Scottish Islands Cruise: May 14—23, 2011

Aboard the M/S Quest

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Please contact us if you would like more information on upcoming departures for this tour.

Departs: Oban
Ends: Aberdeen
Tour Limit: 44
Download Itinerary: PDF (178.2 KB)

Tour Leaders


Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker, a senior member of the VENT staff, has led VENT tours since 1993 throughou...

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Fair Isle, Scotland

Fair Isle, Scotland— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

A unique journey through the Scottish islands—Shetland, Orkney, Hebrides, and remote St. Kilda, covering a huge area of Scotland's finest and most far-flung island outposts. Cruise in comfort to the very best historical, cultural, and archaeological sites with spectacular birding at northern Europe's largest and most diverse seabird colonies.

This special voyage through the Scottish Islands aboard the small, 53-passenger M/S Quest will take us from the picturesque west coast port of Oban through the Shetlands and Orkneys, fantastic St. Kilda, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides, to finish up in the "Granite City" of Aberdeen on the North Sea coast.

In Shetland we will explore the eerie, nocturnal world of European Storm-Petrels at their colony, nesting in a fine Iron Age broch, and discover the strong Viking and Norse influences in these northerly outposts with a stroll around the large complex of Jarlshof, occupied since the Bronze Age. Passing many spectacular seabird colonies, we'll have a morning on the lonely Fair Isle, halfway between Shetland and Orkney—famous for its distinctive knitting designs and long-established Bird Observatory.

The Orkneys have some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Europe, such as the Ring of Brodgar—the largest Stone Circle in Scotland, and Skara Brae—a finely excavated Neolithic village. Here, too, are more "recent" delights, such as the fine town of Kirkwall itself with its early Norse-influenced cathedral and the World War II battleships of the Churchill Barriers. We'll sail past 1,000-foot sea cliffs and Pinnacles of Hoy, where breeding seabirds—including Great Skuas—darken the skies, as we continue on to the Outer Hebridean islands of Harris and Lewis. Here we find more rugged scenery and remarkable ancient historical sites, such as the mysterious Standing Stones of Callanish. We can discover what life was like just a few centuries past in the rebuilt villages of blackhouses, the traditional low dwelling places of the Gaelic peoples in the 16th–19th centuries.

A highlight of our trip should be our visit to the faraway St. Kilda archipelago, abandoned as the most remote inhabited area of the British Isles in 1930. Here is a land of superlatives: the largest Northern Gannet colony in the world, the largest Northern Fulmar colony in Europe, and the highest sea cliffs in Britain at 1,400 feet.

The gentle islands of the Inner Hebrides offer further great birding opportunities—many northern specialties, breeding shorebirds, loons, and wildfowl—to keep us busy. Canna and Mull are strongholds of nesting White-tailed Eagles. Staffa, with its columnar basalt cliffs and Fingal’s Cave, was an inspiration for Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. We'll visit Iona and its Abbey, where Corn Crakes rasp their loud interminable songs in rich flower meadows that have remained the same since the island first became a site of early Christian settlement and pilgrimage by St. Columba 1,400 years ago. Throughout our sea voyages we will often have seabirds around us (the British Isles are home to globally important numbers of all the North Atlantic species, including Manx Shearwater).

An optional Scotland in Style post-trip offers a week of birding and historical visits in the heart of the Highlands. Our flexible daily program makes this trip appealing for non-birding partners and family. Combine the Scottish Islands Cruise with Scotland in Style for a marvelous two-week experience in this magical country.

Easy cruising mixed with shore excursions and Zodiac expeditions.

This cruise may be taken in conjunction with Scotland In Style Post-trip, May 21-29, 2011.