- Welcome Lughnasadh harvest feast
- Edinburgh Castle
- Rosslyn Chapel
- Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park
- Glen Nevis
- Aonach Mor
- Jacobite Steam Train
- Sacred Isle of Iona
- Isle of Staffa & Fingal's Cave
- Dunvegan Castle
- Callanish (Calanais) Standing Stones & satellite sites
- Bosta Iron Age House
- Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Ring of Brodgar & Skara Brae
- Maeshowe Chambered Cairn
- Standing Stones of Stenness
Welcome to bonnie Scotland! Enjoy a leisurely afternoon at your own pace in the vibrant city of Edinburgh. This evening we welcome you to gather and celebrate not only the first day of our journey, but also the festival of 'Lughnasadh', a pagan feast of Celtic origin, honoring the first harvest and the legend of the revered 'Green Man' and 'Lugh', the Celtic god of light and the son of the Sun. Overnight in Edinburgh. Group Dinner.
We commence our journey at the Edinburgh Castle this morning, overlooking the historic capital of Scotland. It is thought that human history began here as long ago as 900 BC atop the 70 million year old volcanic Castle Rock, where archeologists have found evidence of Bronze Age human activity. Late in the 1st century AD, an Iron Age hill fort was defended here by mighty warriors and in the early 12th century a tiny chapel was first built on its summit, commemorating a canonized Queen. This chapel still stands today and is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh. Enjoy a gourmet boxed lunch onsite.
This afternoon visit the 500 year old Rosslyn Chapel, often regarded as the one of the finest examples of Scottish architecture. Made popular by Dan Brown's novel 'The Da Vinci Code', the interior of the church is crowded with hundreds of intricately carved figures and mysterious scenes, from the macabre to the mystical. Christian, Egyptian, Jewish and Pagan influences can be seen here and scenes symbolic to the legends of the Knights Templar, a powerful and influential order from the 12 -14th centuries, who are believed to have buried sacred treasure in secret vaults below the chapel. It is widely claimed that the legendary Holy Grail is among the many treasures entombed here. Take a guided tour through the chapel and spend some time to ponder its many sacred legends.
For those who are able, take the stunning, 4 mile, moderate Roslin Glen forest walk. As you travel along the peaceful River North Esk to the semi-ruined Roslin Castle, explore the countryside or enjoy quiet meditation by the river. Alternatively, spend some time strolling through the old town of Roslin. Overnight in Edinburgh. Dinner on own.
Today we journey through the magnificent Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park with its rolling, heather cloaked hills, dramatic mountain peaks and many still, crystal clear water lochs and flowing rivers. Step out and breathe in the clear Highland air and contemplate some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Hikers disembark along the way to one of the most beautiful and infamous glens in all of Scotland, Glen Nevis. As you walk through fields of flowing grasses and flowers, you arrive at the foot of the impressive, 393 ft. Steall Falls, cascading into rock pools in the River Nevis, with its shimmering pebbles and steel cable suspension bridge. Explore and experience the peace and tranquility of this ancient natural space.
Those who prefer something a little less vigorous will travel on to Aonach Mor, where a leisurely gondola ride with take you from 300 to 2150 ft on the north face of the eighth highest mountain in Britain. Appreciate some of the most breathtaking views of the surrounding Highlands and on a clear day, all the way to the Inner Hebrides.
As we regroup this afternoon on the way to our hotel, we pass by the enchanting view of Castle Stalker. Built in the early 14th century, it sits atop a tiny tidal islet on Loch Laich. With its reflection mirrored on the surrounding water, surrounded by mountains, it is easy to see why this is arguably one of the most picturesque sights in the region. This evening, we arrive at our hotel in the serene waterfront town of Oban. Dinner on own.
Today we start out from Oban as the rising sun greets us over the misty Highlands and ferry across the sea loch waters to Craignure. Here we embark on a scenic bus trip through the Isle of Mull on our way to the tremendously sacred Isle of Iona. It is believed by many that Iona sits on a powerful ley line on the earth energy grid and its spiritual magnetism is linked to many other sacred sites worldwide, including the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis. We will follow in the footsteps of almost 700 years of pilgrimage to Iona Abbey, the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland and the home of the Irish missionary St. Columba from 563 AD. Still standing here are the impressive and intricately carved celtic high crosses, dating from the 8th century. Today we also take a boat journey to see the Isle of Staffa's enchanting Fingal's Cave surrounded by the naturally occurring and enormous, hexagonal, basalt pillars that rise out of the sea. Overnight in Oban. Dinner on own.
This morning we bid farewell to Oban and travel along the shores of Loch Linnhe to the quaint town of Fort William, shadowed by the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. Board the Jacobite Steam Train (made famous by the Harry Potter films as the 'Hogwarts Express') for a spectacular trip through some of the most profoundly beautiful and vast landscapes in Scotland to the small fishing village of Mallaig.
Our journey takes us over the monumental Glenfinnan viaduct, built in the late 1800's, past Loch Morar, the deepest fresh water loch in Britain, River Morar, a fast flowing estuarial river and arriving at the deepest salt water loch in Europe, Loch Nevis. After a quick lunch on your own in Mallaig, we catch the ferry to the spiritual Isle of Skye, and check in to our hotel in the peaceful harbor town of Portree. Dinner on own.
As the sun rises over the Isle of Skye, we take a trip to the 14th century Dunvegan Castle and its beautiful gardens, sitting impressively on top of a rocky outcrop overlooking Loch Dunvegan. Explore the hidden oasis of the ancestral home of the MacLeod clan, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Discover its treasures, including the sacred fairy flag, said to lead its clan to victory in battle, cure the plague in cattle, increase the chances of fertility, and bring herring into the loch among other mysterious claims.
Take a traditionally built clinker boat ride to observe the adorable and playful common seal colony of Loch Dunvegan or stroll through the lush five acre formal gardens, established in the 18th century.
We arrive back to Portree with enough free time to peruse the many local art and craft shops and cafes on the shores of this relaxing little fishing harbor. Be our guests this evening for a wonderful group dinner and presentation in the hotel restaurant.
We depart the Isle of Skye today and ferry across the sheltered inlet of Uig, via the Isle of Harris, to the most northerly of the western isles, the Isle of Lewis. Here we journey to the ancient Neolithic site of the Standing Stones of Callanish, ('Calanais' in Gaelic).
This impressive monument, consisting of 50 outer and 13 inner circle standing stones, has dominated this area for almost 5000 years. There are local legends that tell of the 'shining one' who walks up the stone avenue at the midsummer dawn and archeoastronomical examinations show alignments to the moon, stars and surrounding hills.
We will pause for lunch at the charming visitor center here, before paying a visit to the nearby satellite sites of Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàrraidh and Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheag. This afternoon we will explore ancient landscapes, stopping at the Bosta Iron Age house on the white shores of the shell sand Bosta Beach. The reconstructed dwelling and fascinating ruins of this 7 th - 8 th Century Norse village, was built some 3000 years after Skara Brae, but shares similar design characteristics.
En route to our hotel in Stornoway this evening, time permitting, we will stop by the Arnol Blackhouse, a traditional Lewis thatched roof home providing an insight to a now vanished, early 20 th century life on the western isles. Our final destination this evening is the pretty harbor side town of Stornoway where we will overnight. Dinner on own.
Rising early today, we travel to historic Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. The Orkneys comprise of approximately 70 islands, only 20 of which are inhabited in this remote archipelago in northern Scotland. Our first stop is Thurso, the northernmost town on the British Mainland, where you can enjoy lunch on your own and wander its many charming, old world craft shops and restaurants, before rejoining the group to continue on our journey northward across Pentland Firth toward Kirkwall. During our expedition today over land and sea, watch for wild orca and porpoises, sea birds and seals in this remote and extremely beautiful, subarctic environment. We arrive early evening at our destination where you can dine at one of Kirkwall’s fine restaurants or local pubs after checking in to our hotel where we will spend the next two nights.
This morning we travel a short distance to the Ring of Brodgar. This awe inspiring Neolithic UNESCO World Heritage Site stands on a narrow promontory between the Stenness and Harray lochs. Its 341 ft (104 m) diameter, circular henge, is thought to have been created between 2500 -2000 BC and originally was comprised of 60 huge, standing stones of which only 27 remain erect today. It is a place of supreme beauty, stillness and ancient power that many believe holds acute healing vibration. Archeoastronomical observations include several seemingly intended alignments that relate to the solstices and equinoxes as well as Beltane. Local legends speak of the Ring of Brodgar as; “Temple of the Sun” and the Standing Stones of Stenness as; "Temple of the Moon".
Close by is the active archeological site of the Ness of Brodgar. Standing between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness and in close proximity to the chambered cairn of Maeshowe, there is increasing evidence that the site, pre-dating Stonehenge, was used for over 1000 years between 3200 to 2300BC. Unearthed dwellings so far include, primitive houses, large foundations and an impressive stone wall, along with decorative pottery, painted and decorated stone and beautifully polished stone tools.
Our next stop is the finest example of a chambered tomb in Northwest Europe, the monumental, Maeshowe chambered cairn. Over 5000 years old, the central chamber is quite small, but overwhelmingly breathtaking. Viking crusaders carved runic graffiti into the walls here in the mid-12th century and the entrance is carefully aligned during the winter solstice to illuminate the gently sloping, 33 ft (10 m) passage to the back of the main chamber. Directly in line with Maeshowe's passage to the south, the sun sets directly over the 'Barnhouse Stone', indicating that this area held particular spiritual importance to its ancient people.
We will experience another important UNESCO World Heritage site today, Skara Brae, Europe’s most complete Neolithic village, dated from 3180 – 2500 BC. Located on the turquoise bay of Skaill, the 8 partially subterranean stone houses were unearthed in the mid 19th century after a brutal storm. The people who lived here were farmers, potters and tool makers who built their homes in a very functional way with suggestively symbolic design elements.
The Standing Stones of Stenness our next fascinating stop. Originally there stood 12 stones, erected in a 104 ft (31.7 m) circle. There now remain four uniquely shaped megaliths, the tallest standing a proud 16.4 ft (5 m). There is much evidence that all of the sites visited today were linked in sacred meaning, now, much of it lost to history.
As we near the end of our enchanting journey across Scotland, please join us this evening for a lovely farewell dinner at the hotel. Overnight in Kirkwall. Group dinner.
Depart Kirkwall, Orkney Isles.