An Archaeologist's View of Orkney and Shetland

6 Days

From £1095pp

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 Orkney and Shetland are an archaeologist’s dream — beautiful, isolated archipelagos ringed by the North Sea, blanketed by windswept landscapes, and dotted here and there with the remains of ancient cultures. Join us on an island-hopping tour, and follow our expert archaeologists as they bring the extensive relics of these isles to life.

Scotland’s Northern Isles are imbued wth an allure that’s difficult to pin down. Surrounded by sparkling seas, you get the feeling that you are separated from the mainland by more than just distance — by time itself, in fact. Stark landscapes, strewn with ruins from a distant Nordic past, go a long way to maintaining this illusion.

Gain a fascinating insight into Stone Age life at Skara Brae, whose everyday objects — the beds, jewellery, and even medicines of inhabitants long gone — paint a telling picture. Enjoy a unique hands-on experience at the Tomb of the Eagles, where we ponder the still unanswered questions of ancient life in Orkney; and marvel at the complexity of the former Norse settlement at Jarlshof as you consider the Scandinavian chapters of Scotland’s history.

While the human history of these striking archipelagoes is our main focus, there’s plenty more to see. Take a free afternoon to wander the lanes of Kirkwall, the vibrant harbour-front capital of Orkney; and walk the rugged cliffs of dramatically craggy Sumburgh Head, soundtracked by the chattering call of resident fulmars. Finally, top it all off with an overnight ferry voyage back to the mainland, the perfect opportunity to look out at the still North Sea under a blanket of stars.


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Day 1

We travel 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, first used as a place of worship some 5000 years ago — and the Maiden Stone, a slab of pink granite about 3.2m tall, and a fine example of late Pictish Art combining traditional Pictish symbols with Christian motifs, including the story of Jonah and the whale.

Following our visits we will return to Aberdeen where we board the Northlink Ferry for our overnight sailing to Lerwick. Once on board, we will check-in to our comfortable cabins, and have dinner in the ship’s delightful restaurant.


Day 2

Arriving on Shetland early this morning, we commence our tour of the island before taking a small ferry over to fascinating Mousa*, where we will visit the 2000-year old Iron Age broch and hopefully observe some of its wonderful wildlife.

On returning to the mainland, we stop for lunch before heading to the outstanding Prehistoric and Norse Settlement of Jarlshof, with over 3 acres of remains including Viking longhouses.

Early this evening we will make our way to the cliffs and RSPB reserve at Sumburgh Head, where the North Sea on the east meets the Atlantic Ocean on the west. 

*weather permitting. Otherwise, we will pay a visit to Scatness Broch on Mainland Shetland.


Day 3

This morning we travel northwards, stopping first at St Ninian’s Isle, with its church dating from the 6th century, when Christianity first came to Shetland.  

We continue 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, before returning 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, we transfer the short distance to Kirkwall to our accommodation.

Day 4

This morning, we depart on a tour of mainland Orkney's southern end, crossing the Churchill Barriers, built after the 1939 sinking of the 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 done by former prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti — before continuing south to the Isbister chambered tomb, popularly known as the Tomb of the Eagles, and the Liddle Burnt Mound.

We then return to Kirkwall, where we will have some free time over lunch to explore at our leisure, before moving on to our hotel.

Day 5

Today, we have an all-day excursion to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney – World Heritage Sites. These include Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe; Skara Brae, with its new visitor centre depicting the history of this world-famous monument; 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.

After dinner, served in a local restaurant, we will board the Northlink vessel ‘Hjaltland’ (or her sister ship ‘Hrossey’), as we prepare for our sailing at 23.45hrs for Aberdeen.

Day 6

We are due to arrive in Aberdeen at 7am, and after our breakfast on board — from 07.15 — we will disembark in Aberdeen at around 8:30am. We will then return you to your original pick up points by late morning/early afternoon.

What's Included

  • 5 nights: 1 in Shetland, 2 in Orkney & 2 aboard Serco Northlink Ferries – dinner, bed & breakfast
  • 2 full-day coach tours of mainland Orkney including entrances to Skara Brae and Maeshowe
  • 2 full-day coach tours of mainland Shetland: Jarlshof and Mousa
  • Services of a professional tour manager

Supplements Per Person

  • Single supplement £175.00
  • Insurance £45.00 (under 65); £90.00 (65-74); £135.00 (75-90)
  • Regional flight connections and/or overnight accommodation can be arranged on request before or after the tour
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Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

Please also note that identification is now required by Serco Northlink Ferries and you will need to bring with you either a passport, photo driving licence or concessionary card  (e.g. photo bus pass).


The same 5-night package including flights from London (and other regional airports on request) to Aberdeen is available from £1195.00 per person in a twin/double room (single supplement - £225.00)

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Depart Return
(Outside Millennium Hotel)
0800 1345
(Edinburgh Marriott Hotel)
0915 1230
(Outside Fife College)
0945 1200
(Moto Services, M90)
1045 1100
(Canal Street)
1100 1030
(Outside Discovery Point)
1130 1000
(Skene Street)
1300 0830