From the Hebrides in the west, to inhospitable windswept specks of land like St Kilda and Foula, and to the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the north, you will explore the intriguing diversity of Scotland’s wild islands. The plan is to take in Neolithic sites scarcely changed in 5,000 years, and ponder the mystery of huge monoliths that marked seasonal change. Visit picturesque villages, haunted castles that once were stronghold of the Scottish clans; birders will delight in Europe’s largest sea bird colonies and the Orkney Islands will please whiskey amateurs with a wee dram of Scotland’s finest!
Arrive in Edinburgh and transfer to the hotel where you will meet other guests and will be given your luggage tags. You will have the day at leisure to explore the city and rest from your travels. This evening enjoy a welcome drink at the briefing.
Check out of your hotel and enjoy a sightseeing tour before your transfer to Oban Port, which is close to the town centre of Oban. The expedition team will welcome you aboard the Greg Mortimer at approximately 4.00pm. You’ll have some time to settle into your cabin before the important briefings begin, preparing you for your Scottish adventure. Set sail along Scotland’s northwest coast in the evening.
From golden beaches to jagged peaks, bleak moors and heather clad hills; from abandoned settlements to picturesque villages, your days in the Hebrides archipelago will be packed with variety. Explore remote lochs beneath some of Britain’s most untamed mountains and wander between unusual rock formations. Watch for whales, dolphins, otters, seals, and the increasingly rare basking sharks. Possibly land at an island reserve that is home to red deer and white-tailed sea eagles.
Kayakers will be introduced to their craft and will be briefed for their adventures, before picking up paddles to circumnavigate tiny islets or glide into narrow waterways that intertwine the islands. Hikers may opt for panoramic views from summits and ridges. Early the next morning you will aim for the tiny island of Iona. Barely 5 kilometres long, Iona is renowned as the birthplace of Christianity in Britain. It is also a burial ground of early Scottish Kings.
The following places are possible landings during your time in the Inner Hebrides; Staffa, Isle of Skye, The Cuillin Hills, Loch Scavaig, Loch Coruisk, Soay Island, Rubha’ an Dùnain and Canna Island.
From the Inner Hebrides make your way to the Outer Hebrides –also known as the Western Isles –that stretch for 209 kilometres and look out on the western side to the Atlantic Ocean. The first stop is at the Isle of Lewis, the largest and northern-most island in the Outer Hebrides. Plan to make a stop at Callanais, where archaeology buffs will be keen to see the fascinating group of Standing Stones, dating from around 3,000 BC. Nearby you may visit Bostadh House, a remarkable reconstruction of an Iron Age dwelling tucked away just above a beautiful white beach.
Weather permitting land at the isolated archipelago (and World Heritage site) of St Kilda, where derelict crofts bear testament to the fortitude of islanders who once tended the unique Soay sheep and harvested seabirds for food—and to pay their rent in the form of wool, meat and feathers. The isles hold Europe’s most important seabird colony and is home to Britain’s highest sea stacks (rock columns). Island hopping northeast, aim to visit tiny specks of land that bear the brunt of violent Atlantic storms and rarely see visitors. Home to breeding seals and some of Europe’s largest seabird colonies, Sula Sgeir, North Rona and Flannan boast spectacular cliffs, fantastic rock stacks, hidden beaches and luxuriant heaths where sheep once grazed.
Britain’s most northerly islands lie almost 160 kilometres off the Scottish mainland, at a similar latitude to the southern tip of Greenland, or Bergen in Norway. Kept relatively warm by the Gulf Stream, Shetland’s 100 islands experience almost 24 hours of daylight in summer. They abound with nature reserves and archaeological sites, and offer a taste of traditional island life. The plan is to explore some of the following sites: The island of Foula – the most remote inhabited island in the UK. Its small community of about 30 residents welcome you to their island to enjoy the magnificent scenery, large seabird colonies, beautiful wildflowers and remarkable community life. Papa Stour offers some of the best sea caves in Britain where you may be able to explore with Zodiacs and kayaks. Jarlshof is one of Shetland’s best preserved and most complex archaeological sites. It was exposed by storms in the late 19th century. The Old House of Sumburgh, built there in the 17th century, was named ‘Jarlshof’ by Sir Walter Scott in his novel ‘The Pirate’. Mousa Broch, on the small uninhabited island of Mousa, is the best preserved of Scotland’s 570 brochs (fortified Iron Age towers). Storm petrels nest among its stones, which can be seen when visiting the broch at night. In daylight, a large colony of common and grey seals basks on its shores and you may spot otter (Dratsi, in Shetland dialect).
Hermaness National Nature Reserve, is close to Britain’s most northerly point. The reserve is a place of bird cries and sea smells, of myth and mist. The cliffs rise 170 metres. During summer they are alive with the cacophony, and raw guano smell of over 100,000 breeding seabirds: kittiwakes, shags, snipe, dunlin, golden plover and Arctic skua, making this one of Europe’s most diverse colonies. The grasslands, moors and cliff tops are a tapestry of colourful wildflowers –gentians, heather, orchids and thrift are a few of the species here. A rocky islet, Muckle Flugga is Britain’s most northerly point and only 274 kilometres from Norway. With its mile-long seabird cliffs, the Island of Noss is a National Nature Reserve. In breeding season the sound of around 150,000 birds and chicks fills the air. Millions of years of wind and ice have honeycombed thousands of nesting ledges in sandstone cliffs almost 200-metres. Resident seals and visiting otters feed in dense kelp around the shores.
Midway between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle houses a major European ornithological research station, and is also famous for knitwear and historic shipwrecks. About five kilometres by three kilometres, it is surrounded by impressive cliffs. The 70 or so islanders mainly live in traditional crofts on the more fertile low-lying southern part of the island. A bird watchers’ paradise, Fair Isle lies on the intersection of major flight-paths from Scandinavia, Iceland and Faroe. In summer, the cliffs teem with breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins. The Isle is an excellent place to view seabirds, especially puffins at close range. Fair Isle also has over 250 species of flowering plants, including wetland flowers, rare orchids, alpine species and common wildflowers. Be welcomed by the hospitable villagers and you may take a hike or visit the museum. Grey and common seals inhabit these waters around Fair Isle, while sharp eyes may spot harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, killer whales (orcas) and minke whales. Orkney’s archipelago of 70 windswept islands, 10 kilometres north of the Scottish mainland, a rich tapestry of archaeology, history and wildlife awaits.
At the Knap of Howaron Papa Westray lies the earliest known house in Northern Europe, occupied by Neolithic farmers over 5,000 years ago. At the east end of Scapa Flow remnants from World War II include an Italian Chapel, created by Italian prisoners of war made out of two Nissen huts, and the Churchill Barriers, constructed on the orders of Winston Churchill to keep out U-Boats. Discover the rich history in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands. Initial impressions are misleading, as the harbour area looks modern, but the narrow winding streets and lanes of the old town, which have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries are appealing. Explore magnificent St Magnus Cathedral, or visit the Orkey Museum. Everything west of Kirkwall is known as West Mainland, an area of rich farmland, rolling hills and moorland, with dramatic cliffs along the Atlantic coastline. One of the mainland’s major attractions is Skara Brae, the best-preserved Stone-Age village in northern Europe, located in the spectacular white sands of the Bay of Skaill. Revealed in 1850 after a storm below away the dunes, the site dates from approximately 5,000 years ago and was occupied for about 600 years, showing a unique picture of the lifestyle of the original inhabitants.
On arrival in Aberdeen, disembark in the early morning and bid your fellow travellers farewell before making your international connections home, or continuing on for your next adventure. Onward flights should not be booked until after midday on the day of disembarkation.