Our trip begins in Inverness, Scotland. Meet your guide and fellow family travelers at the Inverness train station at 1pm for a short transfer to the ruins of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. Step back in time to the 14th century and the series of raids and captures by various clans contending for the throne of Scotland. From here, a zodiac whisks us to the southern tip of the Loch while we’re on the lookout for the legendary Loch Ness Monster (Nessie). We disembark at the village of Fort Augustus, our base for the first two nights of this adventure. Our hotel is located close to the water’s edge, next to the Caledonian Canal. Before dinner, your guides will give a full trip orientation explaining how each family will earn a John Muir Award by completing a range of outdoor and conservation activities during the trip. Dinner included.
Transfer: 30 minutes; Zodiac ride: 1 hour.
After a traditional Scottish breakfast, we hop on our mountain bikes and pedal along the canal on an easy, off-road trail, southwards through the Great Glen. The ride is straightforward but with a more challenging optional section for keen riders at the end. Reaching Loch Oich, one of the 3 major lochs which form the Great Glen, we break for a picnic lunch. Swapping bikes for canoes we gain a new perspective on the landscape as we paddle through the loch and then down the Caledonian canal itself, all the way back to the hotel. We have time to shower and relax before heading into town to eat dinner on our own. Breakfast and lunch included.
Cycling: 5 to 10 miles; terrain: flat, easy off-road trails with optional challenging section; Canoeing: 10 miles; 2 to 3 hours.
Today we undertake a part of the John Muir Award by exploring the famous Scottish landscape on foot. We transfer to Glen Nevis, located just outside the town of Fort William. Your guide will lead you on a hike, demonstrating geocaching along the way; and looking for secret treasure! Glen Nevis is among the Highlands’ most impressive glens, where herds of shaggy Highland cattle graze the valley floor and a sparkling river runs through glades of trees. We break for a picnic lunch along the river before continuing our pleasant hike to a gorge that opens up to a hanging valley and Steall Falls; this is Scotland's second highest waterfall, with a single drop of 390’, and was featured in Braveheart and one of the Harry Potter movies.
After hiking back down the valley, we transfer to our hotel in Fort William, which is situated alongside the Caledonian Canal at the famous Neptune’s Staircase Locks. Fort William is perhaps best known as the adventure hub for climbers heading out to summit Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. It also offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy pristine beaches, local distilleries and plenty of dining and shopping options. All meals included.
Transfers: 1.5 hours; Hiking and geocaching: up to 5 miles; 4.5 hours; elevation gain: 820’.
We board the famous Jacobite Steam Train at Fort William Station. As the train leaves the station, we dream about our own trip to the magical world of a famous sorcerer boy who used this train to escape his unsatisfying life; you may have read about him! A highlight of the journey is when the train crosses the Glenfinnan viaduct and we take in the stunning views towards the Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel. We disembark at the fishing port of Mallaig and take a short transfer to the village of Arisaig where we have lunch. After a demonstration on sea kayaking techniques and safety procedures, we begin our paddling on Loch nan Ceall aboard two-person kayaks. This sheltered sea loch is dotted with white sandy islands and home to a large seal colony. Otters, dolphins and porpoises can also be seen. Anyone not wishing to kayak can visit one of the wonderful beaches with our guide and enjoy swimming on a warm summer day. Tonight we are back in Fort William. All meals included.
Transfers: 1 hour; Train ride: 2 hours; Sea kayaking: 3 hours.
We head out to Newtonmore, a lovely highland village within the Cairngorms National Park, for our own Shinty demonstration and a chance to play! Shinty, an ancient Scottish sport that has been played in the Highlands for 2000 years, involves a wooden stick and ball and loosely resembles field hockey.
This afternoon is spent cycling through the ancient Rothiemurchus Forest to Loch Morlich at the foot of the Cairngorm mountain range. Using mountain bikes, we follow quiet off-road trails through the Caledonian pine forests while looking for the native red squirrel. Tonight we have the option to sample one of the local dishes, such as steak and Cairngorm ale pie. All meals included.
Transfer(s): 1.5 hours; Cycling: 5 to 15 miles; 2.5 hours; terrain: mainly flat off-road trail.
We learn the ancient art of archery in the heart of the Cairngorms. A selection of bows is available to suit every size of archer! Who can hit the bull’s-eye to win the prize? Leave our bows behind and enjoy a short hike through the forest from Rothiemurchus Estate to Loch an Eilean. This area is home to red squirrels, Highland cows, red deer, and is one of the last bastions of the Scottish wildcat. We break for a picnic lunch at Loch an Eilean with its 13th century island castle, voted Britain’s best picnic spot. After lunch, choose to transfer back to the hotel, spend some free time in the nearby village of Aviemore, or take on the challenge of Scotland’s longest zip-line course! All meals included.
Transfer(s): 35 minutes; Archery: 1 hour; Hiking: 1.5 miles; 30 minutes. Note: Additional cost applies to optional zip lining.
A full Scottish breakfast fuels us for a fun day ahead with reindeer and sheepdogs! Rothiemurchis Estate is one of the greatest areas of natural forest in Britain. We meet up with our own reindeer herder and hike across the high moorland to their feeding area. Reindeer have lived in Scotland since 1952 in the Cairngorm National Park, after being re-introduced by conservationists Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr. Ethel Lindgren. We hand-feed the reindeer and learn about the part they play in the ecology of the Cairngorms. After a picnic lunch, we’ll take on a conservation task, either linked to the reindeer or on the wider Rothiemurchus Estate, as part of the John Muir Award. Next we observe a sheepdog demonstration where dogs work as a team maneuvering sheep and ducks through various obstacles. Moving herds with sheepdogs is a practice dating back centuries, and we’ll be part of this farming tradition. Early summer, there may be an opportunity to bottle-feed the orphan lambs and take part in shearing a sheep. All meals included.
Transfers: 1 hour; Hiking: 1 mile; 1.5 hours; elevation gain: 328’; Conservation work: 2 hours; Sheepdog activity: 45 minutes.
This morning we set out for a small beach located on the shore of Milton Loch. We walk down to the beach and each family gives a short presentation about the John Muir Award before being presented with their certificates. We then transfer to the Aviemore Railway Station by 11am for guests making train connections to Edinburgh or Glasgow (3.5 hour journey), before continuing to Inverness Airport, arriving by 12:40pm. Departing flights from the Inverness airport can be scheduled for after 2:30 pm. Breakfast included.
Transfer(s): 1 hour.