Craigievar Tour | Jacobite Tour | Mary Queen of Scots Tour | Outlander Tour

The Craigievar Tour

Day 1.  The tour will start in Aberdeen. Our first visit is to Drum Castle. An excellent example of how a castle evolved, through the ages, from an original defensive tower, into a comfortable country home. Drum has it all, from its medieval tower, through to the Jacobean mansion and the more recent Victorian additions. The real joy of a visit to Drum Castle is discovering how the work of these three very different eras, interact to produce a truly fascinating building.

In the afternoon we head north to Fyvie Castle, one of the finest castles in Scotland. The charms of Fyvie range from its 13th-century origins to its stunning Edwardian interiors. The castle contains a superb collection of arms, armour and paintings, including works by Raeburn and Gainsborough. It‘s grandeur more typical of a palace than a castle.

Day 2. We start the day with the enchanting Craigievar Castle. This was my family’s ancestral home, and is considered one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust of Scotland. The castle was spared the extensions built on to many other similar properties, by the Edwardians and Victorians, and therefore is structurally unaltered since its completion in the 1620s.

Then we cross the Cabrach, the most desolate moor in the North East, to the ruins of Balvenie Castle, built by the powerful Comyn family, Earls of Buchan, and subsequently owned by the Black Douglases, it finally became the home of The Earls of Atholl. The significance of Balvenie was its strategic location at the head of Glen Fiddich, where these powerful families controlled one of the richest regions in Scotland. Today, the area is world famous for its distilleries, and we will tour the Strathisla distillery in Keith. This small picturesque distillery produces the malt whisky for the world famous Chivas Regal.

Day 3. The last day sees us visiting one of the great baronial homes, Crathes Castle. Apart from the wonderful interiors, tapestries and historic artefacts. A number of rooms in the castle have ceilings that are painted in complex and colourful designs and mottos. Crathes also boasts a magnificent, award winning, garden, and is an ideal place to have lunch. Finally, we head to the coast to visit Dunottar Castle, one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses. It is probably one of the most dramatic settings anywhere in Scotland. William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II, all graced the Castle with their presence. Most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, the ‘Honours of Scotland’, from destruction. Crown, sceptre and sword now take pride of place in Edinburgh Castle.

We then return to Aberdeen, where the tour will conclude with a farewell dram.

Jacobite Tour

Day 1.

Upon arrival in Edinburgh settle into your hotel. In the mid-afternoon we will visit the National Portrait Gallery, to see a fine collection of portraits of the leading figures in the Stuart Royal Household. This will be followed by an evening reception held in the Royal Overseas Club, and a presentation on the Jacobites will be given by Dr. Bruce Durie.

Day 2.  This day is spent in the city. As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh had been the seat of government but the act of Union in 1707 saw government move to London. Nevertheless, control of the city would have been essential to a successful uprising. We will visit both the historic Castle and Holyrood Palace, and spend a short while in the Museum of Scotland, which has a substantial collection of artefacts related to the Jacobite risings. 

Overnight in Edinburgh. Free evening.

Day 3. A picturesque journey to the Highlands and to two places of immense significance to the clans and their involvement with the Jacobites. First, we visit Glencoe, the scene of Scotland’s most infamous massacre. Then onto Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard and signalled the start of the last Jacobite rebellion.

On our way North to Inverness, we will stop at Glen Moriston, to visit the grave of a little known Jacobite hero. Then a drive along the Great Glen, which was the key arterial route into the Highlands. We overnight in Inverness. The evening will include a talk on the role of the clans in the Jacobite rebellions.

Day 4. There is probably no greater landmark in the Jacobite story than Culloden Moor. Here the Jacobite dream was ended followed by brutal suppression of the Highland culture.

We then visit Fort George, a military base conceived in the immediate aftermath of the 1745 uprising. Fort George was intended to be a once and for all solution to the threat posed by the clans, and the Jacobites in particular.

Speyside, famous for its distilleries, witnessed many skirmishes and battles involving the Jacobites. On our way to the Glenlivet distillery we will stop at the Haughs of Cromdale, scene of a Jacobite battle in 1690. The afternoon drive takes us through the Cairngorms past Corgaff Castle, which featured in all of the Jacobite uprisings. It had immense strategic importance. From there we follow in the footsteps of the Earl of Mar, who launched the 1715 rebellion, and drive south through Braemar, on Royal Deeside. The evening is spent in Perthshire at the Killiecrankie House Hotel.

Day 5. The spectacular Killiecrankie Pass was the scene of a key battle in the first rebellion of 1689, which would have been a major Jacobite victory, but for the death of their leader, Viscount “Bonnie” Dundee.

We visit one of the most striking buildings in Scotland, Blair Castle, home of the Murray family, the Earls of Atholl who were involved in the various uprisings with mixed fortunes.

Close by is the small market town of Aberfeldy. Here we will have a brief stop at Wade’s bridge. The government of George I sent General George Wade to inspect Scotland in 1724. He recommended the construction of barracks, bridges and proper roads to assist in the control of the region. Over the next twelve years Wade directed the construction of some 240 miles (390 km) of roads, plus 30 bridges. Wade's military roads linked the garrisons at Ruthven, Fort George, Fort Augustus, and Fort William. This network enabled the government to effectively crush future support of the Jacobite cause from the Highlands.

The Last evening is in Edinburgh. The tour will end with dinner and some entertaining contributions from the literary and musical legacy of the Jacobite rebellions.

The Mary Queen Of Scots Tour

This was my original tour and has its own dedicated website.

Day 1. Our first visit is to the most popular tourist attraction in Scotland. Edinburgh Castle. It was here that she gave birth to her son James, the future King of the United Kingdom of England and Scotland. It is also the home of Scotland’s Honours (crown jewels), which were present at her coronation in 1543, when she was only 9 months old. The castle is a formidable fortress that dominates the city, both then and now.

A short walk takes us to the Museum of Scotland. This recently renovated building is one of the top museums in the UK. It has an entire section devoted to the nation’s history. It has a wonderful selection of artefacts from her reign and a few of her personal possessions. The exhibits help to visualise aspects of life in sixteenth century Scotland.

The afternoon is devoted to Holyrood Palace, where we will be given a personal tour by one of the staff. This was her main residence, and it was here that she witnessed one of the most brutal episodes of her reign. The murder, of her Italian secretary, David Rizzio. Her chambers are pretty much as they were when she was living there, although the greater part of the Palace was built by her great grandson, Charles II.

Day 2. We start the day with a trip that takes us to the heart of the Borders, one of the most violent regions in sixteenth century Britain. We visit The Mary Queen of Scot’s House in Jedburgh, where she would have died, had it not been for the ministrations of her French physician. Today, the house is a museum dedicated to her memory. Although the tour focuses on her brief reign, the House provides a fuller picture of her life.

You will also be able to see the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey, one of the great medieval monastic buildings, built in the twelve century, and eventually destroyed by a combination of war against the English, and the Protestant Reformation.

We will then visit Traquair House, Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. This is still the home of the family, lifelong supporters of the Stuarts, whose owner at the time was the Captain of her royal guard. She visited the house on a few occasions to go hunting. The house still has the bed in which she slept, and a few of her personal effects. It also has its own brewery and craft shop.

The final stop is Craigmillar Castle, now a ruin, at which it is said, Mary was party to the plan to murder her husband, Lord Darnley. This deed undoubtedly hastened the end of her reign and saw her loose both the support of the people, and the majority of the nobility. The mystery of her involvement, in what became known as the Craigmillar bond, is still the subject of much debate.

We will deliberate the matter over some fine food and ale at The Sheep’s Heid Inn, in Duddingston, a stone’s throw from the castle and Scotland’s oldest surviving pub, dating back to 1362.

Day 3. It is a day of contrasting architectural styles, and begins with a visit to Lochleven Castle, where she was held captive, and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son. The castle is one of the earliest medieval tower houses built in Scotland. It sits on an island in the middle of the loch, which is a nature reserve and home to a wide variety of waterfowl.

We then proceed to Falkland Palace, a royal hunting lodge, built by her grandfather, James IV and her father, James V. It was probably one of Mary’s favourite residences. It has magnificent gardens and the oldest tennis court in Scotland.

In the afternoon we head to Stirling castle, recently restored by Historic Scotland, which gives the visitor a real sense of what it would have looked like at the time of her reign. This is greatly enhanced by having the guides dressed in period costume. It epitomises the power of the Stuart dynasty and is the most striking of all the Royal palaces.