Embark on a journey that encompasses Britain, Ireland, and Scotland. Enter coastal towns by Zodiac and land on wild beaches. Stroll the streets of charming, remote towns and even go on a quiet kayaking foray. Discover the wild, rugged, seldom-seen islands of the west as well as historic Portsmouth and dramatic Iona and Skellig Michael. Walk through 5,000-year-old Stone Age village ruins, Zodiac cruise around the stunning island of Staffa, and hoist a pint or two with spirited locals in cozy pubs throughout the land. You’ll explore ancient sites in moody landscapes to learn about culture and history in lands that have been continuously inhabited since Stone Age times. Uncover the hidden side of places well-traveled on an expedition that hits the highlights while subverting clichés and offering personal encounters of authentic magic and meaning.
Trace a maritime thread around the isles, exploring the wild and beautiful places where Celtic and Viking influences still thrive in local languages and customs
Sail around magical Skellig Michael, which is crowned with a seventh-century beehive monastery
See the stunning 12th-century Iona Abbey, and Zodiac into Fingal’s Cave in Scotland
Explore wild, windswept outer isles; search for whales, dolphins, and seals; and see vast, important seabird nesting sites
Explore the British & Irish Isles in the most engaging ways possible—on an expedition. Every day you can join our naturalists or historians and go with the individual whose background and expertise matches your interests. Meet the lively characters who make up the contemporary scene in towns along the way. And there’ll be time to simply settle in and enjoy the open decks and glorious views from National Geographic Explorer.
The rich landscapes of southern Norway, including Sognefjord—the longest and deepest fjord in Norway—are the ideal addition to your expedition. Thundering waterfalls and snowy peaks offer wonderful photo ops. NOTE: On some voyages, this extension runs in a reverse direction (Oslo to Bergen). Please contact an Expedition Specialist for more information.
The final outing of our expedition before setting sail for Bergen, Norway, was a visit to the archeological site known as Jarlshof, which tells the rich and far-reaching story of more than 5,000 years of human occupation in the South Shetlands. Though Scottish in a contemporary sense, the Shetland Islands were under Norse influence longer than they’ve been Scottish. Reaching back thousands of years into the Neolithic Age, these islands are truly a tapestry of human history. Considered one of the most significant archeological sites in Britain, Jarlshof is a virtual time machine one can stroll through and be swept away through the ages.
Prior to reaching Jarlshof, we made a scenic stop near Sumburgh Head for views of the seabird cliffs, teeming with northern fulmar, kittiwake, common guillemot, razorbill auk, and of course, puffin. One group of intrepid guests opted to make a dramatic entrance to Jarlshof by descending Sumburgh Head on foot and following the seashore, taking time to photograph and enjoy the dramatic seascape. By the end of the morning, we departed with a greater appreciation for deep and lasting roots laid down here by our predecessors.
We spent the remainder of the day with our bearings fixed north toward the port of Bergen, where we’ll conclude this extraordinary voyage.
Overnight we sailed from Kirkwall in Orkney to Foula Island in the Shetlands. Foula was shrouded in light rain and mist as we arrived. We were greeted by long-time resident and guide Sheila Gear who shared her knowledge of the local culture, flora, and fauna. The 4.5-square-mile island is home to 35 hardy residents, primarily crofters who raise sheep and ponies. This was Lindblad Expeditions’ first visit to the remote island of Foula, which has been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times.
Guests split into three groups. Some walked the coastal path to cliffs beyond the World War II Memorial, while others lingered closer to the harbor. After walking, we were invited to Foula Primary School where tea, coffee, and cakes were served. The five primary school students and their teacher sold souvenirs and crafts to raise money for future field trips off the island. Wildlife highlights included puffins, fulmars, seals, and skuas.
During lunch, the ship sailed on to Mousa. Guests enjoyed Zodiac tours of the coast, during which we viewed a variety of seabirds, including black guillemots, shags, fulmars, and arctic terns. The archaeological highlight was exploring Scotland’s best-preserved example of a broch. Historians David Barnes and Vinnie Butler provided background information about the builders of the approximately 2,000-year-old structure and its possible purpose and use. We were able to climb a narrow stairway through the double-skinned drystone walls for an impressive view. As the fog thickened, our skilled staff navigated the Zodiacs back to our ship.
Orkney, an archipelago of some seventy islands, has the greatest concentration of prehistoric archaeological sites in northern Europe and has accordingly been given UNESCO status. Our afternoon tour on Mainland, the largest of the islands, took in the Neolithic village of Skara Brae and the megalithic monument known as the Ring of Brodgar, together with the earlier Stones of Stenness and the exciting, contemporary archaeological site at the Ness of Brodgar, a site that has already confounded the archaeologists with earlier dates for these communities than had been anticipated.
Skara Bare was discovered in 1850 when a severe storm removed the sand dunes that had been covering the site. Elsewhere in northern Europe the first farmers of the Neolithic period built their homes from wood, a living material, and used inert stone for their burials in adjacent villages of the dead. On treeless Orkney there was no ready supply of timber, and stone was used for the villages of the living, so when Skara Brae was painstakingly excavated by the celebrated archaeologist Gordon Childe, it told us much that had hitherto been unknown about our prehistoric ancestors, for the wattle-and-daub villages on the mainland had long since weathered away. The belief systems of these peoples were naturally fixated on the seasonal passage of the sun and the monthly lunar cycle, both essential to the continent’s first settled farmers. We now recognize commonality in the siting of megalithic monuments like the Ring of Brodgar, notably a vast circular horizon with unbroken views of the sky.
Kirkwall, our port of call, is famous for St. Magnus Cathedral, a mediaeval red sandstone structure that dominates the town and has long been used as a navigation marker. Inside lie the remains of St Magnus, a martyr whose death is described in the Orkneyinga saga, a reminder that both Orkney and Shetland are culturally closely aligned to Norway. Also in the cathedral is the impressive tomb of Dr. John Rea, local boy and Arctic explorer
whose reputation has been restored in recent years from the mauling it received at the hands of Charles Dickens and Lady Franklin at the time of the failed Franklin expedition to transit the Northwest Passage. On our island drive we saw his birthplace close to the natural harbour at Scapa Flow where, at the end of the Great War, the Germans scuttled their entire fleet, to the annoyance of their British captors but to the benefit of modern scuba divers.
Our birders found plenty to engage their interest in islands celebrated for their ornithological interest. Curlews and lapwings, generally in decline in Britain and Ireland, are in abundance here and the skylarks were in full song. Hen harriers and an osprey were highlights at the Cottascarth nature reserve. Our evening dinner was a Scottish celebration, with the haggis piped into the dining room after the traditional Address to the Haggis, composed by “Rabbie” Burns. Following dinner we were entertained by the Stromness Drum and Pipe Band.
A trip out to St. Kilda cannot be guaranteed at any time of year. There is no ferry service to the farthest west of the Hebridean islands, and a wide stretch of open Atlantic makes both passage and landings on the island problematic. So, we were truly blessed with a cloudless sky, wonderful visibility, and calm seas for our visit to an amazing island that was continuously occupied for millennia, from the Bronze Age to the 20th century.
The last St. Kildans were evacuated, at their own request, in 1930, and today the island has a small population of Ministry of Defence personnel as well as seasonal staff and volunteers from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) who now own the island. Ownership and management by the NTS derive from the island’s unique heritage in cultural and natural history.
Natural history in the form of significant colonies of Atlantic seabirds on the high eastern cliffs and outlying stacks was apparent on arrival. Gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, and guillemots—once a vital source of food for the islanders— were in abundance. For an island population that never developed a money economy, rent was paid to the Macleods of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in the form of fulmar feathers, collected by the landlord’s agent or factor from a substantial storehouse that we visited. The island is also home to the delightful St. Kilda wren, somewhat larger that its mainland cousins and happily nesting in the drystone walls that characterize the village settlement.
The weakening and eventual demise of such an ancient community is sad story. Tourists arriving on steamer trips from Glasgow paid islanders to have their photos taken from the 1880s onward, which brought money that could be exchanged for canned food. A strict Sabbatarianism that came with the introduction of compulsory schooling for the island’s children also had its effect, disrupting the flexible work practices necessary for agriculture in such an exposed location. The new housing that the Macleods of Dunvegan were shamed into providing for the islanders looked better to the visiting tourists but were less comfortable than the traditional black houses that were vacated. High infant mortality, influenza epidemics, and the hemorrhaging of young people led to the island becoming unviable.
In the evening, we headed back to the Isle of Lewis. By glorious evening sun, we went ashore to the small village of Callanish. A short walk up the hillside led us to a spectacular scene—the standing stones erected by Bronze Age settlers, thousands of years ago. With a huge, full moon hanging in the air, the quiet murmur of people and birds, the site had an almost ethereal quality.
Overnight we crossed from Ireland to the Inner Hebrides, a group of islands off the southwest coast of Scotland. Our first landfall was Staffa. This small island consists of tens of thousands of hexagonal basaltic columns that formed around 60 million years ago, when massive outpourings of magma quickly cooled and solidified.Once we were ashore, Staffa’s puffin colony was the main attraction. These birds dig tunnels in the soil and lay a single egg in a breeding chamber at its end. The chick is raised underground. This comical-looking bird was a guest favorite, and we spent a lot of time watching individual puffins return to their burrows from foraging excursions out at sea. The high-pitched vocalization of fast-flying oystercatchers as well as cormorants, shags, and great black-backed and herring gulls added variety to our visit. A nature reserve, Staffa comes under the auspices of the National Trust for Scotland. From the landing area, a narrow pathway leads to a small platform that affords excellent views of the most famous feature of the island, Fingal’s Cave, and many of the guests took advantage of this.
National Geographic Explorer
hauled anchor and made toward our port of call for the afternoon, the picturesque island of Iona. A self-exiled Irish monk named Columba, with a loyal band of fellow brothers, established a small, early Christian monastery on the island in 563 AD. Renowned as a center of teaching, art, study, and manuscript production, it endured for centuries. The masterpiece known as the Book of Kells, a late 8
-century copy of the four Gospels, was compiled by monks from Iona. It is regarded as the world’s most lavish example of the art of illumination on vellum.
Immediately after we arrived at the small quay, the avid birdwatchers headed off with the naturalists on a quest to spot the rare corncrake while many others accompanied the historians and on-site guides for an exploration of the early 13
-century Benedictine abbey. This was built on the site of St. Columba’s original monastery through the patronage of Reginald, Lord of the Isles at the time. The consummate skill of the medieval masons was apparent everywhere. The buildings were restored in an ambitious project that spanned decades. There is a still a vibrant religious community on Iona which reaches out, like its original foundation in the 6
century, far beyond the confines of this remote island.