Scotland Tour: Scottish Highlands & Lowlands
An Educational, Historical, and Cultural Tour of Scotland
This 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.
Experience fine whisky and join the fun at the Tomintoul Highland Games. You might also like to consider our other European Archeology Tours, and please get in touch if you have any questions.
with Dr. Brian Buchanan
July 7 – 21, 2023
Why Take This Educational Tour of Scotland?
- Private tour by the project director at the Ness of Brodgar
- Five UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Travel by ferry to the Orkney Islands
- Enjoy the oldest highland games in Scotland in Tomintoul
- Learn about Scotland’s whisky with a guided distillery tour
- Maximum 6 participants
- This can be a private tour on your desired dates with a minimum of four friends!
- Scotland Tour: Riches of the Scottish Highlands & Lowlands
Scotland Highlands and Lowlands Tour Itinerary
Day 1: Depart the USA
Day 2: Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, Cathedral, Govan Church, Provand’s Lordship.
Day 3: Antonine Wall, New Lanark
Day 4: Caerlaverock Castle, Ruthwell Cross, Sweetheart Abbey
Day 5: Traquair House. Melrose Abbey. Dryburgh Abbey.
Day 6: Edinburgh Castle, Real Mary’s Close.
Day 7: Rosslyn Chapel, Linlithgow Palace, Stirling Castle.
Day 8: Scottish Crannog Centre, St. Mary’s Church.
Day 9: Tomintoul Highland Games.
Day 10: Culloden Battlefield, Dunrobin Castle.
Day 11: Ferry Thurso to the Orkney Islands. Skara Brae.
Day 12: Unstan Cairn, Maeshowe, Stenness Stones, Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar with site director.
Day 13: The Italian Chapel. Ferry back to the mainland. Tarbat Discovery Centre.
Day 14: Urquhart Castle, West Highland Museum in Ft. William.
Day 15: Fly back to the USA
“I must say that the private visit to Ness of Brodgar excavations with the site director was the highlight of an extremely good and interesting trip. Nick Card gave us twice the time at the Ness of Brodgar than we were promised. This sort of interaction with first-rate archaeologists doing the actual work on (in) the ground, plus clear and insightful expert commentary derived from first-hand experience as seen through expert eyes, and the uniformly kind and welcoming attitudes and smiles from the folks working on site, is what distinguishes Far Horizons trips from the sterile hasty “tours” and uninformed gallivanting that other agencies provide. It doesn’t get any better than this, and I am looking forward to further experiences with Far Horizons!” – Wythe Holt
Why Embark on our Highlands & Lowlands Cultural Tour of Scotland?
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 journey through 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 have carefully chosen a route that travels on minor roads and country lanes through some of the most picturesque rural countryside in the British Isles.
Your Scotland Tour Leader
Dr Brian Buchanan received a double BA in both anthropology and history from Millersville University (in Pennsylvania); his MA in Public Anthropology from the American University; a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data; and his PhD in Archaeology at the University of Durham. A specialist in Medieval Archaeology, he was, until recently, Chairperson for Durham Medieval Archaeologists. He is now an assistant professor at Eastern Washington University. Dr. Buchanan has worked on archaeological projects both in the USA and the UK. His enthusiasm about archaeology and history is contagious and his knowledge of the area makes him an exceptional leader.
Scotland Highlands and Lowlands Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Archeological Tour of Glasgow. You 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 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 carved in the 9th through 11th centuries to commemorate the power of those who ruled the Kingdom of Strathclyde. The Govan Sarcophagus is the only one of its kind carved from solid stone from pre-Norman, northern Britain. Provand’s Lordship, built in 1471, was originally part of a hospital.
Next, 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. 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)
Day 3: Tour the Antonine Wall from the Clyde to the Firth of Forth
Built around 142 AD 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, it consisted of a bank of turf almost nine feet tall, topped with an imposing wooden palisade. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After viewing the impressive remains of the Antonine Wall, continue to New Lanark, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This small 18th-century village was founded in 1786 by the philanthropist and Utopian idealist Robert Owen. This 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)
Day 4: Tour Caerlaverock Castle & Sweetheart Abbey
Our morning drive takes us to the fairy-tale Caerlaverock Castle, the finest example 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, it is 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. Their son, also John, became King of Scotland, but his reign was tragic and short. Our final stop will be at the Ruthwell Parish Church to examine a 5th-century carved stone cross standing 18 feet high.
Featuring intricate inscriptions in both Latin and, unusual for a Christian monument, the runic alphabet, the Ruthwell Cross is inscribed with one of the largest figurative inscriptions found on any surviving Anglo-Saxon cross. (B/D)
Day 5: Tour Traquair House
Start the day at Traquair House, situated amid beautiful scenery close by the River Tweed, it is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and has been visited by 27 kings. 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, site of the first Cistercian settlement in Scotland. The cloister is 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. In the afternoon, transfer to Dirleton and overnight for two nights at the Open Arms Hotel, overlooking the village green and the 12th-century Dirleton Castle beyond. (B/D)
Day 6: Journey to Edinburgh
Today’s journey to Edinburgh. Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is Scotland’s capital. With its medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings, this is a beautiful city. Towering over the city is Edinburgh Castle, the oldest building in the city and home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny.
Occupation atop the precipitous crag of Castle Rock first began in the Iron Age and there has been a royal castle on the site since the 12th century. During its stormy history of sieges and wars, it has evolved from its earliest beginnings to the present-day national monument. Nearby Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is Queen Elizabeth II’s home when in Edinburgh. Enjoy an afternoon walking tour of historic Edinburgh before returning to Dirleton. (B/D)
Day 7: Tour Rosslyn Chapel, Linlithgow Palace, and the Forth Bridge
Begin with Rosslyn Chapel, a tiny 15th-century church with extraordinary treasures hidden within. Every conceivable roof rib, capital, boss, arch and corbel is encrusted with human and animal figures, moldings and foliage, and the exquisite work of the mason is enhanced by the plainness and severity of the late medieval Scottish architecture.
The 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, the world’s longest spans when it opened in 1890. This UNESCO World Heritage railway bridge remains one of the greatest cantilever trussed bridges and continues to carry passengers and freight today. Stirling Castle dominated Scottish history for centuries and is one of the finest examples of Renaissance style in Scotland. The extinct volcano outcrop of Castle Rock has been occupied since prehistoric times and has played an important role in the country’s military history.
Continue to Dunkeld, one of the most complete 18th-century country towns in Scotland. Many of the harled (rough-cast) vernacular buildings have been restored by the National Trust for Scotland. 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 country house hotel overlooking the River Tay. (B/D)
Day 8: Scottish Crannog Centre and St. Mary’s Church
Begin the day at the Scottish Crannog Centre. A crannog is a defensive homestead that was built in the water of a loch from as early as 5,000 years ago. This reconstruction is based on the results of excavations from the 2,500-year-old Oakbank Crannog. Ancient structural timbers, food, plant and insect remains, utensils and even clothing have been remarkably well preserved and many are on display in the Crannog Centre’s informative shore-based exhibition.
The next stop is the 16th-century St. Mary’s Church, a simple building with lime-washed rubble walls and a blue slate roof. Upon entry, we are provided with a breathtaking sight. The 17th century barrel-vaulted ceiling is entirely covered with luminous painted panels depicting scenes from the bible, along with the coats of arms of families associated with the Stewarts of Grandtully. Transfer to Aberlour and overnight for two nights at the Dowans Hotel, a grand Victorian mansion converted into a hotel. (B/D)
Day 9: The Tomintoul Highland Games
Today will be a highlight of the trip as we join the festivities at the Tomintoul Highland Games; one of Scotland’s longest running games. The showcased events include traditional heavy and light events, 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 tosser.
Besides history and golf, Scotland is known for its single malt and blended Scottish whisky. The word whisky itself derives from the Scottish Gaelic uisge beitha, or “water of life”. We will stop at a distillery for a tour and tasting. Tonight’s elegant dinner will include a specially-arranged whisky tasting. (B/D)
Day 10: The Battlefields of Culloden
This morning’s walk through the battlefields of Culloden will help us learn about 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 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)
Day 11: From Thurso to Stromness in the Orkney Islands
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 large chambered tomb of Maeshowe, the two ceremonial stone circles of the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, and the village settlement of Skara Brae.
We will begin in 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 semi-subterranean and is completely preserved, including furniture and an extraordinary drainage system. Brochs are Iron Age dry-stone towers found only in Scotland. Many stood alone, but on Orkney, they were generally surrounded by sizable settlements. The Broch of Gurness, spectacularly located overlooking the sea, is an outstanding surviving example.
Excavations have provided a rich impression of life during the Scottish Iron Age. Untstan is a Neolithic chambered cairn built sometime between 3400 and 2800 BC.
A remarkable collection of pottery bowls, all of the same design, was found when the tomb was opened. 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”.
This afternoon, we will walk through this medieval town with visits to 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)
Day 12: Tour Unstan Cairn, the Stenness Stones, and the Ring of Brodgar
Head out for Unstan Cairn, a long central burial chamber that was in active use for burials as early as 3400 BC. Continuing our explorations of The Heart of Neolithic Orkney, we enter 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, extraordinary henge monuments. 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 temple-like buildings which were lavishly carved and painted. (B/D)
Day 13: The Italian Chapel, Tarbat Discovery Centre, & Nigg Cross
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, a museum 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 stunning Clach a Charridh, or Shandwick Stone, standing more than ten feet tall.
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 intricately carved 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)
Day 14: Tour Great Glen, Loch Ness, & Ft. Williams
Our long drive will take us through some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland: the renowned and rugged Highlands. First, 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 fortified castles we will pass attest to the area being fought over for centuries. Overlooking Loch Ness stands Urquhart, once one of Scotland’s largest castles. 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)
Day 15: Flight Home. Transfer to the airport for the flight back to the USA. (B)
Scotland Highlands and Lowlands Tour Cost
Trip Cost: $9,695.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels, most meals (as noted), entry fees, all ground transportation, and basic gratuities. Price is based upon the exchange rate for the British pound not going over 1.25. If a fluctuation raises the pound, the final price may go up.
Single Supplement: $1,395.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost Does Not Include: Round trip international flights; a tax-deductible check for $150.00 per person made out to the donation project; passport or visa fees; airport or departure taxes; all lunches; all beverages; beverages or food not included on regular menus; laundry; excess baggage charges; personal tips; necessary vaccines or tests; telephone, email and fax charges; or other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: 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 projects and museums 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 have designated the Ness of Brodgar Excavations as the donation project and we kindly ask you to mail a $150.00 per person donation check, made out to the American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar to our office along with your registration form. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
A deposit of $750 per person and the separate donation check for $150.00 (made out to the American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar) are required along with your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent initial travel documents. Click here to download our Registration Form.
Cancellation and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450 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. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
Hotels and Meals
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 at some of the hotels 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!
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 onsite when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Travel in Scotland
This itinerary requires a great deal of walking at least a mile a day in order to visit the included sites. All participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our very full touring days. Keeping up with the group is each participants responsibility; please do not expect assistance from other group members or staff. By maintaining an adaptable attitude you will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery and the fascinating archaeological sites you will visit. A spirit of adventure will reward you with a wonderful and memorable experience! If you have questions about whether or not you are physically capable of this level of activity, please contact the Far Horizons office.