Callanish standing stones at sunset
Callanish standing stones at sunset

Scotland & its Islands: Megaliths and Mythologies


17 days From $7,980

September 23 2019

Amid Scotland’s highlands and islands, framed by dramatic settings of blue-hazed mountains, emerald green valleys and rugged shores, some of Europe’s most ancient standing stones, dating from the Neolithic New Stone Age and Bronze Age, continue to broadcast their voiceless message from millennia long past. One Ancient Greek philosopher even claimed they were the work of a race of giants living on the northern edge of the world. Their purpose (religious or ceremonial perhaps?) largely remains a mystery on which archaeologists can only speculate.

Our wide-ranging tour guides us through the glorious scenery of the Scottish mainland and beyond to the islands of the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands in pursuit of a deeper insight into the origins and purpose of these monumental prehistoric landmarks and their historical context. We’ll encounter stone circles and megalithic tombs; remote intricately decorated Pictish stelae; towering brochs; stone-built villages; and wild landscapes of peat-covered moors and swift-flowing burns. Equally intriguing are Iron Age remains whose warrior-like creators might feature in later Celtic mythology.

We’ll also visit excellent museums showcasing artifacts of these ancient cultures and those of the Picts, Romans (brief occupiers of the south) and Vikings, as well as learning about Scotland’s early church and the eventful story of its clans.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Please note, this itinerary is subject to change dependent on tide levels and timings.

Led by...

Peter Yeoman

Peter Yeoman

Peter Yeoman was, until recently, Head of Cultural Heritage at Historic Scotland, with responsibility for the archaeology and the knowledge base for the estate of 345 properties in their care.

Book Now $7,980
Includes deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $970

Tour highlights:

  • Marvel at the impressive site of Skara Brae’s excavated stone-age village where artifacts 5,000 years old have been uncovered
  • Pay an indulgent visit to a great Oban distillery, where we can learn how single malt whisky is produced – and, of course, we can sample a dram or two
  • Sail the ferry to the legendary Isle of Skye, one of the most scenic and romantic of the Hebridean Islands
  • Visit fabled Iona island and its abbey, thought to be the first Christian site in Scotland
  • Take the short boat trip to the Shetlands’ Mousa Island to see the most complete of Scotland’s 500 ancient drystone roundhouses called brochs

Tour details

Dates September 23 2019 - October 9 2019
Duration 17 days
Cost $7,980
Single supplement: $970
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by July 1 2019
Activity Level Moderate
Tour code A19SCO

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

September 23 2019: Itinerary

We arrive at Stornoway in the Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and transfer to our hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax, before meeting for an introductory talk, followed by welcome dinner as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Caladh Inn, Stornoway

A quaint little harbor town with its very own island flavor and an epicenter of Gaelic culture, Stornoway is the capital of the two-islands-in-one of Lewis and Harris. The largest (at 840 square miles) of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, Lewis welcomes us to wide horizons framing mountains and hills, lunar-like plateaux, soft meadows, heather-carpeted moors, rugged white-sand-fringed shores and brightly-painted villages and hamlets. Today we’ll meet all of these as we dip into the island’s rich natural and historical heritage on a tour of some of the principal ancient and historic sites on Lewis. Highlights are the Callanish Standing Stones, among the British Isles’ major megalithic monuments, dating from the Late Stone Age and Early Bronze Age, with the later addition of a central cairn. Also on our calling list is the Iron Age Dun Carloway Broch, constructed about 2,000 years ago and among Britain’s best preserved brochs (sturdy circular stone structures, built as homes and defensive forts). It stands over 20 feet high, although experts believe it may once have reached 42 feet. We also learn more about the Hebridean heritage on a visit to the Museum nan Eilean at Stornoway’s Lews Castle.

 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Caladh Inn, Stornoway

Today we enjoy a leisurely drive of about 40 miles south to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris - no boat is required as both Lewis and Harris are on the same landmass! A profound sense of peace pervades lonely mountain landscapes of grey rock and green heather, broken by deeply indented fjord-like sea lochs. We continue another 20 miles to the island’s southern tip and the richly carved tombs at Rodel’s early-16th century St. Clement’s Church before returning to Tarbert for the ferry crossing to the village of Uig on the Isle of Skye, where we overnight

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Eilean Iarmain, Isleornsay

At 50 miles long Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, its flawless scenery a soft-shaded palette of craggy mountains, glistening lochs, velvet moorland and rugged sea cliffs. Its name (Old Norse for “Cloud Island”) is perhaps a Viking comment on the Cuillin Hills’ frequent mists. A scenic drive across the island takes us over the elegant Skye Bridge to the mainland at Kyle of Localsh, from where we skirt Lochs Aish and Duich to reach the beautiful valley of Gleann Beag, setting of the well-preserved remains of twin Iron Age brochs Dun Telve and Dun Troddan. Rising to over 32 and 23 feet respectively, they reveal much about the defensive construction and everyday usage of the broch. We continue south to Oban on a three-hour journey whose craggy hills and sea loch waters treat us to some of Scotland’s loveliest scenery. Before reaching our hotel we visit the renowned Oban Distillery, producing whisky since 1794. On “a tour of the senses” we learn how their famous single malt is made - and, as importantly, savor a “wee dram” of the smoky, peaty whisky.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Royal Hotel, Oban

We take the ferry (45 minutes) this morning to Craignure on the Island of Mull, where a drive of about an hour brings us to Fionnphort and the short crossing to the historically-important island of Iona, our destination for the day. Though just 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long, Iona is a name famous the world over as the place where in 563 CE, after tribal feuds caused his exile from Ireland, St. Columba established a monastic Benedictine community. The Columba Church had a key role in the establishment of Christianity in Scotland until Viking raids in the 9th century caused most of the community to move to Kells in Ireland. There’s ample time to admire the handsomely restored medieval abbey, the picturesque ruins of the 13th century nunnery - and the peaceful mood of this unique island haven.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Royal Hotel, Oban

We leave early on the 110-mile drive through the northern edge of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park to Scotland’s Central Lowlands. Here in the Bathgate Hills the broad summit of Cairnpapple Hill was used and re-used as an important ceremonial and burial site for some 4,000 years from the Late Neolithic period. Centuries later the landscape was chosen for a number of Bronze Age burials - and subsequently for Iron Age or, more probably, early-Christian graves. Afterwards we visit the sites of two forts along the Roman Antonine Wall (once marking the Roman Empire’s northernmost frontier): Rough Castle and Kinneil, the latter an excavated and partially reconstructed fortlet site. We then continue to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, and our centrally-located hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Principal, Edinburgh

Though not among Europe’s largest cities, Edinburgh is certainly one of its most elegant and beguiling - thanks not only to its fine architecture but also to a splendid setting draped across rocky hills overlooking the shining waters of the Firth of Forth. It’s also a city of many faces. A city of history, especially, whose eventful past is reflected in the ancient stones of hilltop Edinburgh Castle, in part dating back to the 12th century; and Holyrood Palace, a fulcrum of Scottish royal history, once home of Mary Queen of Scots and today the Queen's official city residence. To these Edinburgh adds both a characterful medieval Old Town and an elegant New Town of Georgian townhouses lining broad avenues, open squares and gardens. Modern Edinburgh blends this unique heritage with the vibrant contemporary mood of a university city of high culture and a lively street scene. After a morning orientation talk we begin our tour at Edinburgh Castle, before a walk down the famous Royal Mile past splendidly restored historic buildings, among them medieval John Knox House, great St. Giles’ Cathedral and Holyrood Palace and Abbey. We continue to the National Museum of Scotland to see its excellent archaeological collection interpreting ancient Scottish life and culture. The rest of our day is free to explore our own choice of city landmarks.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Principal, Edinburgh

We leave for Aberdeen, about 130 miles to our north, entering the ancient realm of the Pictish kingdoms that occupied eastern and northern Scotland from the late Iron Age to the Early Middle Ages - a land of hill forts and stone circles. Our first stop is near Perth at Dunning’s early 13th century St Serf’s Church, one of Scotland’s earliest surviving churches and site of the Dupplin Cross, a rare carved 9th century CE monumental stone found at Forteviot, a Pictish royal site and prehistoric ritual center. On our way to Aberlemno we see four Pictish stones before traveling on to Meigle, legendary burial place of King Arthur’s faithless Guinevere, to see the Stone Museum’s collection of early Christian monuments. Our last stop is at dramatic Dunnottar Castle, a ruined medieval fortress perched atop rugged sea cliffs, and in whose turbulent history are featured Scottish national hero William Wallace and the much later battle against Cromwell’s army that was to save the Scottish Crown Jewels and the honor of Scotland.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn, Aberdeen

Today a leisurely journey west to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands brings us first to the Pictish standing stone near Inverurie known as the Maiden Stone and believed to date from the 9th century CE. At nearby Rhynie we see the mysterious carved Craw Stane (“Crow Stone”) and three other Pictish symbol stones. We then visit a Pictish fort and well at the small coastal town of Burghead, continuing to the nearby Sueno’s Stone, Scotland’s largest surviving Pictish stone of its type, and notable for its strange symbols. The day’s final visit is to Clava Cairns, three Bronze Age burial chambers, some 4,000 years old.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness

On this morning’s drive along the coast to the northernmost shores of mainland Scotland we visit prehistoric sites that include a series of Pictish cross slabs at Hilton and Shandwick, and the Tarbat Discovery Center, whose award-winning archaeology program explains some Pict enigmas! After lunch we continue to The Hill o’Many Stanes - rows of some 200 small stones running down a low hill - often compared to Brittany’s Carnac - and the large Neolithic Grey Cairns of Camster. On arrival at Scrabster a 90-minute ferry crossing brings us to the Orkney Islands at Stromness, a short drive from Kirkwall, the island capital.

All meals included

Hotel: Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments, Kirkwall

The main settlement of Scotland’s 70 Orkney islands and one of the earliest Norse trading centers, 11th century Kirkwall has an appealing island character meriting exploration during our stay. An early start today takes us to the impressive Iron Age settlement of Broch of Gurness, in a beautiful setting beside Eynhallow Sound, overlooking little Rousay island - to which we then cross by ferry to see Midhowe, a fabulous waterside Iron Age broch and cairn on the Westness Heritage Walk, Scotland’s most important archaeological mile. Here we enjoy a picnic at the beach, perhaps watched by grey seals, before returning to Kirkwall.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments, Kirkwall

Following a morning visit to the bijou Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners-of-war during WWII, we drive to nearby Maeshowe - perhaps the most awesome Stone Age chambered burial cairn in Britain, built some 5,000 years ago. We then call at Kirkwall’s Orkney Museum before enjoying an afternoon at leisure or to explore the atmospheric paved streets and twisting “wynds” (lanes) of the capital.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments, Kirkwall

Our morning is mainly devoted the Stone Age settlement of Skara Brae, among Western Europe’s best-preserved groups of prehistoric houses, where excavations have revealed 5,000-years-old stone furnishings, tools and implements. After lunch we continue to the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic henge and stone circle forming part of a wider Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. We continue to Stenness Standing Stones, among Britain’s oldest stone circles, the Barnhouse Neolithic settlement and the lonely tidal island of Brough of Birsay, whose Pictish and Norse remains offer insights into early-12th century Orkney life. In the late-evening we board our overnight ferry to the Shetland Islands.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Northlink Sea Ferry

After breakfast on board we disembark at Lerwick, the Shetland capital, to visit Old Scatness, an Early Iron Age broch and village with Viking and Pictish artefacts. At Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, we explore a site spanning over 4,000 years of human history - with archaeological treasures that include late-Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, an Iron Age broch and a Norse longhouse. Our day ends with a short boat trip to uninhabited Mousa, haunting island home of Scotland's most impressive and best-preserved Iron Age broch.

 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Queens Hotel, Lerwick

We make morning visits to the reconstructed Clickimin Broch and (weather permitting) the prehistoric site of Stanydale, an intriguing “Neolithic temple” or meeting hall standing amid evidence of prehistoric stone houses. After calling at Lerwick’s Shetland Museum there’s time to explore bustling Lerwick, the only real Shetland “town” and home to a third of the islands' population. 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Queens Hotel, Lerwick

This morning we fly to Glasgow (75 minutes), allowing time for independent sightseeing in this lively city. Later we enjoy a farewell dinner as a group.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: The Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

We transfer to the Airport for our flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

September 23 2019: Additional Info

September 23 2019: Accommodation

This property is 6 minutes walk from the beach. Stornoway's largest hotel, Caladh Inn is just half a mile to Stornoway Lewis Ferry Terminal and less than 3 miles from Stornoway Airport. Free Wi-Fi and free private parking are available.

Rooms at the Caladh Inn offer complimentary mix of colour and neutral shades and they are all equipped with an en suite bathroom, a TV and tea and coffee making facilities.

The restaurants offer both a traditional Scottish dinner and cuisine with an international flavor. The Eleven Bar offers a selection of draught beers, malt whiskeys and wines from around the world.

This property is 1 minute walk from the beach. In a picturesque bay in the south of Skye, this hotel has beautiful views over the Sound of Sleat and the distant hills of Knoydart. It offers a 2 AA Rosette-awarded restaurant, and is next to the headquarters of the award-winning Gaelic Whisky company.

With log fires in its reception rooms and a wood-panelled dining room where you can enjoy candlelit dinners, Hotel Eilean Iarmain retains many traditional features. Its hallway is decorated with stag antlers and a stuffed golden eagle.

Rooms have wooden furnishings, and some have open fireplaces. Each also features facilities for making tea and coffee, and has scenic views from the windows. Suites also feature a TV and free Wi-Fi is available in the bar and lounge.

The restaurant offers à la carte dining, with a menu including local seafood and game. There is also a well-stocked bar with a choice of fine wines and real ales.

This property is 2 minutes walk from the beach. Just 550 yards from Oban Railway Station and Oban Ferry Terminal, the Royal offers en suite rooms, free Wi-Fi and free parking. It serves traditional Scottish food and has a whisky bar.

Rooms at the Royal Hotel have traditional decor, many with tartan furnishings or curtains. Some rooms have sea views and all rooms have a TV and en suite bathroom.

The hotel was built in 1895 and the restaurant retains its high ceilings and large windows with views of the town. The bar and lounge serve light meals and a full Scottish breakfast and have coal fires. Evening entertainment includes classic Scottish tunes.

Boasting an enviable location in the Edinburgh city center, the historic and chic The Principal Edinburgh George Street, formerly The George Hotel, is close to Edinburgh CastlePrinces Street Gardens and Holyrood Palace. It has elegant rooms, conference and meeting rooms and a gym. Free high-speed WiFi is available throughout the hotel.

This Grade II listed building with its distinctive facade was built in 1775 and has undergone a great refurbishment project transforming the majority of the bedrooms and public areas. The architecturally-designed interior has created a sense of restored grandeur with simple detailing and the use of natural materials.

Each room features a flat-screen TV, free WiFi, and an en suite bathroom.

The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen serves seasonal Scottish produce throughout the day and night. It is open 7 days a week offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a late-night bar until 01:00. Coffee, cakes, pastries, sandwiches and salads are available at Burr & Co, open 7 days a week. A full room service menu is also available.

This property is 20 minutes walk from the beach. With an enviable location in Aberdeen center, The Hilton Garden Inn offers spacious rooms with free WiFi, only 5 minutes drive from Aberdeen Beach. The hotel's Native Restaurant specializes in Scottish cuisine with locally sourced produce, and guests can enjoy cocktails in the Native lounge.

The rooms feature modern en-suite bathrooms with free toiletries and walk-in rain showers. Rooms also offer tea and coffee facilities and 32-inch TVs with on-demand movies.

The on-site Precor Fitness Centre features a fully equipped modern gym. There is also a business centre and 24-hour front desk service.

The Pavilion Pantry offers a range of snacks, and room service is also available.

Set in 4 acres of beautiful gardens, the Kingsmill Hotel, Inverness has a spa, a swimming pool and free parking. Inverness city center is just one mile away.

Guests have full use of the leisure club, with a sauna, steam room, spa bath and gym. There is also a hair salon.

Many of the spacious rooms at Kingsmills Hotel have garden views. Features include satellite TV and tea and coffee-making facilities. Some rooms also have patios, or private access to the hotel gardens.

Inglis Restaurant offers excellent cuisine, with a menu of fresh, local produce. Guests at Hotel Kingsmills can also dine in the garden conservatory brasserie, which features an informal menu. 

Set in Kirkwall, Orkney, family-run Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments overlooks Kirkwall harbour. It offers local produce in its restaurant and traditionally styled rooms, with free Wi-Fi. Free private parking is available on site.

Rooms are each equipped with a flat-screen TV, telephone and free tea and coffee. Sea view rooms are available, whilst all have a private bathroom with a hairdryer. Ironing facilities are available on request.

Cooked breakfasts are on offer in the Ayre Hotel & Ayre Apartments’ restaurant, which also provides lunch, bar and evening menus. Local ingredients are used, including Orkney Lamb, steaks and freshly caught fish.

 All accommodation on board NorthLink Ferries ships have been built with your comfort in mind. Cabins are modern, clean and fully equipped with en-suite washbasin, toilet and shower facilities. All cabins are now equipped with an individual temperature control and tea & coffee-making facilities.

The Queens Hotel features free WiFi and views of sea in Lerwick. The property has a bar, as well as a restaurant serving British cuisine. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk.

At the hotel, rooms have a desk and a flat-screen TV. The private bathroom is fitted with a bath, free toiletries and a hair dryer. All rooms have a wardrobe.

A buffet or à la carte breakfast can be enjoyed at the property.

Golfing is among the activities that guests can enjoy near The Queens Hotel.

Located at Glasgow Central Station, the award-winning Grand Central Hotel is an iconic hotel set within Glasgow’s shopping district. It boasts a fine restaurant, free WiFi and 21 meeting rooms for up to 500 guests. The historic building dates back to 1883. The hotel has original features including the grand staircase and the magnificent Champagne Central Bar with its domed ceiling and marble floor.

The stylish bedrooms all feature a flat-screen TV, a laptop safe and an iron. Guests can enjoy a discount on breakfast rates when selected at the time of booking.

The elegant Tempus Restaurant & Bar serves both traditional and local specialities, made from seasonal local produce as well as a varied cocktail menu. Deli Central offers fresh, light snacks in a relaxed environment.

This historic hotel has hosted stars including Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin, and even features in the James Bond book, Licence Renewed. In 1927 John Logie Baird broadcast the first-ever long-distance TV pictures from a 4th-floor bedroom.

September 23 2019: Enquiries

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