Retreat to the Highlands – Scotland, Nov-Dec 2024

The incredible Isle of Skye

Retreat to the Highlands, November 24 – December 5, 2024

Come awa’ wi’ us to the Scottish Highlands!

Feel the ghosts of history and literature gather ’round as we nestle in near the storied shores of Loch Ness, tour tragic battlegrounds, ancient castles, and prehistoric sites, and journey O’er the Sea to Skye—writing as we go.

November and December are some of the best months to visit Scotland, when tourists are few and the fierce beauty of the Highlands puts on a wild display just for you. With an average temperature of 5-14 degrees Celsius (41-57 Fahrenheit) at that time of year, and plenty of striking, autumnal atmosphere, there’s a sense of coziness and comfort when you’ve settled next to a roaring log fire with only your thoughts and your writing journal. Of course, up in the Highlands, we might be gifted with a surprise sprinkle of snow as we head into the holiday season, which only enhances the magic.

Regardless, there’ll be numerous opportunities for a cuppa tea or wee dram with which to coorie in.


Costs start at $5,595 CAD per person (approx. $4,090 USD) taxes included. See below for details.


Gerard and Janie in front of Eilean Donan Castle on our way to the Isle of Skye—a stop on one of our day trips in 2023 that we’ll be happy to visit again

Join authors Dr. Gerard Collins and Janie Simpson this autumn for a focused writing retreat in the Scottish Highlands. We’ll spend 11 nights, 12 days at the stunning Loch Ness Country House Hotel, booked for our writers’ exclusive use. We’ve recently hosted a retreat at this venue and we all wanted additional time there to do more writing and soak up the warm hospitality. Arran, Graeme, and the entire staff did everything in their power—with great success—to make us feel welcome and to create an atmosphere conducive to writing, relaxing, and inspiring conversations.

Writing by the fire at Loch Ness Country House

We couldn’t imagine a better place for a writer to hide out from a weary world, with no cares greater than to decide where your stories or poems are going, whether to have one more cup of tea while you nod off by the fire, sit at the window of your private ensuite bedroom, or to spend an afternoon at a pub or café in nearby Inverness.


Gerard Collins, PhD, Go and Write writer in residence and workshop leader.
Dr. Gerard Collins, originally from Newfoundland and now living in New Brunswick, is an award-winning author and educator who has taught and mentored for three decades. His works have won and been nominated for national and international awards, such as the NL Book Awards, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and the International Dublin Literary Prize, and he has been invited to read and teach at festivals and at universities in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. Gerard has published in numerous journals and anthologies, had his work taught in multiple university courses, and all of his books have been placed in libraries around the world. He was recently invited to be a featured author at the Louisiana Book Festival. See Gerard’s detailed bio here, or visit www.gerardcollins.ca.
Jane Simpson, award-winning author and professional arts administrator.
Jane Simpson is an award-winning writer and the founding executive and artistic director of the Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex, where she worked from 2016-2023 until she left to focus on her writing. Janie’s stories have been published in Grain Magazine and Riddle Fence, and she recently received Canada Council for the Arts and New Brunswick Arts Board grants to complete the first draft of her current project, a novel set on White Head Island, New Brunswick, where she spent much of her childhood. See Janie’s detailed bio here, or visit www.janesimpsonwriter.ca.

Some kind words from our Go and Write! Alumni:


A warm welcome

On your first day in Scotland, we’ll gather at The Loch Ness Country House Hotel in the Highlands, a short 25-minute cab ride from the Inverness Airport, or 10-minute ride from the train and bus station, should you wish to fly into another airport. Once gathered, we can clear our minds, relax, get to know each other, have our Welcome Supper—the first of many fantastic meals over the course of twelve days—and do a LOT of writing.

The Loch Ness Country House Hotel
The Loch Ness Country House, our home in the Highlands for 11 nights, 12 days
Welcome to the Loch Ness Country House Hotel
A warm welcome awaits

The Loch Ness Country House Hotel was originally built in 1710 as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Gordon, and the grand folks at this exclusive-use country house in the Highlands honour the old-world, traditional hospitality that has been practiced for generations in the Highlands—fires in the hearths, breakfast each morning, and a healthy variety of fresh-made dinners each evening prepared by their AA Rosette award-winning restaurant.

We’ve arranged, with help from our gracious hosts, for some culinary surprises again this year. Last year, we celebrated the American Thanksgiving with a feast that brought happy tears to many eyes, and this year, the chef will have even more delicious wonders for us, including an afternoon tea—a break from the 3-course banquets we’ll have many evenings.

Like everything else in the Highlands, afternoon tea is an adventure unto itself

When we’re not eating, of course, there’s plenty of space to stretch out and do some writing, reading, walking, or daydreaming in silence on a fine, late-fall day. Imagine yourself in the Highlands, with no other expectations put upon you than to write to your heart’s content, sit by the fire, eat and drink as you wish, and explore the most beautiful countryside imaginable on the hotel’s seven acres of grounds.

  • After a day of exploring, grab a journal, settle by the fire at the Loch Ness Country House Hotel, and sketch your adventures with words.

Rooms at the Loch Ness Country House Hotel—upgrades available

One of the Loch Ness Country House Junior Suites

All of the rooms at the hotel are lovely and tastefully decorated, in keeping with the beautiful Highland country house, and room service is available in all rooms.

We don’t ask people to share rooms on Go and Write! retreats unless they wish to register as a double, and we don’t pair strangers. As with all of our retreats, writers can register as individual participants or bring another adult to share their room and costs, with the option of one or two beds (and even cottages). This second person can also be a non-writing spouse/guest—we often have non-writers join us on retreats, and they’re welcome to participate in as little or as much of the programming as they wish. These folks are invited to join us for all of the meals, readings, writing discussions, and outings that are part of the retreat, as these elements are included in everyone’s registration.

There are inexpensive room upgrades available at the Loch Ness Country House Hotel for those who wish to have additional luxuries and space, and rooms will be filled on a first come, first served basis. We have incorporated some photos and general room descriptions from the hotel website below.

Loch Ness Classic Standard Room*

Full of charm, these twin and double rooms have been decorated in rich classic colours, providing a warm and textured feel—a nod to the original Georgian period of the hotel. These rooms also include large, en-suite marble bathrooms, with complimentary luxury Scottish toiletries and a bathrobe. A plasma TV and DVD player are also included.

*The starting price for your retreat is based on one of these classic standard rooms.

  • classic double room

Loch Ness Junior Suite

These striking suites offer the luxury of space to think, write, and relax. Classic and contemporary in style, with tones of carousel red, amber cream and rich cherry wood, you can enjoy the separate seating area overlooking the stunning gardens. These suites feature large en-suite marble bathrooms and complimentary luxury Scottish toiletries and a bathrobe. The suites also include two plasma TVs, DVD player, and excellent in-room dining facilities.

Loch Ness Executive Suite

Enjoy an extra bit of luxury in the Executive Suite at Loch Ness Country House Hotel. This bright and spacious room overlooks the front gardens and features a King size, four-poster bed draped in luxurious sea green and cream linens. It also features a decadent chaise-lounge as well as a large, en-suite marble bathroom with complimentary luxury Scottish toiletries and a bathrobe. Excellent in-room dining facilities make for an intimate in-room evening dining experience if you want to stay focused on your writing.

Loch Ness Cottages

Beautifully decorated in a comfortable, contemporary style, these charming and character-filled cottages reflect the essence of a Highland escape. Set within the hotel gardens, they offer every service and benefit of the main building but with the addition of privacy and plenty of outdoor space.

Note: Even though there are two separate bedrooms in the cottages, if you choose a cottage upgrade, you will not be expected to share the space with anyone else; however, these cottages are ideal for friends, siblings, parent/adult child, etc. who want to share the space and retreat cost, including the cost of the upgrade.

Garden Cottage One

Has two bedrooms with one double bed and two twin beds, a large living room complete with open log fire, and bathroom and bathrobes. Large plasma TV, DVD and CD player included. 

Garden COTTAGE Two

Has two bedrooms with one double bed and two twin beds. A small living room, bathroom and bathrobes, and TV, DVD and CD player included.


Time to play

Janie and Gerard enjoy evenings filled with music, song, and stories

The emphasis for our extended time at the Loch Ness Country House is relaxation, focus, and inspiration for writing—a chance to recharge and find some peace in a venue that prides itself on its hospitality. We’ll host two group writing sessions and you’ll have a couple of one-on-one sessions with Gerard as well, loads of conversations about writing at breakfast and supper, and plenty of quiet time for writing.

We’ll also try to arrange for at least one night of music with Janie and Gerard; Janie plays harp while Gerard plays guitar, and together they sing folk songs from Ireland, Scotland, England, Canada, and the United States. Their aspirations are modest, as they offer their musical abilities for the entertainment of those who wish to partake. Between the poetry and the songs, it makes for an intimate evening that also happens to be a lot of fun and usually winds up in a singalong.

 

Update! As artists ourselves, we do our best to support the local arts economy wherever we go, and we’re thrilled to share that we’ve managed to find a local storyteller with the help of the Scottish Storytelling Centre! Lilian Ross—storyteller, singer/songwriter and poet—will visit one evening to entertain us with local lore.


Things to do in the region

Inverness—escape to the Hub of the Highlands

Our retreat venue is about five minutes from the storied city of Inverness, close enough to catch a taxi ride into town for a day of walking about, shopping, having lunch or a wee dram while you do a little writing.

Inverness and the River Ness
Inverness and the River Ness

While you’re in town, why not check out Leakey’s book shop, which boasts a collection of rare and antiquarian books, or the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and its collection of Pictish stones. And if you’d like to stay focused on literary experiences, you can also visit Inverness Castle, where Shakespeare’s MacBeth killed King Duncan.

Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness, a wonderful store where you can browse for hours, warmed by the central woodstove

Highland Whisky

The Highlands are by far the biggest whisky-producing region in Scotland, and our hotel is only a half-hour away from two acclaimed distilleries: The Singleton of Glen Ord and Tomatin Highland Single Malt, the latter being recently awarded the ‘Scotch Whisky Producer of the Year 2022’ and ‘Outstanding Spirits Producer of the Year 2022’ by one of the world’s leading drinks awards, International Wine and Spirit Competition.

We’ve sampled the Singleton whisky at the Loch Ness Country House for ourselves, and it’s exceptional. If participants wish to have a distillery tour to witness how whisky is made and hear the history of this ancient craft, the hotel staff will be happy to help coordinate a tour for you. We often have couples join us on retreat, and a distillery tour also makes a nice outing for a non-writing partner.


Don’t forget to write…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During our 12 days in the Highlands, you’ll have creative and inspiring writing sessions, opportunities to talk about your own writing and the sample you’re invited to submit in advance, and time to devote yourself to the craft of writing. As well, you’ll find yourself in the company of like-minded souls, some of whom have written only a little and others who’ve already published; and while there’s never any pressure to write, you’ll always find the encouragement to do so. We’ll enjoy private group readings on some evenings throughout the retreat, where you’ll have the opportunity to share your writing with your fellow participants, if you likewithout pressure.

On our most recent retreat at the Loch Ness Country House, we enjoyed several afternoons and evenings in quiet companionship, reading, researching, and writing by fireside


Day Trips

We’ve made our home base in the Highlands at Loch Ness Country House for good reasonit’s easily one of the most welcoming, relaxing, and inspiring places we’ve ever hosted a retreat, plus there’s plenty to see and do nearby. While we’ll be focused on writing, we’re, well, we’re in the Highlands—so we absolutely need to do some exploring.

Day trip #1: Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Tavern, and Urquhart Castle

Culloden

After we’ve settled at the hotel for a few days, we’ll take a visit to Culloden Battlefield, which marks the spot of the last major battle on British soil.

  • Culloden clan marker
    Culloden Clans marker

The wild moor at Culloden is the resting place of 1,500 Jacobite and 50 Government soldiers who fought and died here in 1746. Today, you can walk along the battle lines and see the graves of the soldiers beside the memorial cairn in the centre of the battlefield. We have secured a guided tour of the battlefield for our participants so we can get the most out of this experience.

Cawdor Tavern

Cawdor Tavern, “The cosiest place for a great family lunch!” ~ Tilda Swinton & Family, Nairn.

How’s that for a star-packed review?? If the Cawdor Tavern is fit for Tilda and her family, it certainly gets the Go and Write! green light. One of our participants this past year asked a staff person whether they ever see the brilliant film actress at the tavern, to which they replied that she comes in often. Having experienced the food and atmosphere for ourselves, we can understand why.

After our visit to the Culloden Battlefield, we’ll bring you to this tavern that was named for Cawdor Castle, made famous by Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We’re on our own for lunch or a short stroll, here. Cawdor Tavern is situated in the conservation village of Cawdor, very near its namesake castle, and strives to be “a haven for locals and visitors alike to enjoy quality dining, fine malts, interesting ales, and an excellent wine selection.” We like it because it’s a very cool Scottish pub, the kind of place you’d like to go and hang out for a while and get inspired.

Clava Cairns

Fans of Outlander will recognize the 4,000-year old Clava Cairns as the “stand-in” standing stones for the fictional Craigh Na Dun, which play a pivotal role in the novel and TV series.

Besides the famous standing stones, Clava Cairns consists of three Bronze Age burial chambers which have survived the centuries, while two of the cairns feature a passageway that leads inward, with a noticeable drop in temperature as one reaches the centre. The third cairn was once used as a funeral pyre for cremation. The site contains a range of prehistoric burial monuments and the remains of a medieval chapel.

  • Clava Cairns near Inverness in a little surprise hazy sunshine
    The mystical Clava Cairns

To stand at Clava Cairns on a still, silent autumn morning is to bear witness to the mystical history and the enduring nature of the Scottish Highlands, where ancient cairns and standing stones whisper stories that we can only imagine. In a world that roars chaos, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real or what might be considered truly sacred. A visit here will speak to your soul, perhaps even satisfy the longing for something both solid and spiritual.

Day trip #2: “O’er the Sea to Skye”

Scotland
The incomparable Isle of Skye, one of the places we’ll visit on our 12-day retreat

No trip to the Highlands is complete without heeding the call to Skye, the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides islands of Scotland. The isle, whose name origins remain a mystery, is quintessential Scotland and, thanks to the famous song—made even more famous as the opening theme for Outlander—it’s the place that comes to mind for many when they picture Scotland. Here are two of our favourite versions of the classic, one with Griogair Labhruidh singing in Gaelic, and the other featuring the late, beloved Sinéad O’Connor.

Eilean Donan Castle

Our first stop on this day trip will be the Eilean Donan Castle, easily the most famous and spectacular of all the Highland castles, so we can appreciate the moment and allow for photographs of this magnificent structure. Then it’s on to Portree, the adorable town that is the capital of Skye, where we’ll stop for lunch or a quick walkabout.

Eilean Donan Castle
The spectacular Eilean Donan Castle

After that stop, we’ll venture on to see the Old Man of Storr (a landmark for sailors), Lealt Falls, Kilt Rock, and The Quiraing before returning to Loch Ness Country House Hotel.

Our intrepid group of writers at Kilt Falls, Isle of Skye

While it’s undoubtedly a trek to get there, if you’re the kind of person—as we are—that has always felt the call of Skye, it’s worth the journey. While we couldn’t possibly see everything, our group of writers in 2023 were deeply pleased that we took the day to visit, and we’ve worked closely with our coach driver, Donald MacNeil of award-winning MacNeil Coaches (who kindly took the photo of our group above), to choose places that will give us the Skye experience we all crave.

The Quiraing, or “round fold,” a geological formation at the summit of Trotternish on the Isle of Skye—the region is formed by a series of landslips, some of which are still moving

Goodbye to the Highlands

In the words of Neil Gaiman, who sought the solitude of Skye during the recent pandemic: when life hands you  sorrow, “Make good art.” So, let the harrowing, haunting sadness of Highlands history seep into your bones, and take notes, for there is where you will find your greatest art. In the years to come, you can return in your mind—through your notes, journals, and photographs—to the places like Culloden and Skye that inspire you.

On the evening of our last full day in the Highlands, we’ll gather in the cozy living room with the crackling log fire to share stories and toast a fond, fare-thee-well to this majestic country that, undoubtedly, will have provided us with memories and good friends for the rest of our days.

The next morning, some of us will rise early to board taxis for the short ride to the Inverness airport, while others will want to stretch out their breakfast and stay until checkout at 11:00 a.m. We know from experience just how hard it is to leave.


Join us on our next adventure.

Gerard and Janie at Clava Cairns

This 12-day Retreat to the Highlands is designed to satisfy both your desire for adventure and your need to find time to write, along with the thoughtful and respectful guidance of an award-winning author and mentor. Some of our travellers aren’t writers at all, though they often travel with writers. The vast majority, though, are writers of various genres, including novelists and playwrights, screenwriters, memoirists, and poets, and are at various stages of their writing life. We get as many new or emerging writers as we do established writers who simply need time away from the daily grind to refresh their souls or kickstart their writing.

You’ll travel in the company of like-minded souls, some of whom have written only a little and others who have published extensively. Go and Write! travellers, including non-writing folk, often have a tough time choosing their favourite part of our retreats, but the lasting friendships and memorable moments that could only happen when a bunch of writers go traveling together top most lists.


A note from a recent retreat participant

“It is not an exaggeration to say this retreat changed my life! I have been struggling for years to finish a personal memoir draft. Just a few days on our retreat, and my writing and I turned a corner. I had the breakthrough that had eluded me for years. The combination of Gerard’s insightful guidance, the support of the other writers who became instant soulmates, and the Irish tradition of storytelling in an 18th century castle proved to be life-changing.

“I am close to finishing my memoir draft, and I give all credit to Go and Write for providing the environment that enabled me to write and organize my thoughts.  I have opened myself up to the possibilities ahead, and I’m feeling better about my writing than I have in years.

“My deepest thanks to Gerard and Jane…”

~ Gloria R.B., Go and Write! alumnus


What’s included on your Go and Write! adventure:

Go!

  • 11 nights at the Loch Ness Country House in Inverness
  • 11 breakfasts and 11 suppers
  • Day trip #1
    • Culloden Battlefield with guided tour and entry into Visitors’ Centre
    • Clava Cairns standing stones
    • Stop at the Village of Cawdor
  • Day trip #2
    • Stop at Eilean Donan Castle
    • Isle of Skye with visits to Old Man Of Storr, Lealt Falls, Kilt Rock, and the Quiraing
    • Stop in Portree, the capital of Skye
  • Land transfers provided by MacNeil Coaches, awarded the International Safe Travels Accreditation from the World Travel & Tourism Council

Write!

  • Two creative and inspiring writing sessions
  • Two opportunities to chat one-on-one with Gerard Collins
  • Professional, honest, and thoughtful commentary on your pre-submitted writing sample from an award-winning author and university educator—helpful regardless of your writing level
  • The company of other writers
  • Group readings
  • Non-writing participants are welcome to join in as much of the programming as they wish
  • Ample time and opportunity for writing, idea-gathering, and solitude

A major difference between Go and Write! and most travel companies or writing retreats is the personalized aspect of our tours. We ensure there’s both social time and alone time built into the itinerary, as well as plenty of time for wandering and gathering thoughts in a solitary fashion. We encourage writers to give each other space, although social time also guaranteed, if that’s what you’d like. Note, also, that we don’t compel strangers to share a room as most writers prefer solitude or, at most, the company of a friend or family member of their own choosing.

In all, we pride ourselves on being open and inclusive and, being writers ourselves first and foremost, we imagine the best writing retreat possible and try our best to deliver on that ideal.


Kind words from one of our 2022 retreat participants:

“I am beginning to reflect on the joy the trip has brought me… The tenderness and care you showed us was so evident in the choices of lodging, the comfortable bus rides, and the knowledgeable guides. It was your day-to-day presence, while checking on all of us, that was especially meaningful. I am not certain I can explain the impact, but I feel it has awakened a longing in me and an understanding of something deeper that was not previously there.”
~ Ann K., Go and Write! alumnus


Check out our entire 2024 retreat lineup!

St Andrews by-the-Sea, NB, Canada, May 4-11 OR Oct 23-30, 2024

St. Martin’s, NB, Canada, July 7-14, 2024

Into the West: Ireland, September 13-27, 2024

Retreat to the Highlands, Scotland, November 24 – December 5, 2024

Christmastime in the Cotswolds, England, December 12-19, 2024

Additional locations we’re working on for 2025 and beyond:

Newfoundland

Italy


Cost

Double occupancy, per person, sharing room, including applicable taxes: starting at $5,595 CAD before room upgrade (approx. $4,087 USD)
Single occupancy, including applicable taxes: $6,695 CAD before room upgrade (approx. $4,890 USD)

Please note that there is NOT a surcharge for single travellers. The true cost of the retreat is based on the single price, but if you bring someone else, you share the room costs, which lowers the price per person. Numbers will be limited to approximately 16 participants on this writing retreat to allow for a more intimate, connected, and focused experience.

Costs start based on a Classic Standard Room at the Loch Ness Country House Hotel; rooms are allocated on first-come/first-served basis.

Upgrades for the Loch Ness Country House Hotel:

  • Junior Suite upgrade: add $300 CAD total, including tax, for the full 11-night stay
  • Executive Suite upgrade: add $400 CAD total, including tax, for the full 11-night stay
  • Cottage Two upgrade: add $450 CAD total, including tax, for the full 11-night stay
  • Cottage One with log fireplace and larger living space upgrade: add $600 CAD total, including tax, for the full 11-night stay

Contact us for more information and to reserve your space, and to see which room are available. We’re happy to answer all your questions by email, phone, or Zoom.


A non-refundable deposit of $1,200 CAD per person is due when you reserve your space. Final payment is due July 19, 2024. This date may be extended for late registrants.

Listed price is in Canadian dollars and includes taxes; gratuities are at participants’ discretion. We have estimated the price in US dollars for our American participants’ convenience, based on the rate of exchange at the time of posting; the actual cost will depend on the conversion rate at time of payment.

Note: Rates shown do not include credit card processing fees. For those paying by credit card, we add 2.4% and the fee is non-refundable. For Canadians, we’re able to offer an e-transfer option to save you processing fees. For other registrants, we also accept international bank transfers; please research the processing fees charged by your bank as you’re responsible to pay those fees. Contact us for more information.

Some people choose to pay by credit card if it has an associated trip insurance policy. It is your responsibility to research and understand details around any insurance coverage associated with your credit card. Visit our Expectations, Rules, and Refunds page for more information about the importance of trip insurance.

Register by contacting us.


A few additional notes

We are staying in a historic residence with no elevator; participants are required to climb stairs to get to their bedrooms, and while we do our best to allow for choice, bedrooms will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Trip insurance

Travel cancellation, interruption, and health insurance is highly recommended. Participants are responsible to research the implications of travel restrictions at home and abroad before and at the time of travel. Ensure you have everything you need so you aren’t turned away from establishments or airports.

Your non-refundable portion of your deposit is 100% non-refundable. If you cancel up to 6 months before a retreat for any reason, any other payments you’ve made to us are returned to you, less the non-refundable deposit and payment processing fees. If you cancel from 4-6 months before a retreat, we will return 75% of any fees paid less your non-refundable deposit and payment processing fees. If you cancel within 4 months of the start of a retreat, any fees paid cannot be returned. If the retreat needs to be postponed, we will make every attempt to reschedule. We can only offer refunds if our providers also refund monies to us.

Due to contractual obligations with our suppliers, we cannot make exceptions to the cancellation policy, regardless of the reason.

All participants are required to review our Expectations, Rules and Refunds page and acknowledge agreement with the contents before registering for a Go and Write! retreat.