Scotland in a blur

Craigneich farm in 2018
Craigneich farm in 2018

More and more of our family are making trips to Scotland, particularly to visit Magruder-related sites. First it was cousin Jennifer living in Edinburgh for a while; then Mother, Julie, and Laura visiting together; followed by four work trips for me so far including ones with Candace in 2018 and 2022; as well as trips by Rachel and Stephen, and Matthew and Anna. For family preparing future trips, here are a few notes and a sample itinerary. To create your own plan, it may help to have a specific and concrete proposal before you as a starting point.

This whiz-by tour envisions a trip of 2 weeks, in 4 legs or phases: (1) Edinburgh; (2) Family sites; (3) Iona; (4) Isle of Skye; with a possible side-trip to Ireland at the end. This is a hypothetical scenario offered to help jump-start your thinking for your own trip. Notes below suggest a few ways to compress or expand it as you may wish. You will no doubt come up with your own ideas as your planning progresses; no two families’ trips will be the same. Whatever you end up doing, I know you will enjoy your first trip to Scotland!

(1) Edinburgh

Arthur's Seat from our 2018 AirBnB
Arthur’s Seat from our 2018 AirBnB

2 nights. Book a BnB near the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh is the gathering place, and offers a couple days to shake off jet lag before driving. There’s far too much to see and do in Edinburgh itself, but since the metropolitan areas of Edinburgh and Glasgow are easily accessible for future trips, devote most of your time this first visit to Scotland’s more remote areas.


  • Day 0, catch overnight flight from US to Edinburgh.
  • Day 1, Arrive in Edinburgh in the early morning, so you have a “free” day to walk off jet lag and get your first introduction to the city. Upon arrival at the Edinburgh airport, take the train to Waverley Station. Find your BnB and drop off your bags early, if possible. Use the superb metro bus system as needed, although most sights will be within easy walking distance. Choose from Highlights below. Accommodation: Near Royal Mile, with early bag dropoff before check-in.
  • Day 2: Edinburgh — choose from Highlights below. Accommodation: Near Royal Mile.
  • Day 3: Return to the Edinburgh airport by train first thing, and pick up your rental car to drive west…



(2) Family sites

Mother and Dad with Craigneich farm photos
Mother and Dad with Craigneich farm photos

3 nights. Find a BnB in or near Dunblane, Crieff, or Comrie.

About Alexander Magruder II (Alexander the immigrant, our 17th-century American ancestor), Rachel writes:

“Born in 1610 in Belliclone, Inchaffray, Perthshire, Alexander was 41 by the time of the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651, where he was taken prisoner of war by Cromwell’s army. Soon after he was sent to America as an indentured servant on the English warship the Guinea, presumably stopping over at Barbados on the way. They arrived in Virginia in January 1652 and then sailed the short distance to Maryland. Although indentured servants were normally required to serve for six to eight years, Alexander seems to have been able to buy his freedom and acquire land in America that same year…. Alexander enjoyed great success in America, establishing a wealthy plantation in Calvert County, Maryland (now in Prince George’s County, MD) and owning as many as 3,750 acres of land. He did not forget his homeland. It is interesting to note the names Alexander gave to his land — “Alexandria,” “Anchovie Hills,” “Craigneich,” and “Dunblane”. While “Alexandria” seems to have been named after himself or his father, the other places all refer to places in Scotland that would have held special memories for him. The “Anchovie” in “Anchovie Hills” is likely derived from “Inchaffray,” where Alexander was born. “Craigneich” is clearly named after Craigneich in Glen Artney, which had long been his family’s home and is likely the place where he grew up. Finally, Alexander may have gone to school in the town of Dunblane, and his last home in Scotland may have been on the estates of the same name.”


  1. Day 3, continued, travel day: Pick up rental car from near Edinburgh airport. Drive to BnB near Dunblane. Might have time for Stirling Castle on the way. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
  2. Day 4. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
    • Dunblane cathedral and Dunblane museum, with the Leighton Library if you have time. Magruders were associated with Dunblane Cathedral, and some are buried on its grounds. At our family reunions each year we use the liturgy of the Dunblane Cathedral for our Sunday morning worship.
    • Glen Artney, Craigneich farm. The home of the family was in Glen Artney, Perthshire, a glen south of the village of Comrie. Craigneich farm was home to several generations of Magruders. Craigneich farm is where Alexander Magruder the immigrant likely grew up. He later named one of his estates in Maryland “Craigneich.” Mother, Julie and Laura, and us on our first trip, personally encountered Tom Paterson, who farmed Craigneich until recently. We have all taken photos next to the Craigneich sign on the property. West of Craigneich in Glen Artney is Meiggar, south of Comrie. Alexander’s uncle, John, became Chamberlain to Sir Patrick, 3rd Lord Drummond, and in 1620 he became the proprietor of the land of Meiggar, which he and his descendants farmed for almost two hundred years. The oldest indisputable record of the Magruder name is found in Comrie, a lovely town on the River Earn.
  3. Day 5. Accommodation: Near Dunblane.
    • Drummond castle and gardens. There is a long history of ties between the Magruders and the Drummonds (which is why we are considered a part of Clan Drummond), and it is likely some of the Magruders in our line came to Drummond Castle or served there. For example, Alexander the immigrant’s brother, James, became Chamberlain to the 4th Lord Drummond and Earl of Perth who resided at Drummond Castle. It is possible Alexander may have stayed there with his brother from time to time.
    • Belliclone farm (alternately, “Nether Bellyclone”) is the birthplace of Alexander the immigrant.
    • Madderty church (cf. post Old Churchyard).
    • Inchaffray Abbey. Alexander later named one of his estates Anchovie Hills after Inchaffray. Alexander’s father, Alexander I, was Chamberlain to Sir James Drummond, Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey and later 1st Lord Maddertie.
    • Innerpeffray chapel (cf. Rachel singing the doxology).


(3) Iona

Cross shadow falling on Columba's chapel, Iona Abbey 2018
Shadow of the Celtic Cross falling on the entrance
to Columba’s chapel, Iona Abbey, 2018

5 nights: 1 in Oban, 3 in Iona, 1 in Oban.

The story of Iona is the spiritual heart of Scottish history (and its connection with Ireland).

Book rooms at the Argyll Hotel on Iona (3 nights). Do this as early as possible in your planning process, and plan your entire trip around those dates. Book a BnB in Oban for the night preceding and following the Argyll Hotel (total of 2 nights). On the way to Oban from Dunblane, put on your blinders and save Glasgow and Loch Lomond for another trip, as stopping to enjoy them would require inserting additional days and you can see both of them together next time you return.


  1. Day 6, travel day: Drive from Dunblane to Oban.
    • Follow the highway up along the west shore of Loch Lomond, through Luss, then head west via Arrochar and the Rest and Be Thankful pass.
    • Make time to tour Inveraray Castle on the way. The village of Inveraray is on Loch Fyne. Inveraray Castle is the seat of Clan Campbell, the highland home of our Campbell ancestors. Alexander Magruder the immigrant’s parents were Alexander MacGruther I and Margaret Campbell. Margaret Campbell was a descendant of the Earls of Argyll, the chiefs of Clan Campbell. She was also descended from Robert the Bruce. Margaret’s grandfather Donald and probably her father Nicholas were born in the old Inveraray Castle. The present castle was built between 1745-1790 and remains the seat of the current Earl of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell.
    • Arrive in Oban and prepare for the ferry departure early the next morning. Make arrangements to leave your rental car in Oban. Tip: in the boot of your car, stash any luggage you won’t need on Iona. Accommodation: in Oban.
  2. Day 7, travel day: catch the early ferry from Oban to Mull, ride the bus across Mull, take another ferry to Iona. See Rick Steves Scotland for logistics. May arrive in time for evening service at the Abbey. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  3. Day 8, Staffa: ride the boat to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave and take the short hike to see and sit among the puffins. Book online beforehand with Staffa Tours; cf. Rick Steves Scotland for logistics. May return in time for the evening service at the Abbey. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  4. Day 9, explore Iona: tour the Nunnery and other ruins, explore the Abbey and Abbey museum, walk to the north beach, climb Dun I (pronounced Dun Eee). Make time for quiet contemplation and soak in the spirit of the place where St. Columba (521-597) founded his Abbey, and where the Book of Kells was made. Accommodation: Argyll Hotel on Iona.
  5. Day 10, travel day back to Oban. Pick up your car. Evening at a pub or hootenanny. Accommodation: in Oban.


  • Kerry and Candace scrapbook
  • Some of Stephen’s photos from Iona and Staffa are in his 2022 UK album on Flickr.
  • Watch Rick Steves, “The Scottish Islands and Highlands” (Season 1, Episode 5). PBS, Amazon Prime, Apple TV.
  • Watch Great Scotland Estates: stream the superb episode on Inveraray Castle. A low res version used to be on youTube; a high res version is available from streaming platforms including Apple TV and Paramount.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands, episode on Mull (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” Season 2, Episode 2). Amazon Prime.
  • Watch a documentary on Columba and the Book of Kells. I wish I could recommend a good one. Possible candidates are “Calum Cille: An Naomh Dàna, or Columba: The Bold Saint,” BBC. Review. (Is this available?) Another example is an older 20-minute documentary by Wolf Éirinn at youTube (Part 1, Part 2). Let me know if you find a really good documentary to recommend here!

(4) Isle of Skye

Rachel and Stephen in 2022, driving to the Isle of Skye

2 nights. Book a BnB in Portree, Staffin, or Uig.


  1. Day 11, travel day: Drive from Oban to the Isle of Skye. Driving to and around the Isle of Skye will afford you the most amazing scenery of the Scottish Highlands. Accommodation: Portree.
  2. Day 12, tour Skye: Day hike. Plan the day in Skye around the hike of your choice: perhaps the Old Man of Storr; the Quiraing; or the Neist Point Lighthouse. Accommodation: Portree.


  • Some of Stephen’s photos from Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, and the Isle of Skye are in his 2022 UK album on Flickr.
  • Laura’s blog (2016 trip): Onich to Inverlochy.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands episodes devoted to Skye (Season 1, Episode 6) and Northern Skye (Season 4, Episode 4).

(5) Return home

Flying home 2018
Flying home 2018

1 night, 2 days.


  1. Day 13, travel day: Drive back to Edinburgh (perhaps via a route going east from Glen Coe and the Three Sisters, through the Rannoch Moor, then Clifton, and Callender). Book a hotel near the Edinburgh airport. Turn in rental car.
  2. Day 14: Take shuttle from airport hotel to airport. Fly home — or to Ireland for a couple-day side-trip.

Different timeframe? Not 2 weeks?


What if you must shave time off of the above itinerary to accommodate a shorter trip? The longer the trip the better, but as Rick Steves says, “expect to return!”

Here is what I would recommend saving for another time, in order:

  1. Omit Day 2 in Edinburgh. With only one day, prioritize Arthur’s Seat and the Royal Mile.
  2. Omit Day 5. Compress family sites visit, omitting Innerpeffray Chapel, Madderty Church, Belliclone farm, and Stirling Castle. Must see: Craigneich farm (get a photo next to the Craigneich sign😊), Dunblane Cathedral, Drummond Castle gardens.
  3. Omit Day 9. Compress activities on Iona.
  4. Omit Days 11-12, Isle of Skye. The suggested itinerary on Skye is already compressed, so just omit it entirely if you have to and save it for another trip. Drive back to Edinburgh from Oban instead, taking a scenic route (perhaps through Glen Coe, Clifton, and Callender) without retracing your route west.

Omitting all of these shaves off 5 days. Ouch!


If you have time to spare, add an additional day at Skye and then another day in Edinburgh. If you have a third day to add, stay overnight at Loch Lomond (e.g., Balmaha or Drymen) and walk the Highland Boundary Fault trail along the eastern shore (4 km, 2-3 hours).

Or add a side-trip to Ireland. With a few days in Ireland you might see the Book of Kells in the library of Trinity College (Dublin); the Giant’s Causeway in northern Ireland (continuous geologically and associated mythologically with Fingal’s cave on Staffa); sites related to James Joyce (Dublin) or C. S. Lewis (Belfast); and, time-permitting, venture further west to drive the Ring of Kerry. The Book of Kells connects Ireland to Scotland via Iona more profoundly than the Giant’s Causeway connects under the sea to Fingal’s cave.

Three weeks would be ideal. Expect to return!

Getting around Scotland

Scotland and Wyoming comparison, Mapfight

Getting around Scotland is not like driving the vast expanses of the American west. Two Scotlands fit roughly side-by-side inside the state of Wyoming. I think of Scotland as reminiscent of the varied and glacial-carved landscapes of Wyoming, only Scotland is strikingly verdant and abundantly rainy. And instead of being land-locked like Wyoming, Scotland is on an island where the sea seems ever-present. Fish n’chips, and Cullen skink soup… yum! And instead of having more cows than people, like Wyoming, Scotland has about 5.5 million people, while the population of Wyoming is about 5.5 hundred thousand. But other than that, they’re similar. 😂 Well, ok. BTW, the entire UK occupies about the same area in square miles as Wyoming.

Renting a car is expensive, and you may feel uncomfortable with what you’ve heard about driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Do you really need one? And is it worth the investment?

Scotland is well-served by an excellent network of buses and trains, and it is possible to build an itinerary around them. Highly recommended, in fact, if you stay mostly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with only a quick sidetrip to Inverness or London. You could do something like this itinerary with trains to Dunblane and Oban. It would be more complex to work out timetables for reaching Skye, involving a combination of trains and buses to Portree. Relying upon buses and trains to go out to Oban or Portree would likely add a day or two here and there to the itinerary. Renting a car makes it simpler to visit rural family sites like Glen Artney, the Craigneich farm, Madderty Church, and Belliclone farm, but you might explore working out arrangements to hire a driver from Dunblane.

Road signs
Road signs

As for driving on the left side of the road, you’ll get used to it with just a little practice and a nascent sense of humor. Plan your route ahead of time. Tip: Bake in a few practice turns in the streets and parking lots around the Edinburgh airport, before heading out on the motorway to Dunblane. There is no need to fear driving these routes. The roadways required by this itinerary are superb by UK standards. The only ones that will be narrow, with lay-bys, are on Mull (bus recommended there), and near Craigneich Farm, Madderty, and Innerpeffray Chapel. There’s no need to drive in Edinburgh; pick up your car when leaving town. This itinerary is planned with the aim of keeping it drivable by ordinary mortals — that is, by Americans accustomed to wide lanes with shoulders. Even roundabouts are not as common on these roads as in many places in the UK. Rick Steves’ guidebook will introduce you to the unusual road signs.

Road signs
“Stop on Red” translated into Scottish:
“When Stop Sign Shows Wait Here”

Manual transmissions are common in the UK, including for rental cars. I recommend paying extra for an automatic transmission if you can afford it. Not having to switch gears with your left hand on the gearshift is one less distraction to worry about (not the right hand as with American manual transmissions). An automatic will give you a greater comfort level with driving so you can focus on the other things, like navigating intersections. Another factor that will increase your comfort level is to have a navigator in the passenger seat following along on a printed map, since intersections are not always clearly marked (for example, they may be labeled according to the next small towns on the route, or there may be multiple exits off a roundabout).

AA Road Map Britain 9: Scotland AA Large Scale Britain Road Atlas Ordnance Survey map 47
Maps: showing more detail, left to right

What about maps? Count on GPS, but know that sometimes your signal will fail, so a paper map is essential. Even with GPS, it’s more helpful than you might expect. A folding roadmap (left) is particularly useful for planning your routes when you want to see a connected, overall, bird’s-eye view. I recommend AA Road Map Britain 9: Scotland. Get a large format travel atlas like the AA Large Scale Britain Road Atlas (middle; purchase when you get there if it’s not available in the US). It is more detailed and less hassle in the car than a folding roadmap (except when you’re traversing the margins of pages). Finally, Ordnance Survey maps (OS maps) show the fine detail of an area, including rural roads, walking paths, even down to ancient ruins and standing stones (purchase OS map 47 from the Book Depository). Download a digital version of any purchased OS map to your iPad or tablet. That large iPad screen is also handy for GPS.

Speaking of cell phones and tablets, they really come in handy on a trip, and not just for navigation. If you’re thinking of upgrading your phone, do it before the trip to take advantage of the always-improving camera features, complete with GPS tagging. Check with your cellular company in advance about international plans; some, like T-Mobile, give you coverage in the UK for no extra charge. But also check the coverage maps, and don’t expect any cellular coverage at all in remote places like Iona.

Travel tips

Clothespins and hangers
Clothespins and hangers

Packing and luggage:

  • Pack everything in a single medium-size suitcase, no more than you want to carry yourself for the equivalent of several city blocks. If using trains or buses, space for carry-on luggage will be limited. The “boots” of UK cars are typically smaller than the trunks of American cars. Unless you want to spend your travel hours staring at your suitcase in your lap instead of watching the amazing scenery roll past, if more than two people are riding in a single car, get measurements of the rental car’s boot before you arrive to make sure all the luggage will fit. Consider renting a “People Carrier” class vehicle, such as a Ford Tourneo (book in advance to ensure availability).
  • Leave room in your luggage for shopping items you’ll bring back, or ship them directly home from the stores where they are purchased.
  • Tip: Take a light-weight collapsible day-pack in your suitcase to keep with you for walking about. Best if you can find one that’s waterproof, with sealed seams and covered zippers. Might double as a carry-on.
  • Here’s our packing list (PDF).

Dress for the weather: Weather is part of the visit! Embrace the rain and wind and enjoy it (even when the rain is falling sideways). The most important travel shopping is done before you go: You’ll need a waterproof rain jacket (with waterproof hat or hood), and waterproof hiking boots (even in Edinburgh when it is raining). This trip is what Gore-Tex and other waterproof gear is made for. Dress in layers — e.g., layer a puff jacket underneath the rain jacket. Thermal underwear comes in handy, too.

Laundry: Consider washing clothes in the shower or bathtub every 3-4 days so you can take fewer changes and avoid having to do large loads on a designated laundry day. Bring clothespins, and hangers or clothesline, to hang washed clothes up to dry in your BnB overnight — even if you build-in laundry days, these will be convenient to have on hand after any rainy day. For the above itinerary, consider washing clothes at the BnB in Oban (Days 6 and 10). When choosing the Oban BnB, look for one that has a washing machine, that would allow you to park your car in between stays, and that has easy access to the ferry loading dock.

Consider joining the National Trust of Scotland and/or Historic Scotland. Membership provides free admission to various sites like Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle (HS) and supports the upkeep of these places, including Iona and Staffa (NTS). The more places you visit, the more you will save on admission fees and time waiting in line for tickets.

Other resources

  • Laura’s blog: chronicles Laura’s 2016 trip with Julie, Mom, and Jennifer. Great stories, much helpful info, and many good links.
  • Kerry and Candace 2018 scrapbook (PDF); includes the family pages linked to above as well as the rest of that trip. Contains photos, maps, captions, and more for our first trip.
  • Rachel and Stephen’s 2022 itinerary (PDF). Some of Stephen’s photos from their 2022 trip are in his UK album on Flickr. See also Rachel’s family history essay.
  • Magruder’s Landing: Tons of information about Alexander Magruder the immigrant and others, with abundant links, maps, directions, and a bibliography of sources.
  • I’m a huge fan of Rick Steves. See the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook and website. Rick Steves’ “Travel Europe” episodes stream from Amazon Prime, PBS, Apple TV, etc. Watch “Edinburgh” (Season 4, Episode 3); “Islands and Highlands” (Season 1, Episode 5); and the three “Travel Skills” episodes from Season 7.
  • Watch Paul Murton, Grand Tours of Scotland’s Lochs, and Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands. These two superb travel shows are available on Amazon Prime. Watch the “Islands” episodes devoted to Skye (Season 1, Episode 6), Northern Skye (Season 4, Episode 4), and Mull (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” Season 2, Episode 2), among others. If you like, watch the “Lochs” episode devoted to Loch Etive and the Falls of Lora (Season 1, Episode 1), among others.

Compare the itinerary outlined above in this post with the itineraries in Laura’s blog, with what Rachel and Stephen did, and with our 2018 first trip, and you’ll have four different scenarios to stimulate your thinking. There’s no one right way to see Scotland! Expect to return.

Magruder coat of arms, drawn by Rachel, patch by James
Magruder coat of arms, drawn by Rachel, patch by James

Dear family: Imagine you’re having a conversation with some cousins who are planning their first trip to Scotland. If you’ve been there already, what advice would you offer? What was your experience like? What are your travel tips? If you were to do it again for the first time, given what you’ve learned, how would you tweak the above itinerary — or would you adopt a different approach altogether? Respond in the comments.

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