Spring and autumn are wonderful times of the year to visit the West Highlands of Scotland. In spring there may still be patches of snow on the mountains but the trees are in fresh green leaf and plants such as rhododendrons bring the first welcome splashes of colour to the gardens. Come autumn and you may well see snow on the hills again but at lower levels the trees have taken on a golden hue while the gardens put on one last defiant display of colour before winter’s icy grip returns.
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden is the perfect example, with vibrant displays from Rhododendrons and other Asiatic shrubs in spring and a multi-hued show of colours from its great collection of trees in autumn. The seasonal story is repeated at Arduaine Gardens, whose collection of plants is rivalled only by the superb sea views, and at Glenarn, one of the best woodland gardens in Scotland, filled with trees and shrubs brought back from plant-hunting expeditions to Tibet and China. We also visit Kilmartin Glen, where lies a series of ancient and rather mysterious burial cairns and there is the option of a day trip to Mull with visits to colourful Tobermory and historic Duart Castle.
West Highlands Holiday Highlights:
- Return coach travel from Aberdeen, Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee, Perth, Kinross, Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Glasgow
- 3 nights’ hotel accommodation with dinner, bed and breakfast – staying at the Columba Hotel, Oban
- Services of a professional tour manager.
Single supplements apply. Offer is subject to availability.
West Highlands Itinerary
We depart from our designated pick up points and head for the Western Highlands, stopping on the way for a visit to Ardkinglas Woodland Garden. In the spring Ardkinglas presents a vibrant display of colour as the Rhododendrons hit their peak flowering. Dating back to the 1920s, the collection includes mature specimens of many species and hybrids including Rhododendron Augustinii and Rhododendron ‘Polar Bear’. In the autumn the beech trees take on a multitude of golden tints and the Sorbus collection exhibits a varied range of berry colour: white, pink, yellow and orange-red.
We continue to Oban and our hotel.
After breakfast we travel south of Oban along the scenic coastal road to Arduaine Garden, which was started in 1897 by James Arthur Campbell, a tea planter, and a friend of Osgood MacKenzie, the maker of Inverewe. It is a splendid site, full of the most magnificent plants, both native and exotic. In spring we will see more rhododendrons and azaleas in full bloom, producing a riot of colour and golden leaf colours in the autumn. It is most rewarding to keep going to the viewpoint which gives an exquisite panorama of the calm waters of Loch Melfort below.
After an opportunity for lunch (not included) at the adjacent Loch Melfort Hotel we continue south to Kilmartin Glen, where we visit the Kilmartin House Museum, whose audio-visual presentation gives a good introduction to the beauty of the landscape of Mid Argyll and the layers of history and the memories that lie within it. The award-winning exhibition contains ancient artefacts and you can also try out a range of hands-on activities, including quern stones and a stone axe polisher. We will then visit a couple of the nearby Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, to experience at first hand the presence and power of these monuments.
After our full Scottish breakfast the day is free to explore Oban. Worth a visit are the Distillery (admission not included), from where Oban malt whisky is exported all over the world, and the free museum on the Esplanade which tells the story of Oban’s involvement in the Second World War and other notable events. A walk up to the Coliseum-like McCaig’s Folly which dominates the town is rewarded with splendid views over the bay towards the Isle of Mull.
Alternatively, if you would like a closer look at Mull, join our optional excursion to the island, taking the ferry for the scenic crossing of just under an hour to Craignure. From here we continue to Tobermory, the island’s ‘capital’, whose multi-hued buildings lining the waterfront will be familiar from a hundred calendars. There are a number of craft shops and art galleries as well as a distillery, along with a number of options for lunch, including the famous ‘Mishnish’ pub. In the afternoon we will visit Duart Castle, the 13th century home of the Chief of Clan MacLean. We can explore the dungeons, the state rooms and appreciate the strategic position of the castle from the top of the keep. We return by ferry from Craignure to Oban in the late afternoon.
Following breakfast, we begin our homeward journey, which we break with a visit to Inveraray on the shores of Loch Fyne, where lunch is available (not included).
In the afternoon we visit the gardens of Glenarn, near Helensburgh, reputedly one of the best woodland gardens in Scotland. Glenarn was originally planted by the Gibson brothers, and filled with rhododendrons and other plants collected by Kingdom-Ward, Ludlow and Sheriff on their expeditions to Tibet and China. The garden had been neglected for many years and since it was acquired in 1983 by the current owners they have been gradually restoring it. The mild, damp location supports old plants of Rhododendron tanastyllum, arboreum var. nigagiricum and Magnolia rostrata to mention but a few, and all should be at their best in the spring. In the autumn we can expect a panoply of golden tints.
Following our visit we return to our original pick-up points during the evening.