Choosing a guided tour in Scotland is a daunting task – not only is there an infinity of tours to choose from, but there are also numerous tour operators, each offering slightly different variations of often similar tours. To help you decide, I recently tried a day trip to the West Highlands with Timberbush Tours – here is my verdict.
Day tours are a great way to fit as much of Scotland as possible into 8 hours. While it is practically impossible to see everything on a day tour, they can give you a great overview and plenty of ideas for longer journeys in the future. They are a way to scope the scene while leaning back and letting someone else to the driving and timekeeping.
My Route with Timberbush Tours
Timberbush Tours is a Scottish tour company operating out of Edinburgh and Glasgow. You have the choice between numerous multiple- or single-day-tours starting in either city. Seeing that I’ve been on day tours to Stirling Castle and Loch Ness before, I chose another Timberbush itinerary which should bring me to one of my favourite places in Scotland: Oban.
The Oban, Glencoe & West Highland Castles tour leads from Glasgow through the Arrochar Alps, past the beautiful castles in Inveraray and Kilchurn, to the fishing village of Oban, and back down through the haunting valley of Glen Coe and along the banks of Loch Lomond. Quite ambitious for a day!
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The first stop after about 1 1/4 hours of driving is Inveraray. On the way, you will have driven along the river Clyde, passed the southern banks of Loch Lomond, cruised through the Arrochar Alps past the Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint and driven along Loch Fyne. The viewpoint, in particular, would be an excellent photo stop, but alas, in the rain you could barely see anything of the valley beneath, and so our driver Charlie pushed on.
Once in Inveraray, we were given the choice to get off in the village to either go for a stroll and a cuppa or visit the Jail Museum or visit Inveraray Castle. Sensing a photo opportunity – doesn’t it look like a Disney castle?!? – we opted for the latter choice.
The ticket for the castle is not included in your tour price, but being a Timberbush Tours customer you can get a discount. It costs £11 for the castle and gardens or £5 only for access to the gardens. Considering that you only have about one hour to spend, you will probably find it difficult to see both, so choose wisely.
We went for gardens-only tickets and found it was just enough time for a little walk around the grounds, an extended photo session as well as a quick stop at the castle cafe to stock up on coffee.
2) Kilchurn Castle
Back on the bus, we drove just a little further until we reached Kilchurn Castle, one of Scotland’s most Instagrammed landmarks. Unfortunately, the rain had picked up and the path leading towards the water edge was completely muddy.
I resisted the urge to force my way closer for a photo op, and like my fellow tour passengers, snapped a photo from the car park along the road. I am certain, that there will come another day for the perfect photo!
*In fact, I got the chance to visit Kilchurn Castle just a few weeks later – and I got a perfect photo from the water!
Another 40 minutes later and we arrived at the main highlight of our tour – the quaint fishing village and gateway to the islands, Oban.
I had been here before on numerous occasions, but somehow the views from Mccaig’s Tower over to the Isle of Mull never grow old. Oban is still one of my favourite places in Scotland. There is a lot to do and see in and around Oban, so you could easily spend several days in the area – but even just a few hours are enough to steal your heart.
Where to eat lunch in Oban
Our driver Charlie dropped us off in the middle of town, next to the Columba Hotel and the famous seafood restaurant Eeusk, which I’ve been told is not only great for seafood, but also for lunch with sea views. Being vegan though, we headed off to one of the few options in town that we could locate with the Happy Cow app: The Little Potting Shed Cafe.
The cafe has loads of vegetarian and vegan options, like soup, sandwiches, salads and lots of cakes. It is a little tucked away on John Street, difficult to find even with Google Maps, but it’s worth the hunt and great wee spot to get away from the crowds – and Oban sure gets crowded with tour groups and summer vacationers!
Things to do in Oban
On a rainy day like this though, Oban felt considerably calmer than on recent visits. After lunch, we decided to head up to McCaig’s Tower to see how much of a view we would get, and while the Isle of Mull almost disappeared in the fog, it was still quite a dramatic scenery!
I could watch the ferries to and from the islands come and go all day; despite being a rather small town, the harbour always feels super busy and there is always a sense of opportunity in the air. Where could you go with the next ferry?
Unfortunately, we had to move on. After 1.5 hours in Oban, we got back on the bus and started the second leg of our journey. We drove further north, first over the bridge of Connel, then along the shores of Loch Linnhe, a sea loch of around 31 miles length.
Our next stop was in Glencoe, undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most beautiful and most famous valleys – but actually, it was three stops in the area. First, we got the chance to take some photos of the sailing boats softly swaying on Loch Leven. We then passed right through the village and headed into the valley. Driving past the impressive mountain range of Aonach Eagach, we next halted at the Three Sisters car park. On a good day, they Glencoe valley lies at your feet here – but even in the fog, you could feel the grandness of this place.
Sadly, the valley has a bloody history – the massacre of Glencoe, in which 38 members of the Macdonald Clan were killed in their sleep and another 40 (mostly women and children) fled to the mountains and died of exposure. A monument reminds of this terrible incident, but also the carefully named ‘Tears of MacDonald’ waterfall, which should be our third and final stop in Glencoe.
As we made our way back to Glasgow, we drove through Rannoch Mor and I recognised certain parts of the West Highland Way, which I had been hiking less than a month before. The trail shares the narrow valleys with the main road along this section, and it was nice to be reminded of my other recent Highland experience.
5) Loch Lomond
Following the A82 towards Glasgow, the road gets narrower and narrower as you close in on Loch Lomond. This is one of the moments, when I’m always happy to sit in the back seat, not having to worry about navigating the windy roads along the loch!
While there are many beautiful car parks and resting places along Loch Lomond, most tours stop in the little village of Luss. We spent half an hour here – enough time to stroll through the village and to the beach or to grab a takeaway coffee at one of the local cafes.
In Scottish fashion, it had finally stopped raining and Loch Lomond presented itself from its most gorgeous side!
From Luss, it was a quick 40-minute drive into Glasgow’s city centre, where Charlie dropped us off with another bag full recommendations for things to do in the city.
About Timberbush Tours
Timberbush Tours was founded in 1998 by couple June and Gary Voy. They started with just one coach en route to Oban, but today there are over 30 Timberbush Tours employees operating a fleet of coaches across the country. Timberbush Tours offers 1, 2 and 3-day tours starting daily in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which include destinations such as the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness and Inverness, Glencoe and the Highlands, Oban, St Andrews, the Borders Region and even Northumbria.
I have also tried their epic day trip to Holy Island and Alnwick Castle in England, which starts from Edinburgh!
They have highly qualified driver-guides who give every tour their touch of personality and air-conditioned coaches to ensure a comfortable journey. While Timberbush Tours is also a 5* Visit Scotland Accredited Scottish tour operator and has been awarded the TripAdvisor certificate of excellence since 2011, I am particularly happy to see that they also have a great commitment to sustainability and environment.
All Timberbush coaches are fuel efficient and by choosing a guided tour over a rental car, you actually contribute to the decrease of individual vehicles on the road – yay for you! Passengers are encouraged to offset their carbon footprint by donating money to charities such as Trees for Life or It’s Good to Give. The recommended donation for my tour to Oban, for example, is only £1.60!
Timberbush frequently works with and donates to these charities too, and staff participates in volunteer activities like the Big Beach Clean-up. Other green measures include recycling at Timberbush offices, encouraging employees to use public transport and printing brochures on FSC paper.
In addition, passengers on the longer tours are encouraged to support independent businesses, such as locally owned B&Bs and restaurants, in order to feed back into the local communities.
You can find more about Timberbush Tours’ green policy on their Green Tourism page.
My Verdict: Should you travel with Timberbush Tours?
I had a great time on this tour. Our driver-guide Charlie was like a book of endless stories; he knew so much about each town, valley or loch we drove by, always trying to find a story that suits all different tastes and interests – from history and interesting facts about Scotland to motorsport stories, golfing, fishing, music and film. The music played on the coach was great – lots of fiddles and Gaelic music, but also a few Scottish classics. The other people on the tour were mostly couples or little groups of friends and I’d say anywhere from their mid-20ies upwards – so we fitted right in!
Like always with guided tours, particularly day trips, there is never enough time – but when is there ever enough time? I think having at least half an hour longer in Oban would have been great in order to walk along the water a little longer or pop by the Oban whisky distillery. We actually arrived back in Glasgow a bit earlier, but we were also really lucky with the traffic along Loch Lomond.
I understand that these tours are supposed to give you lots of wee tasters from different places around the country. So if you’re pressed for time, want to save time and nerves by letting someone else do all the planning, driving, story-telling and researching of best photo spots, this day tour to the West Highlands and Oban with Timberbush Tours is a great choice!
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// In collaboration with Timberbush Tours. //