We depart from your local pick-up point and travel to the north of Aberdeen (stopping en route for refreshments) to the small town of Inverurie to view two exceptional stone sites. The Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, a recumbent stone circle with a cremation cemetery to the south-east, was first a place of worship some 5000 years ago and it was still regarded as a very special place some 1500 years later when the cremation circle was added. In 1934 the site was excavated and this has told us much about the site and the people who used it. There are ten stones in the circle, two of which flank a massive recumbent stone. Later, a ring cairn was constructed at the centre of the circle and excavation also showed that at one time there was a small wooden structure within the circle, perhaps some kind of mortuary house. The cremation cemetery lies alongside and is enclosed by a low bank. The remains of a man lay in a pit at the centre and deposits representing up to thirty one people, including children, lay round about.
We continue to the Maiden Stone to the west of Inverurie. A slab of pink granite about 3.2m tall, it is a fine example of late Pictish Art and combines traditional Pictish symbols with Christian motifs. These include the story of Jonah and the whale. Pictish art retains its mystery as no-one has yet been able to say precisely what these great stones mean. One of the symbols used on the Maiden Stone resembles a dolphin – there is a population of bottlenose dolphins and porpoises still in the Moray Firth. The stone is about 1200 years old and legend has it that it concerns a local maid - the daughter of the Laird of Balquhain. Upon her wedding she entered into a wager with a stranger, that she could bake a large batch of bread before he could build a road to the top of nearby Bennachie. He was, of course, the devil in disguise, and when she lost she was to become his bride. She fled this terrible fate and was turned to stone – The Maiden Stone.
Following our visits we will return to Aberdeen where we board the Northlink Ferry ‘Hjrossey’ (or her sister ship ‘Hjaltland’) for our overnight sailing to Lerwick.
Once on board we shall check-in to our comfortable cabins which all have en-suite facilities. The ship has a delightful restaurant where we will have dinner, thereafter you may wish to relax in the bar or lounges. There is also a well-stocked gift shop for souvenir shopping or essential items.
Our ship is due to arrive in Lerwick at 07.30hrs. After breakfast on board (available from 07.15hrs) we will leave the ship and commence our tour of Shetland travelling through small communities such as Gulberwick and Cunningsburgh. At Sandwick we transfer to a small ferry to cross as foot passengers over to the fascinating little island of Mousa, where we will visit the 2000 year old iron age broch. Remarkably the broch of Mousa still stands to its original height of 13m. The island is also a nature reserve and is rich in wildlife. Storm petrels, Arctic terns and Skuas nest here, and harbour seals lounge on the shore. Keep a sharp eye on Mousa Sound and you may also spot porpoises and the odd killer whale. If for any reason (weather or boat problems – sadly it can happen) we will visit Scatness Broch on Mainland Shetland.
On returning to the mainland we will stop at Hoswick Visitor Centre to make use of the lunch facilities (not included). Later we will travel the short distance to the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, with over 3 acres of remains, spanning 3000 years since the days of the Stone Age, including oval shaped bronze age houses, an iron age broch and wheel houses, Viking long houses and medieval farmhouses.
In the early evening we will make our way to the cliffs at Sumburgh Head, where the North Sea on the east meets the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The cliffs here are quite spectacular. This is an RSPB reserve and we should have an opportunity to watch the puffins arrive before transferring to our accommodation at the comfortable Queens Hotel in Lerwick. All rooms have en-suite facilities. Dinner will be served in the evening.
This morning after breakfast we travel northwards, stopping first at St Ninian’s Isle and its church dating from the 6th century when Christianity first came to Shetland. It is also famous for its treasure of 9th century silverware found by a young schoolboy in 1958 which was believed to have been hidden to prevent Viking raiders removing them.
We travel to Scalloway, the former capital of Shetland where we visit the ruined castle built in 1600 by the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart. We then continue through Tingwall Valley, the site of the old Norse parliament (Ting) before returning back to Lerwick with time to explore the historic town before we board our ship for Orkney. Dinner is served on board.
On arrival in Orkney (expected at 23.00hrs) we will transfer the short distance to Kirkwall to our accommodation. All rooms have en-suite facilities.
This morning following breakfast we will depart on a tour of the south end of mainland Orkney, crossing the Churchill Barriers which were built after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in October 1939. The causeways are built of 5 and 10 ton concrete blocks and have good roads on the top connecting Burray and South Ronaldsay to the Orkney mainland. We also stop off at the beautiful Italian Chapel, built on the site of a former prisoner of war camp. Several hundred Italians, captured during the North African campaign of World War II were sent here to work on the Causeways and converted two huts into a chapel. The marvellous paintings in the interior were done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the prisoners who has returned several times to restore and repaint parts of the building.
We will continue to drive south over causeways to South Ronaldsay, where we visit the Isbister chambered tomb. Popularly known as the Tomb of the Eagles, due to the number of talons from sea eagles found there, the cairn dates from about 3,000BC and was in use for about 800 years. Like so many of Orkney’s prehistoric monuments it was discovered purely by accident, by a local farmer 50 years ago, and consists of a rectangular main chamber divided into stalls and cells which contained the remains of over 300 individuals. Nearby, the Liddle Burnt Mound was discovered by the same farmer. For decades this structure was thought to have been a family dwelling but recent research has cast doubt on this and, indeed, on our ideas about the Tomb of the Eagles; these issues are explored in their own interpretation centre and museum.
We then return to Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, where we will have some free time for lunch and will be able to explore its environs at leisure. Places of interest include St. Magnus Cathedral - one of Europe’s greatest architectural masterpieces, its red and yellow sandstone still vibrant after 861 years; the Earl’s Palace and the Bishop’s Palace and The Orkney Museum.
Dinner will be served at the hotel in the evening.
This morning after breakfast, we have an all day excursion of west mainland Orkney visiting the Heart of Neolithic Orkney – World Heritage Sites. These include Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2700 B.C. Maeshowe was raided by Vikings in the 12th Century. It thus houses the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world. Skara Brae, with its new visitor centre depicting the history of this world famous monument and Skaill House, a fascinating architectural medley to the side of Skara Brae; and the Standing Stones of Stenness, with the adjacent Neolithic village of Barnhouse. We later visit the great stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness.
Dinner this evening will be served in a local restaurant.
Later this evening we will board the Northlink vessel ‘Hjaltland’ (or her sister ship ‘Hrossey’) when you will be able to enjoy a drink in the bar, settle in to your cabin or simply watch the quayside activity of the ship as we prepare for our sailing at 23.45hrs for Aberdeen.
We are due to arrive in Aberdeen at 07.00hrs and after our breakfast on board (from 07.15hrs) we will disembark in Aberdeen at 08.30hrs approximately. We will then return you to your original pick up points by late morning/early afternoon.