Highland and Island Tours
Orkney, Shetland and the Northern Highlands
The Northern Highlands lie between Inverness and the fierce currents of the Pentland Firth, which separates the mainland from Orkney.This area is one of the largest in Scotland, and has a great diversity of landforms, geology, history and archaeology. Some of the rocks, at 3000 million years old, are Europe’s most ancient. The golf and cathedral town of Dornoch and nearby Skibo Castle were brought to prominence by Madonna’s wedding. John O’Groats is the most northerly point of the British mainland, and is a short distance from the Castle of Mey, a favourite home of the late Queen Mother. The Orkney and Shetland Isles have their own unique spirit and atmosphere, with over 5000 years of history to explore. Orkney has the 5000 year old Skara Brae village, revealed in 1850 in a violent storm and, in contrast, warship relics of both world wars lie in the large sheltered anchorage of Scapa Flow. Both groups of islands share a strong Viking heritage, which is celebrated in Shetland each January with the annual fire festival of Up Helly Aa, and the ceremonial burning of a Viking Longship. The Shetlands consist of around 100 islands, and the local dialect is almost a language of its own: neither Scottish nor Scandanavian, it is borrowed from both.
The Romantic Hebrides: Oban, Mull and Iona
Oban, “Gateway to the Isles”, the hub of the ferry services to the Hebrides, is set in a beautiful bay facing the island of Kerrera, with the hills of Mull beyond. Dunollie Castle and Dunstaffnage Castle dominate the coastline to the north of the town. Alba Sailing’s yacht charter operation is based at the Marina in the sheltered Dunstaffnage Bay. A short ferry crossing from Oban takes you to Craignure on Mull, passing close to the imposing Clan Maclean’s Duart Castle, one of the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland. Colourful Tobermory, favourite of yachtsmen, is the island’s principal town. The unique Mull Narrow Gauge Railway links Craignure to the attractive Torosay Castle and Gardens. The tiny island of Iona is a short ferry hop from Fionnphort on the Ross of Mull. In 563AD St Columba landed here bringing Christianity to Scotland. Iona today is still an important Christian centre, with Iona Abbey and the Iona Community acting as a centre of pilgrimage and a retreat for Christians of all denominations worldwide.
The Romantic Hebrides: The Outer Isles
Stornoway in Lewis, capital and by far the largest town, has a fine sheltered harbour. Lewis is largely flat and covered with peat bogs, in stark contrast with Harris, its rocky and hilly neighbour to the south. Rodel’s 16th century St Clements Church is an archaeological gem. The famous Harris Tweed is an important export from this area, and is still being woven on hand looms by the crofters around the island. North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist are linked by causeways and have stunningly beautiful beaches to the west, whilst hundreds of small lochs punctuate the inland area, providing good fishing. The island of Barra has an unusual Airport based on the beach: incoming passenger aircraft must wait till the tide is out before landing!