Scotland’s western and northern isles are a dream destination—and for many, a long-awaited return to ancestral homelands. Culture, heritage, and natural history abound here, echoes of Europe’s ancient past.
In Medieval times, an already-archaic society in the Hebrides evolved into the Lordship of the Isles, a sea-kingdom blending Gael and Viking under the powerful domination of Clan Donald. In the north, Orkney and Shetland were wed into a formidable Scandinavian earldom. Both island groups preserve some of the oldest monuments in Europe, dating back to the Stone Age.
Kinship and community are two of the constants in this story; Gaelic-speaking clans retained their independence despite acknowledging the Lords of the Isles, while free Norse landholders battled the forces of feudalism in the Northern Isles.
Aboard the Ocean Endeavour, we’ll enjoy contemporary comforts as we explore our way out from Glasgow, through the western isles and the Pentland Firth to Orkney and Shetland. Abundant ecology and spectacular geology beckon adventurers for a closer look. June is an ideal month to visit Scotland in search of birds, with breeding well underway, and avian enthusiasts will be rewarded with excellent opportunities. Photographers will be in their glory amid the gorgeous scenery; small-group tutorials will help shutterbugs capture the experience at its finest.
Island folk have always been extremely conscious of the natural environment, as its bounty has sustained them. We’ll experience a bit of island life too—with music and laughter in community halls and local pubs. Though modern touches grace many homes, the people who live here still remain close to their roots, tracing traditions to the original settlers who first made their homes here centuries ago.
Dubbed the Empire’s Second City, this bustling metropolis is economic engine of Scotland—and an architectural delight. Glasgow’s cathedral spires and Italianate steeples sit share the skyline with neo-gothic towers, the sensuous Art Nouveau of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the titanium, glass, and steel of this contemporary city.
We then make our way to via coach Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park to Oban, where we will meet the Ocean Endeavour.
Known as the Queen of the Hebrides, Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides, lying just forty kilometres off the Irish coast. With a climate warmed by the Gulf Stream, the island is a haven for a variety of bird species. The capital of Islay is Bowmore, home of the Bowmore Round Kirk and one of the island’s seven renowned whisky distilleries.
Not far from Mull, the isle of Staffa is noted for its remarkable geography, including basaltic formations and numerous caves. The most famous of these is ‘Fingal’s Cave’, a spectacular natural feature named for the Celtic hero. Originally known in Gaelic as “the melodious cave”, it provided the inspiration for Mendelssohn’s overture, the Hebrides. Nearby Iona is where St. Columba established his monastery—the luminary of all the Caledonian Region in 563 AD. Iona was traditionally the burial place of kings and it long enjoyed the patronage of the Lord of the Isles. The restored Iona Abbey complex preserves two outstanding eighth-century crosses and a splendid collection of sculptures commissioned or influenced by the Chiefs of Clan Donald and their allies. En route to the Isle of Skye, we sail by the bird cliffs at Lunga, where razorbills, guillemots, and puffins make their nests.
Our visit to Skye will sail along the southwestern shore as we visit Loch Coruisk, a freshwater loch only metres above sea level accessed through Loch Scavaig. Some maintain that this remote loch is one of the finest mountainscapes in all of Britain, set against a stunning backdrop formed by the Cuillin Mountains. We’ll hike the western shore of Loch Coruisk, making this day a superb stop for birders, hikers, and photographers.
The Outer Hebrides form a long archipelago off Scotland’s west coast and are the stronghold of Gaelic culture and language. Mingulay, however, while home to puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, shags, fulmars, and razorbills, is uninhabited by humans. All the better for sightings of eagles and peregrine falcons. A large natural arch and dramatic sea stacks adorn the western side of this lovely island, which also served as inspiration for the noted tune, “Mingulay Boat Song”.
The archipelago known as St. Kilda was inhabited until 1930 when the population was forced to request evacuation. Dramatic and mystical, lying sixty-four kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, St. Kilda is now a World Heritage Site, home to an abundant population of seabirds, notably Puffins, Fulmars and the largest gannet colony in Britain. Also at home here are unique feral sheep left by the departing islanders. St. Kilda features many examples of houses, cleits (stone storage structures) and prehistoric remains. A hike to 274-metre cliffs offers a stunning ocean vista.
Farther north lies Lewis, the largest of the Hebrides, the home of Harris Tweed and Scotland’s largest Gaelic speaking community. We’ll visit Stornoway, the island’s capital city. On the west side, Callanish—an ancient configuration of standing stones—is one of Britain’s most important Stone Age sites. Local tradition tells the story of giants who refused to be converted to Christianity, and were turned to stone as punishment by Saint Kieran.
We’ll have an early morning sail past the Old Man of Hoy, a distinctive 137-metre sea stack, a red sandstone pillar atop a plinth of igneous basalt on the west coast of the isle of Hoy. Incredibly, the crumbling monolith has separated from the nearby headland only in recent centuries.
Continuous occupation by Stone Age peoples, Picts, Vikings, and Gaels make Orkney one of the richest archaeological areas in the UK. We’ll visit the 4,000-year-old Ring of Brodgar, one of Europe’s finest ancient Neolithic monuments, and the also-nearby Maes Howe, a chambered cairn estimated to have been constructed around 2700 BC. Both form a part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney unesco World Heritage site.
Kirkwall is a fine country town dominated by the massive Magnus Cathedral, dating from 1137. It is one of the best examples of its kind in Britain and the final resting place of Orkney-born Canadian Arctic explorer, John Rae. Orkney has strong links to the Hudson’s Bay Company. From the early days of the hbc, their ships regularly called at Stromness for supplies and labour. By the late eighteenth century, three quarters of the hbc 's workforce in Canada were Orcadians.
Papa Stour, with its amazing caves, blowholes, and sea stacks, has a population of under twenty souls, though marine and bird life flourishes there. Erosion of volcanic rock has created geologic wonders here, including high cliffs, caves, sea stacks, and blowholes. There are numerous Neolithic burial sites on the island, as well as Norse Ruins. The island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the neighbouring seas, a Special Area of Conservation.
Found twenty-three kilometres west of the Shetland Islands, Foula is the most remote permanently inhabited island in the UK. Here, a few dozen folk make their homes, many preserving traditional methods of agriculture and subsistence—yet most have access to the Internet in their crofts. Known for its 365-metre cliffs, Foula is popular with birders looking to see Arctic terns, red-throated divers and great skuas.
The isle of Mousa, in addition to being a fine birding island, Mousa is the site of the best preserved broch in the world. These fortified structures are unique to Scotland. We’ll explore the twelve-metre-high monument and climb the inner staircase. Its precise function is a matter of debate and a potent source of speculation.
The Ocean Endeavour arrives in Aberdeen in the morning and you can choose to extend your stay on your own or make your way home.
All prices are per person, in US Dollars (USD) unless specified otherwise, and are cash or cheque discounted.
$4995.00 Deck four. Interior cabin, four lower berths, private bath
$5995.00 Deck four. Interior cabin, three lower berths, private bath
$7295.00 Deck five. Interior cabin, two lower berths, private bath
$8595.00 Deck four, porthole window, two lower berths, private bath
$9595.00 Deck five, picture window, two lower berths, private bath
$10595.00 Decks four, seven and eight, picture windows (obstructed view), two lower berth OR matrimonial bed, private bath, refrigerator
$11595.00 Decks five and eight, large picture window (partial obstruction), two lower berth OR matrimonial bed, private bath, refrigerator
$12595.00 Deck five and seven, picture window, two lower berths, private bath, refrigerator
$13595.00 Deck five and seven, picture window, two lower berths, private bath
$14595.00 Deck seven, picture window, two lower berths, private bath, refrigerator
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