Arrive in London and check in to your hotel. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure to explore the city. Gather at the hotel in the evening for a welcome reception and dinner.
After breakfast, depart via train for Plymouth and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before a tour of this famous port city. Visit an Elizabethan house built in 1631, as well as the City Museum and Art Gallery where painter Joshua Reynolds' work is displayed in the Cottonian Collection. Birders visit Dartmoor National Park, known for its blanket bogs, upland heath, and oakwoods. Board the Sea Adventurer in the afternoon and settle in to your cabin as the ship sets sail.
Warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, the Isles of Scilly have given their fortunate inhabitants the luxury of turning a passion for growing flowers into a major industry. This morning board local boats and cruise to Tresco to visit the ruins and exquisite subtropical gardens at the medieval Tresco Abbey.
The wonderfully remote Skellig Islands are one of Europe’s most impressive seabird citadels. Little Skellig is home to the second-largest colony of gannets in the world. Other seabirds found here include kittiwakes, razorbills, Manx shearwaters, and nesting puffins. Dependent on weather and permission to access, visit nearby Skellig Michael — the site of an important sixth-century Anchorite monastery and now a World Heritage Site.
From the port city of Dunmore East, drive through scenic countryside to Waterford. Options today include a visit to the renowned Waterford Crystal glassworks to watch master craftsmen at work, or enjoy a tour of Mount Congreve, a magnificent estate with exquisite gardens. Return to the ship for lunch as you cruise toward the privately-owned Saltee Islands. These islands attract nearly three million birds to their craggy masses. On Great Saltee Island search for puffins, murres, razorbills, gannets, and more of the 47 bird species recorded here.
Enjoy a leisurely morning on board as the ship cruises to Port St. Mary. Board the Isle of Man Steam Railway, the single remnant from the extensive Victorian system that served the main centers on the island. Ride through quaint and picturesque villages to the southern resort of Port Erin.
Disembark at Portrush and travel overland to the World Heritage Site of Giant’s Causeway. This three-mile section of coastline is a geological masterpiece — some 40,000 closely-packed hexagonal columns of varying heights line the coast and descend like a staircase into the sea. In the afternoon, visit the rugged cliffs of Rathlin Island, where you are greeted by colonies of guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, and puffins.
In 563 A.D., the Christian missionary St. Columba built a monastery on Iona and spread Christianity throughout Scotland. Though it suffered repeated attacks by Vikings over the centuries and the original was destroyed, the monastery was rebuilt each time, and some of these later buildings still stand. Visit the monastery site, the nearby cemetery of St. Oran, where numerous Scottish kings are buried, and the 12th-century Iona Abbey. Weather permitting, spend the afternoon exploring the uninhabited island of Staffa by Zodiac and its most famous feature, Fingal’s Cave. The cave’s peculiar rock formations and unusual coloring are a delight to behold, and the wonderful echo of the sea from within served as the inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.
Spend the morning at St. Kilda, once home to a small community, evidenced by abandoned houses and cleits, beehiveshaped cells where goods were stored. Cruising among the Flannan Islands this afternoon, puffins, fulmars, murres, and kittiwakes should be plentiful. Of special interest to birders is the Leach’s petrel colony on the grassy slopes of Eilean Mor beneath the lighthouse.
Arrive in the capital city of Kirkwall and visit the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral and some of the island’s major archaeological sites. Maes Howe, a chambered tomb dating from 3500 B.C., is also noted for its runic hieroglyphs left by visiting 12th-century Vikings. Visit the enigmatic Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae, a remarkably well-preserved Stone Age village buried in sand some 4,500 years ago. Enjoy a walking tour of charming Kirkwall in the afternoon.
Enjoy a guided walking tour of Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, which are steeped in Norse heritage. After the tour, spend some free time strolling around the narrow streets and quaint shops. After lunch on board, cruise by Zodiac to the Isle of Noss to view a large and diverse seabird colony. Go ashore at Mousa to view one of Britain’s finest Iron Age ruins, an unusually well preserved 40-foot broch, a dry stone structure, dating from about 200 A.D.
One of the most isolated settlements in the British Isles, Fair Isle is renowned for the quality and intricacy of its handmade sweaters using local wool. It is also famous as a haven for seabirds including gannets, murres, black-legged kittiwakes, numerous gull species, and a large colony of puffins. After a short walk, join some of the 70 islanders at their community center for tea and cakes, and a visit to the local museum.
The Isle of May is another of Scotland’s great seabird islands. Conditions permitting, board Zodiacs to visit the small bird observatory on the island. The number of birds is staggering, with puffins by the thousands, kittiwakes blanketing the cliffsides, shags on every available rock, and eider ducks at your feet. En route to Leith, circumnavigate Bass Rock, renowned for its 100,000 resident gannets — the largest gannet colony in the world. Arrive in Leith this evening, the port for Edinburgh. The Sea Adventurer remains pier side overnight.
After breakfast on board, transfer to Edinburgh airport for your independent flights.