Scotland Tour: Scottish Highlands & Lowlands
Scotland Tour: From the prehistoric sites of Maeshowe, Stenness Stones, and Skara Brae to the finely decorated 15th century Rosslyn Chapel, and from the battlefield at Culloden to Linlithgow Palace, home of the Stewart kings.
with Dr. Brian Buchanan
Why Take This Scotland Tour?
- Led by Dr. Brian Buchanan, research associate at Durham University
- Private tour by the archaeologist at the Ness of Brodgar
- See the UNESCO World Heritage Heart of Neolithic Orkney
- Walk through Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Learn about Scotland’s whisky with a guided distillery tour
- Maximum 8 participants
- This can be a private tour on your desired dates with a minimum of five friends!
Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Arrive Glasgow. Hunterian Museum. Govan Old Church.
Day 3: Glasgow Cathedral. Provand’s Lordship. Caerlaverock Castle.
Day 4: Traquair House. Rosslyn Chapel. Melrose Abbey. Dryburgh Abbey.
Day 5: Edinburgh Castle. Walking tour.
Day 6: Linlithgow Palace. Stirling Castle.
Day 7: Scottish Crannog Centre. St. Mary’s Church. Grandtully. Dunnottar Castle.
Day 8: Craigievar Castle. Aberlour Distillery.
Day 9: Culloden Battlefield. Dunrobin Castle. Camster Chambered Cairns.
Day 10: Ferry to the Orkney Islands. Skara Brae. Kirkwall.
Day 11: Unstan Cairn. Maeshowe. Stenness Stones. Ring of Brodgar. Ness of Brodgar with site director.
Day 12: The Italian Chapel. Ferry back to the mainland. Tarbat Discovery Centre.
Day 13: Eilean Donan Castle.
Day 14: Kilmartin House Museum. Kilmarten Glenn. Dunadd Fort.
Day 15: Inverary Castle. Antonine Wall.
Day 16: Fly back to the USA.
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 a dreamlike quality, whether seen cloaked in mist or rising regally above the mirror of a lake. And scattered throughout this spectacular scenery are romantic castles, magnificent country manor houses, engaging fishing ports, and quaint characteristic villages.
Join only seven others for a 16-day journey 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 prehistoric stone circles and chambered tombs, glorious abbeys and cathedrals, and savor the view from battlements of medieval castles in remote, beautiful areas of the country. A highlight will be three days spent on the remote Orkney Islands, containing the densest concentration of archaeological sites in Britain and testifying to their long history of settlement. 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.
Nights will be spent in traditional coaching inns and elegant centuries-old country homes. Dining will be a special pleasure as we sample regional delicacies and share pub lunches with villagers.
“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 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
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 is Chairperson for Durham Medieval Archaeologists. Dr. Buchanan has worked on archaeological projects both in the USA and the UK, and since entering Durham University, has lectured in a variety of courses, primarily in GIS and Early Medieval archaeology. His enthusiasm about archaeology and history is contagious and his knowledge of the area makes him an exceptional leader.
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
*This itinerary is currently being revised*
Day 2: Arrive early this morning into Glasgow. After lunch in a traditional pub, visit the Hunterian Museum, housed within the University of Glasgow and the oldest museum in Scotland. Housed within the museum is a collection of impressive monumental sculpture and other Roman artefacts from excavations along the line of the Antonine Wall, including richly sculptured distance slabs, unique to the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Govan Old Church to see the 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. These monuments include beautifully carved crosses and cross shafts, and magnificent hogback stones, recumbent and generally with a curved (‘hogbacked’) ridge. The Goven Sarcophagus is the only one of its kind carved from solid stone from pre-Norman, northern Britain. Dinner will be in one of Glasgow’s fine restaurants. Overnight for one night in Glasgow. (D)
Day 3: Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, 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. Very little of Glasgow’s medieval architecture remains, though we will view two of its ancient buildings: the magnificent Norman cathedral and Glasgow’s oldest house, Provand’s Lordship, built in 1471. It was originally part of a hospital and is one of only four medieval buildings to survive in Glasgow. In the afternoon, it’s on 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. Overnight in a Victorian mansion, now the Moffat House Hotel. (B/D)
Day 4: 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. Next we 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. Our final stop will be 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 mediaeval Scottish architecture. In the afternoon, transfer to Dirleton and overnight for two nights at the Open Arms Hotel, located on the village green and overlooking a castle. (B/D)
Day 5: Today visit Edinburgh! Located on the Firth of Forth’s southern shore, this UNESCO World Heritage City is Scotland’s capital. Begin with a visit to Edinburgh Castle, the oldest building in the city dominating the skyline from its perch on the precipitous crag of Castle Rock. Occupation 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. Enjoy an afternoon walking tour that will include a tour of Real Mary King’s Close, a warren of hidden streets that has remained frozen in time since the 17th century. Time will be free for explorations before meeting for dinner at The Witchery, located at the top of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile and hidden among picturesque buildings in the heart of the city’s historic Old Town. In the evening, return to Dirleton. (B/D)
Day 6: Three intriguing sites will be seen today. Magnificent Linlithgow Palace is situated between Glasgow and Stirling Castle and 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. The Forth Bridge, crossing the Forth estuary near Edinburgh, had 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. Built on an extinct volcano outcrop making it almost impregnable, Stirling Castle dominated Scottish history for centuries and is one of the finest examples of Renaissance style in Scotland. It has been occupied since prehistoric times and played an important role in the country’s military history. Continue to Perth where we overnight for two nights in The Sunbank House Hotel, a delightful small country house with views over the city. (B/D)
Day 7: Begin the day at Scottish Crannog Centre. A crannog is a defensive homestead 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 shore-based exhibition. The next stop is 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 the breathtaking sight. The 17th century barrel-vaulted ceiling is entirely covered with luminous painted panels depicting scenes from the bible, along with coats of arms of families associated with the Stewarts of Grandtully. Continue to the ruins of Dunnottar Castle, set on sheer cliffs that offer a natural defense. The dramatic cliff top fortress was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in the land. It was here that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army in 1652 and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, the ‘Honours of Scotland’. Transfer to Abelour and overnight for two nights at the Dowans Hotel, a grand Victorian mansion converted to a hotel. (B/D)
Day 8: This morning, we head out to Craigievar Castle. In contrast to other castles we have visited, Craigievar dates from a time of relative peace and stability. It has survived largely unaltered since 1626, so a visit here truly becomes a journey back to the 17th century. The ancient building is the product of a new kind of laird – the cultured Scot – who in this case was successful in the contemporary Baltic trade. 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.’ This afternoon, enter Abelour Distillery where a guided tour will lead us through the process of making single malt Scottish whisky. (B/D)
Day 9: As we walk through the battlefields of Culloden, 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 make two stops. Dunrobin Castle is 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. The Grey Cairns of Camster date from the 4th and 3rd millennia BC and are two of the best preserved Neolithic cairns in Britain. Overnight at the Forss House Hotel in Thurso. (B/D)
Day 10: An early morning crossing by ferry takes us from Thurso to Stromness in the Orkney Islands. Only a short drive from the pier is Skara Brae, Orkney’s most extraordinary prehistoric sight. 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 drainage system. 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, as we explore this lovely 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; the Bishop’s Palace; as well as the Tankerness House Museum with its presentation of 5,000 years of Orkney life. Overnight for the next two nights at the Ayre Hotelin Kirkwall. (B/D)
Day 11: Enjoy the morning free for further discoveries in the town of Kirkwall. In the afternoon, head out for Unstan Cairn, a long central burial chamber that was in active use for burials as early as 3400 BC. Continue on to the Great Cairn of Maeshowe where 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 several extraordinary prehistoric remains. The Stenness Stones and the Ring of Brodgar are splendid henge monuments. There are four stones still standing at Stenness while at Brodgar 27 monoliths of the original sixty 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 at the center of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we meet with the site director 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, and listed by the Archaeological Institute of America as one of the top 15 global discoveries of 2009. (B/D)
Day 12: 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 here is the only Pictish monastic settlement excavated in Scotland. Continue south 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. 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. Overnight near Loch Ness. (B/D)
Day 13: Our long drive will take us through the western highlands containing some of the most breathtaking scenery in Scotland. Passing along a string of lakes and dramatic mountains, our goal is the remote and picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, stunningly positioned on a tiny island where three lochs meet. This enchanting spot has been fortified since the Iron Age, but the castle was originally built in 1220 as a defense against Viking raiders. Overnight in Inveraray at the Inveraray Inn for the next two nights. (B/D)
Day 14: The valley of Kilmartin has one of the highest concentrations of prehistoric sites in Scotland. Here, we will see Nether Largie South Chambered Cairn dating to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC and the contemporary Temple Wood Stone Circles. See the displays in Kilmartin House Museum of Ancient Culture, dedicated to the extraordinary ancient landscape of Kilmartin. Explore Dunadd Fort located high on an isolated rocky cliff and considered one of the main centers of the Scots in the kingdom of Dalriada. The outline of a footprint and a hollowed-out basin in the rock has been interpreted as being part of the royal inaugurations of the kings of Dalriada. (B/D)
Day 15: This morning visit Inveraray Castle, a modern, baroque Palladian and Gothic-style construction considered to be before its time. On the way south, make a stop at the Antonine Wall. Built around 142 AD in the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, the wall ran coast-to-coast across Scotland from the Clyde to the Firth of Forth. Gather this evening for a Farewell Dinner. Overnight in Glasgow at an airport hotel. (B/D)
Day 16: Transfer to the airport for the flight back to the USA. (B)
CALL (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotels, all breakfasts and dinners, entry fees, all ground transportation, and basic gratuities. Price is based upon the exchange rate for the British pound not going over 1.45. If a fluctuation raises the pound, the final price may go up.
Single Supplement: CALL. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost Does Not Include: Roundtrip international flights; a donation as outlined below; all lunches; all beverages; food not on regular menus; passport fees; airport departure taxes; laundry; additional tips and gratuities; excess baggage charges and 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 $500.00 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 90 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 90 days before departure will result in an administrative fee of $300.00 per person. Cancellations received less than 90 days before departure will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the tour, we will not reimburse any fees. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation protection.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. A good book to read as well as a flexible attitude and a sense of humor are essential.
Hotels and Meals
Nights will be spent in traditional coaching inns and elegant centuries-old country homes. Dining will be a special pleasure as we sample regional delicacies and share pub lunches with villagers. Hotels and pubs listed in the brochure may change; the ambiance will not.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
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.