A tour re-tracing Mendelssohn’s 1829 trip around the Scottish Highlands

Peter Medhurst | Mendelssohn specialist and tour leader

6 nights/7 days  £1,810.00 per person

Felix Mendelssohn by James Warren Childe, 1829


“Next August I am going to Scotland, with a rake for folksongs, an ear for the lovely, fragrant countryside, and a heart for the bare legs of the natives. Klingemann, you must join me . . . . and fly to Scotland.” So wrote the 20 year old Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) to his London-based friend Karl Klingemann, and once plans had been put in place the pair of them set off in July 1829 for a two week adventure in Scotland.  The experience made a lasting musical impression on Mendelssohn, inspiring – among other works – his Symphony No 3 in A Minor (The Scottish) and his Hebrides Overture (Fingle’s Cave).  The Scottish trip also began a lifelong connection for Mendelssohn with Great Britain, a connection that was to bring the composer repeatedly to London and other English cities in order to conduct or premiere his latest compositions.

Following Mendelssohn’s own itinerary of 1829 (pieced together from his letters and sketches) Peter Medhurst leads the tour from Sevenoaks to Durham, from Durham to Edinburgh, and from Edinburgh through the highlands – and the islands – to Glasgow, Mendelssohn’s last port of call.


Day 1

Depart Sevenoaks by coach for the North, visit York, overnight stay in Durham, dinner with wine at the hotel

When Mendelssohn made his way by stagecoach from London to Scotland in July 1829, the journey – including two stops – took him four days.  Mercifully, that is not the case today.

After congregating at our early morning rendezvous point in Sevenoaks, we board our private coach and head north to Durham, via York.  The reason that these two English cities are on the itinerary (and why we have elected not to go by plane) is because Mendelssohn travelled to Scotland via these places and in each location made sketches of the minster and the cathedral (see right).  York and Durham are very much part of the story.

Once we have arrived in Durham we check into the 4* Radisson Blu Hotel for one night.  Peter will give an early evening lecture on Mendelssohn, which is followed by a welcome drink and dinner with wine.  During your time in Durham you may wish to stroll to the Cathedral, if so, it is only a 13 minutes walk from the hotel.

Day 2

Scotland, visit Abbotsford House, lunch at leisure, visit Palace of Holyroodhouse, check in at the Winnock Hotel, evening lecture, dinner with wine at the hotel

Once Mendelssohn and Klingemann had arrived in Scotland they wasted no time in heading off to see the sights.  They visited Arthur’s Seat and Holyroodhouse Chapel, and eventually made their way to Abbotsford House, home of Sir Walter Scott.  We in turn pay a morning visit to Abbotsford House, which is followed by lunch at leisure.  We then make our way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland.

It was while Mendelssohn was standing in the ruined chapel of the palace that he was inspired to write the opening bars of his Scottish Symphony.  He wrote home saying:

‘In the twilight we went to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved; a little room is shown there with a winding staircase leading up to the door; up this way they came and found Rizzio in that little room, pulled him out and tthree rooms off there is a dark corner, where they murdered him. The chapel close to it is now roofless, grass and ivy grow there, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything round is broken and mouldering and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today in that old chapel the beginning of my Scotch symphony.’

Later, we transfer to Drymen (near Loch Lomond) and check in for three nights at the 3* Winnock Hotel. A relaxing dinner with wine is included at hotel.

Day 3

Morning lecture, visit Perth, visit Rumbling Bridge and the Hermitage, dinner with wine at the hotel

Morning lecture by Peter.

After leaving Edinburgh, Mendelssohn made his way to Perth, where he spent the night of 1st August 1829.  We pick up the threads of Mendelssohn’s itinerary in turn, with a morning visit to Perth, where we will have a chance to see the Museum & Art Gallery. Built just five years before Mendelssohn visited the town, Perth Museum and Art Gallery is one of the Britain’s oldest purpose built museums.  Among its treasures are three fine portraits by John Everett Millais, including one that he made of his wife, Effie (above).

Surviving sketches by Mendelssohn show that he visited local beauty spots near Dunkeld, including Rumbling Bridge and the Hermitage.  So, following a lunch in Rumbling Bridge, we make our way to both of these attractions.  Built by the Dukes of Atholl in the 18th century, the Hermitage is a little folly lined with mirrors and overlooks a dramatic waterfall.  All these years later, the impact of experiencing the building for the first time can never be forgotton or exagerated. It is quite extraordinary.  Dinner with wine is in included at the hotel.

Day 4

Visit Dunkeld and its cathedral, visit Blair Atholl and Atholl Castle via the Pass of Killikrankie, visit Tummel Bridge and view the Falls of Moness, dinner with wine is in included at the hotel

Of his journey to Dunkeld, Mendelssohn wrote: In the morning we drove in an open carriage, and then walked 21 [English] miles. I sketched a great deal, and Klingemann (pictured below) hit upon the divine idea, which I am sure will give you great pleasure, of writing some rhymes, of every spot of which I make a sketch. Yesterday and today we have been carrying out the plan, which answers charmingly; he has already composed very pretty things.

Not in an open carriage, but in our enclosed private coach, we pay a morning visit to Dunkeld and visit the ruined Cathedral. The atmospheric building nestles on the bank of the River Tay and was built between 1260 and 1501.  Because of its long building schedule the cathedral has a fascinating range of architectural styles, displaying Norman and Gothic features, side by side.

We continue to Blair Atholl via the impressive wooded gorge of the Pass of Killikrankie. Lunch will be at leisure and is followed by a tour of Blair Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Murray.  When Mendelssohn visited Blair Atholl he wrote:

‘This is a most dismal, melancholy, rainy day. But we make shift as best we can, which indeed is not saying much. Earth and sky are wet through, and whole regiments of cloud are marching up.’

Hopefully, we will be more fortunate with the weather, enabling us to experience the magnificent white medieval castle in all its splendour. We return to our hotel via Tummel Bridge and view the Falls of Moness, again, places that were on Mendelssohn’s travelling list. Dinner with wine is in included at the hotel.

Day 5

Visit Fort William via Killen and Glencoe, journey to Oban to check into hotel, dinner with wine is in included at the hotel

After time spent at Tummel Bridge, Mendelssohn set his sights on Fortwilliam, and we follow suit. So, after checking out of our hotel we drive to Fort William via Killen and Glen Coe. Fort William is a major tourist centre, with Glen Coe just to the south, Aonach Mòr to the east and Glenfinnan to the west, on the Road to the Isles.  Following an exploration of the town, we will have lunch at leisure before transferring to Oban to check in at the 5* Oban Bay Hotel for two nights. Dinner with wine is in included at the hotel. (Right, Mendelssohn’s sketch of Ben More).

Day 6

Boat journey to Staffa to view Fingle’s Cave, visit isle of Iona, tour of Iona Monastery, return to Oban and dinner with wine at the hotel

In later years, Mendelssohn told Dr Ferdinand Hiller that the idea for his Hebrides Overture came to him as he stood on the Isle of Staffa looking into the mouth of Fingal’s Cave.  This is what Hiller recalled: Mendelssohn had brought with him to Paris the draughtscore of the Hebrides Overture. He told me that not only was its general form and colour suggested to him by the sight of Fingal’s Cave, but that the first few bars, containing the principal subject, had actually occurred to him on the spot.

However, Mendelssohn’s Scottish letters say otherwise.  In a communication to his parents that predates his trip to Staffa by one day, Mendelssohn wrote: In order to make clear what a strange mood has come over me in the Hebrides, the following occurred to me:

The Hebrides Overture (Fingle’s Cave) Op 26 1830-2 by Mendelssohn

No matter.  However, when Mendelssohn did eventually reach Staffa, he had been so violently ill during the crossing that he could hardly have appreciated it at all. As Klingemann related at the time: For that the Atlantic did, it stretched its thousand feelers more and more roughly, twirling us about like anything. . . . Ladies as a rule fell down like flies . . . I only wish my fellow-sufferer had not been among them.

This morning we have an early start for the Isle of Staffa, making our way there by boat from Oban.  The island itself is comparitively small, but it is famous for its great basalt columns flanking the deep cave, known as Fingle’s Cave.  We continue by boat to Iona for lunch at leisure and this is followed by a visit to the Monastery on the island. We return to Oban for dinner at the hotel.

Day 7

Check out of hotel, visit Inveraray Castle, possible time spent visiting Helensburgh, return flight to Gatwick from Glasgow, coach transfer to Sevenoaks

Today, our final day, we check out of our hotel and make a morning visit to Inveraray Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne. Inveraray Castle, ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, was built in 1743 in the Gothic revival style and its designers included William Adam and Roger Morris.

Following our visit, we travel on by coach to Loch Lomond for lunch at leisure and depending on time, we may visit Helensburgh before transferring to Glasgow airport for our scheduled flight back to London Gatwick with EasyJet. On arrival at Gatwick we will have a private coach transfer back to Sevenoaks.

End of the tour


Private Coach from Sevenoaks throughout tour until Glasgow Airport on Day 7 & return private coach transfer from Gatwick to Sevenoaks on Day 7, EasyJet flight on Day 7, accommodation on Half Board (breakfast & dinner) basis, drinks as specified, itinerary and entrance fees, gratuities for coach driver, accompanied by Peter Medhurst throughout.

Not included

Holiday insurance, single supplement (£170.00 per person), meals & drinks not specified, gratuities not mentioned, personal items & porterage

How to book

A deposit of £200.00 per person (plus insurance premium, if applicable) is required to secure your booking. Please contact Travel Editions quoting: Knole – Scotland on Tel: 020 7251 0045 (Mon-Fri 9am – 5pm)

Peter Medhurst – Mendelssohn specialist, tour leader

Peter Medhurst is well-known in the world of the arts as a singer, pianist, scholar and lecturer, who in addition to his appearances on the concert platform and in the lecture hall, sets aside time to devise and lead tours abroad for small groups of art and music connoisseurs.  His particular interests are centred on the music, art and history of Vienna, Salzburg (with its strong Mozart link), Berlin, Halle (Handel’s birthplace), Dresden, Venice (Vivaldi’s birthplace), Rome, and Delft (with its Vermeer and 17th century Dutch School connections) and over the years Peter has been associated with a number of companies including Travel Editions, Cox and Kings, Success Tours, Heritage Travel, Tailored Travel, and Voyages to Antiquity.  Peter did his training at the Royal College of Music and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.