Splendors of Scotland: A Family Adventure
Explore the wonders and history of the Scottish Highlands with your children or grandchildren on this tour offering up-close encounters with nature, visits to battlefields, and more.
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Welcome to Scotland and the fabled landscapes of the Highlands. Discover enchanted glens, remote bays, windswept battlefields, ancient forests, and heather-clad hills during this unparalleled family adventure. Enjoy up-close encounters with nature as you spy on beavers and pine martens from a nighttime hide, and make a pre-dawn run to view otters fishing for breakfast. Climb to the top of a mountain for a look across the Atlantic, take a thrilling boat ride to watch dolphins at play in the North Sea, and stand at the edge of Loch Ness to search for a legend. Learn how to build your own sleeping shelter, how to identify what an owl ate for dinner, and how patience and dedication can help return a wildlife species to its wilderness home—one magnificent animal at a time. Your base of exploration for the week is the House of Aigas, the Victorian country estate of the Lister-Kaye family who warmly welcome you to their home. A team of highly knowledgeable and friendly Aigas Rangers will introduce you and your children to the natural, historic, and cultural wonders of the Highlands from your first exciting day in Edinburgh to the stories and music of the farewell Ceilidh.
Days 1 & 2 — U.S., Edinburgh, Scotland
Upon your morning arrival in Edinburgh, your family will be met and assisted with the transfer to your hotel, located near the center of town.
Enjoy lunch at the hotel then set off for a discovery tour of this World Heritage Site city. Explore the labyrinthine streets of Old Town and drive along the legendary Royal Mile, passing such highlights as the Palace of Holyrood, home to Scottish kings and queens since the 16th century. During a walking tour of Edinburgh Castle, view the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles and the 13th century Stone of Destiny, and take in the splendid views of the city from its high vantage point. In the quieter New Town admire the gracious parks and elegant Georgian architecture. After a dinner of Scottish specialties, set out on foot to discover Edinburgh by night—beware of ghostly encounters in the dark! Edinburgh King James Thistle Hotel (L,D)
Day 3 – Edinburgh to Aigas Field Centre
Discover the iconic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands today, passing lochs, glens, battlefields, and ancient ruins on your way to Aigas Field Centre. Stop to view the remarkable single-span Forth Rail Bridge, opened in 1892. Then, cross the Boundary Line, an east-west fault that geologically separated the Highlands and Central Lowlands approximately 400 million years ago. Enjoy lunch in charming Pitlochry.
Continue through Cairngorms National Park to explore one of Scotland’s best-preserved sites from the turbulent times of the Jacobite Rising, a Highlander rebellion against the exile of King James II from Great Britain’s throne. The fortifications of Ruthven Barracks were built between 1715 and 1734 by the British Parliament to keep the Highlands from falling under Jacobite control. Kids will love the chance to follow their curiosity through the stone ruins of the troops’ and officers’ quarters.
Check into your private timber lodge upon arrival at the House of Aigas, and enjoy dinner in the great Baronial hall, warmed by a crackling log fire and surrounded by portraits of the estate owners’ family, the Lister-Kayes. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 4 – Aigas Field Centre
Get acquainted with the environment of Aigas, purchased and restored as the family estate by renowned naturalist-author, Sir John Lister-Kaye. Its wide variety of habitats is home to nearly 100 bird species, along with beavers, badgers, deer, and rare pine martens. Learn about the center’s Beaver Demonstration Project and walk to the nearby loch to witness the remarkable lodge and dam constructions created by thriving beaver families. Enjoy lunch at the estate.
This afternoon hike through scenic Glen Strathfarrar, its moors and woodlands back-dropped by rugged 3,000-foot mountains. View the nest site of golden eagles and watch for the majestic birds soaring overhead. Return to the lodge for dinner, then follow the Aigas Rangers into the night for a thrilling wildlife experience. Climb into a pine marten hide and delight in the illuminated antics of the chatty martens as they search for tasty tidbits at close range. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 5 – The Highlands
Walk the windswept trails across Culloden Battlefield this morning, and step back to April 16, 1746 and the final confrontation between the Highland Jacobite forces and British crown loyalists. The infamous battle lasted just one hour and left more than 1,200 men dead; the defeated Jacobites were driven off the field and never rose to fight again. Family members of all ages are invited to participate in an exciting battle reenactment.
After lunch visit the Clava Cairns, three mysterious and remarkably preserved Bronze Age burial chambers. Crawl inside to explore the narrow passages... if you dare! Continue to Cawdor Castle, a 14th century fairytale-like fortress that remains a family home to this day. Wander among the lovely interior, then enjoy the delight of your children as they try to find their way out of a boxwood maze. After dinner at the House of Aigas, families are invited to attend environmental workshops that may include an exciting bat walk with electronic bat detectors, or a hands-on lesson in owl pellet identification. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 6 – The Central Highlands
Swift silver rivers thread the Central Highlands, a glaciated landscape of majestic mountains and heather-covered glens. Red squirrels, mountain hare, Scottish wildcats, and feral goats roam beneath wide-open skies here. With long centuries of turbulent history left to “once upon a time,” the proud Gaelic culture prevails, celebrated in colorful local festivals. Drive west this morning, stopping to look for nesting black-throated divers, and explore Corrieshalloch Gorge, a spectacular 200-foot-deep box canyon. Continue to the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve to Stac Pollaidh Mountain, locally known as Stack Polly, and climb its 2,007-foot-high peak for spectacular views of lochs, valleys, and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean.
After descending the mountain, continue to the shores of Lochbroom and the picturesque fishing village of Ullapool to enjoy time at leisure and fish and chips at a favorite local spot. Return to the House of Aigas for a late dinner. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 7 – Otter Expedition & Aigas Field Centre
In Gaelic the otters of Scotland are called beaste dubh, “black beast.” Mostly solitary by nature, they live near rivers, lochs, and the sea, feeding on the aquatic bounty. Start your day on an exciting pre-dawn family adventure to watch for the animals feeding in their natural habitat. After breakfast back at the House of Aigas, kids join the Aigas Rangers in the estate forest for fun, hands-on educational activities in basic survival skills, including how to build a sleeping shelter and how to build and manage a campfire. Meanwhile, parents are free to explore the property or visit the nearby village of Beauly.
After lunch at the House of Aigas, kids enjoy another round of nature workshops, which may include a frog hunt to learn about habitat and life cycles of the local amphibians, and team games and challenges with a focus on wildlife and environment. This evening, children are invited to a campout, complete with a campfire, pot of stew, songs, and ghost stories. Those who wish can spend the night in the shelters they built this morning. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 8 – The Black Isle
The peninsula of the Black Isle is surrounded by the channels and coastal inlets of the North Sea. On the south side lies the estuary of the Moray Firth, a favorite hangout and feeding ground of the area’s 250 resident bottlenose dolphins, the most northerly colony in the world. Drive to Black Isle this morning and embark on an exhilarating marine adventure aboard a rigid inflatable motorboat. Keep your eyes peeled for the dolphins and the lucky chance to watch them breach clear out of the water. Many other mammal species inhabit these nutrient-rich waters too, including harbor porpoises, grey seals, and minke whales. Overhead, gannets, guillemots, and red kites wheel and call.
After lunch in the historic village of Cromarty, take a walk through the serene woodlands of the Fairy Glen Nature Reserve to an enchanted glen crowned by a tumbling waterfall. If weather permits, family members pitch in to create a sand-sculpted masterpiece on the beautiful sands of Rosemarkie. Return to the House of Aigas for dinner and a traditional Ceilidh, complete with tale telling, songs, and dancing. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 9 – Glen Affric & Loch Ness
Take a family hike in Glen Affric this morning and discover its stunning heather-clad hills, waterfalls, and shimmering lochs. In the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest, where trees have grown to a lofty 60 feet over a 300-year lifespan, keep a lookout for sika, roe, and red deer along with red squirrels, pine martens, and weasels.
Enjoy a picnic lunch then drive along the shores of Loch Ness to the spectacular fortress ruins of Urquhart Castle. The first battles of the Wars of Scottish Independence took place here in 1296, and continued for the next 500 years as the Highland clans fought the British crown. Take in the panoramic views of Loch Ness below, which stretches north-south for 22 miles and reaches a mysterious depth of 754 feet. Intrigued by the legends of “Nessie,” kids will want to scan the magical loch for themselves, with hopes of confirming the existence of the elusive resident. Return to the House of Aigas for your final dinner and the evening at leisure. House of Aigas (B,L,D)
Day 10 – Aigas Field Centre to Edinburgh
Depart the House of Aigas after breakfast and transfer to your airport hotel with the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure. Hilton Edinburgh Airport Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 11 – Edinburgh, U.S.
Depart on your flight homeward. (B)