This cultural Scotland tour begins at Caerlaverock Castle in the south and extends up to the prehistoric sites of the Orkney Islands in the north. See 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel, the site of the battlefield at Culloden, and Linlithgow Palace, home of the Stewart Kings.
Scotland contains some of the last great open space of Europe, famed for its moody highland mountains, mist-shrouded glens, dazzling lochs, wild coastlines, and lush, verdant forests. It is a nation of astounding contrasts. The sweeping landscapes possess an otherworldly quality, whether seen cloaked in mist or rising regally above the mirror of a lake. And scattered throughout this dramatic scenery are fascinating remains of Scotland’s past.
Brave, proud, and fiercely independent, the Scots have been fighting to maintain their freedom since their earliest history. The Romans tried to occupy the country for years, never fully succeeding, and England spent centuries trying to annex it until eventually they had to accept a Scottish king on their throne. Today’s Scotland is noted for its haunting bagpipes, tartan and tweed, curious food (haggis, made of spiced sheep’s innards and oatmeal, is considered the national dish), and, of course, the malt whisky that is one of the world’s most prestigious drinks.
Join only five others for a 15-day archeological and educational tour of Scotland. Travel from the southern border with England to the far north and see historic and archaeological sites that few visitors manage to find. View Scotland’s prehistoric stone circles and chambered tombs, glorious abbeys and cathedrals, and savor the view from battlements of medieval castles in remote and beautiful areas of the country.
Join the festivities at the oldest highland games in Scotland, at Tomintoul. And travel by ferry to the Orkney Islands, containing the densest concentration of Stone Age archaeological sites in Britain. We want to show you the very best of Scotland, which is why this Scotland culture trip moves along a carefully chosen route that travels on minor roads and country lanes through some of the most picturesque rural countryside in the British Isles.
Depart on a flight bound for Glasgow, Scotland.
Arrive early this morning into Glasgow. Scotland’s largest city was founded as a monastery in the 6th century by Saint Kentigern, or Mungo as he is known in Gaelic, a bishop of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. For most of its history, the city maintained a strong connection with the Catholic Church, with the Bishops of Glasgow playing key parts in the medieval history of Scotland.
Only four medieval buildings have survived in Glasgow and we will view three. The magnificent Cathedral of St. Kentigern was thought to have been built on the site of St Kentigern’s tomb. The Govan Old Church contains a unique collection of early medieval stones dating from the 9th through 11th centuries including the elaborately decorated Govan Sarcophagus carved from solid stone in the Viking-age. Our final stop will be at the Hunterian Museum, housed within the University of Glasgow and the oldest museum in Scotland. We will see a collection of impressive Roman artefacts from excavations along the line of the Antonine Wall.
Depart Glasgow and drive south to Eaglesham, declared Scotland’s first Conservation Village in the 1960s. The town was designed and constructed in 1769 by Alexander Montgomerie, the 10th Earl of Eglinton, in the shape of an A, the first initial of his name. We will take a short walk through this historic town and its green. Our home for the next three nights is the Best Western Glasgow South Eglinton Arms Hotel in Eaglesham. Originally built as a coaching inn during the late 19th century, its Old World charm remains. (D)
Built two thousand years ago in the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, the Antonine Wall ran coast-to-coast across Scotland from the Clyde to the Firth of Forth and is the most magnificent Roman military monument left in Scotland today. Known to the Romans as Vallum Antonini, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was comprised of a bank of turf almost nine feet tall, topped with an imposing wooden palisade.
After viewing the impressive remains, continue to New Lanark, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1786 by the philanthropist and Utopian idealist Robert Owen, this small 18th-century industrial community with its imposing cotton mill buildings, the spacious and well-designed workers’ housing, and the dignified educational institute and school still testify to Owen’s humanism. (B/D)
Our morning drive takes us to the fairy-tale Caerlaverock Castle, the finest representation of a medieval castle in southwestern Scotland. A residence as well as a stronghold, its three-sided shape is unique in Britain, and the double-towered gatehouse and triangular layout surrounded by a water-filled moat and earthen rampart reflect some of the changes in design it has undergone in its turbulent history.
Continue to Sweetheart Abbey, founded in 1273, and the last Cistercian institution in Scotland. The founder, Dervorgilla, was laid to rest here, along with the casket containing the embalmed heart of her beloved husband, John Balliol. (B/D)
Start the day at Traquair House, situated amid beautiful scenery close by the River Tweed, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. Originally a Royal Hunting Lodge, it was owned by the Scottish Crown until 1478 when it passed to a branch of the Royal Stuart family whose descendants still live in the house today. The main structure contains early 16th-century carved oak paneling, a beautiful painted ceiling and mural. As the religious orientation of the house’s occupants changed, the building played host to secret masses. A hidden stairway leading to the Priest’s Room attests to the problems faced by Catholic families. Traquair House Brewery lies directly underneath the Chapel (the smell of fermentation permeates the room which may have made the services pass quickly!). It dates back to the early 1700s and originally served the house and the estate. The Stuart laird rediscovered the brewery in the early 1960s and began brewing again using all the original equipment including the original oak tuns, some of which were over 200 years old. Enjoy a taste!
Next, see Melrose Abbey, lavishly ornamented with carvings of lush fruit, flowers and foliage. Humorous additions to the masonry include human figurines around the exterior walls – the cook with his ladle, the mason with his mallet, the fat monk, and, flying high on a gargoyle, a bagpipe-playing pig.
Nearby, Dryburgh Abbey presents an interesting contrast. Founded in the 12th century, the complex was burned and restored twice but eventually went on to flourish in the 15th century. The great Sir Walter Scott is buried on the grounds.
Transfer to Dirleton and overnight for two nights at the charming Open Arms Hotel, overlooking the village green and the 12th-century Dirleton Castle beyond. (B/D)
Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Scotland’s capital. With its medieval Old Town and elegant gardens and neoclassical buildings in the Georgian New Town, this is a gorgeous city. Towering over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy. There has been a royal castle on the site since the 12th century.
Nearby Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and was Queen Elizabeth II’s home when in Edinburgh. Enjoy an afternoon walking tour of historic Edinburgh before returning to Dirleton. (B/D)
Our day is filled with captivating sites. Rosslyn Chapel is a tiny 15th-century church with extraordinary treasures secreted within. Every conceivable roof rib, capital, boss, arch and corbel is encrusted with human and animal figures, moldings and foliage.
Magnificent Linlithgow Palace was one of the principal residences of the Scottish monarchs in the 15th and 16th centuries. Without defensive walls or a well-fortified position, Linlithgow was an exquisite pleasure retreat. With four wings arranged around a central courtyard, and one of the finest medieval interiors in Scotland including a massive Great Hall, it embodied imperial splendor and power. Several noble family members were born in this royal manor, including James V and his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots.
Next, view the Forth Bridge, crossing the Forth estuary near Edinburgh and designated a UNESCO World Heritage property. It remains one of the greatest cantilever trussed bridges and continues to carry passengers and freight today.
After seeing Stirling Castle, one of the finest examples of Renaissance style in Scotland, continue to the 18th-century country town of Dunkeld. Time permitting, stop by Dunkeld Cathedral built in stages between 1260 and 1501. It became an important religious site for the early Celtic Church when the relics of the Irish saint, Columba, were moved here from Iona, Scotland’s remote western island and important medieval monastic center. Overnight in the Dunkeld House Hotel in Dunkeld, a graceful country house hotel overlooking the River Tay. (B/D)
Our first stop today is Blair Castle, the home of the Atholl family for over seven centuries. The castle has had a diverse history, witnessing both turbulent and peaceful times, enlarged and adapted over 750 years. Home to politicians, soldiers, agriculturalists and entrepreneurs, the family history is brought to life against a backdrop of fine 18th century interiors and Scots Baronial architecture, in 30 rooms.
Besides history and golf, Scotland is known for its single malt Scottish whisky. The word whisky itself derives from the Scottish Gaelic uisge beitha, or ‘water of life’. After lunch, we will stop at a distillery for a tour and tasting. Transfer to Aberlour and overnight for two nights at the Dowans Hotel, a grand Victorian mansion converted into a hotel. (B/D)
Today will be a highlight of the trip as we join the festivities at the Tomintoul Highland Games, one of Scotland’s longest running. The exciting events include highland dancing, piping competitions and tossing of the caber where men heave a telephone pole-like beam so that it turns over in the air and falls on the ground directly opposite the man who threw it…a feat of strength and skill.
Tonight’s elegant dinner will include a specially arranged whisky tasting. (B/D)
This morning’s walk through the battlefields of Culloden will help us understand the last Jacobite Rising. In April l746, after decades of attempts to install the descendants of the Catholic House of Stuarts to the British throne, this bloody battle was won by the Protestant troops of the House of Hanover and ended the Highland clan culture of Scotland.
As we drive north, we will stop at Dunrobin Castle, a large Victorian fairytale-like mansion built around a 14th-century tower. The museum within contains many Pictish stones with carvings and other archaeological finds and fascinating memorabilia accrued by the incumbent family over the years. Overnight at the Forss House Hotel in Thurso. (B/D)
An early morning crossing by ferry takes us from Thurso to Stromness in the Orkney Islands. The UNESCO World Heritage Heart of Neolithic Orkney consists of a group of Stone Age monuments. The first we will see is Skara Brae, Orkney’s most extraordinary prehistoric site. This Neolithic village, buried for millennia in the sand until unearthed by a freak storm in 1850, is completely preserved including furniture and an astonishing drainage system. Brochs are Iron Age dry-stone towers found only in Scotland.
Many stood alone, but on Orkney, they were generally surrounded by sizeable settlements. The Broch of Gurness, spectacularly located overlooking the sea, is an outstanding surviving example. Orkney’s capital of Kirkwall, our home base for the next two days, can be traced back to Norse times in the 11th century when it was called Kirkjuvagr – the church of the bay. We will walk the stone streets of this medieval town to see St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald, in honor of his uncle St. Magnus; the ruins of the magnificent Renaissance Earl’s Palace with its enormous fireplaces and huge oriel windows, and the Bishop’s Palace. Overnight for the next two nights in the Ayre Hotel overlooking the port of Kirkwall. (B/D)
Head out for Unstan Cairn, a Neolithic chambered cairn constructed sometime between 3400 and 2800 BC. Then we continue our explorations of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney at the Great Cairn of Maeshowe. The size and elaborate construction suggests that it was the burial place of an important, and probably ruling, family group. The tomb was broken into countless times in the past including by the Norse who carved their graffiti on the walls, leaving us the finest collection of runic inscriptions in Britain.
Drive to the southern end of Loch Stenness to explore The Stenness Stones and the Ring of Brodgar. There are four stones still standing at Stenness while at Brodgar, twenty-seven of the original sixty monoliths are still standing. The Neolithic site of Ness of Brodgar, contained within a large walled enclosure, lies between the stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness. Here we meet with the site director, Nick Card, for a private talk on the current research being done and view the walls of these lavishly carved and painted temple-like buildings. (B/D)
Stop to see the Italian Chapel, a tiny church built in the Mediterranean style by Italian POWs during World War II before boarding the ferry to return to the Scottish mainland.
Upon arrival, drive to the Tarbat Discovery Centre, dedicated to displaying and preserving the heritage of the Tarbat Peninsula. Housed in the Old Parish Church are artifacts from the only Pictish monastic settlement excavated in Scotland.
Driving south along the peninsula, we will stop to view three stunning carved Pictish stones. In a lonely flower-filled pasture, stands a full-scale reproduction of the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Cross Slab, one of the most magnificent of the carved Pictish stones in Scotland. Further down the road is the Clach a’ Charridh, or Shandwick Stone, standing more than ten feet tall. Intricately displayed on the six carved panels are the Pictish double-disc, a hunting scene, along with warriors and animals. Displayed within the Old Church, the 8th-century Nigg Cross is one of Scotland’s greatest art treasures. The Pictish symbols and Christian imagery bring to mind an illuminated manuscript page.
Continue to Inverness where we spend one night at the Strathness House. (B/L/D)
Our long drive will take us through some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland – the renowned and rugged Highlands. Travel through Great Glen, with Loch Ness by far the most famous of its lakes. It is said to be home to Nessie, a monstrous creature first sighted by St. Columba in the 6th century. The commanding fortifications along the way attest to the region being fought over for centuries.
Overlooking Loch Ness stands Urquhart, once one of Scotland’s largest medieval battlements. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and the English during the Wars of Independence and the last of the government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left.
Continuing towards Glasgow, stop in Ft. Williams to learn the story of the mountainous West Highlands of Scotland and its people at the West Highlands Museum. Overnight in a Glasgow airport hotel. (B/D)
Transfer to the airport for our flights back home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.
Nights will be spent in coaching inns and centuries-old country homes. Far Horizons and its staff have taken great care to select hotels that are clean and comfortable, and well-situated to facilitate the site visits. But be aware that rooms in these traditional hotels will vary in size, and many times are smaller than what can be expected based on American standards. Baggage handlers will not be available and you will be responsible for your own luggage. Hotels listed in the brochure might change; the ambiance will not. Dining will be a special pleasure as we sample regional delicacies in hotels and restaurants. A special treat will be the whisky sampling dinner in Aberlour, the heart of whisky country!