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Explore the coast and wilderness around Scotland’s spectacular Far North Rail Line, enjoyed at an unhurried pace.
Very few places, in our opinion, come close to matching the Scotland’s North Highlands’ blend of tranquillity, majesty and unforgettable scenery. One of our favourite ways to experience all this is via some of the world’s most scenic railway journeys along the fabled and meandering Far North Line. As ever, we’ve chosen appealing accommodation, fascinating things to do, a full day with an expert local guide plus bags of leisure time. Leave your car behind and choose a most relaxing way to see this exquisite part of the country.
For a more relaxed travel style, consider our other “Slowly…” holidays for inspiration.
Make your way to the Highland Capital – let us know if we can assist with train or flight connections. Inverness is a compact city, easily navigable on foot. We’ll provide you with plenty of recommendations for places to eat and strolls by the river and the Caledonian Canal. Ease yourself into a more relaxing holiday pace.
Your guest house in Inverness is set within a stone’s throw of the centre of town. Secluded behind mature hedges, with a colourful garden behind, the house features a relaxing guest lounge, where visitors are encouraged to take the weight off their feet, perhaps enjoying a drink before heading out to dinner. Unfussy, comfortable rooms are furnished in simple style, while your ebullient host serves home cooked breakfast in the bright dining room, sunlight flooding through the large bay windows.
Take a short taxi ride this morning to the shores of Loch Ness, the UK mainland’s largest body of fresh water, for a small group cruise aboard a beautifully equipped vessel. Informative audio guiding tells the story of this most mysterious loch, while the on-board sonar constantly sweeps the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of its most famous ‘resident’. The cruise meanders around the striking sight of Castle Urquhart, so make sure you have your camera at the ready!
At cruise’s end, you will return to Inverness for more time to explore.
Hop aboard the train from Inverness station to begin your meandering trip on the atmospheric Far North Line as it sweeps around the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths. Alight at the unmanned station at Tain, Here, you’ll be met by private driver and transferred to your accommodation for two nights in the pretty town of Royal Dornoch.
Steeped in Scottish history and fascinating legends, this hotel, based around a 15th century castle, is well established as a comfortable base in this attractive historic town.
It firmly stands its ground opposite the inspiring 12th century Cathedral. Rooms are divided between the old castle and a tasteful modern extension, which enjoys views to the garden.
You’re spoilt for choice in this corner of the Highlands. Learn of local history in the community-run museum, with stories panning from the persecuting of ‘witches’ to fame and celebrity – Madonna married at nearby Skibo Castle. Dander a while in the myriad local shops – from antiques and crafts through to whisky specialists. Take a long walk on the magnificent beach to blow away any lingering strands of urban life.
After breakfast, you will be transferred the short distance to Dunrobin Castle, the spectacular stately home overlooking the Dornoch Firth, one of Scotland’s oldest continuously inhabited houses, dating back to the 14th century, yet latterly re-styled to resemble a French chateau. Take your time to discover the rich, fascinating and at times turbulent history, during which the castle enjoyed spells as private fortress, military hospital and boys’ boarding school.
Once your visit is over, continue by train from Dunrobin’s dedicated halt and make your way north via some of the UK’s remotest stations. You’ll get up close with this pristine landscape in a couple of days’ time. On arrival in Thurso, your guest house is just around the corner from the station.
This imposing Victorian villa is set in extensive, beautifully kept gardens. Family owned for many years, the welcome here is as warm as they come, guests made to feel immediately at ease by the friendly proprietor, an enthusiast of all things Caithness.
Each of the four en-suite bedrooms features high ceilings and vast windows with views over the garden, as well as a wealth of touches included to make your stay as comfortable as possible. Indoors, there’s a games room with full size billiard table, perfect for whiling away a wet evening, while outside you’ll find a pitch-and-putt course and a summerhouse with decking, a fine spot for an afternoon tea or light refreshment.
A day to relax and enjoy your surroundings. Take a tour at the Wolfsburn Distillery for a taste of Scotland’s water of life. Hop aboard a local bus (Mon-Fri) if you’re motivated to tick off a photo at John O’Groats. Walk to the beach – another expansive strand – and perhaps glimpse the Orkney Islands hovering offshore in the distance. You could even choose to visit Orkney on a day trip for a small group tour of the Neolithic sites – do let us know if you wish to do this as it requires advance planning and booking.
Our chosen local guide will collect you this morning and take you on a great day out to experience this very special corner of Scotland. Some of the country’s most spectacular sights are within very short driving of Thurso, such as the UK mainland’s Northernmost point at Dunnet Head, the intimidating Duncansby Stacks and the scarcely believable Whaligoe Steps, leading all the way down to an ancient herring wharf.
Eventually you will head inland into the unique peatlands of the Flow Country, wending your way to mainland Britain’s remotest hotel, your base for the next two nights.
If you are seeking “remote”, then you’ve found it here. On some days, the only passing traffic will be the postie off to collect the mail from Kinbrace station. While out and about, you’re likely to see more sheep and deer than fellow humans. Keep eyes peeled on the vast skies for birds of prey too.
Your hotel has an ancient inn at its heart and is the kind of place that encourages sociability and the swapping of stories, whether in the company of fellow guests during mealtimes or over a dram or two in one of the cosy lounges with your genial hosts. There is no whiff of pretension here – just good old-fashioned hospitality, home cooked produce, the most relaxing ambience and – of course – tranquillity. Dinner is included on both nights here. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away.
By now you will have totally relaxed into the holiday mode and a slower pace of life so today round off your far north journey with car-free leisure time. Take a walk into the surrounding countryside, perhaps clambering a nearby hill if you still have energy to burn, or simply chill in the comfort of the lounge poring over the many books in the hotel’s collection.
After a delicious breakfast, your host will drive you to Kinbrace Station where you will board the train once more for the three hour zig-zag journey back to Inverness, sparking memories of your outbound trip and no doubt marvelling that this was but a week ago.
We would be happy to organise onward travel from Inverness if you wish.
Slowly Around the North Highlands by Train is part of our ever-growing collection of public transport holidays, enabling you to reach fascinating destinations without the need to drive. We feel strongly that true sustainability also means promoting and helping to maintain a way of life in areas where the economic benefit of tourism can make a genuine difference to the local community. That’s why we feature locally owned small accommodation and local guides on this holiday. We also include days fully at leisure when you can do as little or as much as you please.
This holiday includes time in Inverness, Dornoch, Thurso and the Flow Country.
£1275 per person in April & October, £1375 per person from May to September.
Prices based on two people sharing a double / twin room ensuite for eight nights bed and breakfast plus dinner included on two nights. The holiday includes a full day’s private guided tour/transfer from Thurso to the Flow Country, as well as a cruise on Loch Ness. All train travel as detailed is included.
Not included: Taxis in Inverness and entrance fee at Dunrobin Castle.
The single supplement for this holiday is £690, based on sole occupancy of double rooms and solo private tour/transfer.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions, recommended places to eat, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.
All itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.
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This holiday can be arranged from April to October.
Availability is individually checked for a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses and other independent businesses, so please bear with us and we will respond in 1-2 working days.
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All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.
We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.
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