Experience the beauty of a British Isles spring! On your voyage through this magnificent realm, discover verdant countryside, stunning cliffs and sea stacks that are home to tens of thousands of nesting birds, and a wealth of human history, from the Neolithic sites of the Orkney Islands to the dramatic tales of the clans of the Scottish Highlands.
Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.
Day 1, Jun 8, 2017
Embark Silver Explorer this afternoon. A mandatory safety drill will be followed by an introduction to your Expedition Team. Tonight you can attend a special Welcome Aboard cocktail party.
Day 2, Jun 9, 2017
Tresco, Isles of Scilly, United Kingdom
On our way to the Isles of Scilly, a mandatory Zodiac briefing will be given in the morning. Around noon you will be anchoring between the islands of Tresco and St. Mary’s. For many, Tresco is the most attractive of the Isles of Scilly, especially with its Abbey Garden, which is home to thousands of exotic plant species from 80 countries (ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Myanmar to South Africa). Plant collector Augustus Smith began the gardens in the 1830s on the site of an old Benedictine Abbey by channelling the weather up and over a network of walled enclosures built around the Priory ruins. He had three terraces carved from the rocky south slope and, in this way, maximized Tresco’s mild Gulf Stream climate. Even in mid-winter there still are hundreds of plants flowering! Today we will go ashore by Zodiac for a guided tour of this world-renowned attraction and will also have a look at the surprising collection of figureheads from ships that have wrecked among the Isles of Scilly.
Day 3, Jun 10, 2017
Pembroke, Wales / St. Davids / Skomer Island
Our day begins with a drive through the beautiful Welsh countryside to visit St. Davids, Britain’s smallest city. At its heart is a fabulous 12th century cathedral built in a hidden depression below the town square in the hope that Norse invaders would pass without noticing it. The cathedral floor slopes three feet upward and the pillars lean drunkenly (though not precariously!) as the result of an earthquake in 1248. Spend some free time exploring the city’s maze of tiny streets and be sure to take a look at the extensive ruins of the 12th-century Bishop’s Palace. This afternoon, take a Zodiac cruise to explore the cliffs of small Skomer Island off the southwest coast of Wales. Accessible only by boat, Skomer has a large population of breeding seabirds that include manx shearwaters, guillemots, razorbills, great cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, Atlantic puffins, European atorm petrels, common shags, Eurasian oystercatchers, and gulls, as well as birds of prey including short-eared owls, common kestrels and peregrine falcons. The island’s slopes are covered with bluebells and a variety of wildflowers. Grey seals and harbor porpoises can sometimes be seen in the surrounding waters.
Day 4, Jun 11, 2017
Waterford City was founded some 1,100 years ago by the Vikings, and was later taken by the Normans. In the morning there are two options to choose from. If you would like to do a half-day tour, explore Waterford’s most celebrated sights on a narrated drive and visit the renowned House of Waterford Crystal. There you will learn about Ireland’s long history of glass making and see an exhibition of the centuries-old art of glass-blowing, cutting, polishing, and engraving. There is a showroom of dazzling crystal on display for you to browse through or perhaps purchase a memento. Following your visit, you will be taken to a local hotel or pub to sit back and relax while enjoying a traditional Irish coffee. Alternatively, enjoy a leisurely stroll through the spectacular Mount Congreve woodland garden. Situated at a sheltered bend along the river Suir, this magnificent estate covers over 700 acres, approximately 100 of which comprise the most fantastic gardens imaginable. Expertly designed and tended, the entire collection consists of over 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 rhododendrons, 600 camellias, 300 acer cultivars, 600 conifers, 250 climbers and 1,500 herbaceous plants. This garden not only has a remarkable collection of rare and unusual plants and trees, but the landscape is one of the very few that has been designed for an estate of this scale. For sheer size alone, there is no private garden to rival Mount Congreve anywhere in the world. If you would like to be on a full-day tour, you will be driven north through Waterford’s green countryside to reach Kilkenny, former capital of Ireland in the Middle Ages, to visit splendid Kilkenny Castle. Built as a Norman fortress, it had been in the hands of the Butler family for almost 600 years before it was given to the people of Kilkenny. It has been restored and the castle and its splendid antiquities can be explored during a self-guided visit. Opposite the castle is the Kilkenny Design Centre, where local artists produce high quality crafts. Enjoy a traditional Irish lunch at a local pub/hotel before visiting the 13th-century cathedral of St. Canice, the second longest cathedral in Ireland. This jewel of Gothic architecture has wonderful stained glass that includes two windows from the Harry Clarke Studio, Dublin. On your return to Waterford you will stop in the quaint Irish village of Inistioge. With its tree-lined square this village has been a location for numerous films.
Day 5, Jun 12, 2017
Dublin is the capital of the Irish Republic and particularly rich in 18th century architecture. We will pass the Old Parliament House, which is now the Bank of Ireland, and will visit Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it is Ireland’s oldest college and houses the world famous "Book of Kells," a hand illuminated manuscript of the Gospels. Our tour continues through Georgian squares and past Dublin Castle en route to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Founded in 1190, St. Patrick’s is perhaps best known for its association with Jonathan Swift, who was Dean here from 1713 to 1745. Other sites we pass include the Four Courts, Ireland’s courts of justice, and the General Post Office, scene of the 1916 rising and birthplace of the Irish nation. Alternatively, enjoy a full-day tour in the County of Wicklow, just south of Dublin and known as the "Garden of Ireland" for its domed granite mountains, deep glens, and wooded valleys. Once you arrive in Glendalough, morning coffee will be served at the Glendalough Hotel. Tour Glendalough’s 6th century monastic ruins that include a cathedral, stone churches, and decorated crosses, and see one of the finest examples of Round Tower architecture. Lunch will be served at a local hotel or restaurant. Following lunch, you will visit Mount Usher Gardens. Designed in the Robinsonian style, it has plants from all parts of the globe offering varying pleasures at different seasons of the year. After a two-hour visit to the gardens, you will return to Dublin and Silver Explorer. As Silver Explorer will leave quite late tonight you might want to visit one of the local pubs before enjoying a delicious dinner in the Restaurant.
Day 6, Jun 13, 2017
Douglas, Isle of Man
Today’s excursion begins with a short transfer to the impressive Victorian terminus to board a vintage steam train for a delightful journey to Castletown, the original capital of Mann until 1869. The Isle of Man Steam Railway is the island’s oldest Victorian rail system and this narrow gauge railway dating back to 1874 still runs with its original locomotives and carriages. Once in Castletown you will visit magnificent Castle Rushen. Castle Rushen is one of the best examples of a medieval castle in Europe and was the former seat of the Kings and Lords of Mann. The castle’s oldest part dates back to the time of the last Norse King of Mann, who died here in 1266. Take some time to explore this heritage site before returning to Silver Explorer in time for lunch on board. If you decide to spend your time in Douglas you should see the local museum with its very interesting exhibits.
Day 7, Jun 14, 2017
Rathlin Island and 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 bird-watching destination. After going ashore by Zodiac, you will be greeted by our 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 minibus, 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 400 feet in places. Three lighthouses stand as testament to Rathlin’s wild coast. This afternoon we 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. The castle and surrounding areas have been frequently used for the filming of “Game of Thrones.” Next, visit the Giant’s Causeway of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that descend in a kind of pathway to the sea. Formed more than 50 million years ago, visitors have marveled at its majesty and mystery for centuries, and UNESCO has recognized this site with World Heritage status.
Day 8, Jun 15, 2017
St. Kilda and Stac Lee, Scotland
We approach St. Kilda, a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some 50 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. The stunning cliffs and sea stacks are home to the most important seabird-breeding colony in northwest Europe. St. Kilda is one of the few places in the world to have received dual World Heritage status from UNESCO in recognition of its natural heritage and cultural significance. Silver Explorer will drop anchor off Village Bay on the island of Hirta. Weather conditions permitting, you will go ashore using the 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. One of the caretakers acts as shopkeeper and postmaster in case you would like to send a postcard from St. Kilda. Later, cruise past two of the largest gannetries in the world. The rocks on which the birds nest do not seem to have a single square inch left unoccupied.
Day 9, Jun 16, 2017
Armadale, Isle of Skye / Kinloch, Isle of Rum
During the morning, visit the southern tip of the island at Armadale. On arrival you will be given a map and assisted to ensure that you make the most of your time here. Clan Donald Skye has something for everyone. During your visit you may visit the award-winning museum, which tells the dramatic story of the Clan Donald (or MacDonalds), in the context of 1,500 years of the history of the Highlands and Islands. You may walk round the grounds, visiting some of the 40 acres of impressive gardens and taking in some of the woodland walks. You will also be able to see the stunning ruins of Armadale Castle, the seat of the MacDonalds. The Stables Café has some of the best home baking in the area. During lunch, Silver Explorer will reposition west toward the Isle of Rum and will anchor in Loch Scresort. Already more than 10,000 years the north shore of Loch Scresort had been settled, making it one of the oldest human settlement sites in Scotland. At that time bloodstones were quarried for tools. Held by the Clanranalds until the 15th century, Rum was then captured and ruled by the MacLean’s of Coll until the 19th century when it was leased out and became greatly depopulated. Sheep grazing was of importance until the early 19th century but when mutton prices fell, fallow and red deer were introduced for hunting. With the island changing hands quite often in the 19th century, Kinloch Castle was built by the Bullough family in 1897 as a grand hunting lodge to be used only a few weeks per year. Eventually the island was sold to the Nature Conservancy with the aim to revert to its natural state. To get to the castle one will have to walk for almost 30 minutes from the pier. A one-hour guided tour of Kinloch Castle will then take place. The island has 60,000 pairs of manx shearwater, some 50 pairs of white-tailed eagles. Apart from red-throated divers, guillemots, shags, and kittiwakes, golden eagles can be seen as well. Another interesting animal on the island is the Rum pony, a highland pony that because of the island’s isolation has remained very close to the original form. The Isle of Rum is a Special Protection Area for Birds, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and a Special Area of Conservation and has 17 nationally important ancient monument sites.
Day 10, Jun 17, 2017
Kirkwall, Orkney Islands
History makes the Orkney Islands very special. Upon arriving in Kirkwall, visit St. Magnus Cathedral, built by the Vikings during their 500-year reign over the islands, before heading to west Mainland and into the Neolithic heartland of Orkney. This area is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth of prehistoric archaeology. Visit the Ring of Brodgar, a huge ceremonial circle of stones dating from about 2700 BC and reminiscent of Stonehenge. This Neolithic ring is particularly magical in the evening light. Also visit the 5,000-year-old excavated village of Skara Brae, whose remarkable dwellings were buried under sand and perfectly preserved until 1850 when they were revealed during a huge storm. Remaining remarkably intact, the old houses offer a real insight into pre-historic village life. Nearby, you can visit Orkney’s finest manor house, Skaill House, built in 1620 on top of an ancient graveyard but just as important, in an area that is particularly rich in archaeology, the World Heritage Site designation protects the multitude of unexcavated sites that are dotted across the area.
Day 11, Jun 18, 2017
With close to 220,000 inhabitants, Aberdeen is Scotland’s third most populous city. Locally quarried grey granite was used during the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries for many of Aberdeen’s buildings, hence the nicknames the Granite City or the Grey City. Because of the high mica content the granite seems to sparkle like silver, leading to the “Silver City with the Golden Sands,” as the city has a long, sandy coastline between the rivers Don and Dee. Aberdeen granite was used to build the terraces of the Houses of Parliament and Waterloo Bridge in London. Since the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s, Aberdeen has also been called the Oil Capital of Europe or the Energy Capital of Europe. Aberdeen claims a few firsts or best: not only is Aberdeen the educational center of Scotland’s northeast, Britain’s oldest business goes back to the year 1136 and started here, and Aberdeen’s (and the world’s) oldest transport company dating from 1498 is still running. No wonder that because of the oil fields in the North Sea, Aberdeen’s seaport is very important. The Heliport with its flights to the oil fields is one of the busiest commercial heliports in the world. A full-day tour will permit you to see Balmoral, the Scottish home of the Royal family. Used as a favorite royal retreat since 1848, it is still used and therefore is only open for a short period each summer. During the visit, you will be able to see the gardens and exhibitions about the estate, its wildlife, and royal life here. The largest room in the castle, the Ballroom, can also be visited. Lunch will be had at a nearby hotel, before continuing back to the North Sea, stopping on the way at Crathes Castle, one of the most beautiful and well-preserved castles in Scotland. Home to the Burnett family, the castle has fairytale turrets and gargoyles and a garden almost as famous as the castle itself. If you prefer to have a little time in Aberdeen on your own and still want to see one of Scotland’s best-preserved castles, a half-day tour will permit you to see Crathes Castle and its garden.
Day 12, Jun 19, 2017
Following breakfast, disembark Silver Explorer.