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Ring Of Brodgar, Orkney

Wild Scotland

Edinburgh - Aberdeen - Example 12 Day Cruise aboard Greg Mortimer
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From the Hebrides in the west to inhospitable windswept specks of land like St Kilda and Foula, and to the Orkney and Shetland islands in the north, you’ll explore the intriguing diversity of Scotland’s wild islands. You can plan to take in Neolithic sites scarcely changed in 5,000 years, and ponder the mystery of huge monoliths that marked the seasonal change. Visit picturesque villages, and castles that once were a stronghold of the Scottish clans; birders will delight in Europe’s largest seabird colonies and the Orkney Islands will please whiskey amateurs with a wee dram of Scotland’s finest!
Isle of Iona, ScotlandSeabirds flying over dramatic ocean island cliffs St KildaIona Abbey on the Isle of IonaDiscover the restored Iona Abbey, ScotlandRing Of Brodgar, Orkney
Highlights
  • Visit the World-heritage-listed island of St Kilda
  • Explore historic villages in the Orkney Islands
  • Kayak through sea caves and mirror-like lochs
  • Visit an Iron Age broch with your expert historian
Places Visited
Activity Level: Variable
Activity options vary depending on destination and operator. Activity level is determined by the range and intensity of activities you choose to participate in. Discuss with your Trip Planner which options are best for you.
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Full Itinerary

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Day 1: Edinburgh

Arrive in Edinburgh and transfer to the hotel. Upon check-in, the reception staff will provide you with cabin tags. Speak with the ground operations team, who may have information to share with you about pre-embarkation or to provide you with information about where to dine, withdraw cash, or purchase last-minute items from a local pharmacy or supermarket.  Fill out the luggage tags clearly, showing your name and cabin number to allow the team to deliver your luggage to your cabin. At tonight’s voyage briefing, enjoy a welcome drink and meet fellow expeditioners.

The remainder of your time is at leisure. All meals today are at your own expense.

Accommodation: Courtyard Edinburgh Hotel (or similar)

Day 2: Troon | Embark

After breakfast, check out and bring your luggage to the foyer. Please place any items required today in your hand luggage as your main bag will be transferred to the ship.

Edinburgh awaits travelers this morning as a local guide welcomes the group with stories of Scotland's capital city. Stretching just over one mile, five cobblestoned streets make up the walking precinct of the Royal Mile. Starting at The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, step back in time to hear tales of princes, poets, and politicians as we stroll past some of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings including the Church of Canongate and Scotland's own parliament house. 

Perched atop an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle dominates the capital city’s skyline just as it has dominated Scotland’s long and colorful history. This instantly recognizable fortress is a powerful national symbol and part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. The audio tour brings the castle's inhabitants alive as you discover highlights such as the Royal Palace, the Crown Jewels, Mons Meg, and the Scottish National War Memorial.

You’ll have time to explore the castle precinct and Royal Mile which are scattered with friendly pubs and charismatic restaurants (lunch own expense). The two-hour transfer takes the travelers to the west coast port of Troon where the expedition team will welcome you aboard the Greg Mortimer in the late afternoon.

Once onboard, settle into your cabin before our important briefings. Set sail along Scotland's northwest coast in the evening and meet your expedition team and crew at Welcome Dinner. 

Day 3-4: Inner Hebrides

From golden beaches to jagged peaks, bleak moors, and heather-clad hills; from abandoned settlements to picturesque villages, your days in the Hebrides archipelago will be packed with variety. Travelers may explore remote lochs beneath some of Britain’s most untamed mountains and wander between unusual rock formations. The group may watch for whales, dolphins, otters, seals, and the increasingly rare basking sharks. Possibly, travelers will land at an island reserve that is home to red deer and white-tailed sea eagles.

Kayakers will be introduced to their craft and will be briefed on their adventures, before picking up paddles to circumnavigate tiny islets or glide into narrow waterways that intertwine the islands. Hikers may opt for panoramic views from summits and ridges. Early the next morning, you will aim for the tiny island of Iona. Barely 5 kilometers / 3 miles long, Iona is renowned as the birthplace of Christianity in Britain. It is also a burial ground of early Scottish Kings. The Irish monk, St Columba, and twelve disciples landed here and founded a monastery in 563 AD. From this base, St Columba set about converting Scotland and much of Northern England to Christianity.

We plan to land on remote Isle of Eigg and on the rugged Isle of Skye for wonderful hikes among stunning wildflowers. Skye is a center of Gaelic culture, and some islanders still speak the language. The wildlife, history, geology and beautiful scenery make it one of our favorite islands to explore.  

We hope to make the following landings: The Cuillin Hills have earned a reputation as Britain’s most untamed and challenging mountains. The rocky jagged Black Cuillins attract rock climbers. The smoother conical granite peaks of the Red Cuillins are crowned with heather. We may land at Loch Scavaig in the heart of the Cuillins and take a short hike, perhaps to Loch Coruisk, for spectacular views and get a glimpse of the range’s grandeur. Keener hikers may be able to venture further afield, weather permitting. Meanwhile kayakers may paddle around Loch Scavaig, into Loch Coruisk. They may explore the island of Soay and an abandoned shark fishing station – all against the backdrop of classic views of the Cuillins. 

Day 5-7: Outer Hebrides & Orkneys

From the Inner Hebrides we make our way to the Outer Hebrides – also known as the Western Isles – that stretch for 209 kilometres (128 miles) and look out on their western side to the Atlantic Ocean. Weather permitting, we plan to land at the isolated archipelago (and World Heritage site) of St Kilda, where derelict crofts bear testament to the fortitude of islanders who once tended the unique Soay sheep and harvested seabirds for food—and to pay their rent in the form of wool, meat and feathers. The isles hold Europe’s most important seabird colony and is home to Britain’s highest sea stacks (rock columns). 

Our next stop is at the Isle of Lewis, the largest and northern-most island in the Outer Hebrides. We plan to make a stop at Callanais, where archaeology buffs will be keen to see the fascinating group of Standing Stones, dating from around 3,000 BCE. 

Orkney’s archipelago of 70 windswept islands, 10 kilometres / 6 miles north of the Scottish mainland, a rich tapestry of archaeology, history and wildlife awaits. We follow the passage of time—from 5,000-year-old World Heritage Neolithic sites, past relics from Vikings and reminders of World War II occupation—to present day crofting communities. Imposing sea cliffs teem with seabirds and cliff top paths beckon the keen hikers among us. Our kayakers use paddle-power to explore sections of Orkney’s fascinating coastline.  

At the Knap of Howar on Papa Westray lies the earliest known house in Northern Europe, occupied by Neolithic farmers over 5,000 years ago. At the east end of Scapa Flow remnants from World War II include an Italian Chapel, created by Italian prisoners of war made out of two Nissen huts, and the Churchill Barriers, constructed on the orders of Winston Churchill to keep out U-Boats. Here we are welcomed by the friendly locals. Enjoy the lively Scottish dance and folk ensemble, "Poor Man's Corner," hailing from Papa Westray, set to grace the local pub with their spirited tunes. Mingle and enjoy a few drinks, while listening to the captivating melodies and infectious rhythms.  

Day 8-11: Shetland Islands

Britain’s most northerly islands lie almost 160 kilometres (99 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. We plan to explore some of the following sites: 

Jarlshof is one of Shetland's best preserved and most complex archaeological sites. It was exposed by storms in the late 19th century. The Old House of Sumburgh, built here in the 17th century, was named 'Jarlshof' by Sir Walter Scott in his novel 'The Pirate'. The record of human occupation dates from around 3,200 BCE. Jarlshof’s main Bronze Age site is the house of a bronzesmith working around 800 BC. Clay moulds into which molten bronze was poured revealed that he was casting axe heads and short swords. It seems that Shetland suited early Norse settlers, for they quickly settled here and left their mark on Shetland's history for ages to come. 

Mousa Broch, on the small uninhabited island of Mousa, is the best preserved of Scotland’s 570 brochs (fortified Iron Age towers). Storm petrels nest among its stones, which can be seen when visiting the broch at night. In daylight, a large colony of common and grey seals basks on its shores and you may spot otter (Dratsi, in Shetland dialect).  

Midway between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle houses a major European ornithological research station, and is also famous for knitwear and historic shipwrecks. About five kilometres by three kilometres / three miles by two miles in area, it is surrounded by impressive cliffs. The 70 or so islanders mainly 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. In summer, the cliffs teem with breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins. The Isle is an excellent place to view seabirds, especially puffins at close range. Fair Isle also has over 250 species of flowering plants, including wetland flowers, rare orchids, alpine species and common wildflowers. We’ll be welcomed by the hospitable villagers and may take a hike or visit the museum. Grey and common seals inhabit these waters around Fair Isle, while sharp eyes may spot harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, killer whales (orcas) and minke whales. 

Situated along the western shores of Shetland's mainland, Papa Stour boasts some of the most striking coastlines in the region. Marvel at impressive caves, arches, stacks, and skerries. Papa Stour is a haven for walkers, wildlife enthusiasts, and those with an interest in archaeology, offering a diverse range of experiences. 

The island of Foula is the most remote inhabited island in the UK. Its small community of about 30 residents welcome us to their island to enjoy the magnificent scenery, large seabird colonies, beautiful wildflowers and remarkable community life. Papa Stour offers some of the best sea caves in Britain where we may explore with Zodiacs and kayaks. 

Discover the rich history in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands. Initial impressions are misleading, as the harbour area looks modern, but the narrow winding streets and lanes of the old town, which have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries are appealing. Everything west of Kirkwall is known as West Mainland, an area of rich farmland, rolling hills and moorland, with dramatic cliffs along the Atlantic coastline. Some of the main archaeological attractions we may see include the standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and the chambered tombs of Maes Howes that to this day still have unresolved mysteries.  

You can choose from a selection of shore excursion options that best suits your interests and level of fitness: 

Option 1: Orkney Treasures - Skara Brae 
Embark on a journey through the serene countryside, venturing into the World Heritage heartland of the Orkney’s, celebrated for its abundance of prehistoric archaeology. Traverse past the awe-inspiring Standing Stones of Stenness and make a pause at the Ring of Brodgar—an immense ceremonial stone circle with roots reaching back nearly 5000 years. Continue your exploration to the ancient village of Skara Brae, a settlement that has withstood the test of time for 5000 years. Delve into its rich history, thoughtfully interpreted at the visitor center, and witness the remarkable dwellings unveiled from beneath the sand dunes by storms a mere 150 years ago. A short 200-meter stroll leads to Skaill House, a distinguished manor and Orkney's finest. Constructed in 1620 by Bishop George Graham on the grounds of a farmstead believed to date back to the Norse period, Skaill House boasts a 400-year legacy. All 12 of its Lairds throughout history are interconnected, each contributing to the house's storied history and impressive collection. Immerse yourself in the captivating tales and artifacts within the walls of this historic manor, a testament to the enduring heritage of Orkney.  

Option 2: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney 
Pass through the gentle rolling landscape and into the Neolithic Heartland of Orkney; an area designated as a World Heritage Site due to its wealth of pre-historic archaeology. Stop at the Ring of Brodgar; a huge ceremonial circle of stones dating back almost 5000 years. Next take a short coach journey to marvel at the smaller, yet taller and more ancient Standing Stones of Stenness, currently the oldest known stone circle in Europe. Ponder upon its creation and hear of folk tales and traditions inspired by its mysterious and elusive magnificence. Wander along to Barnhouse, an ancient Neolithic village and part of Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk among the houses and learn about everyday lives of the Neolithic people who built these structures. Pause to appreciate the serene bird hide nestled along Harray Loch, offering a tranquil interlude in nature. Conclude your day with a visit to St Magnus Cathedral, a testament to the Vikings' architectural prowess during their 500-year reign over the islands. This unique tour promises a fresh perspective, unveiling the lesser-explored facets of Orkney's Neolithic legacy and inviting you to connect with its mysterious and enduring history.

Day 12:  Aberdeen | Disembark

  • 1 Breakfast
On arrival in Aberdeen, disembark in the early morning and bid a fond farewell to fellow travelers before a transfer to the airport to continue your journey. 

Note: At the conclusion of the voyage, it is recommended to book flights departing after 12.00 pm on the day of disembarkation in case there are delays. 

Ship/Hotel

Greg Mortimer

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Greg Mortimer- Comfortable Dining
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Aurora Stateroom Triple
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Aurora Stateroom Twin Share
170 ft² - 245.41 ft² - Greg Mortimer features 8 porthole rooms, all with private en-suites. Located on Deck 3, they're close to the mudroom and loading platforms, perfect for adventurers who are looking for a comfortable base that's close to the action.
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Balcony Stateroom C
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254.03 ft² - 266.95 f - 22 rooms available. All include en-suite bathrooms, floor to ceiling windows and balconies and a select number are also connecting rooms, perfect for families or groups.
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Balcony Stateroom A
259.41 ft² - 301.39 ft² - 22 rooms available. All include en-suite bathrooms, floor to ceiling windows and balconies and a select number are also connecting rooms, perfect for families or groups.
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Balcony Stateroom Superior
303.54 ft² - 432.70 ft² - With a bit more room to stretch the legs, the Greg Mortimer's two Balcony Suites are perfect for polar adventurers who travel with plenty of gear. Featuring private balconies, en-suite bathrooms and a comfortable desk area, these will sell out quickly!
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Junior Suite
The Greg Mortimer's four Junior Suites take in some impressive scenery from their vantage 418.71 ft² - points on Deck 7. When you aren't enjoying a landing, you can relax in the suites' separate lounge area, or just watch the world float by from the private balcony.
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Captain's Suite
478.99 ft² - The largest of all the rooms, the Greg Mortimer's singular Captain's Suite will take you to the polar regions in ultimate style and comfort. Complete with large lounge area, balcony, walk-in wardrobe and en-suite.
Included
  • 10 Breakfasts, 9 Lunches, 10 Dinners
  • 10 Nights Accommodations
  • Accommodations as listed
  • Ground transportation as listed
  • Activities as listed
  • Meals as listed
  • Access to a 24-7 Emergency line while traveling
  • Comprehensive pre-departure information
  • Beer, House Wine, and Soft Drinks with Dinner 
  • Educational Lectures and Guiding Services from Expedition Team 
  • Complimentary access to onboard expedition doctor and medical clinic (initial consult)
  • Port Surcharges, Permits, and Landing Fees
  • Captain's Welcome and Farewell drinks including four-course dinner, house cocktails, house beer and wine, non-alcoholic beverages.
  • A 3-in-1 waterproof polar expedition jacket
  • Complimentary use of Muck boots during the voyage
  • All shore excursions and Zodiac cruises
  • All airport transfers mentioned in the itinerary.
  • On-board accommodation during voyage including daily cabin service
  • Transfer from airport to our group hotel on Day 1 transfer
  • One night’s hotel accommodation in Edinburgh on day 1 including breakfast
  • Half-day tour in Edinburgh followed by a transfer to Troon, on Day 2
Excluded
  • Gratuities
  • Travel Insurance
  • Personal Expenses
  • Flight costs (please request a quote)
  • Additional excursions during free time
  • Fuel and transportation surcharges (when applicable)
  • Passport and Applicable Visa Expenses
  • Airport Departure Tax - Airport arrival or departure taxes
  • Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks (outside of dinner service), laundry services, personal clothing, medical expenses, Wi-Fi, email or phone charges
  • Hotels and meals not included in itinerary
  • Optional activity surcharges
  • Reciprocity and Vaccination Charges
  • Passengers traveling with Aurora Expeditions are required to be covered by a reputable travel insurance policy that includes baggage loss, cancellation & curtailment of the holiday, medical, accident, and repatriation/emergency evacuation coverage worth at least $250,000 USD.
  • Add-on activities should be reserved at the time of the booking.

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Beyond expectations! Then again we weren't sure what to expect. Lovely stay at the lodge, met other like-minded travelers (many had their trips planned by Adventure Life) and the owner was a gracious hostess. It felt like you were one happy family, visiting with a favorite aunt.
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