I have a fairly heavy duty customised tour starting this Thursday with a few days in London followed by almost 2 weeks touring around Scotland, visiting some places which are fairly off the beaten track as far as standard tour itineraries go.  So I’ve been trying to brush up on my Scottish history, and I’ve just started watching the BBC’s “A History Of Scotland” which I managed to find on Amazon.  It’s been put together by Neil Oliver who is pretty well known for doing many of the BBC’s “Coast” documentaries, and although I’ve only just finished watching the first episode it’s really engaging and addictive!… In fact, even though each episode is only an hour long, I’ve actually spent about 2 hours watching it just so that I could pause it every now and again to look up some stuff he was talking about on Wikipedia!

Scotland is truly stunning not just for it’s beauty and vibrant culture, but just as much for it’s history and legends, which Neil Oliver tells in full colour!  But he doesn’t leave you under any illusion… as with beauty, history is in the eye of the beholder, and many of the stories telling Scotlands history have been diluted in one way or another.  For example, the Roman historian, Tacitus wrote much of the earliest part of Scotlands history putting words into the mouths of the Celtic warlords who fought the Romans in the late part of the 1st century, and lost.  If this had been written from a Scottish perspective, perhaps we’d have learnt a different history.

The places we’re planning on visiting include Edinburgh (of course!); Inverness; Elgin; Loch Ness (also, of course!); Fort William; Isle of Skye; Oban; Mull (ferries permitting); and finishing in Glasgow.  I’ll be writing about a few of these places during the tour.  Internet in hotels can be variable and expensive in Scotland, especially in some of the hotels I’ll be staying in with my group so I may end up blogging about these places after the tour.  Cell phone reception can also be pretty rough, especially in the Highlands and on some of the islands so if you’re planning a trip and expect to be in communication with home regularly, plan around the lack of cell phones and internet, just in case.

The winter season (from late September through to Easter) can also present issues in Scotland in terms of getting to all the places you want to see even if you are not travelling in a group and are prepared to hire a car.  For example, there are some castles which we were planning to visit which only open for the summer season – we’ve managed to persuade Dunvegan Castle (Isle of Skye) to open for us, but Lady Cawdor is apparently in residence at Cawdor Castle at the moment so they are not able to offer us a visit.  Also, some hotels in the remoter parts of Scotland close for the winter – in one case (Isle of Skye) the hotel is only opening for us out of season because our group is pretty much taking up the whole hotel for the night!  Ferry crossings to the islands also operate a more restrictive schedule in the winter presenting timing issues with regards to what we’ll get to see, but with some careful planning and being prepared to be flexible at short notice, you can make most visits work.  We’ve had to change quite a lot of visits and routings originally suggested by our itinerary but with a lot of advance planning it all now seems to work on paper at least, and we’ve got plenty of alternative visits for the places which are going to be closed… read it all here in the next couple of weeks!