The Jewels of the Scottish Isles
Next DepartureMay. 20, 2024
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, Bus Excursion, Lectures, Photography, Tastings, Trekking, Wildlife observations, Zodiac
Like a tiara of emeralds, small islands adorn the Scottish coastline. And none of these fascinating history-filled islands are easy to get to...
On this special voyage, you will get a unique chance to visit no less than nine Scottish islands. Each one is begging to tell you stories about a dramatic past reaching back millions of years to birth from hot molten lava, millennia to Stone Age dwellings – or just 12 years to create splendid single malt whiskies.
Embarking on Albatros’ purpose-built expedition vessel, Ocean Albatros, we head for our first landing on the Shetland islands, the United Kingdom's northernmost archipelago. From here we will venture onwards to Ullapool, gateway to the Northwest Highlands, and on the Isles of Mull, Iona and Lunga, rich in culture, history and wildlife. During evening lectures on board, your knowledgeable Expedition Team will help to interpret these islands' fascinating geological and human history, ecology and culture.
We continue across the Minch to make landfall on Hirta in the remote St. Kilda archipelago and in the town of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. North of the mainland lies the rugged and scenic islands of Orkney, home to some of Europe’s oldest preserved dwellings – and Scotland’s northernmost whisky distillery! The voyage ends in the Granite City of Aberdeen on the Scottish mainland.
This spring cruise aboard Ocean Albatros is the ultimate journey upon storied Scottish waters, complete with whisky, wildlife, and spectacular landscapes!
Facts about The Jewels of the Scottish Isles
ABERDEEN, THE GRANITE CITY
Our journey begins in Aberdeen, where MV Ocean Albatros awaits in the city's bustling docks. Aberdeen, the Scottish city of adventure, is known for its many titles - the most famous being the Granite City. With its glittering Victorian buildings, it's easy to see why the city was once the world's granite-export capital. Now a lively cultural centre, Aberdeen has a variety of museums, galleries, theatres, shops, cafes, and restaurants for visitors (who arrive early) to discover.
Boarding is in the afternoon, when all staterooms will be ready to receive guests. After the mandatory security review and drill, we sail out along the coast of North East Scotland.
ULLAPOOL, GATEWAY TO THE NORTHWEST HIGHLANDS
Situated in the Ross and Cromarty region of the Scottish Highlands, Ullapool is a small village and harbour boasting a population of roughly 1,500. Although only 45mi/72km northwest of Inverness, this is the largest settlement for miles around, despite its relatively tiny size.
Positioned in the tranquil waters of Loch Broom, Ullapool enjoys some of the most spectacular scenery in the United Kingdom. In stark comparison to the rest of the UK, the Northwest Highlands have a population density comparable to Mongolia, and Ullapool sits almost alone amid thousands of square miles of untouched wilderness. As the ideal gateway to Assynt, Ullapool is a magnet for geologists, who for centuries have visited this region of Scotland attempting to unravel the mysteries of the Earth. The area bears witness billions of years of geological evolution, from meteorite impacts to the opening and closing of oceans, and the rise and fall of mountains. While geologically fascinating, anyone can appreciate the spectacular mountainous landscape of Assynt, sculpted by millennia of glacial grindings, volcanic eruptions and tectonic collisions. The best way to experience this dramatic landscape is on foot, with excellent hiking opportunities beginning right from the harbour. Meanwhile, Loch Broom brims with wildlife best discovered on a zodiac cruise with your knowledgeable Expedition Team. The approach to Ullapool passes the Summer Isles, which are a magnet for dolphins; keep your binoculars at the ready!
TOBERMORY, ISLE OF MULL, INNER HEBRIDES
Serving as the only burgh on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland until 1973, Tobermory is the capital of the region. Positioned near the northern entrance of the Sound of Mull, this village was originally founded as a fishing port in 1788 and has a population of around one thousand. Its formation was shaped according to the designs of Thomas Telford, a civil engineer from Dumfriesshire.
Tobermory defines most people's thoughts when they consider the Scottish Islands. Bright, multicoloured homes and businesses overlook the town's bustling harbour, backed by forbidding hills mantled in thick forest. Tobermory is a true Scottish jewel, and is home to a large community of artists and other creatives, as well as those seeking an escape from the rigours of the world. The picture perfect town belies an adventurous spirit; Tobermory is the ideal gateway to the vast wilderness of the Isle of Mull, with excellent hiking and climbing opportunities across the island, many beginning from the harbour itself. The rich waters and strong currents of the Sound of Mull nourish the abundant sea life of the area; seals, dolphins and eagles all reside locally, and more exotic visitors such as basking sharks can also be found nearby. Of course no self-respecting Scottish Isle would be complete without a distillery, and the Tobermory Distillery produces two renowned varieties, smooth mellow Tobermory and smoky intense Ledaig (pronounced Leh-Chig). With several warm cosy pubs also situated around the harbour, connoisseurs are utterly spoiled for choice. Sláinte!
THE PILGRIM ISLE OF IONA AND THE ISLE OF LUNGA
Follow in the footsteps of generations of saints, holy men and pilgrims. Despite it's tiny size, Iona stands large in history as the site where Christianity arrived in Scotland, brought from Ireland by Saint Columba. Arriving in a pagan wilderness at Port na Curaich, St Columba began to preach on the site where the Abbey of Iona would be built. Parts of the Abbey complex date to around 800AD, making it one of the oldest Christian sites in Western Europe; relics stored in the excellent Abbey Museum tell the fascinating story of this isle.
Centuries of Viking raids, geographic isolation, and the Scottish Reformation led the Abbey to fall into disrepair until the buildings were transferred to the ownership of the Iona Cathedral Trust in 1899, beginning the long and arduous process of rebuilding. Today the island is a popular destination for those seeking the tranquility of it's crystal clear sapphire seas and wild green hills, as well as modern-day pilgrims seeking the wisdom of this ancient site. Our visit entails a walk around the small town and free time around the Abbey. To reach the Abbey, pass through the charming village of Iona (more frequently known simply as “the Village”, which hosts several galleries, shops and cafes.
The Isle of Iona also plays host to excellent hiking and a wide variety of natural habitat home to several rare species including the elusive corncrake.
We return onboard Ocean Albatros for lunch as the vessel repositions to the Isle of Lunga.
Tiny uninhabited Lunga sits amid the Treshnish Isles, a set of rugged rocks west of the Isle of Mull. The islands have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Importance due to their abundant wildlife. Once inhabited, residents for expelled from the island during the Highland Clearances, leaving Lunga to be reclaimed by nature, and today it hosts one of the largest seabird colonies of the Scottish Isles. In a crack in the cliffs, thousands of guillemots and razorbills cluster on rocky perches, while iridescent shags and puffins claim nests and burrows on the grassy slopes above. The birds here have never been hunted and exhibit a remarkable fear of people; move slowly and quietly to be rewarded with some of Scotland's most intimate nature encounters among these charismatic feathered friends.
Note: this activity is designated as moderate; the landing on the rocky beach is not suitable for those with mobility issues.
After our afternoon visit, we will cross the Minch overnight en route to Stornoway, Lewis.
STORNOWAY, ISLE OF LEWIS, SHIANT ISLES
As our voyage continues, we navigate through the infamous Minch to the remote string of islands known as the Outer Hebrides. Here lies the Isle of Lewis, a rugged and bleakly beautiful land of heather and moor, loch and stream, home to the main harbor town of Stornoway. Isolated from the Scottish mainland, Lewis is one of the few remaining strongholds of the Scottish Gaelic language, an ancient tongue closely related to its Celtic cousins Irish, Welsh and Breton.
Arriving to the main town in the early morning, we offer an optional excursion that takes us along the wild scenery of Lewis and into ancient Hebridean history in the form of the Neolithic Callanish Standing Stones. Expect your local guides to share the fascinating stories behind the sights we pass.
(The excursion is part of the excursion package and is not included in the price of the trip).
Back in Stornoway, we re-embark Ocean Albatros as she repositions during lunch to circumnavigate the Shiant Isles.
"Shiant" translates from Gaelic to something like “Enchanted”. These privately owned islands have large populations of seabirds, and their protected marine area makes them what many would call a wildlife paradise. We spend some time enjoying the breathtaking scenery and wildlife before we strike out into the North Atlantic towards wild and remote St Kilda.
ST KILDA, BRITAIN'S DUAL UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Today we arrive at the dramatic and isolated island of Hirta, largest island of St Kilda, famed for it towering sea cliffs (the highest in the UK), abundant wildlife and fascinating history. Lying 45 mi/72km west of the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda represents the most remote outpost of the United Kingdom. The now uninhabited islands have fascinating remains of human heritage, in the shape of medieval villages and architecture. The islands were mainly used for seabird hunting and grazing. The last 36 St Kildans left voluntarily on 29 August 1930 as life had become too difficult on the remote archipelago. Today, there are summer residents comprising of staff from the National Trust for Scotland, volunteers, scientists and a small Ministry of Defence detachment.
The volcanic archipelago that consists of the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray has made its way on the UNESCO World Heritage List, holding dual status as both a natural and cultural treasure (the only location in the United Kingdom with this special honour). The spectacular landscapes, hidden coves, rugged terrain and bird-rich coasts are what we will spend our time on during our visit.
St Kilda is a breeding ground for many important seabird species. So, we will be on the lookout for northern gannets, Leach’s petrels, puffins and the northern fulmar, and if we are extremely lucky, we may find the endemic St Kilda wren pecking for insects in the thick vegetation around the cliffs and rocky slopes. When seaborne, our eyes are as always peeled for sea mammals, which in these areas could also include humpbacks and even orcas.
In the afternoon, we continue our voyage towards the Outer Hebrides.
LERWICK AND NOSS, SHETLAND
We are set to approach Lerwick, capital of Shetland in the morning. Shetland consists of more than 100 islands, of which only 15 are inhabited year-round. The islands form the northernmost part of the United Kingdom, located approximately 300 km north of the mainland of Scotland.
Once securely docked at the port, we depart through Lerwick towards Scalloway for a short scenic drive. From the elevated position we can enjoy the view of the charming village and the imposing Scalloway Castle. After a short photo stop, we continue eastwards through the area that is locally known as the “Black Gates” – an area where peat is still cut and used as fuel.
Following the road northwards, our main destination of Clickimin Broch is only a short drive. There will be free time to discover this well preserved and restored Broch and learn more about life in these mysterious Iron Age fortresses.
(Please note: The coach excursion is part of the excursion package and is not included in the price of the trip).
Afterwards, we will return to Lerwick and embark the vessel for the short reposition to the nearby Isle of Noss, home to some of Scotland's busiest seabird colonies. Depending on the weather we hope to offer a Zodiac cruise beneath the imposing sea cliffs thronging with gannets, guillemots and other seabirds.
From here we depart the Shetland Islands and set sail southwards across the Fair Isle Channel towards Orkney.
A short hop across the sea will deliver us to the port of Kirkwall on the breezy Orkney Isles, situated off the northern coast of Scotland. Orkney's name originates from the Old Norse for "seal islands," and like other northern Atlantic isles, the region is rich in wildlife and Viking history. Orkney and Shetland are relative newcomers to Scotland, having been sold by the Norwegian crown to Scotland in 1472 as part of a Royal dowry, and the islands retain much of their nordic heritage, from local slang to the distinctively Nordic flags flown on the islands.
We set out from Kirkwall to the west side of the largest island, Mainland. As we move through the serene hillsides, we'll be navigating the World Heritage Site of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, full of ancient archaeological sites. Our journey takes us past the Standing Stones of Stenness to the 5000-year-old ceremonial Ring of Brodgar, an enduring vestige of one of the earliest European civilizations.
(The excursion is part of the excursion package and is not included in the price of the trip).
In the afternoon, we'll be on our way south towards Aberdeen.
THE JOURNEY ENDS IN ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND.
The Captain will lead the ship southwards along the east coast of Scotland, and we’ll arrive in Aberdeen, Scotland's third largest city. At this time we’ll say farewell to the ship and its crew before departing.
- 9-day/8-night cruise on Ocean Albatros in a shared outside double stateroom with a private bathroom in the category chosen
- English-speaking expedition staff
- Near-port walks with the expedition team
- Information briefings and lectures by the expedition team
- Special photo workshop
- Full board on the ship
- Dinner drink package
- Free coffee, tea, and afternoon snacks on the ship
- Welcome and farewell cocktails
- Taxes, tariffs, and landing fees
- Digital visual journal link after the voyage, including voyage log, gallery, species list, and more
- International flights
- Extra excursions and activities not mentioned in the itinerary
- Single room supplement and cabin upgrades
- Meals not on board the ship
- Beverages (other than coffee and tea and dinner-drink package)
- Tips for the crew (we recommend USD 14 per person per day)
- Personal expenses
- Transfer to/from the ship
- Travel, cancellation, and senior insurance
- Anything not mentioned under ’Inclusions’
- The Shetland islands with birdwatching on the Isle of Noss
- The Port Village Of Ullapool
- The Capital Of The Island Of Mul, The Scottish Inner Hebrides, Tobermory
- The Pilgrimage Island Of Iona
- Towering And Remote Hirta In St. Kilda Archipelago. Puffins, Deserted Villages And Unesco Heritage
- Port Of Stornoway
- Orkney Islands And Historic Kirkwall
Please keep in mind, the itinerary and outdoor activities during each voyage are solely dependent on weather and operational conditions to ensure the safety and quality of experience of our guests. The route and shore landings will be determined by the captain and expedition leader and communicated to guests through regularly scheduled briefings. Albatros Expeditions reserves the right to modify the landings and locations visited during a voyage based on weather and local conditions and climate to ensure a safe and delightful experience for all our guests and staff. Our trips are expeditionary in nature, and thus changes to timings are common place due to the environment we operate in as well as wildlife opportunities and locations.
The cruise does not make any special requirements for you as a participant, but it is assumed that you are agile and good on your feet. Some landings will be made with the ship's Zodiac rubber boats, and this requires some agility to get in and out of. The journey takes place in the mild spring, and we expect a calm sea, sun, and temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees.
Albatros Expeditions' own vessel, MV Ocean Albatros, is relatively small compared to traditional cruise ships. This excellent ice-class expedition vessel is built to tackle harsh weather conditions in polar waters while ensuring your comfort in well-appointed accommodations. Aboard, life is relaxed and cozy. Meals are prepared by professional chefs and served by friendly, helpful staff who speak various languages.