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Stepping Stones in the Atlantic: The Hebrides, Faroes, Shetland & Orkney Islands

Program Number: 21678RJ
Start and End Dates:
5/9/2015 - 5/23/2015;
Duration: 14 nights
Location: United Kingdom:England/Ireland/Scotland/Wales
Price starting at: $7,595.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Adventure Afloat Study Cruise; Small Ship Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 36; 13 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 13 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian; Low Fat; Gluten Free; Low Salt    

In prehistoric times, Celtic monks in search of the utmost solitude took to the sea, sailing from Great Britain to remote “stepping stone” islands: the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, Hebrides and Faroes. Embark on a voyage to these isolated isles and delve into their human history from ancient settlements to recent evacuations. Zodiac boats bring you close to dramatic coastlines. Look for whales and seals.

Activity Particulars

Walking up to two miles per day; some uneven terrain and stairs. Must be able to get into and out of smaller landing craft.

Itinerary At-a-Glance

Edinburgh (Scotland), 2 nights; aboard Sea Explorer, 10 nights; Aberdeen, 1 night.

Day 1: Overnight flight from the U.S.A.

Days 2-4: Arrival Edinburgh (Scotland) / coach to Oban to embark Sea Explorer:

On an expert-led city excursion, discover imposing Edinburgh Castle then follow the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. Absorb spectacular views of the Highlands en route to Oban. Learn about traditional Scotch whisky production at a historic distillery. Lodging: Centrally located Edinburgh hotel.

Day 5: Mingulay & Pabbay:

Set sail for the Outer Hebrides, where you explore these remote islands home to magnificent populations of razorbills, guillemots and puffins.

Day 6: St. Kilda:

Navigate to this spectacular and now-unpopulated archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Examine the ruins of medieval blackhouses on Hirta.

Day 7: North Rona:

This is the most remote British Isle to have ever been settled. It’s a great place to spot grey seals and seabirds.

Day 8: Streymoy (Faroe Islands):

Today the ship navigates north to the Faroe Islands. Journey to the medieval village of Kirkjubour, site of the oldest wooden house in Europe.

Day 9: Mykines:

Discover this lovely island home to thousands of Atlantic Puffins. Stroll through the island’s one small village.

Day 10: Papa Stour & Foula (Scotland):

Get an up-close look at Papa Stour’s stunning cliffs, caves, sea stacks and blowholes. Continue to Foula to find vivid wildflowers.

Day 11: Lerwick & Mousa:

Explore Lerwick, the Shetland capital, and visit the Shetland Museum. Visit the Broch of Mousa, a 40-foot tower built more than 2,000 years ago.

Day 12: Fair Isle & North Ronaldsay:

Interact with the 60 or so residents of Fair Isle, the most remote inhabited island in the U.K. Learn about the North Ronaldsay’s unique seaweed-eating sheep.

Day 13: Mainland:

Experience Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prehistoric landmarks here include two ceremonial stone circles and a well-preserved village.

Days 14-15: Aberdeen / disembark / departure:

Explore Scotland’s historic “Granite City” and enjoy a celebratory farewell dinner. Lodging: Centrally located hotel.

Sea Explorer

Within its five decks, the Sea Explorer offers 57 staterooms, beautifully appointed public areas and the highest standards of service and food. This private yacht-like cruise ship fits only 114 passengers at capacity plus a crew of 72, making for an intimate cruise experience. The Sea Explorer is outfitted with the most current navigational and communications technology as well as with retractable fin stabilizers for smooth sailing despite its size.

Meals and Lodgings
   Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor (or similar)
  Edinburgh, UK:Scotland 2 nights
   Sea Explorer
  Sea Explorer, At Sea
Edinburgh, UK:Scotland
Sea Explorer, At Sea
10 nights
   DoubleTree Hotel Aberdeen City Centre
  Sea Explorer, At Sea 1 night
 Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor (or similar)
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: Located in the stylish West End of Edinburgh’s city center, the Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor hotel combines a historical 1860s listed building with a chic and modern interior. Housed over two buildings – the main building and the Townhouse annex - the hotel boasts modern decor, yet retains stunning traditional features such as beautiful coving, ceilings and ornate staircases. Situated only 200 meters from Haymarket train station and a short walk from popular attractions including Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street and the Royal Mile, this unique Edinburgh hotel is the perfect base to explore Scotland’s capital.
  Ship Information: n/a
  Contact info: Grosvenor Street Haymarket
Edinburgh,  EH12 5EF UK:Scotland
phone: +441312266001
  Room amenities: •Clock Radio w/ MP3 Connection •LCD Flat Panel TV •Night Lights in Bathroom •Non-Smoking •On-Demand Movies •TV-Cable •TV-Standard Network •Work Desk with Adjustable Lamp •Automatic Door Closer •Double Locking Doors •Electronic Locks •Electronic Smoke Detector •Safe •Bathroom Amenities •Hairdryer •High Speed Internet Access •Iron •Iron/Ironing Board •Tea/Coffee Making Facilities •Telephone - Auto Wakeup
  Facility amenities: •Audio/Visual Equipment Rental •Express Mail •Fax •Meeting Rooms •Modem •Office Rental •Photo Copying Service •Printer •Secretarial Service •Baggage Storage •Elevators •Florist •Foreign Currency Exchange •Laundry/Valet Service •Lounge •Luggage Hold •Multi-Lingual Staff •Room Service •Safety Deposit Box For Your Accessibility Needs The Following Features Are Available: •Accessible elevators •Accessible meeting rooms •Braille elevator •Emergency pull cords bedside bed available •Emergency pull cords in bathroom available •Evacuation chair available to help evacuate a disabled person •Induction Loop System available at reception •Induction Loop System available in the meeting rooms •Inflatable chair available to assist in getting in and out of a bath •Level or ramp entrance into the building •Public Areas/Facilities accessible for physically challenged •Rooms accessible to wheelchairs (no steps) •Service support animals welcome •Visual alarms for hearing impaired in public areas •Wheelchair ramp for lobby/reception access .
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: TBD Contact Road Scholar Travel Services to book additional nights.
  Check in time: 3:00 PM

 Sea Explorer
Type: Cruise Ship
  Description: The deluxe Sea Explorer is an all-suite yacht accommodating up to 114 guests. Built in 1992 and refurbished and redecorated in 2005, it has 57 suites. This small ship offers several advantages that mass cruiseliners cannot match. It can dock or anchor almost anywhere and are not limited to large commercial ports. The Sea Explorer can slip into small towns and tiny fishing villages. The ship's 70 officers and crew ensure personalized service.
  Ship Information: Passengers: 110 Crew: 70 Length: 297 feet Beam: 50 feet Draught: 16 feet Gross tonnage: 4200 Speed: 14.5 knots Ice Class: 1C Registered: Marshall Islands Year built: 1992 (refurbished in 2005)
  Contact info: Noble Caledonia
2 Chester Close
Belgravia, London, FL SW1X 7BE UK:England
phone: +2077520000
  Room amenities: All suites are outside suites with private facilities. Please note that all suites have a shower, but none have baths. All suites have the following facilities: - Television - CD/DVD Player - Telephone - Electronic Safe - Hair dryer - Shampoo, hand soap, and shower gel - Heating and air-conditioning (individually controlled) - Mini-refridgerator - Bathrobes for use on board. All bathrobes will be collected for laundering the day before disembarkation - Ample closet space
  Facility amenities: - Bar - Gym - Library - Lounge - Outdoor Bar - Outdoor Jacuzzi - Sun Deck - Laundry Service
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes

 DoubleTree Hotel Aberdeen City Centre
Type: Hotel
  Ship Information: N/A
  Contact info: Beach Boulevard
Aberdeen, NA AB24 5EF UK:Scotland
phone: +44 1224 633 339
  Room amenities: •Hairdryer •Hand Held Shower •High Speed Internet Access •Tea/Coffee Making Facilities •Clock Radio w/ MP3 Connection •Non-Smoking •Flat Panel HD TV
  Facility amenities: Situated just a 10-minute walk from Aberdeen city centre, this hotel is seven miles from Aberdeen Airport and one mile from Aberdeen Railway Station.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights after:  Dependent upon group contract
  Check out time: 11:00 AM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
This program starts upon arrival in Edinburgh, Scotland on the morning of Day 2. You will be staying at Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor (or similar) that night.
  End of Program:
This program ends in Aberdeen, Scotland on the morning of Day 15. You will be staying at DoubleTree Hotel Aberdeen City Centre the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. A valid passport is required. Please check to be sure it is valid for six months after the end of the program and that it has sufficient space for entry and exit stamps, not including the amendment and endorsement pages.
  Parking availability:
Driving to the site is not recommended.
Transportation (For Independent Travelers)
To Start of Program
  Location:  Edinburgh
  Transportation to site: All participants who arrange their air travel through Road Scholar will be transferred from Edinburgh Airport to the program hotel on the program start date. If you did not purchase your air through Road Scholar, you may join the designated group transfer as long as your flight arrives before or at the same time as the group flight.
  From End of Program
  Location:  Sea Explorer
  Transportation from site: There will be one group transfer from the hotel to Aberdeen Airport on the morning of Day 15. All participants are welcome to join this transfer.
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Flights Depart
(Saturday, May 9)
 Evening: Flights to Edinburgh, Scotland depart North America.

Day 2: Arrivals / Edinburgh, Scotland
(Sunday, May 10)
 Arrive To: Flights arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland. Transfer to the program hotel. Check-in time at the hotel is at 3:00. Although we will try to secure an early check-in for participants arriving before 3:00, we cannot guarantee that there will be availability. Luggage storage will be available.
 Afternoon: Gather for a warm welcome and introductions, followed by an orientation to the program. Review the schedule and any changes; discuss responsibilities, safety guidelines, emergency procedures and contact numbers for key staff; and answer any questions you may have.
 Dinner: Welcome dinner at the hotel.
Accommodations: Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor (or similar)
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 3: Edinburgh, Scotland - The Royal Mile
(Monday, May 11)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Depart the hotel this morning for an exploration of Edinburgh. Start the morning at Edinburgh Castle, perched above the city on Castle Rock. Continue exploring the sites along the Royal Mile ending at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
 Lunch: On your own to explore the local fare.
 Afternoon: After lunch you will have some free time to independently explore the shops, restaurants, and sites of interest along the Royal Mile.
 Dinner: At the hotel.
Accommodations: Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor (or similar)
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 4: Edinburgh / Oban / Embark MV Sea Explorer
(Tuesday, May 12)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Transfer by coach from Edinburgh to Oban. The driving time is approximately 3 hours, but the views through the Scottish highlands will be well worth it. There will also be rest stops along the way. Upon arrival in Oban visit Oban Distillery, to learn how traditional Scotch whiskey is produced from one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Next, drive to the top of Battery Hill to McCraig's tower, with beautiful views of Oban Bay.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Arrive at the MV Sea Explorer. Embarkation begins at 4:00 PM.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Mingulay & Pabbay, Outer Hebrides
(Wednesday, May 13)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Explore the remote islands at the tip of the South Uist including Mingulay and Pabbay. Zodiacs will be used to explore and we hope to make some beach landings. Despite there being a continuous population on Mingulay for at least two thousand years, evacuation began in 1907 and the island was completely abandoned by its residents in 1912 and has remained abandoned ever since. The islands are also a nature reserve with important breeding populations of razorbills, guillemots, black guillemots, puffins, fulmars and shags.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: Continue exploring Mingulay and Pabbay.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides
(Thursday, May 14)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Arrive at first light in St. Kilda, a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some fifty miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. The largest island, Hirta, once supported a population of over 200, but the last islanders left in the 1930s. The Medieval village has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland and offers a marvellous link with the past.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: Cruise past two of the largest gannetries in the world at Borecay and Stac Lee as you sail to North Rona.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: North Rona, Outer Hebrides
(Friday, May 15)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Spend the day around North Rona, an isolated island some fifty miles north of Cape Wrath. The last islanders left North Rona in 1844 and today it is home to thirteen species of breeding seabirds including large colonies of great black-backed gulls, great skuas and puffins. There is also a large population of grey seals which we hope to observe during a Zodiac cruise.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: Continue exploring North Rona.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: Torshavn, Faroe Islands
(Saturday, May 16)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Enjoy a morning at sea before we arrive in the Faroe Islands at lunch time.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: From the berth in Torshavn, join a guided exploration over the hills to Kirkjubour the islands oldest cultural center where you will see the ruins of the 13th century St Magnus Cathedral and the 11th century church, still in use. Also visit the 900-year old "Roykstovan", the old bishopric, considered to be the oldest wooden house in Europe.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 9: Mykines, Faroe Islands
(Sunday, May 17)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Today we will use the Zodacis to explore the westernmost islands of the Faroes. One of the loveliest of the archipelago, Mykines is wonderfully green and its single village with bright turf roofed houses and turf streets is a delight. One of the best walks in the Faroes can be found here at "Lundaland" (land of the puffin) on the islet of Mtkinesholmur, which is connected to Mykines by a small bridge.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: This afternoon we hope to explore the huge caves of Vagar that have been created by the Atlantic Ocean as you sail back to Scotland.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10: Papa Stour & Foula, Scotland
(Monday, May 18)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: This morning you will board Zodiacs to explore the stunning cliff scenery, sea stacks, arches, blowholes, and coastal cavers of Papa Stour.
 Lunch: On board the ship as you sail to Foula, one of Britain's most remote inhabited islands.
 Afternoon: Apart from a narrow coastal strip of more fertile croftland, Foula is an expanse of peat and moorland rising steeply to five dramatic peaks. In the long midsummer days, Foula's wildflowers provide a glorious burst of color. The world's largest colony of Great Skuas compete fiercely with many Parasitic Jaegers for breeding territories.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11: Lerwick & Mousa, Shetland Islands
(Tuesday, May 19)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: After breakfast discover the Shetland capital and begin your exploration of this historic port. Wander through the narrow stone lanes, and visit the excellent Shetland Museum, containing artifacts from shipwrecks and the whaling era.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: Explore Mousa to see the forty-foot defensive tower built by the Picts more than 2000 years ago, and the tallest, best preserved example of an Iron Age broch (tower) in Britain.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 12: Fair Isle & North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands
(Wednesday, May 20)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: This morning Sea Explorer will call at Fair Isle where you will be met with a warm welcome by the tiny population of sixty or so islanders. Enjoy a walk across the island, perhaps visiting the Bird Observatory, searching out the puffin slopes.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: North Ronaldsay supports a rich and diverse population of wild flowers, mammals and birds. It lies on the migration crossroads with birds heading north towards Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia whilst common and grey seals are numerous. Join the naturalists for guided walks cross the island including the lighthouse.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 13: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands
(Thursday, May 21)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: This morning, head into the west of Mainland, Orkney's largest island. Pass through the gentle rolling landscape and into the Neolithic Heartland of Orkney; an area designated as a World Heritage Site due to its wealth of pre-historic archaeology. See the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar; a huge ceremonial circle of stones dating back almost 5000 years. Continue to the 5000-year-old village of Skara Brae and see the remarkable dwellings revealed from beneath the sand dunes by storms only 150 years ago.
 Lunch: On board the ship.
 Afternoon: Continue exploring Kirkwall.
 Dinner: On board the ship.
Accommodations: Sea Explorer
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 14: Aberdeen, Scotland / Disembark
(Friday, May 22)
 Breakfast: On board the ship.
 Morning: Disembark the ship this morning. Enjoy a morning exploration of Aberdeen.
 Lunch: On your own to explore the local fare.
 Afternoon: Enjoy some free time to explore Aberdeen.
 Dinner: Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Accommodations: DoubleTree Hotel Aberdeen City Centre
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 15: Departures
(Saturday, May 23)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Group transfer to the airport for flights returning to North America.
Meals Included: Breakfast
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

Author: Samuel Johnson, James Boswell

Description: Written when Johnson was 63 and Boswell 32 in 1773 (when they had been friends for ten years), these travel journals were the result of a three-month trip to Scotland. Johnson observed Scotland, and Boswell observed Johnson.

Bradt Guide Faroe Islands

Author: James Proctor

Description: A practical guide to the North Atlantic islands, essential for anyone contemplating an extended visit. With islands maps, city plans, and detailed information on what to do and where to go throughout the archipelago.

Far Afield

Author: Susanna Kaysen

Description: Susanna Kaysen's charming novel about a social anthropologist off on a grant to study the residents of the Faroes wonderfully evokes the people, culture and windswept landscapes of the North Atlantic archipelago.

Footprint Focus Guide Orkney & Shetland Islands

Author: Alan Murphy

Description: In typical Footprint style, this slim guide provides invaluable information on Scotland's northernmost islands, Orkney and Shetland including transport, accommodation and eating as well as information on wildlife and history.

Lonely Planet Edinburgh Encounter

Author: Neil Wilson

Description: This lively shirt pocket guide to the city, jammed with personal recommendations and photographs, also includes a pull-out map.

Lonely Planet Scotland's Highlands & Islands

Author: Lonely Planet

Description: This handy guide in the popular series covers the Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and other islands, celebrated and remote, throughout Scotland. With 53 maps and terrific background information.

Off in a Boat, Hebridean Voyage

Author: Neil Miller Gunn

Description: Gunn captures the romance and exhilaration of small boat travel in this enchanting account of a 1930s voyage through the Hebrides, interweaving his own adventures with history and lore.

On Glasgow and Edinburgh

Author: Robert Crawford

Description: A history and guide, Crawford's lively account, drawing on a wealth of historical and literary sources, affirms what people from Glasgow and Edinburgh have long doubted -- that it is possible to love both cities.

Orkneyinga Saga, The History of the Earls of Orkney

Author: Hermann Palssom, Paul Edwards

Description: A fusion of myth and legend, circa A.D. 1200, by an unnamed Icelandic author. The medieval chronicle has its center of action among the Orkney Islands, describing their conquest by Norwegian kings during the Viking expansion of the ninth century.

Scotland, A Concise History

Author: Fitzroy MacLean, Magnus Linklater (Contributor)

Description: This richly illustrated survey brings Scottish history up to the present through its romantic figures and bloody battles. With 250 well-integrated illustrations, this revised fourth edition includes a newly added chapter on Scotland’s place in the 21st century.

Sea Room, An Island Life in the Hebrides

Author: Adam Nicolson

Description: Nicolson explores the nature, history and magic of three remote islands in the Outer Hebrides in this affecting memoir. Tiny islands surrounded by serious tides, the Shiants nonetheless make their mark with 500-foot basalt cliffs, seabird and seal colonies and a long history.

Stone Voices, The Search for Scotland

Author: Neal Ascherson

Description: Ascherson writes with verve and insight on the centuries-old impulse toward nationhood in Scotland in this absorbing portrait, interweaving history with archaeology, myth and his own interviews and travels.

The Brendan Voyage

Author: Tim Severin

Description: Severin, inspired by tales of St. Brendan, recreates the voyage of the 6th century monk from Ireland to the New World, down to building a historically accurate medieval leather curragh.

The Crofter and the Laird

Author: John McPhee

Description: McPhee packs up his family and returns for a year to his ancestral land on the Isle of Colonsay in this lyrical, appreciative portrait of place and traditional ways of life in the Hebrides.

Whisky, Kilts, and the Loch Ness Monster

Author: William W. Starr

Description: Beginning and ending in Edinburgh and making stops at Glasgow, Culloden, Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye and more, William Starr follows hilariously in the footsteps of Boswell and Johnson across Scotland.

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