its builder. There is also a very good visitors' centre offering an excellent exhibition.

 

St Andrews Cathedral, Fife

St Andrews Cathedral is Scotland’s largest and most magnificent medieval church. Even in its ruinous state, the cathedral remains a prominent landmark highly visible from the sea. It was the seat of Scotland’s leading bishops (and, from 1472, archbishops), but the site has been used for worship since at least the 700s, when St Andrew’s relics are said to have been brought here. You can see medieval sculpture and other relics found on the site in the cathedral museum, or – if you want a challenge - climb to the top of the 33m-tall St Rule’s Tower for spectacular views across St Andrews and Fife.

 

Dinner is independent tonight.

Overnight: Gleneagles Hotel


DAY 7: Thursday, 23rd May

Check out of Gleneagles Hotel

Morning
Scone Palace, Perthshire
Scone Palace has an exciting and colourful history as one of Scotland's most important stately homes. Fifteen hundred years ago it was the capital of the Picts. In the intervening centuries, it has been the seat of parliaments and the crowning place of the kings of Scots, including Macbeth and Robert the Bruce. The Palace houses an outstanding collection of antiques, paintings and rare artefacts, and the grounds are renowned throughout the world. Poised above the River Tay in Perthshire, Scone Palace overlooks the routes north to the Highlands and east through Strathmore to the coast. The Grampian mountains form a distant backdrop, and across the river stands the city of Perth.
   There can be few places of interest in Scotland as historically potent as Scone Palace. When you visit the Palace you are walking in the footsteps of Scotland’s ancient founding fathers, both pagan and Christian. It was an important religious gathering place of the Picts, it was the site of an early Christian church and it housed the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, which is wreathed in myth and legend. Tradition has it that it was the coronation stone of Kenneth MacAlpin, the 36th King of Dalriada. But the historical view is that King Fergus brought the revered stone from Ireland to Argyll, and was crowned on it. Whatever the origin, the Stone of Destiny was placed on the Moot Hill and used in the coronations of the Kings of Scots until the end of the 13th century.
   In 1296 the Stone of Destiny was captured by Edward I as spoils of war and taken to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into the wooden chair on which most subsequent English sovereigns have been crowned. On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students reclaimed the Stone from Westminster Abbey. Once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the Stone of Scone was returned to Westminster. In 1996, the Stone was finally restored to the people of Scotland when the British Government moved it to Edinburgh Castle. The Stone of Destiny was last used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II - and so it still performs its ancient duty.

   The celebrated Moot Hill, the ancient crowning place of the kings of Scots, is located immediately in front of the Palace and is crowned by a tiny Presbyterian Chapel. A replica of the famous Stone of Scone sits in front of the Chapel.

Lunch will be served in the Old Kitchen at Scone Palace, which has a magnificent Victorian cooking range and original copper utensils.

Afternoon
Tibbermore Church, Perthshire

(Scene of the witch trial in Outlander)

Tibbermore is an atmospheric church set in a fascinating walled graveyard. It dates from 1632, when the the local lairds substantially rebuilt the structure; a church dedicated to St Mary existed during the late middle ages. On ceasing to be the parish church, in 1986 it passed into the care of the Tibbermore Charitable Trust. It was acquired by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust in 2001. The church requires extensive repair and conservation after prolonged neglect. It is now best known as Cranesmuir Church, scene of the infamous witch trial in Outlander.

Drummond Castle Gardens, Perthshire
(Versailles in Outlander)

This is an amazing formal garden in the heart of the country. Stand at the main entrance, and you almost get a birds-eye-view of the whole place. Drummond Castle Gardens have been called one of Scotland’s, and Europe’s, most important and impressive formal gardens. They date back to the 17th Century, and were redesigned and terraced in the 19th Century. The formal gardens you see today were replanted in the 1950s, but preserve many of the original features, including the the multiplex sundial, carved by Charles I's master mason in the 1630s, ancient yew hedges and the remaining beech tree planted by Queen Victoria, commemorating her visit in 1842.
   The Gardens have featured in many films, TV programmes and adverts, most notably in the film Rob Roy and the Outlander series.
   Please note that Drummond Castle is closed to the public. The gardens are built into the side of a steep hillside and several flights of steep steps provide the main access for visitors.

Check into Fonab Castle Hotel, Pitlochry

Drinks and dinner at Fonab Castle Hotel

 

Overnight: Fonab Castle Hotel

 

 

DAY 8: Friday, 24th May

 

GROUP 1

(travelling north towards Inverness for a day out in the Scottish Highlands, leaving at 8.30am and returning after 6pm)

Morning
Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, Inverness
(The battlefield features in Outlander, as does the memorial stone to Clan Fraser)
This is a powerfully moving site where the 1745 Jacobite rebellion met its tragic end. On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in British history. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland's government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites. You will stand on the windswept moor where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites made their final stand.

   The richly researched, stimulating and sensitive Culloden Visitor Centre, which is situated beside the battlefield, features artefacts - including weapons, clothing, miniatures and coins - from both sides of the battle, and interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. You can experience the Battle of Culloden in the visitor centre’s immersion cinema. The Visitor Centre stands as a monument and a guide to a pivotal day in history.   
   The audio guide to the battlefield was created by AWT’s very own Julian Humphrys, who will be guiding you on the day.

Loch Ness Visitor Centre, Scottish Highlands

We will visit the Loch Ness Visitor Centre for an independent lunch and time to view the exhibitions. The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition opened over 30 years ago. A hi-tech multi-media presentation leads you through seven themed areas and 500 million years of history, natural mystery and legend revealing the unique environment of Loch Ness and the famous ‘Nessie’ legend...

 

There is a café at the Visitor Centre, and adjacent is the Drumnadrochit Hotel. A five- minute stroll from the hotel, across the river Enrick, will bring you to the village green where there are local amenities, restaurants and gift shops.

 

Afternoon
Cruise on Loch Ness, passing Urquhart Castle
No holiday in Scotland is complete without a visit to Loch Ness. This beautiful loch is shrouded in mystery, all thanks to a long, thin green creature who circles the deep waters occasionally raising her head above the water for a picture... It goes without saying that Nessie is Scotland’s favourite monster, but the place where she lives is even more fascinating     

   Over 20 miles long, a mile wide and 700 feet at its deepest, Loch Ness is the largest lake in Scotland by the Loch Ness Monster is just one of the many myths and legends to be discovered in this particularly beautiful part of Scotland. This corner of the Highlands is world-famous for its dramatic scenery, with nearby castles and solitary lighthouses dotting the landscape.

Wild natural beauty and 1,000 years of history - Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness, offers a taste of the Highlands at their most dramatic. Discover 1,000 years of drama, experience a glimpse of medieval life and enjoy stunning views over Loch Ness from the ruins of the greatest castle in the Highlands. The castle has a distinctly Highland heritage and the site has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in our nation’s history. This is where St Columba is said to have worked miracles in the 6th century, where acts of chivalry and defiance provided inspiration during the Wars of Independence, and where the MacDonald Lords of the Isles struggled with the Crown for power. 

 

OR

 

GROUP 2

(relaxed schedule)

 

Morning

Blair Castle, Perthshire 

Blair Castle is the ancient seat of the dukes and earls of Atholl, and home to Europe's last remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders. The castle stands imposingly in the landscape of Highland Perthshire and has been home to nineteen generations of Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl. Unique amongst Scottish castles, the story told here will take you from a visit by Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Civil War, and from the Jacobite cause to the disaster of Culloden, following Bonnie Prince Charlie's own stay in the castle. You will hear how the lucky inheritance of a smuggler-infested island helped turn the castle into a comfortable home, and how a visit from Queen Victoria led to the creation of Europe's only surviving private regiment, the Atholl Highlanders.

   More than thirty rooms are on display, full of Scottish cultural history, architectural design, period furnishings, family portraits, landscape paintings and a colourful military past. Highlights include the Victorian Ballroom, which is decorated with 175 pairs of antlers, the Entrance Hall, which features weapons used at the Battle of Culloden, the classic Georgian styling of the Picture Staircase and the grandeur of the Drawing Room and State Dining Room.

   The castle grounds feature a magnificent nine-acre walled garden, recently restored to its original Georgian design, with fruit trees and vegetables, a Chinese bridge, a gothic folly and a trail of contemporary and 18th-century sculptures. A peaceful, wooded grove with some of Britain’s tallest and finest trees sits alongside the ruins of St Bride’s Kirk, the final resting place of Jacobite leader Bonnie Dundee. Around the grounds, visitors can spot local wildlife and enjoy picturesque views across Highland Perthshire.

 

Lunch will be served in the Tullibardine Restaurant, which has fine views and a terrace.

Afternoon
Visit the House of Bruar shopping centre.

Guests may to return to Fonab Castle for the rest of the afternoon, for free time to relax or enjoy the Spa and swimming pool; or the coach can drop you off for free time in nearby Pitlochry, which is five minutes away, and collect you later.

Pitlochry is a lovely little town in an idyllic setting in Perthshire, surrounded by mountains. It has impressive Victorian stone architecture and the floral displays, and is a favourite destination for tourists. It has an annual festival and its own Highland Games.

Evening

Dinner is independent tonight. There are two restaurants at the hotel, The Brasserie and Sandemans Fine Dining (with a tasting menu).

 

Overnight: Fonab Castle Hotel

 

 

DAY 9: Saturday, 25th May

Balmoral Castle, Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire
"A paradise in the Highlands" is what Queen Victoria called Balmoral Castle. On arriving at the Scottish retreat she famously recalled in her diary: "All seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils." Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852, having been first leased in 1848. The Castle is a fine example of Scots Baronial architecture.
   The magnificent estate, set amid mountains, lochs and glens, held a special place for Queen Victoria, just as it does for the present Queen and her family. At the end of every summer, Elizabeth II makes her annual pilgrimage north to Scotland for a  holiday at Balmoral Castle, which is widely thought to be her favourite residence. Free from public duties, the monarch can relax and spend time with her family members, who also make the trip.
   Admission includes access to the formal and vegetable gardens, the exhibitions in the stable area and largest room in the Castle, the Ballroom. Please note that all other rooms within the Castle are not open to the public as these are Her Majesty The Queen's private rooms.
  The Ballroom is the largest room in the Castle and here you can see works of art, silver statues, Minton china and artefacts belonging to kings and queens throughout history. There is a beautiful hand painted ceiling, and intricate wood carvings on the staircase in the Ballroom.

You will have lunch in the Deeside Room in the Piper’s Hall Café at  Balmoral Castle. 

 

Afternoon
Crathie Kirk

Adjacent to Balmoral Castle, lies the small village of Crathie. Guests may wish to visit Crathie Kirk, an 8-minute walk away, where John Brown, Queen Victoria’s controversial Highland Servant, is buried in the graveyard, and which has many associations with Queen Victoria.

   The original thirteenth-century Church, the ruins of which are to be found in the old graveyard, was dedicated to St Monire, a follower of St Columba. Tradition has it that St Monire baptised the first Christians in Crathie in a nearby pool in the River Dee. The old church was in use until the end of the eighteenth century, when a new church replaced it. It was a simple building with a large seating capacity, and it was here that Queen Victoria came to worship when Balmoral Estate was bought. It is clear from her book Leaves from a Journal of our Life in the Highlands that Queen Victoria enjoyed the worship of the Scottish Kirk and towards the end of her reign it was decided to replace the building with the present one. The congregation raised £5,000 towards the cost and stone and wood were given by the Invercauld and Balmoral estates. The building was begun in 1892 and completed in 1895. It is a lovely Church with fine woodwork, stained glass and many royal memorials. The modern royal family still worship there, and Princess Anne was married in the church in 1992.


Evening

Gala farewell dinner at Glamis Castle, Angus

Home to the earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, setting for Shakespeare's Macbeth, beloved childhood home of the H.M. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the birthplace of Princess Margaret, Glamis Castle has been witness to a thousand years of history. Its turrets and towers come into view at the end of a mile-long drive, and visitors cannot fail to be impressed by its majesty. Steeped in history, Glamis Castle has evolved over the years into a stunning architectural treasure. Every room has its own story, and the evolution of the castle and its legendary tales and secrets are brought to life by enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides. Every painting, every piece of furniture, every little detail along the way is a sharp reminder that this is not a museum but an incredible family home. Glamis is also widely renowned as one of the most haunted locations in the British Isles.

   Arriving down the drive, we will receive a traditional Scottish welcome. There will be a drinks reception in the warmth and elegance of the 17th-cCentury Drawing Room, followed by a private guided tour of the State Rooms and Royal Apartments before dinner. At dinner, you will be served the finest local produce and Scottish cuisine in the panelled splendour of the Victorian Dining Room. There will be a spectacular finale to the evening. (This will be a late night.)

 

Overnight: Fonab Castle Hotel

 

 

DAY 10: Sunday, 26th May

 

Check out of Fonab Castle Hotel

 

GROUP 1

 

Morning

The Royal Burgh of Culross, Fife

(Cranesmuir village in Outlander)

The Royal Burgh of Culross is a unique survival, a town that time has passed by. It is the most complete example in Scotland today of a burgh of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The old buildings and cobbled streets create a fascinating time warp for visitors. Here one can relive the domestic life of the period, and gain some idea of what life was like in Scotland in the reigns of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son, James VI.

   The Mercat Cross area is the village of Cranesmuir in Outlander.  The town also lends its backdrop to the Jacobite encampment and makeshift hospital scenes.

Culross Palace
(The herb garden at Castle Leoch in Outlander)
You will be able to explore the beautiful refurbished palace, which dates from 1597 and has splendid interiors featuring painted woodwork, and 17th- and 18th-century furniture. Behind the palace is the reconstructed early 17th-century palace garden, which stands in for Claire’s herb garden at Castle Leoch in Outlander.

 

Afternoon
Falkland, Fife

(1940s Inverness in Outlander)
Nestling between two hills, the historic royal burgh of Falkland is a small and picturesque town, famous for its royal palace, and retaining a traditional charm from its medieval roots. Many houses are over 300 years old, and the layout of the streets has not changed in several hundred years. Falkland was the first conservation village in Scotland thanks, in part, to its grand past.

   In Outlander, the Covenanter Hotel is Mrs Baird’s guest house; the Bruce Fountain is where Jamie’s ghost appears; the Fayre Earth Gift Shop doubles as Farrell’s Hardware and Furniture Store; and Campbell’s Coffee House doubles as Campbell’s Coffee Shop.

   There will be free time to explore, and to have an independent lunch.

 

Falkland Palace

Falkland Palace was the country residence of the Stewart monarchs for 200 years, and a favourite residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. Set in the heart of Falkland conservation village, and surrounded by extensive gardens, this partly-restored Renaissance palace is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. Some of the castle has crumbled, but there is still plenty to discover inside the surviving parts. The original and reconstructed rooms are packed with 17th-century Flemish tapestries, elaborate painted ceilings, antique furnishings and royal portraits. The beautiful, tranquil grounds alone are worth a visit. They are home to the oldest real (or royal) tennis court in Britain, built for King James V in the sixteenth century.

 

OR

 

GROUP TWO

 

Aberdour Castle, Fife

(The monastery in Outlander)

Built by the Douglas family, the 13th-century fortified residence of Aberdour Castle was extended in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. You can see the large and imposing suite of buildings from the 12th to the 17th century, with the grand hall-house, thought to be the oldest standing stone castle in Scotland. There is also a delightful walled garden, with scented flowers and a beehive-shaped ‘doocot’ (dovecote), which overlooks the Firth of Forth.   

   Aberdour Castle doubles as Sainte Anne de Beaupré’s monastery in France in Outlander; you can see the Old Kitchen and Long Gallery, which were used for filming.

 

Afterwards, there will be free time for an independent lunch in Aberdour village. For such a small village, Aberdour has plenty to offer. This charming seaside town is home to two beautiful beaches, a harbour, the castle, a golf course and a choice of traditional pubs and shops. Silver Sands beach is one of the finest in Scotland and overlooks the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh and the Lothians. This popular beach attracts watersports enthusiasts, walkers and families looking to relax on a sunny day. The other beach, Aberdour Black Sands, is located around the corner by the harbour. There is a 12th-century church.

 

Afternoon

Dunfermline Abbey and Palace, Fife

Some of Scotland’s greatest medieval monarchs were laid to rest at Dunfermline Abbey. Founded as a Benedictine priory by Queen Margaret in the 11th century, Dunfermline was made an abbey by David I and later became a royal mausoleum. It is the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce (minus his heart, which is at Melrose) along with seven other Scottish kings. The hugely impressive nave, with its Romanesque architecture, is strikingly similar to that of Durham Cathedral

   The abbey complex encompasses the ruins of an imposing palace with the monastic guesthouse at its heart. It was built by King James VI in the 16th century, and became home to his queen, Anne of Denmark. Their son, Charles I, was born here in 1600 – the last monarch to be born in Scotland. After James became king of England in 1603, and the King and Queen departed for London, royal interest in Dunfermline waned, but the ruins of the abbey’s neighbouring palace still make for an interesting visit. There are breath-taking views across the glen from the palace windows.

 

The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum, Dunfermline, Fife
The original Birthplace Cottage where Andrew Carnegie was born, built in the 1770s, has been restored to look as it would have done during Andrew Carnegie’s childhood in the 1840s. With cramped living spaces upstairs, the cottage also boasts a weaver’s workshop with a working damask linen handloom downstairs. The Exhibition Hall was built between 1925-1928, and tells the story of Andrew Carnegie in America and his transition from a bobbin boy to a capitalist, and his determination to give away nearly 90% ($350 million) of his personal fortune to various organisations and world peace initiatives. The museum displays offer something for everyone: Victorian and Edwardian history, Carnegie institutions and legacy around the world,  decorative arts, world politics and peace initiatives before the First World War.

5pm: We gather at the Principal Hotel, Edinburgh for a farewell champagne and canapes reception.

The tour ends after the reception.