Intro and Itinerary
Some who know me casually may think of me as a planner and organizer.
But those who know me well probably think of me as a control freak.
And that is why when I sent Madrid Jeff an email with the subject line "Something I never thought I would do" and told him I had agreed to give up all control by going with Betsy on an organized tour with a set itinerary, he replied: "Who are you and what have you done with Mike??".
For the dense, like me, Jeff was indicating his disbelief I would give up all control for 9 days and the email must be from an imposter.
But it is true. By this time tomorrow Betsy and I will be in Scotland!
This all came about when Betsy received the latest copy of the Road Scholar catalog. "Road Scholar educational adventures are created by Elderhostel, the not-for-profit world leader in lifelong learning since 1975."
Betsy had been on one of the Road Scholar trips before and enjoyed it very much. On that trip she went to Palm Key, South Carolina on a trip called "Kayaking the Lowlands". After that experience she was confident future trips would be first rate.
Since that trip she would always scour the new catalog for possibilites. Whe she saw the " Walking in the Scottish Highlands" listed, she enthusiastically told me about it and said she would love to go. I told her flat out I was not going on any canned tour where I had to go where I was told and do what I was told and could not strike out on my own at a moment's notice.
And, there was the cost - YIKES!. That clinched it for me. I ain't going!!
I could tell Betsy was disappointed and she really wanted to go. So after thinking about it a bit I gave in and told her I would go. Although I still have reservations about going on this kind of trip, I am sure it will be fine. Regardless of the circumstance we will see places and things we have only read about or seen in travel books. And it would be a good, stress free way to break the ice and familiarize ourselves with the area.
So Betsy signed us up and soon we will be in Scotland and heading north to the House of Aigas (pronounced "A-gish" by the locals) and the estate, Aigas Field Centre.
An area map with House of Aigas marked.
Looking at this map, one has cause to wonder about the geology of the area.
Below are some photos from the Aigas Field Centre web site.
Here is a look at the Aigas Field Centre which will be our HQ.
This was formerly a Victorian sporting estate and then an old folks home which eventually closed and then fell into ruin. It was then purchased by Sir John Lister-Kaye in 1977. It has since been rehabbed and restored.
Director of Aigas Field Centre, Sir John Lister-Kaye is one of Scotland’s foremost naturalists and well-loved nature writers. A freelance environmental journalist and writer, 30 years ago he founded Aigas Field Center and has led it to its status as Scotland’s principal environmental education provider for adults and schoolchildren. Sir John’s books include “ Song of the Rolling Earth” and “Nature’s Child” and he writes regularly for the Times newspaper.
Here is a look at the Baronial Dining Hall where we will have some of our meals.
This is where we will be bunked down.
Day 1: Thursday, May 09
In Transit: Overnight flights from North America.
Day 2: Friday, May 10
Arrive To: Glasgow. Walk 300 yards to the hotel. Lunch: A light lunch is served in the hotel at 12:30pm. Ask at Reception for the location of lunch.
Your Aigas Ranger/Group Leader will arrrive by early afternoon. At leisure until a welcome meeting in the hotel at 5:00pm before dinner.
Dinner: In the hotel.
Evening: At leisure.
Accommodations: Holiday Inn Glasgow Airport
Day 3: Saturday, May 11
Scenic transfer to the Highlands.
Breakfast: Full Scottish breakfast in the hotel.
Continue to Aigas with information about and stops en route at the Commando memorial and Drumnadrochit. Please note, the proposed route is subject to change due to weather, traffic or other unforeseen circumstances. Arrival at Aigas in time for afternoon tea and welcome. Aigas Field Center is based at the House of Aigas, a Victorian sporting lodge purchased by Sir John Lister-Kaye in 1977.
In addition to the main house the estate comprises an extensive arboretum, formal gardens, native pinewoods, birch woodland, exotic plantation, moorland and agricultural land as well as a picturesque freshwater loch.
This range of habitats attracts a myriad of wildlife, with over 120 different species of birds recorded, and many of Scotland’s larger mammals including pine marten, otter, badger and deer. We will meet before dinner to discuss domestic arrangements for the week ahead and to talk about wish lists.
Dinner: In the baronial hall in the House of Aigas, the home of Sir John and Lady Lucinda Lister-Kaye. Meals eaten in the baronial hall surrounded by family portraits and Victorian artefacts.
Evening: At leisure. Drinks available in the lounge for cash payments. Use of the extensively stocked library of history and natural history books, wall map of northern Scotland. The old Victorian dining room is now used as a guest common room.
Day 4: Sunday, May 12
Morning: Sir John Lister-Kaye lectures on the history of the Highlands.
Breakfast: Continental breakfast with pinhead porridge.
Sir John will introduce you to the complex history of the Highlands with special reference to the Victorian sporting era and the 19th century conversion of the House of Aigas from a Highland tacksman’s house to a sporting lodge, setting the historical scene for the week.
Lunch: Buffet lunch in Aigas.
Later on this afternoon we will head to the remains of three Bronze Age hut circles and perched on a nearby hill, the remains of a typical Iron Age fort, evidence of Aigas' continuous occupation for over 3000 years. We shall carry on across old peat cuttings to the summit, a good place to orientate, with views of Strathglass and the country surrounding the House of Aigas.
Look out for hen harriers, peregrine falcons, ravens, red grouse and red deer. If we have the time and energy we will continue across the moor to Aigas Woods, a wonderful pinewood relic of great Forest of Caledon, which once covered the majority of the Highlands. A good selection of typical pinewood plant species grow here and if lucky we may see Scottish crossbills, Britain’s only endemic bird. We will walk back to Aigas House on quiet forest tracks and paths. Up to 4 miles including some rough walking.
Dinner: In the baronial hall in Aigas House.
Evening trips with fully trained Aigas Rangers to the Pine Marten and Badger Hides, badger spotting, roe deer and tawny owls. Interpreted trips to the Beaver Hide to see the thriving family of beavers in their natural habitat. From the Tree Top Hide, see Red Squirrels, Red Kite, buzzards and ravens and take in the views of the valley of the River Beauly.
Day 5: Monday, May 13
West Coast and Inverewe Gardens.
Today we’ll head west to experience a leisurely visit to the famous Inverewe Gardens, on the West Coast, which lies beyond the majestic mountain landscape of Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. The land was purchased by Osgood Mackenzie in 1862 and he spent the majority of his time over the next forty years creating these wonderful gardens. We will be led on a guided tour by one of their gardeners, who will be able to provide a unique insight into this remarkable place.
The balmy Gulf Stream Drift promotes the luxuriant growth of plants from all around the world - Tasmanian eucalyptus and New Zealand daisy bushes vie for attention with woodland containing a canopy of Scots pine, underplanted with many unusual plants such as meconopsis and the primula Inverewe. Winding walks, rising and falling, give sudden glimpses of shimmering water through the foliage. Walking of up to two miles.
Lunch: Lunch out. Afternoon: Field trip continues.
Dinner: In the baronial hall in the House of Aigas.
Evening: At leisure.
Day 6: Tuesday, May 14
The Black Isle
Today we will travel east to the Black Isle, a mosaic of habitats surrounded by internationally important estuarine waters of the Moray and Cromarty Firths. This peninsula to the north and east of Inverness was the location for the first UK re-introductions of the red kite in 1989. These are now widespread, with around 50 breeding pairs in the north of Scotland population - the majority of them on the Black Isle. Habitats including pebble shores and cliffs are carpeted with thrift, stonecrop and campion. The interior is rich agricultural land intermixed with areas of native woodland, forestry and old hedgerows.
We will walk through the private estate surrounding the ruined castle at Redcastle, which contain a lovely open woodland and is a prime spot for nesting raptors. We will carry on along the shore of the Beauly Firth where we can expect a host of wetland birds and hedgerow flowers. We will visit the ruined cathedral at Fortrose before heading towards Chanonry Point which is one of the best sites for spotting our resident bottlenose dolphins whilst looking for some of the interesting coastal flowers.
In the afternoon the field trip continues. Time permitting, we may take a stroll through Drummondreach ancient oakwoods or investigate the Georgian fishing village of Cromarty. There will be options of shorter or longer walks of between three and six miles today.
Dinner: In the baronial hall in the House of Aigas
Evening: Highland house party activity.
Day 7: Wednesday, May 15
Today we will be exploring one of the most beautiful secluded glens through moorland, woodland and forests where we will hope to find northern marsh, heath spotted and fragrant orchids, clubmoss, yellow pimpernel, dwarf cornel, the insectivorous butterwort and sundews. The hills here are home to thousands of red deer and even a few feral goats.
An abundance of freshwater lochs and rivers means this is an ideal opportunity to find whooper swan, little grebe, red-breasted merganser, tufted duck and goosander, with dippers and grey wagtails flitting over the fast-flowing streams. Sparrowhawks are often seen skillfully navigating the mixed woodland and we’ll search the craggy ridges for the resident golden eagles soaring overhead. Rough paths, gentle hill climb onto hill ridge, up to five miles.
Afternoon: The field trip continues.
Dinner: In the baronial hall. Evening: At leisure.
Day 8: Thursday, May 16
This morning we will head off towards Glen Affric for a loop route walk which will take us past Dog Falls and the secluded Corrie Loch. At the bottom of the bowl is a nationally important site for dragonflies, with fourteen different species breeding there. It is one of the lesser-known areas in the Highlands and a hidden gem. woodland trail up to four miles.
Afternoon: Field trip continues.
Dinner: In the baronial hall.
Evening: At leisure.
Day 9: Friday, May 17
This morning we will spend exploring the gardens at Aigas which have been reinstated by Lady Lister-Kaye around the extensive Victorian arboretum with specimens from as far as Japan, New Zealand and California. The formal gardens have flowerbeds, a pond and areas of shrubbery.
There are also native birch woods, Scots pine with a juniper understorey and many fine trees such as Douglas, Noble and grand fir. Later this morning we will have the chance to spend a leisurely morning in the small village of Beauly. There will be time to visit the 13th Century Priory, Campbell’s Tweedshop (of Royal patronage) and the option of a tour to the local distillery.
Included although you may wish to sample local fare in Beauly-there are pubs, hotels, cafes and restaurants--even a fish and chip shop!
In the afternoon we will visit Reelig Glen, a charming 19th Century woodland walk popular with local people and which hosts a profusion of native and exotic species of plants and trees. Woodland trail up to two miles.
Dinner: In the baronial hall.
Evening: Farewell with traditional pipe music.
Day 10: Saturday, May 18
Scenic transfer to Glasgow.
Depart Aigas, transfer to Glasgow with information about and stops en route at Ruthven Barracks and Pitlochry.
Continue to Glasgow with stops en route, including Blackford. Please note, the proposed route is subject to change due to weather, traffic or other unforeseen circumstances.
Dinner: In the hotel.
Evening: At leisure.
Day 11: Sunday, May 19
Morning: Walk 300 yards to Glasgow Airport for return flights to North America. Breakfast: Full Scottish breakfast in the hotel.
Road scholar travel services - 800-241-1401
For questions reguarding the educational program:
Programming office, Canterbury, Kent
For questions reguarding registration, insurance or payments:
May 10, 2013
Holiday Inn Glasgow Airport
+44 870 400 9031
May11 - 17, 2013
Aigas Field Center and House of Aigas
+44 1463 782433
May 18, 2013
Holiday Inn, Glasgow Airport