A journey to the far north of Scotland brings many rewards, not least the sense of freedom and open space to be found in the thrilling seascapes of the coasts or the vast, empty expanse of mountain and moorland that separates east from west. Rewards also come in the shape of some enchanting castles and gardens, which we have threaded together to bring out the best of this remote and unspoilt region.
Top of the bill is Inverewe, a truly wonderful garden, which involves a journey to the wild beauty of the west coast through some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere in the world. The Castle of Mey sits high on a cliff, overlooking the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth, and it is here that Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, had one of her favourite retreats, and where she created a homely garden which reflected her great love of flowers. We also visit the gardens of Cawdor Castle, immortalized by William Shakespeare in Macbeth, Dunrobin Castle, the château-style ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, Dunbeath Castle, perched on a promontory, and the privately-owned garden of Langwell. Finally we visit the House of Aigas, where we also enjoy lunch using estate produce, and the nursery at Abriachan, an opportunity to purchase a potted souvenir of your holiday.
Our hotel: we are based at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel (or similar), centrally located on the banks of the River Ness. All rooms are en-suite with tv, hairdryer and tea/coffee-making facilities. The hotel’s facilities include a gymnasium, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.
NC500: Please note that this itinerary features part of the North Coast 500, the highly scenic coastal route which begins and ends in Inverness.
What You’ll Love
- The desolate beauty of the Highland landscape
- Inverewe, widely regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest gardens
- The holly maze, styled on the Minotaur’s labyrinth, at Cawdor Castle
- The lovingly restored gardens of the Castle of Mey
- Spectacular borders at Langwell
- Services of a professional tour manager
- Comfortable coach travel throughout
- Meals – as per the itinerary
Single Supplements apply. Subject to availability.
We depart from your local area and travel north, stopping for lunch in Pitlochry (not included). We continue to the gardens of Cawdor Castle, near Nairn. William Shakespeare immortalised Cawdor in Macbeth as the scene of Duncan’s murder, however, both the castle and its history are colourful enough without the aid of myth. A turreted 14th century tower, protected on one side by a gully and on the other by a dry moat, rises majestically from the woods of the Nairn Valley. The magnificent gardens include vast herbaceous borders, a rose garden, a peony walk and a kitchen garden – there is also a fascinating holly maze and a romantic bluebell woodland walk.
Later we will continue to our accommodation.
Dinner will be served in the evening.
Enjoy your full Scottish breakfast. This morning we will visit Dunrobin Castle – the château-style ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland. The castle is a wonderful early 19th-century fantasy castle with a touch of the Loire and a dash of Bavaria. Below the castle is a magnificent example of a formal nineteenth century garden. The gardens are laid out on terraces which descend to the sea.
We later continue to John O’Groats before having an afternoon visit to the private gardens and former home of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, at the Castle of Mey. Dinner will be served on our return to the hotel.
After breakfast we have a long but most rewarding day as we drive across the north of Scotland to visit Dundonnell House Garden. The house was completed in 1769 by the Mackenzie’s of Dundonnell, who lived in it until the 1940s. Since then it has had a number of owners, including the late Alan Roger – rumoured to be in MI5, but known locally simply as a plantsman and bonsai expert. The current owner, has added delightful new borders for year-round colour, centred on an enormous and ancient yew tree over 300 years old. The main part of the garden lies within very old walls and is divided into distinctive compartments, adding greatly to the interest here; other highlights include riverside walks in the fine arboretum and a restored Victorian glasshouse.
Our final visit of the day is to Inverewe gardens, unquestionably one of the most outstanding gardens in the country. The northern road into Inverewe is spectacular – towering mountains and breathtaking vistas – and the view from above Gruinard Bay has to be seen to be believed. Famous gardens do not always live up to their reputations but it would be hard to imagine anyone failing to be excited by Inverewe, when at this time of year it will be at its most colourful. The balmy Gulf Stream Drift Climate promotes luxuriant growth and today it is a jungle of mature exotic trees and shrubs laced with winding walks, rising and falling, giving sudden glimpses of shimmering water through the foliage.
We will return to Inverness via Loch Maree and Achnasheen, another spectacularly scenic journey. Dinner will be served on our return to the hotel.
This morning, after breakfast, we will visit Dunbeath Castle. These private gardens feature mature and new plantings, with a landscaped lake, water and bog gardens, a formal garden, rhododendrons and a woodland walk.
This afternoon we will visit the private garden Langwell, a beautiful old walled garden with spectacular borders situated in the secluded Langwell Strath. Following our visit we will return to our hotel for dinner.
This morning after breakfast we head for home, breaking our journey at House of Aigas, near Beauly, just west of Inverness. Around the picturesque, high Victorian country house an arboretum and woodland walk with a sizable collection of specimen trees – all named – overlook the River Beauly; there is also an extended garden of rockeries, shrubberies and herbaceous borders. Here we will enjoy lunch using produce from the estate (included).
Our final visit is to Abriachan Gardens, near Drumnadrochit, where you will have the added benefit of being able to purchase plants from the adjoining nursery. We then return to our original pick-up points.