The following itinerary describes a range of gardens and estates which we plan to visit. Many are accessible to the public, but others require special permission which may only be confirmed closer to the tour’s departure in 2025. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, flight schedules and confirmation of private visits. Meals included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=Lunch and D=dinner.
Glasgow - 2 nights
Day 1: Monday 26 May, Arrive Glasgow
- Tour commences at 1pm in the foyer of The Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow
- Welcome Meeting at the hotel
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Introductory lecture by Richard Barley
- Welcome Dinner at ‘Mackintosh at the Willow’
Meeting Point: The tour commences at 1.00pm in the foyer of the Grand Central Hotel located in central Glasgow, Scotland’s most populous city, located on the banks of the Clyde. Following a brief welcome meeting we will visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for an introduction of Scottish history and to the 19th century school of artists, known as The Glasgow Boys, whose work represents the beginnings of modernism is Scottish painting.
On our return to the hotel Richard will present an introductory lecture that outlines the wonderful places to be visited over the coming weeks, before we walk to restored Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street, now called ‘Mackintosh at the Willow’. They are the only surviving tea rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh – they were created for local entrepreneur and patron Miss Kate Cranston. There will be time to view the permanent Mackintosh Collection housed at the Willow and before we enjoy a private dining experience in the beautiful restaurant. (Overnight Glasgow) D
Day 2: Tuesday 27 May, Glasgow – Cumnock – Glasgow
- Dumfries House Estate (subject to confirmation)
- The Burrell Collection
Located 60km south of Glasgow, Dumfries House is a Palladian country house built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries by John Adam and Robert Adam. It is noted for having retained much of its original 18th century furniture, including fine examples of the work of Thomas Chippendale. This stunning house was saved by the intervention of King Charles (while Prince of Wales and Duke of Rothesay) and the house and garden have been restored using traditional methods and craftsmanship.
We start our day with a private tour of the house to view its remarkable collection. Our tour will follow the theme of life within a Georgian country house. We’ll learn about the family members and how the house would have operated for them. Our tour will conclude with a private lunch in the Library before we step out to explore the large Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden.
On our return to Glasgow we visit the city’s famous Burrell Collection, which reopened in the Spring of 2022 after a major refurbishment. The collection, which played a key role in Glasgow’s 1970s ‘Renaissance’, was amassed by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell (1861–1958) and given to the City of Glasgow in 1944. It is displayed in an award-winning building located in a beautiful woodland setting. The museum includes reconstructions of rooms from Sir William’s former home. The collection, which focuses on late medieval and early Renaissance Europe, includes a Bellini Madonna and Child and a Rembrandt self-portrait. It also contains important examples of Chinese and Islamic art, ancient artefacts, and Scottish, French and Dutch late 19th-century art, especially the works of artists Manet, Degas and Rodin. (Overnight Glasgow) BL
Rothesay, Isle of Bute - 1 night
Day 3: Wednesday 28 May, Glasgow – Helensburgh – Loch Lomond – Rothesay
- The Hill House, Helensburgh – a domestic masterpiece by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
- Mount Stuart House & Gardens, Rothesay, Isle of Bute
Today we drive from Glasgow to Rothesay, principal town on the Isle of Bute via The Hill House, Loch Lomond and Mount Stuart House. The Hill House (1902–1904), Helensburgh, designed for Walter Blackie of the publishers Blackie and Son, is one of Charles and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s most famous works, probably second only to their Glasgow School of Art. Mackintosh also designed most of the house’s interior, furniture and fittings. His attention to detail extended to prescribing the colour of cut flowers that the Blackies might place on a table in the living room! As part of the 10-year conservation program, Carmody Groarke have designed ‘The Box’, a steel frame structure covered in chainmail mesh which encloses the house and protects it from the weather. There are elevated walkways looping around and over the top of the house that affords us with unique perspectives of the house and surrounding countryside. Following a private tour of the house, there will be time to explore The Box and the lovely gardens.
We next drive from Helensburgh to Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute via Loch Lomond. Along the way, we shall stop to allow you lunchtime at leisure. Mount Stuart House, situated on the east coast of the Isle of Bute, is a flamboyant Gothic Revival country house and the ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute. It was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson for the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the late 1870s. Its interior includes a colonnaded Marble Hall at the centre of the main block and the Marble Chapel, which has an elaborate spired tower. Two earlier Georgian wings remain from the house’s predecessor, which burnt down in 1877. The famous English Gothic Revival architect, William Burgess, built the house’s oratory. The Scottish Arts and Crafts architect, artist, landscape designer and furniture designer, Robert Weir Schultz, designed much of the house’s furniture as well as its gardens.
The gardens were begun in 1718 by the 2nd Earl of Bute, and later expanded by his son, the 3rd Earl of Bute and founder of Kew Gardens. The 300 acres of gardens and grounds include an 18th-century woodland, several formal gardens, designer wilderness, a kitchen garden, glass pavilion plant collection, a rock garden designed by Thomas Mawson, a magnificent old Lime Tree Avenue and a collection of endangered conifers.
After exploring the house and gardens, we shall drive the short distance to Rothesay. Tonight we will dine at our hotel. (Overnight Rothesay, Isle of Bute) BD
Oban - 2 nights
Day 4: Thursday 29 May, Rothesay – Benmore – Inveraray – Oban
- Benmore Botanic Garden
- Inveraray Castle & Gardens
Today, on our way to Oban, we visit the Benmore Botanic Garden and Inveraray Castle. Benmore’s 120-acre garden has a world-famous collection of plants brought from diverse regions including the Orient, Himalayas, North and South America. Trees includes a 150-year-old Redwood Avenue, as well as Douglas firs, Scots pines and Monkey puzzles. In spring and early summer, Benmore’s slopes come alive with myriad blooms of its unique and world-leading rhododendron collection; 300 species are arranged by botanical grouping and geographic origin. There are Bhutanese and Chilean pavilions, the ‘Golden Gates’ (1878), a large pond, and a Victorian fernery. Among local fauna are red squirrels, sparrow hawks and the occasional Golden Eagle. A spectacular viewpoint at 137 metres offers panoramic views of Holy Loch and neighbouring mountains.
In the afternoon we drive to Inveraray Castle (1743), one of the UK’s earliest Gothic Revival buildings, contemporary with Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. William Adam and Roger Morris designed the house, which originally had flat roofs and crenelated façades. A third floor with a pitched roof and dormer windows was added on all four wings and its four round corner towers topped with steep conical roofs. The castle’s 16-acre garden includes around two acres of formal lawns and flowerbeds which feature a stunning collection of rhododendrons and azaleas which flower from April to June. The park and woodland feature many fine tree specimens including Cedrus deodara (Deodar cedar) and Sequoiadendron gigantea (giant redwood or Wellingtonia).
After exploring the castle and gardens, we shall drive to our hotel in Oban where we share a group dinner. (Overnight Oban) BD
Day 5: Friday 30 May, Oban – Kilmartin Glen – Oban
- Nether Largie Cairn
- Temple Wood Stone Circles
- Ballymeanoch Standing Stones
- Achnabreac Rock Art
Today we explore the Kilmartin Glen where we fine one of Britain’s best-preserved prehistoric landscapes. Accompanied by a local archaeologist we encounter extraordinary burial mounds from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, along with standing stone and examples of carved rock art. From the remains it is evidence that this was an important ritual centre in a landscape that bears the mark of continuous human occupation for over 5000 years. Our day excursion will include a picnic lunch. (Overnight Oban) BL
Portree, Isle of Skye - 3 nights
Day 6: Saturday 31 May, Oban – Glencoe – Portree
- Glencoe & the An Torr Trail
Today we drive from Oban to Portree on the Island of Skye. On the way we visit Glencoe, infamous for the Glencoe Massacre (13 February 1692), following the Jacobite uprising of 1689. Thirty-eight men from Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by government forces because they had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. Dramatic Glencoe, that takes its name from the River Coe, is U-shaped, formed by an Ice Age glacier. It is the remains of an ancient super volcano that erupted 420 million years ago. We shall take a one-hour guided walk on the picturesque An Torr Trail before visiting the Glencoe Visitors Centre. There will also be an option for a longer guided walk for group members wishing to explore more of this beautiful valley.
This afternoon we continue to Kyle of Lochalsh where we cross the bridge to the Isle of Skye. (Overnight Portree, Isle of Skye) BD
Day 7: Sunday 1 June, Portree – The Trotternish Loop – Portree
- Full day exploring The Trotternish Loop incl. Fairy Glen, Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls & Old Man of Storr
The Isle of Skye is the largest and northernmost of the Inner Hebrides’ major islands. The island’s peninsulas radiate from the mountainous spinal Cuillin Mountain Range; its rocky slopes afford some of Scotland’s most dramatic views. Skye has been occupied since the Mesolithic period. It was ruled for a time by Norse leaders and for a long time by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald. After the failed Jacobite risings (18th c.) the clan system was broken up and the land cleared, replacing entire communities with sheep farms and leading to overseas migration. Some one third of Skye’s residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001 and local Gaelic culture is still important.
Today we shall drive the scenic ‘Trotternish Loop’ around Skye’s northern Trotternish Peninsula. This loop itinerary passes some of Skye’s most extraordinary natural features. Staffin Bay is dominated by the dramatic basalt escarpment of the Quiraing; its impressive land-slipped cliffs and pinnacles constitute one of Skye’s most remarkable landscapes. The Old Man of Storr is a 50-metre-high pinnacle of crumbling basalt. The Fairy Glen is a strange landscape of miniature conical hills, rocky towers, ruined cottages and a tiny roadside lochan (small loch). The route also affords stunning panoramas of the surrounding sea. (Overnight Portree, Isle of Skye) BLD
Day 8: Monday 2 June, Portree – Dunvegan – Portree
- Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
- Time at leisure in Portree
Today we shall visit Dunvegan Castle, which occupies the summit of a rock some 15 metres above sea level, on a promontory on the eastern shore of an inlet on Loch Dunovan. Its eastern, landward side is protected by a 5.5-metre-deep ditch. The castle is the seat of the MacLeod of MacLeod, chief of the Clan MacLeod, and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Probably a fortified site from Norse times, the castle was first built in the 13th century and developed piecemeal over the centuries. In the 19th century the whole castle was remodelled in a ‘medieval’ style. The castle collection contains many beautiful paintings and important heirlooms such as the ‘miraculous’ Fairy Flag that assured Macleod victories and Sir Rory Mor’s ceremonial drinking horn (possibly 10th c.).
We shall also explore Dunvegan Castle’s five acres of formal gardens, first laid out in the 18th century. In stark contrast to the barren moor land and mountains which dominate Skye’s landscape, the castle’s Water Garden, Rose Garden, Walled Garden and woodland walks have an eclectic mix of flowers, exotic plants, specimen trees, pools fed by waterfalls and streams flowing down to the sea. The 2-acre walled garden was created in the 1990s and laid out on a formal plan with each of the four quarters having a different focus.
Following our visit to the castle we shall transfer to Portree, the main town on Skye, where there will be time at leisure. (Overnight Portree) BD
Inverness - 2 nights
Day 9: Tuesday 3 June, Portree – Eilean Donan – Loch Ness – Cawdor – Inverness
- Eilean Donan Castle (to be confirmed in 2025)
- Loch Ness
- Cawdor Castle & Gardens
This morning we depart Skye and drive to Eilean Donan Castle, arguably the most picturesque in the United Kingdom. The castle is located on a small island, Eilean Donan (Island of Donnán), named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. Three sea lochs, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, meet here. The castle developed through several phases from the earliest fortifications (13th c.) through to its destruction in 1719 and subsequent reconstruction in the 20th century.
We drive along the shores of Loch Ness where we enjoy a picnic lunch, before continuing to Cawdor Castle. Set amid fine gardens, this extensive castle is built around a 15th-century tower house. It passed to the Campbell family in the 16th century and remains in Campbell ownership. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is entitled ‘Thane of Cawdor’; the castle, however, was built many years after the 11th-century King Macbeth. The stonework in the oldest part of the castle dates to approximately 1380. Today the 6th Earl’s second wife, the Dowager Countess Angelika still lives in the castle. The castle is known for its gardens, which include the 17th-century Walled Garden, the 18th-century Flower Garden and the Wild Garden of rhododendrons and azaleas that was added in the 1960s. The castle grounds also include a wood featuring numerous species of trees, as well as over 100 species of lichen. A holly maze that was added to the Walled Garden when it was remodelled in 1981, depicting the Minotaur’s labyrinth inspired by a Roman mosaic floor of the ruined Roman villa of Conimbriga in Portugal. There are also other gardens including the Paradise Garden, a symbolic representation of ‘heaven-on-earth’, and the Knot Garden. The French-styled formal Flower Garden was laid out in 1710 comprise yew hedges swathed by the climber, Tropaeolum speciosum, locally known as the ‘Scottish flame flower’. In 1850, the lavender beds and rose gardens were added, and the herbaceous borders were developed during this time. (Overnight Inverness) BL
Day 10: Wednesday 4 June, Inverness – Inverewe – Little Loch Broom – Inverness
- Inverewe House & Garden
- Private gardens of 2 Durnamuck and Dundonnell House Garden (by special appointment)
Today we visit three beautiful gardens. We begin with a visit to Inverewe Garden, a botanical garden created on barren land in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie on an 850-hectare estate. The garden is noted for the extraordinary variety of its plants, containing nearly 6,000, made possible by the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. It has a noteworthy rhododendron collection in flower throughout the year and a large collection of Erythroniums that flower in Spring. In summer, the sloping walled gardens with views of the sea, display many exotic plants from all over the world.
After lunch at leisure, we drive to 2 Durnamuck, a coastal plantsman’s garden situated on the edge of Little Loch Broom. It constitutes a rich mix of herbaceous borders, trees and shrubs, vegetables, drystone wall planting, South African plants, Mediterranean plants and a wild meadow. Plants here have been collected from all over the world. The gardens were featured on Gardeners’ World in 2016 and in Garden Magazine and Country Life in 2017. We conclude with a visit to nearby Dundonnell House Garden. Once home to the Mackenzies of Dundonnell, the estate was in the 1940s and the laird of the time emigrated to Australia. Prior to that time the large square garden would have been devoted primarily to the growing of fresh produce for the house. The framework which forms the basis for the current garden was laid out after the war and divides the garden into a series of ‘rooms’.
On our return to Inverness, the evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Inverness) B
Aberdeen - 2 nights
Day 11: Thursday 5 June, Inverness – Balmoral – Ballater – Crathes – Aberdeen
- Balmoral Castle Gardens (to be confirmed in 2025)
- Ballater Village
- Crathes Castle
This morning we shall drive to Balmoral Castle. Balmoral Castle has been one of the residences of the British royal family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased privately by Prince Albert. It remains private property of the royal family and is not part of the Crown Estate. Albert found the existing house to be too small and commissioned William Smith of Aberdeen to design the current Scottish Baronial style house; Prince Albert amended Smith’s original designs. The new castle was completed in 1856 and the old castle demolished shortly thereafter. The gardens surrounding the granite castle have been extended over time and now include formal gardens, Victorian glasshouses, conservatory, water garden, front lawn, a charming garden created by Queen Mary between 1923 and 1925, as well as a large kitchen garden designed by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Balmoral Estate, lying within the Cairngorms National Park, has been added to by successive members of the royal family, and now covers an area of approximately 20,000 hectares. It is a working estate, including grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of 2,000 – 2,500 deer, Highland cattle, and ponies. Approximately 8,000 acres of the estate are covered by trees. Ballochbuie Forest is one of the largest remaining areas of old Caledonian pine growth in Scotland.
After time at leisure in the nearby village of Ballater, we drive to Crathes Castle, whose powerful tower was begun in 1553 and completed in 1596; an additional wing was added in the 18th century. King Robert the Bruce granted the lands of Leys to the Burnett family in 1323: the ancient Horn of Leys, which can be seen today in the Great Hall, marks his gift. We shall tour the castle, which has many important portraits as well as very distinctive Scottish painted ceilings. The castle is surrounded by 530 acres of woodlands and fields and includes a 4-acre walled garden which is considered one of the finest in Scotland. Developed over 300 years, and influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the garden is full of colour in summer with beautiful borders. Ancient topiary hedges of Irish yew dating from 1702 separate the gardens into eight themed rooms including a double herbaceous border, the Red Garden, the June Borders and the Golden Garden. After our visit we continue on to Aberdeen where we will be based for two nights. (Overnight Aberdeen) B
Day 12: Friday 6 June, Aberdeen – Fochabers – Methlink – Aberdeeen
- Gordon Castle Garden
- Haddo House
This morning we visit Gordon Castle, the spiritual home of the Gordon Clan since the time of King Robert the Bruce in the 14th Century. Here we will see one of the oldest and largest walled kitchen gardens in Britain. It dates from the 17th century but fell into disuse after the second world war when it was used for commercial raspberry growing. Using the well-preserved garden plans from the 18th and 19th centuries, the garden has been restored by designer Arne Maynard and in 2021 was named The Historic House’s Garden of the Year.
The seasonal produce of the walled garden forms the focus of the menu in the Gordon Castle café where we enjoy a light lunch, before travelling on to Haddo House in Methlink, another home belonging to the Gordons. This stately home was designed in the Palladian style by William Adam in 1732, and its interior remodelled in the 1880s. Now managed by the National Trust for Scotland, the house includes a large art collection with an early work by Claude Lorrain and a Madonna believed to be by Raphael. (Overnight Aberdeen) BL
Kinclaven - 2 nights
Day 13: Saturday 7 June, Aberdeen – Glamis – Dundee – Kinclaven
- Glamis Castle & Gardens
Today, on our way to Kinclaven, we shall visit another castle, Glamis, as well as the Dundee Victoria and Albert Museum. Grand Glamis Castle has been owned by the Lyon family since the 14th century; it was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon). Glamis is situated in the centre of the Vale of Strathmore, in a picturesque and well-wooded part of Forfarshire. The pink-grey castle’s original 14th-century central tower was altered to an L-plan in the 16th century and had a large round stair-tower attached to it (1605); the spiral staircase within, possibly designed by Inigo Jones, is magnificent. The walls of the oldest parts of the tower are up to 5 metres thick, allowing for hidden passages within them. During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the building has been extended and features like bartizans and dormers have been added. The park was landscaped in 1790s in the style of ‘Capability’ Brown, and an Italianate Garden hedged by yew trees was laid out in 1910 by The Queen Mother’s mother, Countess Cecilia to designs by Arthur Castings. It includes a raised terrace between two small gazebos, two long bowers of pleached beech, and borders of alliums, roses, Iris sibirica, nepeta and geraniums, punctuated by obelisks bearing honeysuckles, golden hops or roses. Wildlife such as butterflies, bees, pheasants and squirrels can also be spotted in this garden. The Walled Garden was redeveloped in 2015 by the 18th Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne as it has fallen into disuse. It now beholds new flower beds, fruit trees and vegetables, and water features including a Monet-style bridge over an ornamental pond. The Nature Trail meanders through woodlands and pastures surrounding the Castle. Eastwards along the trail is the Pinetum that comprises a variety of exotic trees planted by the 13th Earl in c.1870. As Glamis Castle is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth (1603-09), a series of seven sculptures have been commissioned to capture the essence of the play. They are located within the Pinetum and are carved by collaborative artists from Neith Art and Sculpture from Oak, Douglas Fir and Noble Fir grown on the Estate.
After lunch at Glamis Castle, we shall drive to Dundee on the Firth of Tay where there will be time at leisure to explore the town. You may wish to visit the Victoria and Albert Dundee, designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (b. 1954), whose innovative design was inspired by the eastern cliff edges of Scotland. Along with interesting temporary exhibitions, the Museum has the Scottish Design Galleries that feature a permanent collection of design works, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room that was originally completed in 1908. Alternatively, you may wish to visit Discovery Point to learn about the RRS Discovery and her Antarctic expedition with Captain Scott.
After exploring Dundee we shall drive to our hotel in Kinclaven. (Overnight Kinclaven) BLD
Day 14: Sunday 8 June, Kinclaven – Muthill – Crieff – Falkland – Kinclaven
- Drummond Castle (to be confirmed in 2025)
- Falkland Palace and Garden
- Farewell Dinner
This morning we visit Drummond Castle. Drummond Castle, the property of Drummond family from the 14th century, occupies a prominent spine of rock known as the Gask Ridge in Perthshire. The castle is especially famous for its gardens, which Historic Environment Scotland describes as ‘the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland’. The gardens date to the 1630s, when the 2nd Earl of Perth laid out the first terraced garden around the castle. The gardens were restructured in the 19th century and renewed again in the 20th century. A dominant feature of the garden is the parterre designed in a St Andrew’s Cross with a multiplex 17th century sundial at its centre. Both French and Italian influence can be seen throughout the garden. The castle comprises an original tower house, built by John Drummond, 1st Lord Drummond of Cargill (c. 1490). Appended to the tower is a 17th-century mansion. Both the tower and mansion were rebuilt in the 19th century. We shall visit the castle, tour its extraordinary gardens, and eat lunch here.
After lunch we visit Falkland Palace, a royal palace of the Scottish Kings and particularly favoured by Mary Queen of Scots. This fine Renaissance Palace includes wall panelling, finely carved furniture, the royal chapel and the original real (or royal) tennis court built for James V, the oldest of its kind in the world. The formal garden did not survive the ages, and was used for growing potatoes in the second world war. Today visitors can enjoy the 20th century design by Percy Cane who was invited to reinterpret the formal garden. This evening we shall enjoy a farewell dinner at the hotel. (Overnight Kinclaven) BLD
Tour ends, Edinburgh Waverley Station
Day 15: Monday 9 June, Kinclaven – Edinburgh
- The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- Lunch at Stevenson House, Edinburgh (Subject to Confirmation)
- Transfer to Edinburgh Waverley Station
Today drive to Edinburgh where we visit the 28-hectare Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants. It now consists of four specialist gardens across Scotland: Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore. Its collection consists of more than 13,302 plant species, and its herbarium contains in excess of 3 million preserved specimens. The Botanic Garden’s Edinburgh gardens are an extremely important member of a worldwide network of institutions dedicated to ensuring that biodiversity is not further eroded.
We then transfer a short distance to Herriot Row where we shall enjoy a special private lunch at Stevenson House, the childhood home of author Robert Louis Stevenson. He grew up in this house, and was often ill in bed there. His illness inspired The Land of Counterpane, while the lamplighter who came along the street each night to light the gas was the inspiration behind his poem The Lamplighter. The old lamp outside the house has been preserved because of this poem. Our hosts, John and Felicitas Macfie, will share the story of Stevenson and his writing, before serving lunch in the dining room.
After lunch, we shall transfer to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station where the tour officially concludes at approximately 3.00pm. BL