I will meet you at Edinburgh Airport and take you to your hotel to rest or if you prefer we can take a stroll to begin your discovery of Edinburgh, Scotland’s historic, yet modern and vibrant capital city.
We start the day with a visit to Edinburgh Castle to beat the crowds. We will enter the quaint St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh and also see the Scottish Crown Jewels. Afterwards we walk down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, The King’s official residence in Scotland. Along the way we will take lunch and visit some other attractions such as Scotland’s National Church, the High Kirk of St Giles, John Knox’s House and a secret garden. We also visit the grave of the MacLeod Chief known as ‘’The General’’.
Time to head for the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, in the heart of MacLeod country. On the way we stop in dark and brooding Glen Coe, the Glen of Weeping where I will tell you the true story of the infamous Massacre and learn how, compared to the deeds of MacLeods it was not such a big deal! We lunch near Fort William. Behind the town the mass of Scotland’s highest mountain Ben Nevis looms. We take the old road to Skye, crossing the pass of Mam Ratagan and taking the little ferry for a five minute voyage over the sea to Skye from Glenelg to Kylerhea. You hear the story of how the outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor was outwitted by a MacLeod. Glenelg was one of four mainland territories held by Clan MacLeod. There we see the ruin of Bernera Barracks built by the British to keep the Highlands under control. On Skye we see the impressive Cuillin Mountains, the highest off-shore mountains in Scotland and playground of the adventurous.
In the morning we visit the MacLeod’s Castle of Dunvegan, the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland (800 years). I will tell the many stories attached to the priceless treasures of the Castle such as The Faery Flag, Rory Mor’s Drinking Horn and the Dunvegan Cup. We see portraits of many chiefs including the notorious ‘’Wicked Man’’ and of the the first woman to be recognised as the Chief of a Scottish Clan. We can also stroll around the luxuriant gardens or even take a boat ride to see the seals in the loch. A loch visited by the Scot who founded the American Navy, John Paul Jones – another story there. After lunch we visit lonely and beautiful Trumpan, scene of another Massacre, battle and the magic of the Faery Flag. We can then explore some more of the island, taking in the strange rock formations of the Quirang and perhaps go fossil hunting by the shore if the tide is right. There is also the historic cemetery at Kilmuir where Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald is buried. You learn of her daliance with Captain Alexander MacLeod that allowed Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape. If time permits we can also visit the Museum of Island Life and I can point out the nearby grave of famous haute couture designer Alexander MacQueen and see the medieval graveslab of a man that was so unafraid of God’s wrath that he even stole his gravestone!
A return ferry to the Isle of Raasay with a few hours to explore this charming MacLeod island including it’s new Whisky Distillery. We drive along Calum MacLeod’s Road. Build by him alone over ten years. Don’t you want to know why? We see rebuilt Raasay House abandoned by the Chief of the MacLeods of Raasay when British soldiers laid waste to the island after the last Jacobite Rising; also the historic ruin of Brochel Castle.
We cross The Minch by sea-going ferry to the Isle of Harris. Waiting for the ferry we may have time to visit the Isle of Skye brewery. One of only two craft brewers on the island. Arriving in the port of Tarbert, perhaps there is time for a tour of the Gin Distillery. Did you know Scotland makes more gin than England? We can also see a weaving demonstration of the renowned Harris Tweed.
We explore Harris taking in the lovely St Clement’s Church at Rodel, seeing Alasdair Crotach’s intricately carved tomb. If you wish you can also look for the decidedly risque carving – yes on a church! We drive along the west coast of the island to see the outstanding coral-sand beaches including the world-famous Luskentyre and marvel at The aquamarine sea. If you are interested the renowned Seallam Family History Centre at Northton can be visited.
We drive to the Isle of Lewis without getting our feet wet. On Lewis we see the ancient wonder of the Calanais Stones and the Dark Age broch at Carloway. Calanais pre-dates the famous English site of Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. What was its purpose? Carloway is one of the better-preserved of the brochs. Brochs were strong-houses or little forts where refuge could be taken from marauders that would have been common-place at the time. Lastly we visit the small Ui Church, burial place of the MacLeod Chiefs of Lewis. Indeed this small church is the only part of the island that is still MacLeod after interference by the King of Scots, a failed invasion by Lowlanders and internecine warfare within the Clan facilitated a Mackenzie take-over. Today much work is being done to save Ui from the fierce and encroaching sea.
We cross over the Minch again all the way to the Mainland on Caledonian Macbrayne’s largest ferry. Docking at Ullapool, we have options to explore Clan MacLeod’s other mainland territories of Assynt (including Ardvreck Castle), Coigach and Gairloch; ours until taken by – yes you guessed – the Mackenzies! Gairloch is the land of my ancestors, who fought battles over one hundred years against the Mackenzies before the last man standing Iain Tolmach MacRuari MacLeod fled to Skye. The area is named Wester Ross. Does that seem familiar? Well yes it is one of a few ideas that was taken from Scottish history for Game of Thrones. All this on the way to Inverness, capital of the Highlands. Alternatively we take the main road to allow time for a vist to the haunting site of Culloden, scene of the last battle in Scotland where MacLeods fought on both sides.
We return to Edinburgh with interesting stops along the way. Perhaps at the mysterious cairns and standing stones of Clava; Impressive Blair Castle, the Pass of Killiecrankie, site of the first Jacobite battle or the picturesque town of Dunkeld on the River Tay. Our last night is at a hotel by the airport for a relaxing evening before I drive you to the terminal for departure the next day.