An Archaeologist's View of Orkney and Shetland 2018

6 Days

From £1495pp

  • Enjoy a close encounter with an archeological dig
  • Wildlife spotting on the magical island of Mousa – keep your eyes peeled for killer whales
  • Tour world-renowned Neolithic sites with the experts
  • An enchanting evening with the seabirds at Sumburgh Head
  • Starry crossings to and from Shetland with optional premium upgrades

Orkney and Shetland are an archaeologist’s dream — stunning, isolated archipelagos carpeted by windswept landscapes, dotted with the remains of ancient cultures, and ringed by the North Sea. Join us on this island-hopping tour, following expert archaeologists as they bring the extensive relics of the region to life.

Scotland’s Northern Isles are imbued with an allure that’s hard to pin down. Surrounded by the waves, one has the feeling that one is separated from the mainland by more than just distance — perhaps by time itself. Stark landscapes strewn with Nordic ruins go a long way to maintain this illusion.

Gain a fascinating insight into Stone Age life at Skara Brae, where everyday objects —such as beds, jewellery and medicines— paint a full and telling picture. Enjoy an enlightening experience at the Tomb of the Eagles, where we ponder the mysteries of ancient Orkney; and marvel at the complexity of the former Norse settlement at Jarlshof as we consider the Scandinavian chapters of Scotland’s past.

While the human history of these striking archipelagoes is our main focus, there’s also plenty in the natural world here to enjoy. Take a free afternoon to wander the lanes of Kirkwall, the vibrant harbour-front capital of Orkney, and walk the rugged cliffs of craggy Sumburgh Head, accompanied by the chattering calls of the fulmars.

We round off our trip with an overnight voyage to the mainland – the perfect opportunity to observe the still North Sea beneath a glittering blanket of stars.

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Day 1

We travel from our pick-up points to Aberdeen, pausing en route for a photo stop at the dramatic coastal ruins of Dunnottar Castle. On arrival in Aberdeen we board the NorthLink Ferry for our overnight voyage to Shetland. Checking in to our comfortable cabins, we come together for dinner in the ship’s delightful restaurant. Upgrades to premium cabins are also available.

Day 2

Arriving at Lerwick, we take a tour of the island, passing through the communities of Gulberwick and Cunningsburgh. Weather permitting, we make the short crossing to Mousa, where we visit the 2,000-year old Mousa Broch and watch out for some of the island’s wonderful wildlife, from puffins and petrels to porpoises.

Returning to the mainland, we pause at Hoswick Visitor Centre before heading to the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, where the remains of Viking longhouses lie within 3 acres of excavations.

Early this evening we travel to the cliffs and RSPB reserve at Sumburgh Head, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 3

We travel up to St Ninian’s Isle, with its church dating from the 6th century – the period when Christianity first arrived in Shetland. St Ninian’s is famous for a discovery of 9th-century silverware, found here by a local schoolboy in 1958.

Following lunch we arrive in Scalloway, Shetland’s former capital, where we visit the ruined castle of the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart. We continue through Tingwall Valley, site of the old Norse parliament, returning to Lerwick for time to explore the town before sailing over to Orkney. Tonight we dine on the ferry.

On arrival in Orkney, we transfer the short distance to our hotel.

Day 4

This morning we depart on a tour of southern Orkney, crossing the Churchill Barriers, which were built after the 1939 sinking of HMS Royal Oak. We stop first at the Italian Chapel — built on the site of a former prisoner-of-war camp; its marvellous paintings were completed by ex-prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti — before continuing to the Isbister chambered tomb (otherwise known as the Tomb of the Eagles) and the Liddle Burnt Mound – two exceptional sites discovered by the same farmer some 50 years ago.

We return to Kirkwall, where we have free time to roam the local sights at our leisure, before reuniting for a group dinner at our hotel.

Day 5

Today we enjoy a full-day excursion to the heart of Neolithic Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, beginning with Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Following this we dip in to the ongoing excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, continuing to the prehistoric stone settlement of Skara Brae. Later we visit the Standing Stones of Stenness, as well as the adjacent Neolithic village of Barnhouse, exclusively introduced to us by a ranger from Historic Environment Scotland.

After an enjoyable last night’s supper at a local restaurant, we board the NorthLink ferry for our overnight return to Aberdeen.

Day 6

After breakfast on board, we disembark in Aberdeen, and head back to our original pick-up points, arriving in the late morning/early afternoon.

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