Scotland’s western and northern isles offer a rich supply of culture, heritage and natural history. 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 welded into a formidable Scandinavian earldom. Both island groups preserve some of the oldest monuments in Europe, dating back to the Stone Age, while today both exploit the latest computer technologies to place them at the forefront of modern developments. 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. As our ship, Clipper Adventurer, winds its way through the western isles and the Pentland Firth to Orkney and Shetland, history will illuminate the present while tradition will enhance our understanding of the past. The abundant bird and mammal population of the area will be observed, studied and surely enjoyed. June is an ideal month to visit Scotland in search of birds, with breeding well underway, watchers will be rewarded with excellent opportunities.
Photographers will have time to focus their attentions on improving technique and getting small group tutorials. Island folk have always been extremely conscious of the natural environment, as the riches thereof have sustained them.
We’ll experience a bit of island life too with music and laughter in community halls and local pubs. With modern touches in many homes, the people who live here still remain close to their roots with nuances and traditions imbedded by the original settlers who first made their homes here hundreds of years ago.
Scotland Slowly itinerary:
Day 1: Glasgow and Oban
Dubbed the Empire's Second City, this bustling metropolis is a working town and the economic engine of Scotland. Known for its architecture, Glasgow's cathedral spires and Italianate stee-ples sit harmoniously alongside neo-gothic towers, the sensu-ous Art Nou-veau of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the tita-nium, glass and steel that serves as the backdrop for this contemporary city.
Day 2: Islay and Jura
Islay is referred to as the Cradle of Clan Donald. The descendants of Somerled, a 12th century prince, made their home at Loch Finlaggan. However, it was on Eilean na Comhairle (the council isle) that the Lordship government discussed important matters of the Hebrides. The capital of Islay today is Bowmore, home of the Bowmore Round Kirk and one of the island's seven whisky distilleries.
Jura is the wildest island in the Inner Hebrides. The ragged west side is uninhabited and dotted with caves, arches, pillars and raised beaches bordering a vast area of rock and blanket bog. Deer, wild goats, and golden eagles thrive here, but so do palm trees in the mild climate surrounding the only substantial village, Craighurst (population: 160). It has all the necessities of life -hotel, pub, post office, church, shop, doctor and distillery! Jura fascinated George Orwell, who lived here for two years as he penned the novel 1984.
Day 3: Isle of Skye
In Armadale, on the fertile Sleat Peninsula of Skye, there is a centre dedicated solely to Clan Donald. Surrounded by impressive gardens, the Macdonald Centre sits next to Armadale Castle, an ancient seat of the Macdonald chiefs.
Our visit to Skye will continue on the southwestern shore as we visit Loch Courisk, a freshwater loch only meters above sea level accessed through Loch Scavaig. Some maintain this remote loch is one of the
finest mountainscapes in all of Britain. Set against a stunning backdrop formed by the Cuillin Mountains, well hike the western shore of Loch Courisk, a superb stop for birders and photographers.
Day 4: Staffa and Iona
Not far from Mull, the isle of Staffa is noted for its basalt cliffs and 'Fingal's Cave'- a spectacular natural feature named for the Celtic hero, and the inspiration for Mendelssohn's Hebridean overture.
Iona is where St. Columba established his monastery - the luminary of all the Caledonian Region in 563AD. Though savagely attacked by the Vikings, Iona was traditionally the burial places of Kings and it long enjoyed the patronage of the Lord of the Isles. The much restored Abbey complex preserves two outstanding 8th century crosses and a splendid collection of sculptures commissioned or influenced by the Chiefs of Clan Donald and their allies.
Day 5: Mingulay and Barra
The Outer Hebrides form a long archipelago off Scotland's west coast and are the stronghold of Gaelic culture and language. Mingulay is home to puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, shags, fulmars and razorbills. Sightings of eagles and peregrine falcons are possible here. This lovely island also served as inspiration for the noted tune "Mingulay Boat Song". Now uninhabited, a large natural arch and dramatic sea stacks adorn the western side of the island.
Barra is the ancestral island of Clan MacNeil whose chiefs were based at Kisimul Castle, which still sits impressively intact a few hundred yards offshore from the pleasant village of Castlebay. Alexander Lord of the Isles granted the MacNeils the island in 1427 and a century later the clan was accused of launching piratical raids on English shipping endeavours. Barra was later the home of writer Compton Mackenzie who used the setting for his novel (later a movie) "Whisky Galore".
Day 6: St. Kilda
St. Kilda was inhabited until 1930 when the population was forced to request evacuation. This near-mystical isle, 64 km (40 mi) west of the Outer Hebrides and now a World Heritage Site supports an abundant population of seabirds, notably puffins, fulmars and the largest gannet colony in Britain, and the Soay - a unique feral sheep left by the islanders. It also preserves many examples of houses, cleits (stone beehive shaped storage structures) and prehistoric remains. A hike to the cliffs offers a stunning 274m (900 ft) vista. To visit St. Kilda is a unique privilege and an altogether memorable experience.
Day 7: Isle of Lewis
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 is one of Britain's most important Stone Age sites, a primordial configuration of standing stones dating from 2000 BC. One local tradition tells the story of giants who refused to be converted to Christianity, and were turned to stone as punishment by Saint Kieran.
Day 8: Orkney Islands
We'll do an early morning sail past the Old Man of Hoy, a distinctive 137m (450 ft) sea stack, a red standstone plinth of igneous basalt on the west coast of the isle of Hoy. Continuous occupation by Vikings, Celts, Picts and stone-age peoples make Orkney one of the richest archaeological areas in the UK. We visit the 4,000-year old Ring of Brodgar, one of Europe's finest ancient Neolithic monuments, and also Maes Howe, a Neolithic chambered cairn estimated to have been constructed around 2700 BC. Kirkwall is a fine country town dominated by the massive Magnus Cathedral, dating from 1137, 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 (HBC). From HBC's early days, their ships regularly called at Stromness for supplies and labour. By late 18th century three quarters of the HBC's workforce in Canada were Orcadians.
Day 9: Fair Isle and Mousa, Shetland Islands
Fair Isle has a National Trust Bird Observatory. A key destination in Viking times, it now hosts a hospitable population of some 70 people who happily combine a respect for tradition with a modern outlook. Great skuas greet visitors seeking puffins, while a charming museum is devoted to island heritage.
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 12m (40ft) high monument and climb the inner staircase up. Its precise function is a matter of debate and a potent source of speculation.
Day 10: Foula and Papa Stour, Shetland Islands
Foula is the most remote permanently inhabited island in the UK; 31 souls live here, 23 km (14 mi) west of the Shetland Islands. Many preserve traditional methods of agriculture and subsistence, while most have access to the Internet in their crofts. Known for its 400m (1,312 ft) high cliffs and its arctic terns, red-throated divers and great skuas, we'll be in the area at just the right time to see a considerable number of birds. Islanders still acknowledge the Julian calendar which celebrates Christmas on January 6 and New Year's on January 13, and remnants of an old Norse tongue, Norn, are still found here.
Humans have settled at Papa Stour since mesolithic times. The name, which means 'big island of the priests', commemorates Celtic monks who were engulfed by Viking settlers around 800 AD. A population of 20 and one of Britain's most dramatic coastlines - sea stacks, twisting tidal channels and rugged cliffscapes - perfect for Zodiac touring!
Day 11: Aberdeen
The Clipper Adventurer arrives in Aberdeen in the morning and you can chose to extend your stay on your own or make your way home.
The 118-passenger Sea Adventurer, (formerly the Clipper Adventurer) is among the very few vessels in the world specifically constructed for expedition voyages to the remote polar regions. Her ice-strengthened hull permits her to glide easily and safely through ice-strewn waters that are not accessible to conventional cruise vessels.
She has advanced communications and navigation equipment, and newly installed, state-of-the-art Sperry Gyrofin stabilizers. In 1998 the Adventurer had a $13 million conversion done in Scandinavia. She is a handsome expedition vessel, done in the style of great ocean liners when ships were ships. With lots of varnished wood, brass, and wooden decks, the ship has all new outside cabins, with lower beds and private facilities.
There is a Main Lounge, bar, Clipper Club, library/card room, gymnasium and gift shop. A multi-national staff serves American and Continental cuisine. The ship has a fleet of 10 Zodiacs and a special loading platform. An ice class rating of A-1 allows the Clipper Adventurer to go to places larger cruise ships can only dream of, and she does it in comfort and style unsurpassed by other vessels her size.
Cabins: All cabins have a window with outside view. Each has private facilities
Cabins and amenities
- 61 outside cabins with exterior views and private facilities.
- Decks 4 and 5 have exterior access, with outside seating.
- Window-lined dining room on Deck 4 with unreserved seating.
- Lounge/Presentation Room.
- 2 bars.
- Gift shop.
- 4 hour beverage station.
- Ship-to-shore satellite communications with email, and wireless, Internet access.
- Clinic with licensed doctor.
- Exercise room.
Vessel Type: Comfortable Expedition
Length: 90 meters
Beam: 16.2 meters
Speed (average): 12 Knots
Built and Refurbished: 1975 and 1998
Capacity: 118 (in twin Cabins)