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Castle of Mey

Walk in the footsteps of the Queen Mother at her beloved Castle of Mey and in the shadow of Kings at Cawdor.

A journey to the far north ofScotlandbrings many rewards, not least the sense of freedom and open space to be found in the thrilling seascapes of the coasts or the vast, empty expanse of mountain and moorland that separates east from west. Rewards also come in the shape of some enchanting castles and gardens, which we have threaded together to bring out the best of this remote and unspoilt region.


Our holiday begins with a relaxing drive north breaking our journey at Blair Castle where we see its stunning arboretum, Diana’s Grove, a tranquil wooded area, home to some champion trees. From our first base in Inverness we will go north and west to visit two wonderful gardens, one private at Dundonell House and the other the famous National Trust for Scotland garden at Inverewe, returning via Loch Maree.

William Shakespeare immortalised Cawdor in Macbeth, however, both the castle and its history are colourful enough without the aid of myth boasting magnificent gardens with vast herbaceous borders. We will also visit Abriachan Garden on the banks of Loch Ness.

Heading as far north as is possible on the British mainland to Thurso we will call in at Old Allangrange on the Black Isle and also visit the manicured walled gardens at Dunbeath Castle. The Castle of Mey sits high on a cliff, overlooking the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth, and it is here that the late Queen Mother had one of her favourite garden retreats. Also overlooking the Pentland Firth lies Bighouse Lodge, situated by the white sands of Melvich. We return south visiting Dunrobin Castle – the château-style ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland. The castle is a wonderful early 19th-century fantasy with a touch of the Loire and a dash of Bavaria, with formal gardens leading to the North Sea.

Available departure dates and prices


Walk in the footsteps of the Queen Mother at her beloved Castle of Mey and in the shadow of Kings at Cawdor.

Day 1

We depart from your local area and travel north to Blair Castle to visit Diana’s Grove, which presents probably the best 'big tree' experience in this country. Most of the trees were planted over 100 years ago as specimens of newly introduced conifers, mainly from America. Recent measurements show more than 20 trees topping the 45.7 metre (150ft) mark, with several British record breakers among them. Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl, known as the 'Planting Dukes' in the 18th & 19th centuries. By 1830, the family had planted over 27 million trees around the glens and straths of the Atholl Estate.

Later we will continue to Inverness to our comfortable accommodation. Dinner will be served in the evening.

Day 2

After breakfast we have a long but most rewarding day as we drive across the north of Scotlandto visit Dundonnell House Garden. The house was completed in 1769 by the Mackenzie’s of Dundonnell, who lived in it until the 1940s. Since then it has had a number of owners, including the late Alan Roger – rumoured to be in MI5, but known locally simply as a plantsman and bonsai expert. The current owner, Lady Rice, has added delightful new borders for year-round colour, centred on an enormous and ancient yew tree over 300 years old. The main part of the garden lies within very old walls and is divided into distinctive compartments, adding greatly to the interest here; other highlights include riverside walks in the fine arboretum and a restored Victorian glasshouse.

Our final visit of the day is to Inverewe gardens, unquestionably one of the most outstanding gardens in the country.  The northern road into Inverewe is spectacular - towering mountains and breathtaking vistas.  The view from aboveGruinardBay has to be seen to be believed.

Famous gardens do not always live up to their reputations but it would be hard to imagine anyone failing to be excited by Inverewe, when at this time of year it will be at its most colourful.  The balmy Gulf Stream Drift Climate promotes luxuriant growth and today it is a jungle of mature exotic trees and shrubs laced with winding walks, rising and falling, giving sudden glimpses of shimmering water through the foliage.  We will return to Invernessvia Loch Maree and Achnasheen, another spectacularly scenic journey.  Dinner will be served on our return to the hotel.

Day 3

After breakfast we will visit the gardens of Cawdor Castle, near Nairn.  William Shakespeare immortalised Cawdor in Macbeth as the scene ofDuncan's murder, however, both the castle and its history are colourful enough without the aid of myth.  A turreted 14th century tower, protected on one side by a gully and on the other by a dry moat, rises majestically from the woods of theNairnValley.  The magnificent gardens include vast herbaceous borders, a rose garden, a peony walk and a kitchen garden - there is also a fascinating holly maze and a romantic bluebell woodland walk.

Following our visit we will have some free time in Inverness before heading south to visit Abriachan Gardens, near Drumnadrochit. These unique woodland gardens offer a fantastic mix of native and exotic plants.

We return to the hotel where dinner is served.

Day 4

After breakfast we will visit the private gardens of Old Allangrange. The formal gardens lie in front of the 17th century lime washed house from where the sculpted hedges play with perspectives by blocking and exposing views. The gardens have been planted for wildlife, in particular bees, therefore wildflowers and beneficial weeds are encouraged here. There is also a grove of ancient fine yew trees which are linked to the formal gardens.

Following our visit we continue to Timespan at Helmsdale, a museum which brings together our past, our present and our future.

Our next stop is Dunbeath Castle.  These extensive gardens feature mature and new plantings, with a landscaped lake, water and bog gardens, a formal garden, rhododendrons and a woodland walk.

Following our visit we continue north by the scenic coastal road to Thurso and our accommodation at the St Clair Hotel.  All rooms have en suite facilities with TV, telephone and tea/coffee making facilities. Dinner is served on arrival. 

Day 5

After breakfast we will visit The Castle of Mey, the former holiday home of the late Queen Mother.  Originally Barrogill Castle, it was first seen by the late Queen Mother in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband King George VI.  Falling for its ruined, isolated charm she declared she would save the castle from ruin. Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated and lovingly restored it and for over half a century she spent her summers here and created the beautiful gardens you see today.  We shall enjoy a guided tour of the Castle.  Lunch will be available here (not included).

Following our visit we travel along the coast, past the pioneering nuclear power station at Dounreay, to Bighouse Lodge, situated at the mouth of the River Halladale. The two acre, recently restored, walled garden, originally laid out in 1715, consists of a central axis leading to a charming bothy with a lawn, herbaceous borders, a sunken garden and four separate conceptual gardens behind the hedgerows.  Each garden contains a sculpture to reflect the aspects of the Bighouse Estate, namely the River, the Forest, the Strath and the Hill.

We return to the hotel where dinner is served.

Day 6

Enjoy your full Scottish breakfast.  This morning we visit the gardens at Dunrobin Castle - the château style ancestral home of the Dukes of Sutherland, for a brief visit.  The castle is a wonderful early 19th-century fantasy with a touch of the Loire and a dash of Bavaria.  Below the castle is a magnificent example of a formal nineteenth century garden. The gardens are laid out on terraces which descend to the sea.

Following our visit we continue our journey south dropping off at our original pick-up points.

Included in the price

  • Five nights’ dinner, bed and full breakfast: three nights at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel (19 May departure), three nights at the Thistle Inverness Hotel (18 September departure); two nights at the St Clair Hotel, Thurso
  • Comfortable coaching throughout
  • Visits to Diana’s Grove at Blair Castle, the gardens of Dundonell, Inverewe, Cawdor Castle, Old Allangrange, Dunbeath Castle, Bighouse Lodge and Dunrobin Castle, The Loch Ness Garden Abriachan and the Castle of Mey
  • Services of a professional tour manager

Not included (per person)

  • Single room supplement         £175.00
  • Insurance                              £18.50 (under 65); £37.00 (65-74); £55.50 (75-90)
  • Rail/air travel and overnight accommodation in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Perth before or after the tour available on request

Departure points and times:                                   

Depart Return
Glasgow (Millennium Hotel, George Sq) 0715 2045
Edinburgh (Marriott Hotel, Glasgow Rd) 0830 1930
Dunfermline (Fife College) 0900 1900
Kinross (Moto Services, M90) 0915 1845
Perth (Canal St) 0930 1830


Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

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Jimmy the driver was impeccable and fun - his driving skills gave us great confidence on the narrow roads through Royal Deeside.

Bob Guthrie, Broughty Ferry

We thoroughly enjoyed the archaeological tour to the Outer Hebrides, the driver and guide made the holiday a great success

Mr and Mrs Sutherland, Dundee

A superb holiday - thanks Trish the Tour Manager was very helpful and knowledgeable - the free day was a great idea.

Mr and Mrs Somerville
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