Board the Polar Pioneer around mid-afternoon in Oban. After settling in, set sail in the evening for your expedition cruise of the European Arctic.
Overnight travel to Iona, the birthplace of Christianity in Britain and a burial ground of early Scottish kings. At Staffa, visit Fingal’s Cave, set amidst spectacular basalt columns, and learn why it inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. In the Cuillin Hills, spiritual heart of Skye, follow a lonely track to Rubh’an Dunain, an ancient passage grave with a nearby Iron Age fort and stonelined canal, possibly built by Vikings. If conditions allow, take longer walks into the hills. Canna offers golden and sea eagles, basking sharks, dolphins, gray seals, and puffins.
Island hopping north and east, aim to visit tiny specks of land that bear the brunt of ferocious Atlantic storms. If weather and seas permit, hope to land on Hirta, in remote St Kilda, home to Europe’s most important seabird colony and Britain’s highest sea stacks. Learn of the incredible islanders, who survived here for nearly 5000 years, and their heroic courtship rituals. The settlement’s last 36 residents were evacuated to the Scottish mainland in 1930, when the Scottish Office ceased to subsidize the community. The islanders had eaten seabird eggs, dried gannets and fulmars for winter food, and used their feathers, oil, bones and skins for fuel, tools and shoes. St Kilda is home to Britain’s largest colonies of gannets, fulmars, and puffins and remains home to Soay sheep, perhaps brought here by Stone Age man over 5000 years ago.
On Lewis visit the Callanish Stones, sombre slabs placed upright nearly 3000 years ago to mark burial sites. A Zodiac cruise takes you to pure white beaches where the brave might swim and to Bostadh’s reconstructed Iron Age house. Aim to visit Sula Sgeir and North Rona, tiny islands with dramatic coastlines inhabited by breeding seals and seabirds.
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. The Shetland Isles also played a strategic role in Viking conquests. Visit the capital, Lerwick, and explore the complex Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age settlement of Jarlshof.
On Mousa, walk to the world’s best-preserved Iron Age structure known as a broch as your historian recounts its importance. Foula’s five dramatic peaks dwarf its crofting hamlets and its cliffs are alive with kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and skuas. Papa Stour’s coastline offers Zodiac exploration of dramatic caves.
Blessed with red, fertile soil, the Orkney archipelago has welcomed people since ancient times. From Kirkwall, visit 5000- year old archaeological wonders like Skara Brae, excavated less than 100 years ago. View relics of Viking occupation and World War II curiosities, including the exquisite Italian Chapel, built from scrap by Italian POWs. Sail past the giant sea stack Old Man of Hoy. On Papa Westray see the Knap of Howar, the oldest standing dwelling in Europe and on to Fair Isle, a birdwatchers’ paradise, where the few inhabitants still live in traditional crofts and welcome you to admire and buy their exquisite knitwear.
Upon arrival in Aberdeen, disembark and bid farewell to new-found friends.