Scotland is a country of dramatic landscapes, sublime beauty and haunting history. This new 15-day tour explores the northern nation’s rich heritage and culture, from castles to farmsteads, small loch-side houses and gardens at their summer best. The tour begins in the vibrant city of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and centre of arts and entertainment, and continues to the wild and magnificent Highlands, before surveying the castles of Inverness. Visits to the great lochs, the picturesque Isle of Skye, dramatic Orkney Islands and Pitlochry’s Balmoral Castle complete this spectacular journey.
Historic Holyrood Palace, once home to Mary, Queen of Scots
The finest gardens at their summer best: Broadwoodside, Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford
Great, historic estates: Floors Castle, Macbeth’s Cawdor Castle, Drummond Castle, the Clan Murray at Blair Castle
Contemporary gardens and carefully placed sculpture at Jupiter Artland
Iconic Scottish landscapes: tiny loch-side Eilean Donan Castle, coastal Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, the highland home of the Clan Murray at Blair Castle
Balmoral Castle, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s Scottish passion and retreat, and today a favourite property of the Royal Family
Days 1–4: Edinburgh and surrounds: the Royal Botanic Garden, Floors Castle, Abbotsford House and Broadwoodside.
Days 5–7: In Inverness, visit Drummond Castle, the gardens of Cawdor Castle, Inverewe and Durnamuck.
Days 8–9: From Kirkwall, discover the hauntingly beautiful landscape.
Days 10–12: Explore the Isle of Skye, including Dunvegan Castle and garden.
Days 13–14: Travel by ferry to reach Mallaig to board the Jacobite Steam Train. From Pitlochry, visit Balmoral.
The tour begins at our hotel in Edinburgh and ends at our hotel in Pitlochry, with a group transfer to Edinburgh on the final day of the tour. Emirates and Qatar offer direct flights into and out of Edinburgh. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Wednesday June 29: 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 canapes. Overnight Edinburgh (C)
Thursday June 30: Botanic Garden and The Royal Mile
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. After a break for lunch 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. Afterwards you will be free to explore Edinburgh at your own pace. You may choose to visit Edinburgh Castle or the many museums and galleries. In the evening, we gather at a fine local restaurant for dinner. Overnight Edinburgh (B, D)
Friday July 1: 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)
Saturday July 2: Broadwoodside & Jupiter Artland
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. We continue our drive to the contemporary sculpture garden, Jupiter Artland and enjoy lunch before commencing our tour. Founded in 2009 by philanthropist art collectors Robert and Nicky Wilson, Jupiter Artland has grown into one of Scotland’s most significant arts organisations. The award-winning gardens and galleries, set in 100 acres of meadow and woodlands, are home to 35 site-specific sculptures from artists including Anish Kapoor, Phyllida Barlow, Charles Jencks and Antony Gormley. Overnight Edinburgh (B, L)
Sunday July 3: 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 north to our next stop, Inverness. In the evening, we will celebrate our trip so far with a meal together in a local restaurant. Overnight Inverness (B, D)
Monday July 4: Cawdor Castle and Culloden
After a talk in the hotel we head 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 to the Culloden Battlefield to visit the site of the last bloody battle of the Jacobite Rising in 1746. Overnight Inverness (B)
Tuesday July 5: Inverewe and 2 Durnamuck
Our first stop today 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 Inverness (B)
Wednesday July 6: To Kirkwall
This morning we fly from Inverness to Kirkwall, capital of Orkney, and transfer to our hotel. The afternoon is at leisure to explore the vibrant Viking town, including the magnificent 12th-century Norse cathedral of St Magnus. You may also wish to visit the Orkney Museum which tells the story of Orkney, from the Stone Age, to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day. The Museum’s collection is of international importance and the archaeology collection, which includes artefacts and environmental material from all periods of the island’s prehistoric and early medieval past, is recognised as being nationally significant. In the evening we have dinner together in a local restaurant. Overnight Kirkwall (B, D)
Thursday July 7: Orkneys
After a talk in the hotel, we begin our full day exploration of Orkney and its long and colourful history. Orkney is blessed with the greatest concentration of archaeological sites in Scotland, spanning some 8,000 years of history, from the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, through to the Viking period which lasted well into the 15th century in Orkney, right up to 20th-century sites. On our tour we will also learn about the folklore which is integral to the mystical, almost dreamlike landscape of the Orkney Islands, with standing stones, ancient ruins, burial mounds and spectacular scenery all surrounded by the raging sea. Overnight Kirkwall (B)
Friday July 8: Eilean Donan
This morning we depart Kirkwall and take a group flight back to Inverness. In the afternoon we visit 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. We continue to our hotel in the picture postcard village of Portree. In the evening we have dinner together in a local restaurant. Overnight Portree (B, D)
Saturday July 9: Dunvegan Castle
After a talk in the hotel, we travel to 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. The later afternoon and evening are at leisure to relax or explore the village of Portree. Overnight Portree (B)
Sunday July 10: Skye
This morning we take a guided tour of the stunning and dramatic landscape of North Skye, including the rugged ridge of the Quiraing, the miniature grassy hills known as the Fairy Glen and the scenic rock formation of Old Man of Storr. Learn about the myths, legends and fairy folklore of this magical place. In the afternoon we visit the Talisker Whisky Distillery to tour the cellar and tasting. Overnight Portree (B, whiskey tasting)
Monday July 11: Of trains and boats
We farewell Portree and head to Pitlochry. We travel by ferry across the sea from Armadale to Mallaig to board The Jacobite Steam Train for the 41 mile, 2-hour trip to Fort William. 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 Fort William we visit Glencoe en route to Pitlochry and our hotel for the next two nights. Overnight Pitlochry (B)
Tuesday July 12: 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)
Wednesday July 13: 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)
A garden and art historian, formerly the Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney.
Michael Turner is a cultural and garden historian. He has a strong personal and academic interest in the art, history, literature, and mythology of the Classical past and how these have shaped the gardens and landscapes of Britain and Italy – from the Renaissance, to the Grand Tour, to the present day.
Michael holds a BA (1st class Honours with University Medal) from the University of Sydney. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London and in 2018, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society.
In the early 1990s, following a high-profile career in women’s fashion in London, Michael returned to Australia to pursue his long-held passion for all things Classical. In 2004, he was appointed Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum, home to the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern hemisphere. On his arrival, the museum had less than 10,000 visitors a year; when he left in 2016, annual attendance figures were in excess of 100,000. Michael, now a regular on radio and television, curated over twenty exhibitions on everything from Sigmund Freud’s collection of antiquities, to the Grand Tour, to the hugely successful series of Lego creations: the Colosseum, the Acropolis and Pompeii.
Michael returned to England the better to pursue his interest in garden history. He now lectures in London for the Garden Historians, is researching the collection of Roman sculpture at Hever Castle in Kent, and working on his next book on the most delightful and largest of all English gardens, the humble hedgerow.
Michael lives in Sussex from where he is ideally based to design and develop new garden tours for Academy Travel. To date, these include ‘Gardens of a Passionate Mind: The Great Gardens of Southern England’ (2016 and 2018); From Yorkshire to the Lake District: The Gardens of the North (2017 and 2019); ‘The Great Gardens of Italy’ (2018); ‘The Gardens and Castles of Scotland (2018); and ‘From Bath to Land’s End: The Gardens of the South West’ (2019).
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, taxis or public transport are 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
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
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?
Our 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
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