Greenock, ScotlandEmbark the Silver Explorer this evening and depart on your exciting expedition – “Scottish Isles & Hanseatic Bryggen”. You will be introduced to your Expedition Team and receive a Zodiac briefing. Tonight you are invited to attend a special Welcome Aboard cocktail party.
Rathlin Island & Portrush, Northern Ireland
Tiny Rathlin Island has been settled for more than 6,000 years and has a storied past including a number of infamous massacres. Today it has a population of just over 100 persons and is a popular birdwatching destination. After going ashore by Zodiac, be greeted by your local guide and proceed to explore on foot. Rathlin has been designated as a special conservation area and its bird colony is home to tens of thousands of seabirds, including common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills – about thirty bird families in total. Boarding a local mini bus, we can explore the island further. Shaped like a boot, the island is eight miles long and less than one mile wide and surrounded by impressive limestone and basalt sea cliffs reaching 470 feett in places. Three lighthouses stand as testament to Rathlin’s wild coast.
This afternoon explore the stunning North Antrim coastline beginning with a visit to the medieval Dunluce Castle ruins. Perched picturesquely (and precipitously!) at the edge of a rocky outcropping high above the sea, the castle is dramatically surrounded by terrifyingly steep drops, which the early Christians and Vikings would have considered a very important security feature. Next, visit the Giant’s Causeway of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that descend in a kind of pathway to the sea. Formed over 50 million years ago, visitors have marveled at its majesty and mystery for centuries, and UNESCO has recognized this site with World Heritage status.
Iona & Isle of Mull Scotland
St Columba came here from Ireland in 563 AD and early Christianity spread through northern Britain from this remote island community. Forty-eight Kings of Scotland are buried here, including Duncan, Macbeth’s victim. This morning visit Iona Abbey, one of Scotland’s most sacred and historical sites. The abbey was restored during the early 20th century, and today the Iona Community continues the tradition of worship first established by St Columba.
This afternoon, arrive at Tobermory and notice first its charming and brightly colored waterfront buildings. It is a small town and easy to explore on your own. Spend the afternoon snapping photos and shopping for that perfect souvenir, leaving time of course to stop into a local pub for some refreshment.
Stornoway, Lewis Island, ScotlandToday’s tour takes you away from the island capital of Stornoway and across the island to the Black House of Arnol – a fully furnished island croft (small farm) complete with attached byre and stockyard. The house has very thick walls and a thatched roof; a peat fire burns in the grate and you can envision the islander’s crofting life as it was until only 50 years ago. Continue on to the beautiful west coast of the island and to Callanish. Described as Scotland’s Stonehenge, the Callanish Standing Stones date from around 3000 BC. There are a total of 32 stones in a circular and avenue design. It is thought that the site, one of several in the area, was constructed for astronomical observations. The stones stand like a petrified forest on the flat top of a peninsula that reaches out into East Loch Roag.
St Kilda, ScotlandApproach St Kilda at first light. It is a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some 50 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. For some this will be a moving experience and almost a pilgrimage as you drop anchor off Village Bay on the island of Hirta. Weather conditions permitting, go ashore using your Zodiacs to visit the westernmost landmass in the United Kingdom. St Kilda once supported a population of over 200, but the last islanders left in the 1930s. Recent restoration work on the village by the National Trust for Scotland offers a marvelous link with the past. Later, cruise past two of the largest gannetries in the world.
Tvøroyri, Faroe IslandsAfter docking in the small town of Tvøroyri set off with your local guides, hiking across the tiny island to beautiful Hvannhagi, where you can hope to see Atlantic puffins nesting. Alternatively, guests can choose to visit the art gallery of local sculpturist Palle Julsgart and tour of the historical and maritime museum.
Vestmanna Bird Cliffs, Faroe IslandsThis morning use the Zodiacs to explore the caves and rugged shoreline around the Vestmanna bird cliffs where you can hope to get wonderful views of some of the migratory birds and resident puffins.
Fair Isle, Shetland, ScotlandGeographically divided into two distinct areas, the miniscule 3.5 by 1.5-mile Fair Isle features high moorland areas and cliffs in the north and flatter, fertile lands in the south. Eighteen crofts ranging in size from 3-20 hectares are pretty much the mainstay of the 70 residents. Due to the island’s phenomenal seabird collection, Britain’s most isolated inhabited island is protected by the Fair Isle Marine Environment & Tourism Initiative. Here find a population density and diversity of seabird species that may well be unequalled in all of Europe. With any luck, you might catch a glimpse at the Fair Isle Wren. Tonight dock in Lerwick for an early start to your full day ashore tomorrow.
Lerwick & Noss, Shetland, Scotland
Charming sandstone buildings line the waterfront of this historic seaport. Lerwick, the northernmost town in Scotland, reflects its proximity to Norway with a delightful blend of Scottish and Scandinavian cultures. Your morning excursion travels through the community of Fladdabister, and you will pause to admire the magnificent Mousa Broch, the tallest and best-preserved Iron Age broch on the Island of Mousa. In the tranquillity of Hoswick, enjoy some time at Laurence Odie Knitwear and the Hoswick Visitor Centre or wandering along the peaceful foreshore.
Cross the 60-degree-north line of latitude and onto the rugged Atlantic coast. Here learn of the Pictish treasure as you take in the vistas of St Ninian’s Isle, white sandy beaches and possibly seals. At Jarlshof – Europe’s most complex archaeological site – travel through 4,000 years of Shetland history. The site contains a remarkable sequence of stone structures – late Neolithic houses, a Bronze-Age village, an Iron-Age broch and wheelhouses, several Norse longhouses, a medieval farmstead, and a 16th-century laird’s house. A local guide will describe Shetland’s culture and heritage in greater detail on your return journey to Lerwick.
In the afternoon, Silver Explorer will depart Lerwick to cruise and explore the Shetland Islands. Recognized as a National Nature Reserve since 1955, the Isle of Noss has one of Europe’s largest and most diverse seabird colonies. During your Zodiac exploration of the island, the Expedition Team will point out gannets, puffins, guillemots, shags, kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and great skuas.
Nestled among seven scenic hills, Bergen, with its gabled houses, is one of Norway's most beautiful cities. Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen, is a reminder of the town’s importance as part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16th century, and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Many fires, the last in 1955, have ravaged the characteristic wooden houses. Rebuilding has traditionally followed old patterns and methods, preserving the ancient wooden urban structure once common in Northern Europe. Today, some 62 buildings remain of this former townscape.
Following your guided exploration of Bryggen, visit the Hanseatic Museum. In the period between 1350 and 1750, the buildings on the wharf served as base for the German stockfish tradesmen of the Hanseatic League. The museum is the only house on the old wharf in which the original interiors have been preserved. The building dates from 1704 and provides insight as to what life was like for the Hanseatics of the wharf.
Before returning to the Silver Explorer, visit the reconstructed Fantoft Stave Church with its lovely setting, surrounded by beech trees. It is an exact copy of the original, which dated back to 1150, but was destroyed by fire in 1992. It has been rebuilt exactly as it stood in the Middle Ages. Study its interesting architecture, which shows how the original Norwegian builders, who knew little about constructing churches, employed their shipbuilding skill in the craftsmanship and design.
Bergen, NorwayFollowing breakfast, disembark Silver Explorer.