Scotland is one of the oldest and best-loved countries in the world. Defined by its geological past, it is a country of dramatic landscapes, sublime beauty and haunting history. From the sophistication of Edinburgh, to the great lochs, the wild and magnificent Highlands, and on to the mystical isles of the West Coast, this new 15-day tour visits some of the most beautiful gardens and castles in this enchanted land.
Scotland uses the word castle as the French use chateau to often mean a large, sometimes fortified country house. It is a land therefore of many castles, and we shall be visiting the very best of them. It is the individual men and women (like Sir Walter Scott), the clans, and families associated with these castles that give us the all-important background colour and context for many of the gardens we will be visiting.
Not all of the gardens we visit are associated with castles, however, as our travels take us to farmsteads, small loch-side houses, and even a house referred to by its owner as a Garden Temple. And of course, as well as the gardens, we shall be exploring the landscape in which they’re set and enjoying Scotland’s rich heritage and culture to the full.
The history of the Scottish garden, as rich as the history of the country itself, spanning the past 500 years
Gardens in their full mid-summer glory
A diverse nation with dynamic cities and castles steeped in tradition, and islands shrouded in the mists of legend
On Beauty and the Sublime: the natural splendour of the Scottish landscape, from delicate medieval walled and formal gardens, to the mountain wilderness of the National Parks
Edinburgh, the Royal Mile from the Castle to the Palace of Holyrood
Private tours with owners and head gardeners of some of Scotland’s greatest gardens
Abbotsford, the house and garden of Sir Walter Scott
A private and personal visit to meet the owners of Broadwoodside, Scotland’s most influential new garden
Balmoral Castle, the summer retreat of Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family
A private tour of Portree and of the Isle of Skye
Travelling from Skye to Fort William on the Jacobite steam train, said to be ‘the greatest railway journey in the world’
Days 1–5: Explore the city of Edinburgh including the Royal Botanic Garden and the Royal Mile. Day trips to Floors Castle, Abbotsford, Little Sparta and Broadwoodside.
Days 6–8: Travel into the Highlands to Loch Lomond, via Drummond Castle. Day trips to Inveraray Castle, The Hills House and Mount Stuart on Bute.
Days 9-11: Take the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig, then on to the Isle of Skye by ferry. Visit Dunvegan Castle, the Museum of the Isles at Armadale Castle, Inverewe and 2 Durnamuck.
Days 12–15: Visit Eilean Donan and Cawdor Castle on the way to Pitlochry. Day trips to Glamis Castle, Edzell Castle, Blair Castle and Balmoral Castle. The tour ends with a transfer to Edinburgh airport.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Etihad Airways fly into and out of Edinburgh at times that coincide with the tour. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday July 2: Arrival
If you have booked your air travel through Academy Travel we will organise a transfer from Edinburgh airport to our hotel. Please note that hotel rooms may not be available until early afternoon. In the early evening we gather in the hotel for welcome drinks and dinner. Overnight Edinburgh (D)
Tuesday July 3: Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Garden
Today we begin to explore Scotland’s historic capital. Following a talk, we take a guided tour of the Royal Botanic Garden. Relocated in the 1820s at the time of the creation of the city’s New Town, ‘The Botanics’ was originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden. As such, it is, after Oxford, the second oldest botanic garden in Britain. Its Palm House, built in 1858, is the tallest in Britain. The afternoon is free to relax and explore the sites and shops of Edinburgh. In the evening, we gather at a local restaurant for dinner. Overnight Edinburgh (B, D)
Wednesday July 4: Floors Castle and Abbotsford
Today we head south into the rich countryside of the Scottish Borders and to the banks of the beautiful River Tweed. First stop is Floors Castle, the largest inhabited ‘castle’ in Scotland and home since the 1720s to the Dukes of Roxburgh. After a tour of the Castle, we walk through the grounds to the large and colourful Victorian walled garden – part potager, part herbaceous borders – beautifully complimented by the new Millennium Garden with its intricate parterre and architectural fruit trees. In the afternoon we travel to Abbotsford, the iconic Scottish Baronial-style house created by Sir Walter Scott in the 1820s. Together with his near contemporary Robert Burns, Scott is the most famous of all Scottish writers, and Abbotsford, still furnished exactly as he left it, is a testament to his creation of our romantic notion of Scottish identity. We take a guided tour of the house, before exploring the formal garden designed by Scott as a series of three interlocking ‘rooms’. Overnight Edinburgh (B)
Thursday July 5: Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh
This morning we continue our exploration of Edinburgh, beginning with a walking tour of the Royal Mile before arriving at Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Rebuilt following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Palace incorporates a 16th century tower associated with Mary Queen of Scots. We will discover the fascinating history of the gardens from the 14th century to the present day including the site of the ancient menagerie, the rare Wentworth elm trees, the 17th century sundial and the Jubilee Border. We will also see how the grounds are used today for the Queen’s annual Garden Party. Following refreshments in the café, we will be free to explore the Historic and State Apartments at leisure with an audio tour. The afternoon will be free to further explore the sites of Edinburgh; the Castle and the many museums and galleries for example. Overnight Edinburgh (B)
Friday July 6: Broadwoodside and Little Sparta
An exciting day of contemporary, and very idiosyncratic, private gardens awaits us. First port of call, an hour east of Edinburgh, is Broadwoodside. This elegant garden has been created, from scratch in 2000, in and around a once derelict 17th century farmhouse by its owners Robert and Anna Dalrymple, who will welcome us. Broadwoodside is an eye-catching, heady mix of classic herbaceous and landscape planting intermixed with the most whimsical of contemporary and classical art. After lunch at a local pub, we drive to the intriguingly named Little Sparta. This Arcadian landscape garden in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh was created by the artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay between 1966 and his death in 2006. Spread throughout the 5-acre garden are over 275 artworks: concrete poetry in sculptural form, polemic, and philosophical aphorisms, together with sculptures and two temples. Overnight Edinburgh (B, L)
Saturday July 7: Drummond Castle
Today we bid farewell to Edinburgh and head to Drummond Castle, home to one of the finest formal gardens in Europe. Parts of the castle, which was sacked by Oliver Cromwell in 1653, date back to the 15th century. Today however is not about a castle, but about its garden. First laid out in the 1630s, the gardens, of which we will have a private guided tour, were redesigned and terraced in the 1830s, before being given their final shape in the 1950s by Nancy Astor, Britain’s first female MP. The result we see today is a courtly 17th century Scottish Renaissance garden. Leaving Drummond, we drive east to our next stop, Loch Lomond. In the evening, we will celebrate our trip so far with a meal together in the hotel. Overnight Loch Lomond (B, D)
Sunday July 8: Inveraray Castle via Glencoe
Today we drive along the shores of Loch Lomond, up and over the awe-inspiring pass of Glencoe, to Loch Fyne, Scotland’s largest sea loch, and to the small village of Inveraray. After lunch in one of its historic pubs, we walk the short distance along the loch shore to the castle. Built in the 18th century in the Gothic Revival style, Inveraray Castle is the family home of Torquhil Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll and chief of Clan Campbell. The unusual grey-green stone of the exterior, the iconic, fairy-tale, witches’ hat towers, and the extraordinary ironwork entrance hardly prepare you for the exquisite 18th century interiors that survive intact. During our private guided tour of the castle, we will learn much about the family’s dramatic histories, including their part in the infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe. Following this, we wander at will through the delightful and perfectly formed garden complete with its 18th century sculptures of Perseus and Orpheus. Overnight Loch Lomond (B, L)
Monday July 9: The Hill House and Mount Stuart
Nothing can prepare you for the dramatic contrast in the style of today’s two destinations. We begin at The Hill House overlooking the Forth of Clyde. This family home was designed for Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie by the great Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the early 1900s, and is considered his domestic masterpiece. Next we follow the famous Clyde past the once industrial Port of Glasgow to Wemyss where we board a ferry to cross to the Isle of Bute and to the astonishing Mount Stuart, described in 1900 as ‘one of the most magnificent specimens of domestic architecture in existence’. Built in the 1870s for the Marques of Bute, a direct descendent of the Stuart kings of Scotland and England, it is an unforgettable monument to the Victorian Gothic, a style that unfortunately fell dramatically out of favour following WWI. Overnight Loch Lomond (B)
Tuesday July 10: Of trains and boats
We farewell Loch Lomond and head to Skye. Our coach first drops us at Fort William to board The Jacobite Steam Train for the 41 mile, 2-hour trip to Mallaig. Described as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, it runs through an area of natural and dramatic beauty along the route immortalised in the Harry Potter films as the journey to Hogwarts. It’s a journey of extremes, starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, and finishing by the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. From Mallaig we take the ferry across the sea to Skye and our hotel for the next three nights. Overnight Skye (B, D)
Wednesday July 11: Dunvegan Castle, Armadale Castle
Heading north past the sublimely stunning Black Cuillin, the mountain range that defines the island, our first stop is Dunvegan Castle, seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod whose family have occupied the castle for over 800 years. Its 5 acres of formal gardens, first created in the 18th century, are, in stark contrast to the barren moors and mountains of Skye, a hidden oasis of eclectic plants, woodland glades, waterfalls and streams flowing out into the sea. We stop for lunch in the picture postcard village of Portree, before driving south to Armadale Castle and the Museum of the Isles, the spiritual home of Clan Donald. Following a tour of the gardens, a floral paradise made possible by their sheltered aspect and the mild climate of the Gulf Stream sea-current, we take time to explore the museum. Overnight Skye (B)
Thursday July 12: Inverewe and 2 Durnamuck
Today, we drive off Skye over the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, and head north into the dramatic landscape of Wester Ross and the Highlands. Our first stop is the garden of Inverewe, created in the 1860s by the hunting, shooting and fishing Osgood MacKenzie. The gardens and their setting on the shores of Loch Ewe are magnificent, from the exquisitely planted vegetable and herbaceous garden to the new South African garden. This latter was created by Will Soos and Sue Pomeroy, owners of our second garden of the day, some 20 miles north, 2 Durnamuck. This wonderful new garden, in part inspired by the plants of South Africa, smoulders with the bold colour of plants rarely seen this far north let alone with a breath-taking backdrop of loch and mountain scenery. Overnight Skye (B)
Friday July 13: Eilean Donan and Cawdor Castle
Leaving the island of Skye our first stop is one of the most stunning locations in Scotland, the tiny castle of Eilean Donan perched on its rocky island outcrop. Rich in history, it can even boast a Spanish garrison (of forty) during the Jacobite uprising of 1719. After touring the castle, we drive up the Great Glen along the shores of Loch Ness towards Inverness and on to Cawdor Castle. This is the most whimsical of castles and gardens, a reflection of its chatelaine, the Dowager Countess of Cawdor. From her delightfully quirky room details to the modern sculpture throughout the beautifully planted and kept gardens, there is a surprise around every corner. We then drive south through the majestic Cairngorms to Pitlochry and our hotel. Overnight Pitlochry (B, D)
Saturday July 14: Glamis Castle and Edzell Castle
Following a talk, we take our coach to Glamis, a striking architectural treasure, home to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and beloved childhood home of the Queen Mother. After a tour of the castle, we explore the gardens, especially the Walled and Italian Gardens, the latter laid out in 1910 by Countess Cecilia, the Queen Mother’s mother. Afterwards we drive to the nearby ruined 16th century Edzell Castle to see its petite and extraordinary early 17th century Renaissance walled garden, the walls of which incorporate intricate relief carvings, unique in Scotland, depicting the Planetary deities, the liberal arts and the cardinal virtues. The garden was replanted in the 1930s, and is considered to have links to esoteric traditions, including Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. Overnight Pitlochry (B)
Sunday July 15: Blair Castle and Balmoral Castle
And so to our final day. We begin at Blair Castle, seat of the Atholl family for over seven centuries. Home to politicians, soldiers, agriculturalists and entrepreneurs, the family history is brought to life against a backdrop of fine 18th century interiors and Scottish baronial architecture. Following a private tour, we head outside to explore the gardens and woods which include some of Scotland’s finest specimen trees. The highlight is the now fully restored 18th century Hercules Walled Garden, so called for the copy of the Farnese Hercules that stands naked guard over it. We then drive into the Cairngorms for a fitting finale to our tour of Scotland. Balmoral Castle, on the banks of the River Dee, has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852. The castle as you see it today was rebuilt from new in the 1850s, and while it remains largely the same as it was in Queen Victoria’s reign, the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales have followed the initiative of Prince Albert in making improvements to the estate. We shall tour the grounds and gardens and access the Castle’s largest room, the ballroom. In the evening, we will gather for our farewell dinner. Overnight Pitlochry (B, D)
Monday July 16: Departure
This morning there is a group transfer to Edinburgh Airport. Depending on group members’ travel plans, there may also be transfers to the centre of Edinburgh. (B)
Michael Turner is a garden and art historian. The former Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney (2005-2016).
Michael now lives in Sussex from where he writes and lectures on garden history as well as creating garden tours. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London and a member of The English Gardens Trust. When in Australia, Michael appeared regularly on television, radio, and in the press. He has been a featured guest on the ABC’s In Conversation with Richard Fidler and on Classic FM’s Midday with Margaret Throsby talking about the 18th century English landscape architect Capability Brown.
Hotels have been selected principally for their central location. All hotels are a comfortable four-star standard, with the exception of the Cameron House in Loch Lomond which is a five- star luxury hotel.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.