Trails, Castles of the Clans, and Neolithic Standing Stones

Overview

Experience Scotland’s exquisitely remote locations on a journey filled with dramatic coastal scenery, Neolithic standing-stone monuments, echoes of Viking settlers…and elegant malt whiskies. We steep in a heady mix of prehistoric sites and rich Viking influence on the Orkney Islands, whose inhabitants identify with their Scandinavian heritage as much as their Scottish citizenship. It’s a fascinating cultural blend. 

We hike right into the standing stone circle at the Ring of Brodgar, a ceremonial circle older than Egypt’s pyramids, and discover Neolithic Skara Brae, an astonishingly intact ancient settlement. In Scotland’s far north, we’ll be off the tourist trail, on moorland and coastal hikes across rugged landscapes dotted with fishing villages. We visit a 16th-century castle, view intricately carved Pictish stones, and learn about the infamous Clearances that led many Highlanders to emigrate to the U.S. and Canada. We bring you into the local culture as well, with an evening of tales from a local storyteller.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-4
Kirkwall, The Orkneys / Ring of Brodgar / Skara Brae / Old Man of Hoy

Walking among the standing stones of the hypnotic Ring of Brodgar, we can imagine the power of ancient ceremonies that took place here in the third millennium BCE. We’ll stretch our legs along some of Britain’s most spectacular sea cliffs, taste the distinctive local whiskies, and explore the intact, 5,000-year-old Neolithic village of Skara Brae. It’s fascinating to contemplate that long before Stonehenge or even the Egyptian pyramids were built, Skara Brae was a thriving place. Ferrying to Rousay Island for a coastal walk, we picnic at panoramic Saviskaill Bay and meet a boat builder to learn about the Viking heritage of Orkney’s boats. On the island of Hoy, our hike showcases the Old Man of Hoy sea stacks, 450 feet high and a mecca for rock climbers.

 View Lodging
Days 5-9
The North Coast / Highland History / Whisky Tasting / Stone Castles

Ferrying to the North Coast of mainland Scotland, our coast hikes give us an opportunity to look for seabirds and dolphins, and learn about the Picts, the enigmatic, tattooed people who lived here during the Iron Age. Some of our hikes bring us to the haunting sites of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, including the moors of the Croick Estate and the ancient refuge of Croick Church, whose windows are etched with graffiti dating to 1845, the time of the Clearances. The 16th century Castle of Mey, beloved by the Queen Mother, is on our journey, as are private tastings of award-winning whiskies, and in the village of Strathpeffer, the earl will welcome us in his incredible home, Castle Leod, seat of Clan Mackenzie. Depart Day 9 via Inverness.

 View Lodging

Highlights

Highlights

Hike the dramatic coastal landscapes of the Orkneys and stunning North Coast
Explore the breathtaking Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae, two of Europe’s Neolithic treasures
Visit the Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey
Meet an Orkadian boat builder, a falconer, a storyteller, and an earl
Enjoy local pub nights, fresh-caught seafood, and private tastings of fine single-malt whiskies

Details

Length: 9 days
Cost From: $6095  
Arrive: Kirkwall, Scotland
Depart: Inverness, Scotland
Lodging: 8 nights hotels
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

8 hiking days on moderate to steep trails, 2-4 hours a day, van support (for luggage or if you wish to skip a day’s hike)