Aberdeen, West ScotlandBoard Polar Pioneer around mid-afternoon in Aberdee. After settling in set sail for the Orkney Islands, where Stone Age villages like Skara Brae, relics of Viking occupation, and the wild sea stack Old Man of Hoy vie for your attention.
Among Orkney’s archipelago of 70 windswept islands, lying 6 miles north of the Scottish mainland, a rich tapestry of archaeology, history and wildlife awaits. Follow the passage of time – from 5000 year old World Heritage neolithic sites, past relics from wandering Vikings and reminders of World War II occupation, to present day crofting communities. Imposing sea cliffs teem with seabirds and cliff top paths and bleak moors beckon the keen hikers aboard, while kayakers use paddle-power to explore sections of Orkney’s fascinating coastline.
Mid-way between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle houses a major European ornithological research station, and is also famous for knitwear and historic shipwrecks. About 3 miles by 2 miles, it is surrounded by impressive cliffs. The 70 or so islanders mostly live in traditional crofts on the more fertile low-lying southern part of the island.
A bird watchers’ paradise, Fair Isle lies on the intersection of major flight-paths from Scandinavia, Iceland and Faroe. It attracts common species and also eastern rarities such as the lanceolated warbler. In summer, the cliffs teem with breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins, and it is an excellent place to view seabirds at close range, especially puffins. The island also has over 250 species of flowering plants, including wetland flowers, rare orchids, alpine species and common wildflowers. Be welcomed by the hospitable villagers and take a hike or visit the museum.
Britain’s most northerly islands lie almost 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland, at a similar latitude to the southern tip of Greenland, or Bergen in Norway. Kept relatively warm by the Gulf Stream, Shetland’s 100 islands experience almost 24 hours of daylight in summer. They abound with nature reserves and archaeological sites, and offer a taste of traditional island life.
Plan to visit some of Shetland's best-preserved and most complex archaeological sites - brochs, or fortified Iron Age towers.
At SeaWhile sailing towards the Norwegian coastline, the warmth of the bridge or the outer decks offer an excellent vantage point for birdwatching. Historians and naturalists will delight you with their informative talks.
The ship captain aims to spend three days exploring the superb Norwegian coastline, cruising the intricate maze of seldom-visited inlets and outer islands. The cod-fishing island of Sor Glaeslingan greets visitors with its delightful wooden houses and cheerful inhabitants, who search for nesting kittiwakes and reclusive sea otters. Hunt for fabled trolls as you pass by Torgatten, meaning mountain with a hole, said to be caused by a troll arrow.
Crossing the Arctic Circle, make your way to the Lofoten Islands, meaning puma’s foot. This is a land scoured by ice and legend, with towering crags containing sharp edges, standing in silent protection of the villages below. As the ship continues to travel north, the days are noticeably longer. Search for sperm whales, orcas, minke whales, pilot whales and dolphins in the deep squid rich ocean trenches off Andenes.
SpitsbergenCross the Barents Sea, past often fog-shrouded Bear Island, a favorite nesting ground for fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and gulls. Beyond Spitspbergen’s South Cape, explore South Spitsbergen National Park, a sanctuary for barnacle geese and eider ducks, before entering the icebergladen waters of Hornsund. Surrounded by polar desert on a grand scale, search for reindeer, ringed and bearded seals and the mighty polar bear. Learn of human history dating back 400 years and if lucky, encounter the elusive beluga whale.
Longyearbyen, SvalbardOn arrival in Longyearbyen, disembark and bid farewell to new found friends.