An ancient northern realm of myth, mystery, and the magic of the isles’ natural beauty
Day 1: Ferry to Orkney / Kirkwall
After breakfast, travel by land to the northernmost point on the coast of Scotland where we board a ferry to Kirkwall, the main town in the Orkney Islands. At the end of the first millennium, Kirkwall was a seafarers' hub within the Norse empire, linking Scandinavia with outlying areas like Shetland, Iceland, Argyll, the Western Isles and parts of Ireland. This afternoon, enjoy a scenic walk through the town's narrow flagstone streets, culminating with a visit to the 12th-century St. Magnus Cathedral. We continue to Burray village, a short distance over a causeway onto the red sandstone isle of the same name, which will be our base for the next three nights as we explore the Orkneys' history, culture and nature. Burray is a haven for a wide variety of birds, drawn to the small island's varied range of habitats. Our hospitable inn overlooks Scapa Flow and Burray Harbor, with its active fishing fleet. Keep an eye out for seals bobbing in the water, too.
Day 2: Exploring Orkney’s Stone Age Heritage
Human habitation in Orkney dates back thousands of years, and these mystical isles are a treasure trove of ancient archaeological sites. The Stone Age village of Scara Brae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Europe’s most complete Neolithic settlement, consisting of 10 remarkably well-preserved clustered houses. We also visit the spectacular Ring of Brodgar, the finest-known truly circular ring of standing stones dating to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Maes Howe, a chambered cairn and passage grave, prompts further wonder as we contemplate the superb craftsmanship of these Stone Age artisans. Our relaxed pace allows plenty of time to drink in Orkney’s coastal scenery, with a good chance to see grey and common seals and seabirds nesting on rocky ledges.
Day 3: Culture, History and Nature in the Orkneys
Today we explore some of the southern islands in the Orkney group, connected by causeways built during World War II. We stop at the Italian Chapel, an intricately painted masterpiece built by some 550 Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa in 1942 and brought to Orkney as laborers on the Churchill Barriers. This causeway system was designed to protect the large natural harbor at Scapa Flow after a German U-boat torpedoed the HMS Royal Oak
, sinking the ship and its crew of 833. We also visit the evocative former fishing village of St. Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. On our return journey we may stop at Mull Head Nature Reserve, a heath and sea cliff refuge for myriad seabirds. Seals, dolphins and passing whales are commonly sighted offshore.
Day 4: Fly to Edinburgh / Depart
We spend our final day exploring more of Kirkwall, whose quaint shops offer one last chance to pick up some gifts and souvenirs. Our Expedition Leader will transfer the group to the airport in the afternoon to fly back to Edinburgh and connect with flights home.