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Scotland's Wild Highlands & Islands

A Journey into the Heart of One of Europe's Last Great Wildernesses
Days 1 & 2: Edinburgh / Bass Rock
Our Scotland adventure begins on arrival in Edinburgh, where we gather for a welcome dinner this evening. For those who arrive early, you may wish to join our Expedition Leader for an optional included private tour of Edinburgh Castle, conducted by a local specialist guide. On Day 2, we travel a short distance by boat to Bass Rock, a volcanic island in the Firth of Forth that is one of Europe's most impressive seabird colonies. Here where the isle's sheer cliffs rise 350 feet out of the sea, we find one of the world’s largest gannet colonies—some 150,000 birds at the height of the season. With wingspans of more than six feet, gannets can travel up to 90 mph and dive to depths of 98 feet. The lower ledges of The Bass are home to shags, guillemots and razorbills, with seals hauling up on the rocks below.

Days 3 & 4: Oban / Wildlife Cruise / West Highlands
Driving past lochs and glens, we come to the small port town of Oban on the western edge of the Highlands. En route we stop at the Red Kite Center to learn about the reintroduction of this native bird of prey. A morning boat cruise reveals abundant marine life, and we may see seals, porpoises, dolphins, otters, minke whales, and sea eagles overhead. We may also witness the naturally occurring Corryvreckan Whirlpool—the third-largest such phenomenon in the world—created where strong Atlantic currents and unusual underwater topography in a narrow channel produce intense, racing tides. In the afternoon, explore the surrounding West Highlands.

Day 5: The Isles of Mull & Staffa
Our day begins with a visit to the peaceful Isle of Mull, second largest of the Inner Hebrides and home to more than 250 bird species, minke whales, porpoises and dolphins. We'll then board our boat to Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Here, amazing hexagonal basalt formations beneath a naturally arched roof create a symphony of echoes as waves crash through the cave’s entrance. A short hike may reveal nesting puffins before we continue on our boat journey back to Mull.

Days 6 & 7: Outer Hebrides / St. Kilda
We're bound for the Outer Hebrides via the enchanting Isle of Skye, where golden eagles soar overhead and red deer roam the pine forests. From here we make a rare excursion by boat to the far-flung isles of St. Kilda, some 40 miles off Scotland's west coast, whose 1,300-foot volcanic cliffs are the most important seabird breeding grounds in Europe. Nearly a million birds nest here, including the world's largest colony of northern gannets, with more than 60,000 pairs. We'll also see fulmars, shags, puffins and Arctic skua. Archaeological finds show human habitation dating back 5,000 years. St. Kilda, owned by the Scottish Heritage Trust, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its birds, marine life (we’ll likely see whales and porpoises on our boat cruise to the islands), and cultural sites that include small stone storage sheds called cleits—there are more than a thousand on the main island of Hirta alone.

Day 8: Outer Hebrides / Isle of Harris
Harris is a remarkably diverse landscape of mountains and moorlands, crofts, lochs, meadows and sandy beaches. Explore its craggy coast of secret coves and rugged cliffs where myriad seabirds nest. On beach walks we discover the wildflower meadows on the machair, a sparse veneer of green over the sand in winter that bursts into color in the summertime. The single-track “Golden Road” twists along the east coast of Harris, winding among miniature fjords and tiny hamlets with Viking and Gaelic names. Along the way we visit historic rural settlements and stop at a weaving shop to see world-famous Harris tweed produced.

Day 9: Callanish Standing Stones / Contin
This morning we visit the Callanish Standing Stones, a 5,000-year-old ring of 13 gneiss pillars arranged around a 14-foot monolith. An early afternoon ferry crossing from Stronoway to Ullapool returns us to the mainland. We drive on to the village of Contin on the River Blackwater and settle in at our hotel, a genteel 19th-century country manor house surrounded by forest and lochs. This evening we have exclusive access to a wildlife hide at the nearby Aigas Field Center, where we'll hope to see European beavers that the center helped reintroduce to Scotland in 2006. Flanked by remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forest to the west and marine firths to the east, the center is an important educational site in the northern Highlands dedicated to sharing Scotland’s wild natural heritage. 

Day 10: Cromarty Firth
Traveling east to the Black Isle Peninsula, we board a small boat for a private excursion into the rich waters of Cromarty Firth. The firth is a narrow inlet that’s hemmed in by steep-walled cliffs on both sides, making our voyage especially scenic. This protected marine area is home to Scotland's best-known pod of bottlenose dolphins, the most northerly such colony in the world. Famously friendly and inquisitive, they sometimes swim right alongside our boat. Keep an eye out, too, for harbor porpoises, common and grey seals, and the occasional minke whale. This afternoon we take a walk through a forest to a waterfall where we’ll watch for leaping salmon.

Day 11: Exploring the Highlands at Aigas Field Center
A full day of searching for wildlife and exploring nature is in store at the Aigas Field Center. In the morning, renowned Scottish author and naturalist Sir John Lister-Kaye, proprietor and director of the center, will share a presentation on the natural and cultural history of the Scottish Highlands. He'll also discuss some of the conservation and wildland restoration work at Aigas, including the beaver and Scottish wildcat projects. We’ll take an easy hike to view the European beaver demonstration project, then savor a lavish buffet lunch in the Baronial Hall of the House of Aigas. Dating to 1760, the country house was later a Victorian sporting lodge. Abandoned in 1971, the house was meticulously restored by Sir John to serve as his own home and as the base for the first field study center in the Highlands. After lunch we’ll drive to a lovely local glen with expert interpretation of the landscape provided by our Expedition Leader and an Aigas ranger, who helps us look for golden eagles, dippers, red deer, pine marten and many more species native to the area. After a late afternoon cup of tea or coffee at the manor house we depart for Coul House for our farewell dinner.

Day 12: Edinburgh / Home
After breakfast, we transfer back to Edinburgh for departing flights or to join the Orkney Isles extension.

+ Interested in adding a few days to your trip? Click here to view our Extension Options.


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