Our wide-ranging tour guides us through the glorious scenery of the Scottish mainland and beyond to the islands of the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands in pursuit of a deeper insight into the origins and purpose of these monumental prehistoric landmarks and their historical context. We’ll encounter stone circles and megalithic tombs; remote intricately decorated Pictish stelae; towering brochs; stone-built villages; and wild landscapes of peat-covered moors and swift-flowing burns. Equally intriguing are Iron Age remains whose warrior-like creators might feature in later Celtic mythology.
We’ll also visit excellent museums showcasing artifacts of these ancient cultures and those of the Picts, Romans (brief occupiers of the south) and Vikings, as well as learning about Scotland’s early church and the eventful story of its clans.
- Marvel at the impressive site of Skara Brae’s excavated stone-age village where artifacts 5,000 years old have been uncovered
- Call at an Oban distillery and learn how single malt whisky is produced!
- Sail the ferry to the legendary Isle of Skye, one of the most scenic and romantic of the Hebridean Islands
- Explore the historic fortress of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland’s capital city
- Visit fabled Iona island and its abbey, thought to be the first Christian site in Scotland
- Take the short boat trip to the Shetlands’ Mousa Island to see the most complete of Scotland’s 500 ancient drystone roundhouses called brochs
WHAT TO EXPECT
Monday, September 23: STORNAWAY
We arrive in Stornaway, on the Isle of Lewis, and transfer to our first hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before coming together for a welcome dinner as a group.
Tuesday, September 24: STORNAWAY
Our stay here gives us an opportunity to explore some of the heather-covered moors and brightly painted villages. However, we have traveled this distance primarily to see the Stones of Callanish, which are among the most important megalithic monuments of the British Isles. The site dates from the Late Stone Age and Early Bronze Age (3000-1500 BCE) and has a central cairn, which was a later addition. We will also visit Dun Carloway Broch, the Museum Nan Eilean, and other ancient and historic monuments.
Wednesday, September 25: STORNAWAY/SKYE
Today we take a leisurely drive to the Isle Harris, unique in its unspoilt atmosphere and an unusual lunar landscape indented with hundreds of tiny lochs. Here we visit St Clement’s Church before boarding our ferry from Tarbert to Uig, located on one of the most scenic islands in the Hebrides – the Isle of Skye.
Thursday, September 26: SKYE/OBAN
Today, our visits today include the brochs of Dun Telve and Dun Troddan. Dun Telve, at 10 meters, and Dun Troddan are two of the best-preserved and informative brochs in Scotland. Built by the Picts 2000 years ago, they demonstrate the defensive nature of these structures.
We then travel through a landscape of craggy hills and glacial lochs on a trip considered to be one of the most scenic journeys in Scotland. We cross the Skye Bridge and continue our touring with a visit to the local Oban Distillery. Here we will learn how single malt is made and taste their smoky, peaty single malt. The day ends at our lovely hotel with a view over the Sound of Sleat.
Friday, September 27: OBAN
Our day begins with a ferry from Oban via the Island of Mull to the historically important Island of Iona, where St. Columba exiled from Ireland, established a monastic community in 563 CE. The Columban Church had a key role in the establishment of Christianity in Scotland until Viking raids caused most of the community to move to Kells, in Ireland. We will visit the Early Christian remains and the medieval abbey and nunnery before returning to Mull and the ferry.
Saturday, September 28: OBAN/EDINBURGH
An early morning drive brings us to Cairnpapple Hill. Here five phases of occupation can be seen, the earliest of the Late Neolithic period, a large burial cairn from the Bronze Age and lastly, four graves probably of the Early Iron Age. We will then visit two forts along the Roman Antonine Wall: the well-preserved Rough Castle and Kinneil, a fortlet that has been excavated and partially reconstructed. We then continue to Edinburgh for two nights at our centrally located hotel.
Sunday, September 29: EDINBURGH
After a morning lecture, our city tour begins with Edinburgh Castle and a walk down the Royal Mile past wonderfully restored 15th- and 17th-century buildings, such as the John Knox House, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Holyrood Abbey and Palace, official residence of the Queen when she is in town. These two sites are imbued with the spirit of Mary Queen of Scots and will bring the history of that period to life.
Touring continues at the National Museum of Scotland, where we will see the fine archaeological collection, illustrating Scottish life and culture. The remainder of the day will be at leisure to visit some of the city’s landmarks.
Monday, September 30: EDINBURGH/ABERDEEN
Driving north we enter the center of the Pictish kingdoms, haunted by hill forts and mysterious stone circles. Our first stop is Dunning Church, one of Scotland’s earliest surviving churches. Here we will see the spectacular Dupplin Cross, a 9th century carved stone monument dedicated to King Constantine found at nearby Forteviot, a Pictish royal site and prehistoric ritual center.
En route to Aberlemno we see four remarkable Pictish stones; the most outstanding is 7-feet high and carved with a stirring battle scene thought to represent the victory of the native Picts over the Northumbrians in 685 CE. At Meigle, legendary burial place of faithless Guinevere, we will visit the outstanding collection of early Christian monuments. Our last stop today will be Dunnottar Castle, steeped in history including William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scotts, and the great battle against Cromwell’s army that saved the Scottish Crown Jewels and the honor of Scotland.
Tuesday, October 1: ABERDEEN/INVERNESS
Today’s route takes us through the land of Buchan with impressive views of Bennachie, probably the site of Mons Graupius, where the Roman Army crushed the Caledonian resistance in 83 CE. We will make a brief stop en route to inspect the Maiden Stone, one of the finest Pictish symbol monuments. At Rhynie we will see the Craw Stane still standing in its original position marking a royal settlement, three other Pictish symbol stones and a view to Tap O’Noth, an Iron Age tribal center.
We then continue to Inverness, stopping en route to visit Burghead, a spectacular Pictish fort and well with bull carvings, and at the amazing Sueno’s Stone, standing 20-feet tall and completely covered with mysterious symbols. Our final visit of the day will be one of the most important cairn groups on the mainland, Clava Cairns, probably built between 2500 and 2000 BCE.
Wednesday, October 2: INVERNESS/KIRKWALL
We drive north along the coast to the ferry at Scrabster, visiting some of the many prehistoric sites en route, including the Trabat Discovery Centre, a spectacular series of Pictish cross slabs at Hilton and Shandwick, The Hill o’Many Stanes, often compared to Brittany’s Carnac and the Grey Cairns of Camster. A 90-minute ferry trip brings us to the Orkney Islands and its quiet little capital, Kirkwall, one of the earliest Norse trading centers.
Thursday, October 3: KIRKWALL
During our three-day stay we will visit all of the fascinating remains on the islands with ample time to explore the old town of Kirkwall. Our touring today includes the Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae, where archaeologists have excavated six one-room houses with their stone furnishings, tools and implements after 5,000 years of burial under sand; the Ring of Brodgar; the Standing Stones of Stenness; and Barnhouse, the remains of a settlement inhabited from about 3200 to 2800 BCE.
We will cross to Brough of Birsay on foot at low tide to see the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements, where the earliest remains are houses and metalworking debris of the Pictish period. The Norse Cathedral and graveyard are built over an earlier Celtic foundation, and the Norse longhouses will give us a good picture of life on the island in the early-12th century.
Friday, October 4: KIRKWALL
Our day begins with a visit to the Iron Age settlement of Broch of Gurness, strikingly positioned beside Eynhallow Sound with views across to the island of Rousay. Then a ferry brings us to Rousay Island to see Midhowe, a fabulous broch and cairn. In the same area a coastal walk, known as the Westness Walk, visits several archaeological sites. We will picnic on the beach with gray seals providing our entertainment.
Saturday, October 5: KIRKWALL
Our last day of touring on this island includes the Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII; Scapa Flow; Maes Howe, the most outstanding Stone Age burial cairn in Britain; and the Kirkwall Museum. We will have an afternoon at leisure before we board an overnight ferry to the Shetland Islands. We will have comfortable cabins with private facilities for our sailing.
Sunday, October 6: KIRKWALL/LERWICK
Our ferry docks early on the Shetland Islands. We will have breakfast on board before we begin our two-day exploration of the island. Touring begins at Old Scatness, an Early Iron Age broch and village built between 400 and 200 BCE with evidence of a later Pictich village built into the top. Next, we visit Jarlshof, which has remains from the Stone Age through the Viking period. The museum has a small collection of finds from the site.
This afternoon a short boat trip will bring us to the uninhabited island of Mousa, where we will see the most complete of Scotland’s more than 500 brochs. This structure is fascinating both in its ingenious construction and its colorful past. It is said that the Picts sought refuge from Roman slave hunters here. Still standing over 50 feet in diameter, 45-feet high, with walls that taper from 12 to 7 feet in thickness, this broch illustrates how by tapering the walls first inward, then outward, they became impossible to climb.
Monday, October 7: LERWICK
Morning visits include Clickimin Broch and the prehistoric sites of Staneydale “Neolithic temple” and nearby standing stones (weather permitting). The Shetland Museum completes our touring. This evening we gather together for our farewell dinner.
Tuesday, October 8: LERWICK/GLASGOW
Today we fly to Glasgow where we have time at leisure to explore the city on our own.
Wednesday, October 9: DEPART FROM GLASGOW
We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.