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Orkney & the Far North
- Glen Coe
- Loch Ness
- Urquhart Castle
- Ring of Brodgar
- Skara Brae
- Smoo Cave
- Highland village of Ullapool
- Culloden Battlefield
- Clava Cairns
Departing Edinburgh we head west past Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. After a quick photo stop at Doune Castle (filming location for Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Outlander’) we cross the Highland boundary for a refreshment break alongside Loch Lubnaig.
Continuing through the spectacular Highland scenery of Loch Earn and Glen Ogle, we stop for photos of the Blackmount mountains before passing through the wild and remote wilderness of Rannoch Moor towards Glen Coe. With stunning views and spectacular landscapes the glen was also the scene of the infamous massacre of Clan Macdonald in 1692.
Driving along the Great Glen we stop at the Ben Nevis viewpoint for a photo of the UK’s highest mountain. Lunch is in the picturesque Highland village of Fort Augustus on the banks of Loch Ness – plenty time for ‘Nessie’ spotting and a cruise on the loch.
After lunch we visit famous Urquhart Castle with its dramatic loch-side location and fabulous views. A short drive takes us to Inverness, ‘Capital of the Highlands’, where we stay for one night.
Example accommodation: www.glasdairhouse.com
After an early start, we cross the Kessock Bridge and follow the dramatic coastline north. Lunch is in one of the picturesque Sutherland fishing villages before we arrive at the most north-easterly point on the British mainland – Duncansby Head. From here there are wonderful views from the lighthouse down the coast to the incredible Duncansby Stacks.
After a short journey we stop for refreshments at John O’Groats, the Scottish mainland’s most northerly village. On arrival at Gills Bay, we board the ferry and cross the Pentland Firth to the world famous islands of Orkney.
Depending on the weather our first stop on the islands will be either the quaint Italian Chapel or a short cliff-side walk to the Neolithic chambered Tomb of the Eagles. In the early evening we arrive at the Viking stronghold of Kirkwall, capital of Orkney, where we stay for two nights. You’ll have time to visit the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral or explore the town’s historic winding streets and harbour.
Example accommodation: www.kirkwallhotel.com
Today we explore these fantastic, ancient islands – a land of contrasts where tranquil green pastures, fringed by shores of golden sands, are lashed by the untamed waters of both the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Our first stop will be the standing stone circles at Stenness and Brodgar.
The Ring of Brodgar is part of Orkney’s World Heritage site and the circle has become an iconic part of the islands’ identity. It is 104 metres wide and is one of the finest stone circles in the world with 27 standing stones.
The Stones of Stenness are also one of Orkney’s most famous sites and date from at least 3000BC. Next is the internationally renowned Skara Brae. This incredibly well preserved stone village, contains an intricate maze of dwellings, stone beds, lintels and cupboards all intact, and dating back some 5,000 years. The site was revealed in 1850 by a violent storm and is now one of the most famous Neolithic sites in Northern Europe. Lunch is in the picturesque seaport of Stromness.
You’ll have time to explore the flagstone paved streets and hidden alleyways and in the afternoon we take a scenic drive to the Brough of Birsay for a short coastal walk. We cross the causeway to this tidal island and visit the remains of both Pictish and Norse settlements, including St. Peter’s Kirk.
On the far side of this small island we visit the lighthouse and spectacular cliff face. Our final stop is a guided tour of Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2700 BC, it was raided by the Vikings in the mid-12th century and plundered of all its ‘treasures’. They did, however, leave behind one of the largest collections of Norse runic inscriptions in the world. Finally, it’s back to Kirkwall for our second night after what is sure to have been a memorable day.
After a relaxed start to the day we drive to Stromness for the ferry back to the mainland. En-route we get close up views of the impressive 137m sea stack, The Old Man of Hoy. On arrival in Thurso we travel west along the top of Scotland and past Ben Hope, the most remote of Scotland’s large mountains. Lunch is in the village of Durness at the UK’s north-western tip.
A visit here wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the incredible Smoo Cave or one of the stunning beaches near the village. Heading south we drive through the North West Highland Geopark, famed for having some of the oldest rocks in the world. Next stop is photos of 15th century Ardvreck Castle on the shores of Loch Assynt.
Our last leg of the day takes us through the spectacular region of Assynt, an area of outstanding natural beauty encompassing hundreds of lochs and native woodlands, all set against the stunning backdrop of some remarkable mountains.
This dramatic Highland landscape has inspired many from all over the world with famous mountains such as Suilven and Stac Pollaidh never far from view. In the early evening we arrive in the beautiful whitewashed fishing village of Ullapool where we spend our last night of the tour.
Example accommodation: www.theceilidhplace.com
Leaving Ullapool behind, we drive past Loch Broom to our first stop of the day, the River Droma plunging 60m down into the impressive Corrieshalloch Gorge. Next is Culloden Moor where the Jacobites were finally defeated by government soldiers in 1746, the last battle to be fought on British soil.
There will be time to walk on the battlefield and learn more about this tragic event that killed 700 Highland clansmen in less than three minutes. From there we visit one of Scotland’s most evocative and sacred prehistoric sites, the nearby 4000 year old stone circles and burial mounds at Clava Cairns.
As we drive south through the Cairngorms National Park you’ll hear about the flora and fauna of this wonderful wilderness which was officially protected in 2003 and is the largest National Park in the British Isles.
We arrive at the lively Highland town of Pitlochry for a late lunch with the option to visit the Blair Athol Distillery where you can take a guided tour of the distillery and, of course, sample the ‘water of life’ for yourself. Alternatives include a short walk to the famous hydro-electric dam and salmon ladder or Black Spout waterfall. Our final stop is a gentle riverside walk through Big Tree Country at Dunkeld, a beautiful way to finish your tour all seasons of the year.