An Archaeologist’s View of Orkney and Shetland

6 days From £1,195

22 April 2019

The islands of Orkney and Shetland are littered with archaeological remains. People first came here over 5000 years ago and many of their remains survive. New architectural sites are discovered every year. Some, such as Skara Brae, were buried under sand, only to be exposed by a winter storm thousands of years later; Skara Brae presents a fascinating glimpse of stone age life from the beds with their little shelves and cubby holes, to the remains of jewellery and medicine. Research is ongoing here and elsewhere excavation by archaeologists continues to uncover new information. The islands are therefore of enormous interest to anyone who enjoys first-hand contact with ancient settlements and buildings, and the people who once lived here.

During our time on Shetland we will visit the uninhabited island of Mousa with its 2000 year old full size broch; the prehistoric and Norse settlement of Jarlshof; St Ninian’s Isle with its 6th century church and the ruined castle of Scalloway. We then travel to Orkney where we visit the Italian Chapel; the Tomb of the Eagles, which offers a unique ‘hands-on’ experience - an opportunity to handle 5000 year old artefacts excavated from an extensive cliff-top site; Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe and Skara Brae & Skaill House. En route to Aberdeen, we will also see the Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle and the Maiden Stone.

We will stay on both Orkney and Shetland, allowing more time to appreciate the special charm of these islands. We sail with Serco Northlink Ferries on their modern, purpose-built vessels, the Hrossey and the Hjaltland, from Aberdeen overnight to Lerwick. We then have two full days to tour Shetland, staying overnight at the historic Busta House Hotel in Brae. After rejoining the ship for an evening sailing to Kirkwall, we have a further two full days touring Orkney, before our short crossing back to the mainland.

What's included?

  •  Accommodation
  •  Services of a professional tour manager
  •  Comfortable coach travel throughout
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Ferry crossings
Call for availability £1,195 Deposit: £100 Single supplement: £350

Tour highlights:

  • Mousa Broch – the best preserved Iron Age tower in existence
  • The multi-period settlement of Jarlshof
  • Neolithic Orkney – a UNESCO World Heritage Centre
  • Handling 5000 year old artefacts at the Tomb of the Eagles
  • The Churchill Barriers and Italian Chapel, poignant reminders of more recent history

Tour details

Dates 22 April 2019 - 27 April 2019
Duration 6 days
Cost £1,195 Deposit: £100 Single supplement: £350 Balance due by 28 January 2019
Activity Level Challenging
Tour code BWAOS19A

Departure Points

Location Depart Return
Glasgow 1045 2115
Edinburgh 1200 2000
Dunfermline 1230 1930
Kinross 1330 1830
Perth 1400 1800
Dundee 1430 (does not return to Dundee)
Aberdeen
Northlink Ferry Terminal
1700 (does not return to Aberdeen)

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.

Call for availability

22 April 2019: Itinerary

We depart from your local pick-up point and travel north, stopping for lunch en-route. Continuing north, we will stop for a photo opportunity at Dunnottar Castle, a dramatic ruined clifftop fortress which can trace its origins to a 3rd century Pictish fortress and was once the home of the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland.

We then continue to Aberdeen where we board the Northlink Ferry ‘Hjrossey’ (or her sister ship ‘Hjaltland’) for our overnight sailing to Lerwick (departs 19.00hrs).

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.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Northlink Sea Ferry

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 for lunch (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.

We then visit the nearby 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 in May and June should have an opportunity to watch the puffins and other seabirds.

Later we transfer to our hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Busta House Hotel, Shetland

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. After time for lunch in Scalloway (not included) we 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. 

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Kirkwall Hotel, Orkney

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 have free time 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.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Kirkwall Hotel, Orkney

This morning after breakfast, we have an all day excursion of west mainland Orkney visiting the Heart of Neolithic Orkney – World Heritage Sites. We begin at 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.

We shall also visit the Standing Stones of Stenness, with the adjacent Neolithic village of Barnhouse, before continuing to 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.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Kirkwall Hotel, Orkney

After breakfast we check out of the hotel and transfer to St Margaret’s Hope to catch the Pentland Ferries late morning sailing to Gills Bay. We will then return to our original pick up points by early/late evening.

Meals include: Breakfast

22 April 2019: Additional Info

22 April 2019: Accommodation

All accommodation on board NorthLink Ferries ships have been built with your comfort in mind. Cabins are modern, clean and fully equipped with en-suite washbasin, toilet and shower facilities. All cabins are now equipped with an individual temperature control and tea & coffee-making facilities.

Overlooking the shore of Busta Voe, on mainland Shetland, Busta House is a lovely old building with en suite bedrooms, large garden and superb local food.

Between the village of Brae and the island of Muckle Roe, Busta House is close to the geographical centre of Shetland - a good base for exploring the islands.

Try the fresh local food on offer. There is a choice of wine and some 160 malt whiskies. Enjoy free Wi-Fi in all public areas and a few of the bedrooms. All other bedrooms have modem connections and there is a computer at reception for you to use if you need.

Built in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, there is no lift at Busta House, so expect steps.

Looking out across the harbour of the Orkney Islands’ largest town, The Kirkwall Hotel features a high-quality restaurant and bar along with stylish en suite rooms. A short walk from the town’s main shopping area, this family-run hotel provides free Wi-Fi and free parking.

Each room at The Kirkwall Hotel has en suite bathroom facilities with shower or bath, hairdryer and complimentary toiletries. All rooms have a flat-screen TV, telephone and tea and coffee facilities.

A freshly cooked breakfast includes local butchers’ sausages, haggis, black pudding, free-range eggs and locally baked bread. The Harbour View Restaurant serves extensive menus showcasing the local produce of the island, and Skippers Bar provides a relaxed setting to enjoy Orkney ales or whiskies by the waterside.

22 April 2019: Enquiries

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