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Shetland & Orkney: Archaeology and Wildlife of the Northern Isles 2026

Status: open

8 Jun – 25 Jun 2026

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Overview

Shetland & Orkney: Archaeology and Wildlife of the Northern Isles 2026
Tour Highlights

Explore the rugged natural beauty and prehistoric sites of Shetland & Orkney with Gillian Hovell, archaeologist and ancient historian, award-winning writer and lecturer at the British Museum and York University.

  • Local curators, rangers, and site archaeologists and directors add their passion and knowledge on our adventure to the unforgettable sites and natural reserves of these islands.
  • Delight in the wide skies and stunning scenery of the wild remote islands of Shetland and Orkney and their beautiful wildlife and flora. Wilderness and Nature reserves full of seals, otters, Shetland ponies, and bird colonies (including puffins) are just the beginning!
  • Travel during the month of June when Shetland and Orkney enjoy long days and clear blue skies, making it one of the most popular months to visit. Bird watchers love the migratory cliffhangers, with puffins breeding on the islands between May and early August. Wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, covering the meadows, moorland and cliffs with colour.
  • Sail to 9 unique and memorable islands: Shetland, Unst, Noss, Bressay, Orkney, Hoy, Rousay, Papa Westray, South Ronaldsay.
  • Journey through 5000 years of history from the first Neolithic farmers on these northern isles; stone circles, tombs great and small and even homes survive here almost intact.
  • Visit the world-famous sites of Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Jarlshof, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
  • Step over the threshold as a guest in the oldest standing house in Northern Europe, built in 3200 BC on an idyllically peaceful shore of the tiny island of Papa Westray.
  • Enjoy a comprehensive tour of Neolithic Orkney, hosted by your lecturer and joined by an array of passionate expert site archaeologists who continue to unearth the story of the first farmers here.
  • Discover great museums such as the superb National Museum of Archaeology in Edinburgh and the varied, intimate and fascinating local museums on the islands.
  • Enter the Iron Age in brochs (a sophisticated type of stone-built round house found only in Scotland) that dominate the coastlines and explore enigmatic Pictish homes and carved stones.
  • Travel in the wake of the Vikings, exploring their life, craft and achievements. Climb on board a life-size replica of a Viking ship and enter a longhouse on Unst, the northernmost island in the British Isles.
  • Delve into the medieval world of castles and palaces, and the magnificent St Magnus’ Cathedral in Kirkwall, built in 1137 by Viking Earl Rognvald.
  • Explore the special histories of these islands in WWI and WWII: visit the Churchill Barriers built to protect the fleet in Scapa Flow, and its wonderful Italian Chapel.

Overnight Edinburgh (2 nights) • Overnight ferry Aberdeen-Lerwick (1 night) • Lerwick (4 nights) • Kirkwall (9 nights) • Overnight ferry Kirkwall-Aberdeen (1 night)

About the Tour

Our voyage takes us from Scotland’s historic Edinburgh through the astonishing, unique archaeology, history and natural beauty of the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland. We begin with a special curator-led tour of Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, home to finds from over five thousand years of human activity, and then we explore the brand new Victoria and Albert Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum.

Sailing overnight to Lerwick brings us to the remote, wild natural beauty of Shetland, a land of seals, amazing birdlife and famous Shetland ponies. Sumburgh lighthouse and its RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve, and the dramatic Noss National Nature Reserve bring us up close to birds such as the delightful puffins.

The archaeological jewel of Shetland with its millennia of prehistoric, Viking and medieval archaeology is Jarlshof.  But nature and history brush shoulders everywhere here, as we discover on our guided walk on St Ninian’s Isle and when we sail to Unst, the most northern island in Britain; here we experience reconstructions of Viking life and traditional crafts and enjoy a guided walk and picnic in Hermaness National Nature Reserve.

A sea voyage south brings us to the gently rolling hills of the Orkney islands. A local saying is ‘if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology’.  Our own explorations take us to the famous Neolithic homes of Skara Brae and of Barnhouse near the ancient awe-inspiring stone circles of Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. Cathedral-like Maes Howe tomb towers above us and we enter the intimate tombs of lakeside Unstan and hilltop Cuween, and clamber into the isle of Rousay’s huge Minehowe and tiny Blackhammer and Taversoe Tuick tombs. On Papa Westray we take a scenic walk to duck under the threshold of the oldest upstanding house in Northern Europe, built in 3200 BC.

Orkney had a thriving culture in the tough Iron Age, and we explore this at the ground-breaking Cairns dig at Old Scatness, in the brooding Broch of Gurness, and as we climb down into the enigmatic underground Earth-house at Rennibister.

The Norse Vikings ruled these islands for over 400 years and we hear some of their dramatic Orkneyinga Sagas at the peaceful coastal ruins of their Orphir church.  Our hotel in the heart of Kirkwall is moments away from the medieval Bishop’s and Earl’s palaces and the impressive St Magnus Cathedral built in 1137. Our tours of the Dounby Click Mill and the ruined Earl’s Palace in Birsay give us a further taste of medieval life.

Orkney was a strategic location in the World Wars, of which Scapa Flow, the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel are poignant reminders.

Island hopping days to peaceful Rousay and mountainous Hoy are full of archaeological and geological marvels, while crossing a tidal causeway at the Bourgh of Birsay brings us not just to a ruined monastery but also maybe to puffins.

Orcadian modern life is gentle and relaxed; we shall experience this everywhere, particularly when we stroll through the picturesque historic harbour town of Stromness. We shall also taste local gin on a tour of the Orkney Distillery.

Itinerary

Itinerary

The following itinerary describes daily activities which may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours, road conditions, weather conditions, flight or ferry schedules etc. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & dinners indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch (on several days this will be a packed lunch provided by the hotel) and D=dinner.

Edinburgh - 2 nights

Day 1: Monday 8 June, Arrive Edinburgh
  • Tour commences at 5.00pm in the foyer of the Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh City Centre
  • Welcome Meeting
  • Introductory Lecture
  • Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant

Meeting Point: The tour commences at 5.00pm in the foyer of the Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh City Centre, located in the heart of the Old Town. Following a welcome meeting our group leader, Gillian Hovell, will present a lecture to introduce us to the history and archaeology of the northern isles. We dine together at a local restaurant. (Overnight Edinburgh) D

Day 2: Tuesday 9 June, Edinburgh
  • The National Museum of Scotland: Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Curator of Prehistory (Neolithic)
  • Afternoon at leisure
  • Evening Lecture

This morning we visit the National Museum of Scotland which documents 5000 years of human culture. Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Curator of Prehistory (Neolithic) will lead a special tour to prepare us for our travels in Orkney and Shetland. Here we discover the early humans who arrived after the last Ice Age (c.12,000 BC), the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from 8000 BC and their skilfully made stone tools, and the first farmers who arrived with their remarkable new culture in the northern isles and Scotland around 3200 BC.  The innovations of the Bronze Age (c.2100 – c.700 BC) are here shown in metalworking, while the perilous tribal Iron Age (c.700 BC – AD 500) echoed to the carnyx and glittered with gold torcs that we see.  The material wealth of the Romans, who advanced north into Scotland even though they never conquered it, is evident in weapons, inscriptions, coins and vessels, although during this time ‘Celtic’ culture remained a vibrant culture. Enigmatic Pictish stones are followed by the domination of the Norse Vikings (800s – 1200s); a highlight here is the silver of St. Ninian’s treasure (c.750-825) from the Shetland isle we shall later visit.

This afternoon we have plenty leisure time to explore Edinburgh independently or discover the wide range of other galleries in this remarkable museum which deal with everything from meteorites and dinosaurs to Scottish history (including the famous Lewis Chessmen of the late 1100s), and the Art, Design and Fashion, Science and Technology and World Cultures galleries.

Our day ends at our hotel with a presentation by a guest lecturer that delves further into the prehistory of Shetland and Orkney. (Overnight Edinburgh, Scotland) B

Overnight ferry Aberdeen - Lerwick

Day 3: Wednesday 10 June, Edinburgh – Dundee – Aberlemno – Aberdeen
  • V&A Dundee – Scotland’s first design museum
  • Time at leisure in Dundee
  • Aberlemno Sculptured Stones: featuring some of the finest Pictish carving
  • Northlink Ferry: Overnight Aberdeen – Lerwick departing at 1900hrs

Today we check out of our hotel and take our coach north to Dundee where we are treated to a special guided tour of the brand new Victoria and Albert Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum. This landmark museum on the River Tay opened in September 2018 and contains exhibits as diverse as costume, interior design, illuminated manuscripts and engineering. V&A Dundee has been established in close partnership with the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, drawing on its world-class collections of art, design and performance across 5000 years of human ingenuity. Designed by Kengo Kuma, the renowned Japanese architect and designer of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium, V&A Dundee is a unique and complex structure with exterior walls which twist both horizontally and vertically, creating shapes like waves or the hull of a ship. Scotland’s sea-cliffs inspired the form of the museum, its dramatic lines creating patterns and shadows which change with the weather, light and time of day.

There will we time at leisure in Dundee. In addition to strolling the streets of the old town, you may wish to visit the art gallery or Discovery Point to learn about the research ship that carried Captain Scott to the Antarctic.

We then drive northwards through the Scottish countryside to Aberlemno. Here we visit four remarkable Pictish stones, carved between 500 and 800. They display the range of carvings, from the early enigmatic prehistoric symbols to battles and hunts and Christian crosses and other sacred imagery.

An hour’s drive takes us to Aberdeen, our gateway to the northern island of Shetland. We board our ferry, where we shall settle into our cabins and sail out from the Mainland before having dinner together on board. Gillian will provide a scene-setting talk for our time in Shetland. (Overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick) BD

Lerwick, Shetland - 4 nights

Day 4: Thursday 11 June, Arrive Lerwick – Sumburgh – Lerwick
  • Arrival Lerwick by Northlink Ferries at 0730hrs
  • Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement, Sumburgh
  • Light lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel
  • Sumburgh Head: Visitors Centre, Lighthouse & Seabird Colonies of the RSPB Nature Reserve
  • Iron Age Broch and Village at Old Scatness: Guided tour by regional archaeologist

We breakfast on board, having already berthed in Lerwick. On disembarking, we board our coach and travel south through the villages and sweeping rural landscape of mainland Shetland. Along our coastal route we may see Shetland ponies and seals, signs of generations of peat digging, and locations from the TV detective series, Shetland.

At the southernmost tip of Shetland, with nothing but the Atlantic between us and Northern America, a narrow strip of land now serves as the island’s airport; but 1000 years ago it was a vital site for the Vikings.  We visit their settlement, later called Jarlshof (meaning ‘Earl’s House’) by Sir Walter Scott. The Vikings were not the first to live here, for we walk through almost 4000 years of almost constant habitation; Neolithic and Bronze Age homes sit side by side, and later Iron Age houses and remarkable brochs (windowless towers built on the shores) were followed here by Pictish round decorated wheelhouses. The Norse Vikings then built their very different early medieval longhouses here; this area continues to be studied as an archaeological site of great importance. The Norse did not lose power in Shetland until 1468. A medieval house here from the 1300s and 1400s, with its barn and drying kiln, is remarkably similar to local houses built in Shetland until relatively recently. We can view all this from a platform built into the ruins of the 16th-century house that looms over the site.

After a light lunch at the nearby Sumburgh Hotel (used as a nursing home in the Shetland series), we visit Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve. We hope to see the regular fulmars, guillemots, kittiwakes and shags, as well as the ever popular puffins.

We next visit Old Scatness, where a site archaeologist will give us a guided tour of the excavated Iron Age broch and an impressive and thought-provoking reconstruction.

We shall head north again to Lerwick via a different route. We settle into our rooms at the Shetland Hotel and have dinner. (Overnight Lerwick, Shetland) BLD

Day 5: Friday 12 June, Lerwick: Day Excursion to the Island of Unst with Dr Val Turner
  • Ferry trip to the Shetland Island of Unst (via Yell and Bluemill Sounds)
  • The Underhoull to Lund Trail: a Viking World (incl. the Underhoull Longhouses, Underhoull Broch, boat noosts & St Olaf’s Chapel) – approx. 2 hrs
  • “Viking Haroldswick”: Longhouse & Skidbladner Reconstructions
  • Unst Heritage Centre & Unst Boat Haven
  • Settlement of Skaw & Muckle Flugga
  • Muness Castle

Today we explore the Viking heritage of Scotland, accompanied by Dr Val Turner, who has been Shetland’s Regional Archaeologist since the post was created in 1986. Dr Turner has project managed two major excavations for her employers, Shetland Amenity Trust: Old Scatness Broch saw the twelve-year excavation of an Iron Age Broch and Village, which has rewritten the story of Scotland’s Iron Age; and Viking Unst saw the excavation of three longhouses and the construction of a replica longhouse and restoration of a replica Viking longship.

An early morning breakfast fuels us for our drive and the ferries that take us to the island of Unst, the northernmost island in Britain. On arrival we drive to Underhoull where we commence a two-hour scenic coastal walk across to Lund. On our journey we pass the Underhoull Longhouses, the Underhoull Broch which commands excellent views of the bay below, some stone-lined boat noosts (places where longships were pulled ashore and berthed) and St Olaf’s Chapel. This 12th-century chapel, whose interior features a Pictish fish or serpent, was probably built for the occupants of the nearby Viking/Norse settlement. Its graveyard includes three distinctive Viking stone crosses.

From Lund we transfer by coach to ‘Viking Haroldswick’. Here we explore the Skidbladner, a full-size replica of the 24 metre-long Gokstad ship found in a Viking burial mound in Norway in 1880. There is also the reconstructed Viking longhouse where we may gain further insights into the Norse way of life. Nearby, the Unst Heritage Centre and the Unst Boat Haven bring us forward to more recent history to reveal how generations of crofters and fishermen have lived and worked in Shetland.

Next, we drive north to the tiny settlement of Skaw, located on a peninsula in the northeast corner of the island. If the weather is clear, we may view Muckle Flugga, a small rocky island considered the northernmost point of the British Isles, although technically the nearby smaller islet of Out Stack is actually farther north. The Muckle Flugga Lighthouse was built by David and Thomas Stevenson. Thomas’s son, Robert Louis Stevenson, visited in 1869 and it is said he returned home with the inspiration for his next book – Treasure Island.

Time allowing, our journey back to the ferries will include a brief stop to see Muness Castle. Built in 1598 by cruel Laurence Bruce, this is a fine example of tower house architecture. (Overnight Lerwick, Shetland) BL

Day 6: Saturday 13 June, Lerwick – St Ninian’s Isle – Mousa – Lerwick
  • Crofthouse Museum
  • St Ninian’s Isle Walk – led by regional archaeologist (approx. 3hrs)
  • Boat excursion to Mousa Broch

We begin our day with a curator-led tour of Shetland’s exceptional Crofthouse Museum. Here we witness the tough life of a sea-based crofter.

A short drive takes us to the beauty and peace of St. Ninian’s Isle where we cross the tombolo (a beautiful sandy natural causeway) for our 3-hour guided walk, where nature and history complement each other; an Iron Age settlement (c.800 BC to c.AD 400), a stone church and the remains of a later ruined church (c.1100s) all share this isle. It was here that the St. Ninian’s Treasure (c.750-825) was found by a schoolboy in 1958. During this walk we will be accompanied by one of Shetland’s regional archaeologists.

We then travel by boat to Mousa Island where we visit the well-preserved Mousa Broch, the tallest broch still standing. This is likely a result of its small diameter and thick walls. (Overnight Lerwick, Shetland) BL

Day 7: Sunday 14 June, Lerwick – Noss Island National Nature Reserve – Island of Bressay – Lerwick
  • Walking Tour of Lerwick’s Old Town
  • Shetland Museum & Archives
  • Wildlife Cruise of Noss National Nature Reserve and Bressay

We begin the day with a walking tour of Lerwick’s Old Town led by a local guide. At the restored historic Hay’s Dock we take a guided tour of the Shetland Museum & Archives to explore Shetland’s rich heritage and culture.

Following a light lunch at a local café we drive 20km to Sandsayre Pier for our afternoon cruise to the stunning Noss National Nature Reserve and the isle of Bressay. We get close to the 25,000 seabirds who nest on these noisy cliffs and we also keep an eye open for seals, porpoises, whales, otters and dolphins. (Overnight Lerwick, Shetland) BL

Kirkwall, Orkney - 9 nights

Day 8: Monday 15 June, Lerwick – Shetland Mainland – Kirkwall
  • Stanydale ‘Temple’, near Bixter
  • Scalloway Museum, Scalloway
  • Light lunch at a Local Restaurant
  • Clickimin Broch, Lerwick
  • Northlink Ferry: Lerwick – Kirkwall (1730-2300)

After breakfast, we check out of our hotel and drive to mysterious Neolithic Stanydale Temple. Although we shall see many megalithic structures in Orkney, this is the only one surviving on Shetland. It comprises a wall of large boulders, some weighing up to 300kg, forming an oval enclosure measuring 14m by 10m. Its scale suggests that it was a public building but its purpose 5000 years ago can only be imagined.

We visit Scalloway museum that takes us from earliest history, through the traditional lives on Shetland to ‘The Shetland Bus’, the clandestine and dangerous heroic wartime operation which ferried men across the North Sea between Shetland and occupied Norway during World War II. Nearby is the Scalloway Castle. Currently closed for essential restoration work,this late 16-century castellated tower house was the home of Patrick Stewart, the Earl of Orkney and Shetland. His oppressive rule earned him the name ‘Black Patie’.

After a light lunch at a local restaurant, we take the short drive to Clickimin Broch, located on the outskirts of Lerwick, overlooking the Clickimin Loch. Once inside, the broch towers above us. To the west of the tower survive a collection of structures dating from c.1000 BC to AD 500.

We return to Lerwick to take our evening ferry to Kirkwall. Dinner will be served on board. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BLD

Day 9: Tuesday 16 June, Kirkwall
  • Walking tour of Kirkwall
  • St Magnus Cathedral
  • Earls and Bishops Palace
  • Orkney Distillery Tour
  • Evening lecture by guest speaker

After our late arrival in Kirkwall the previous evening we enjoy a leisurely start to the day. At 10am we embark on a guided walking tour of Kirkwall to be introduced to the town’s history and major landmarks.

After time at leisure for lunch we then continue with a guided tour of the medieval St Magnus Cathedral and hear the interesting stories connected with it. It was founded in the 12th century by the Viking Earl Rognvald in honour of his uncle, St Magnus whose relics were hidden within its walls. Known as the ‘Light of the North’, it was built by the same Norman masons who built Durham Cathedral. Across the street from the cathedral Gillian will guide us through the ruins of the medieval Earl’s Palace and the medieval Bishop’s Palace.

Our afternoon finishes with a visit to the Orkney Distillery, makers of Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin. We take a tour of the distillery and learn about the botanicals used that were brought to the island by the Viking settlers, before sampling the product for ourselves!

This evening we gather for a presentation by a guest lecturer who will introduce us to some of the current archaeological projects currently underway in the Orkney Isles. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BD

Day 10: Wednesday 17 June: Day excursion to the Island of Rousay
  • Ferry trip to Island of Rousay
  • Taversöe Tuick Chambered Cairn
  • Blackhammer Chambered Cairn
  • Midhowe Chambered Cairn
  • Midhowe Broch

We take a late breakfast this morning and then a short but glorious sea crossing carries us to the small Orcadian island of Rousay. Rousay abounds in prehistoric sites; over 100 have been recorded so far. The variety of structures found include brochs, burial cairns, standing stones, Norse burial cists, earth-houses, burnt mounds or knows, and Celtic chapels.

Our circular coach tour of this island takes us first to Traverse Tuick, the tiny but unique double-storey Neolithic chambered cairn; we take turns to climb down into it.

Not far down the road is the long chambered Blackhammer Cairn with its decorative facing stones. The structure is a typical stalled cairn, with an interior divided into seven compartments by pairs of upright stone slabs. Here, in c.3000 BC, the dead were laid with their ancestors’ bones. Although each of these tombs may have been used for hundreds of years, only a few skeletons were found in each. At least 15 such cairns have been found on the island of Rousay alone.

After a light lunch in a local restaurant with sea views, we drive on to Midhowe Cairn which we reach by a short but steep walk down the fields to the rocky shore. This vast Neolithic burial mound was truly monumental; we view its interior compartments and impressive stonework from walkways above it. Chambered tombs of this kind were communal burial places; the remains of at least 25 humans have been found here.

There are more than 500 surviving examples of brochs in Scotland. Many stood alone, but brochs in Orkney and Caithness, including Midhowe and nearby Gurness, were surrounded by sizeable settlements. The remains of the Midhowe Broch’s circular wall stands to a height of approximately four metres and within the structure the general layout of the ground floor has been remarkably well-preserved. As we enter, we can see the height, the separate rooms and the hearth and vital water well, all within this highly defensible stone tower that dominated the shoreline. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BLD

Day 11: Thursday 18 June, Kirkwall – Orkney Mainland
  • Iron Age Broch of Gurness
  • Dounby Click Mill
  • Causeway to Brough of Birsay: remains of Pictish, Norse and later settlements
  • The Earl’s Palace, Birsay

After breakfast, we drive to the Broch of Gurness via Eynhallow Sound. This solid Iron Age structure glowered at the distantly visible Midhowe Broch across the waters on Rousay. The Broch of Gurness boasts many features such as room divisions, an interior spiral staircase and a surrounding ditch. Its stone walls rise high above us, reminding us of the powerful defensive function of these structures. Huddled around is the best-preserved broch village in Scotland; its many dwellings, built between 500 and 200 BC, are squeezed side by side within an outer wall. By the AD 300s though, the broch village had fallen into disuse and a Pictish ‘Shamrock’ shaped house was built within its ruined area.

We drive on, pausing at the Dounby Click Mill. This is the last of the horizontal watermills of Orkney. Although this is a restoration of a mill from early 1800s, it demonstrates an ancient technique, barely changed since the Norse or ‘Click’ Mills (so-named due to the noise they made) used in the Viking era. Within the small stone mill we may view all of its internal machinery including a horizontal paddle wheel, grind-stones, hopper and meal bin.

After lunch, we drive to the Brough of Birsay where we walk across a tidal causeway. Once on the isle, we tour the remains of a secluded medieval monastery and view (a copy of) the carved Pictish Stone that survived here. A walk up onto the top of the headland should give us glimpses of puffins and other sea birds.

Our coach ride back to Kirkwall includes a stop at the picturesque Earl’s Palace in Birsay. This fine courtyard castle was the home of Robert Stewart, half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots; its many gun ports reveal how troubled the times were in the 1500s. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BLD

Day 12: Friday 19 June, Kirkwall: Day excursion to Papa Westray Island
  • Ferry to Papa Westay Island
  • Knap of Howar Neolithic House
  • Island tour including the remains of St Tredwell’s Chapel, St Boniface Kirk and a nature walk

This morning we board our ferry as foot passengers to sail to Papa Westray, where we transfer along the spine of the island to a peaceful field beside a rocky shore. Here we visit the extraordinary, partly subterranean, Knap of Howar: this is the oldest house in Northern Europe. We enter through its original threshold which is joined by a very low corridor to a contemporary ‘workshop’. Its wall cupboards, room dividers and hearths seem pristine, but Unstan Ware pottery found here proves that this early farmstead is c.5500 years old; that’s older than Skara Brae and nearly 1000 years older than the pyramids. A picnic lunch gives us a leisure time to enjoy the atmosphere of this special site.

We then tour the remains of St Tredwell’s Chapel perched on a small mound on a peninsula in St Tredwell’s Loch. Built on an Iron Age site, this medieval church was revered until recently as a pilgrimage site associated with miracle cures by St Tredwell, a holy virgin who lived in the 700s. We also visit the 12th century St Boniface Kirk, the only church other than St Magnus’ Cathedral to survive the Reformation and continue in use. This site shows evidence of occupation from the Iron Age, and was a monastic settlement established in the 8th century. Our visit to Papa Westray concludes with an excursion to the north of the island where we enjoy a short nature walk. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BLD

Day 13: Saturday 20 June, Day Excursion to the Island of Hoy
  • Ferry to island of Hoy
  • Dwarfie Stane
  • Rackwick Bay and Beach
  • Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum

A drive across to Stromness and a ferry trip takes us to the mountainous island of Hoy for a day’s guided tour. The rocks here were carved out to make the 8.5m long Dwarfie Stane, possibly the only Neolithic rock-cut tomb in Britain. We consider the effort required to carve out this tomb using just stones, antlers and bones.

Our tour includes a visit to Rackwick Bay and Beach where we enjoy a picnic lunch, and the Hoy Heritage Centre, which gives an overview of life on Hoy.

We visit the recently opened Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, which tells the story of the naval anchorage during World War I and World War II, before sailing back to the Orkney Mainland and our hotel. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BL

Day 14: Sunday 21 June, Kirkwall – Orkney Mainland – Stromness – Kirkwall
  • Marwick Head Nature Walk
  • Unstan Chambered Cairn Tomb
  • Stromness
  • Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn
  • Rennibister Earth House

This morning we drive to the Marwick Head Nature Reserve where a local wildlife expert will guide us on a walk to learn about the flora and birdlife of this dramatic stretch of coastline. From the cliffs we can look into the heart of a seabird colony that includes fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots.

We then drive to the Unstan Chambered Cairn, a burial mound that sits on a peninsula jutting out into the loch. Views across to the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness provide a fresh view of these truly unique Neolithic monuments. Unstan Chambered Cairn, which was probably built as a communal burial place, is another example of a stalled cairn. Excavations here uncovered a remarkable collection of pottery bowls, all of the same design. Similar bowls were subsequently found in several other Neolithic tombs in Orkney, and are known as ‘Unstan Ware’. Several of the reconstructed vessels are in the National Museum of Scotland.

After lunch in the picturesque harbour town of Stromness we drive to Cuween Hill and the foot of the rough track leading up to Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn. The view alone from here across the sea and hills would be worth the short walk but this small, very personal, intimate Neolithic tomb has a surprise within it; its stonework and corbelling is astonishing. The cairn attests to a belief in an afterlife 5000 years ago; there is evidence of complex burial rites. Bones of men, dogs and oxen were found buried here.

Descending to the coach we are just minutes from Rennibister Earth House, thought to date from the first millennium BC. The function of such Iron Age underground tunnels, called souterrains, remains a mystery; theories include that they were storehouses or defensive hiding holes. We climb down the short metal ladder into the remarkably constructed site. Inside the main chamber, the drystone walls curve upwards to a corbelled roof supported by four stone pillars. There are also five small stone alcoves built into the walls of the chamber. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BL

Day 15: Monday 22 June, Kirkwall: Orkney Mainland
  • Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site: Maeshowe Chambered Cairn
  • Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site: Standing Stones of Stenness
  • Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement
  • Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ring of Brodgar

Today we visiting some of Orkney’s most important archaeological sites in the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ World Heritage Site, the collective name given to a group of Neolithic monuments found on the mainland, which was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. This group of monuments consists of four sites: Maeshowe – a unique chamber cairn and passage grave; the Standing Stones of Stenness – four remaining megaliths of a henge; the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle forming a henge monument; and Skara Brae – a cluster of eight houses reputed to be the best-preserved Stone Age village in Europe.

We begin with a guided tour of the cathedral-like Maeshowe Chambered Cairn. Considered the finest chambered tomb in North-West Europe, it is more than 5000 years old. This impressive monumental tomb also features runic graffiti left by 12th-century Norse crusaders on the walls of the main chamber.

Nearby are the Standing Stones of Stenness. Over 5000 years old, this constitutes one of the earliest stone circles on Orkney. Although only four of the original 12 stones still stand, these are impressive as each reaches a height of 6 metres.

Just yards away we explore the Barnhouse Neolithic settlement, perched on the edge of the loch. The site provides an interesting contrast to the neighbouring village of Skara Brae; the site has 15 small round free-standing dwellings in varying stages of development.

We pass the solitary Comet Stone before our walking tour around the Ring of Brodgar. A perfect circle, built in c.2500 to 2000 BC, this was one of the last of the stone circles. The third largest stone circle in Britain, it covers an amazing 8500 square metres, and all its stones had been brought from a different part of the island. Twenty-seven of its original 60 stones survive. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BL

Day 16: Tuesday 23 June, Kirkwall: Skara Brae
  • Morning at Leisure in Kirkwall
  • Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site: Skara Brae, including an exclusive out-of-hours visit to the interior of the Neolithic houses

After a morning at leisure in Kirkwall, we embark on one of the highlights of our tour – Skara Brae. Located on the shores of the Bay of Skaill, this site was revealed after a terrifying winter storm blew the sand-dunes away in 1850. The homes had survived virtually intact, protected by the sand that filled them; hearths, beds, dressers (or altars), storage tanks and even indoor toilets survive, all dated from between 3300 BC and 2200 BC. The people who lived here would have seen, or even taken part in, the building of the stone circles of the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the Ness of Brodgar ceremonial centre.

The Neolithic homes themselves are fragile and not open to the public. However, we will take a special out-of-hours guided tour of these extraordinary structures and feel for ourselves just how homely they were! Our visit will also include time to visit the 17-century Skaill House with its collections of prehistoric and historic items (including Captain Cook’s dinner service) and paintings. (Overnight Kirkwall, Orkney) BD

Overnight ferry Kirkwall to Aberdeen

Day 17: Wednesday 24 June, Kirkwall – South Ronaldsay – Aberdeen
  • Churchill Barriers
  • Italian Chapel
  • Orkney Wine Shop
  • Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre
  • The Cairns Excavation and the archaeological landscape of South Ronaldsay
  • Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant

Our last day in Orkney takes us on a special route to the island of Ronaldsay in the south east. We drive over the Churchill Barriers, constructed to protect Scapa Flow during World War II, that link the island to the mainland of Orkney. The Italian prisoners of war who built the Barriers also built for themselves the beautiful and touching Italian Chapel. They constructed the chapel from two Nissan huts, and decorated the interior with 3D wall paintings that create the impression of a stone chapel; the sanctuary image was based on the reproduction of a painting of the Madonna kept in the pocket of one of the prisoners. Everything they used to create this very remarkable place was recycled.

We stop briefly at the Orkney wine shop and then move on to the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre where we explore the exhibits at leisure. From there, we travel down to the Cairns excavation, if the dig is open, for a tour of this ground-breaking work on an Iron Age broch.

This is an area rich in archaeology and as we wind our way through lanes we will encounter evidence of life in Orkney, and how rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, 9000 years ago, affected the first settlers.

On our return to Kirkwall, we enjoy a final dinner at a local restaurant before checking in for our late-night overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. (Overnight ferry Kirkwall-Aberdeen) BLD

Day 18: Thursday 25 June, Aberdeen Ferry Terminal – Aberdeen Station
  • Transfer to Aberdeen Railway Station arriving at approx. 8.30am

The ferry arrives in Aberdeen at 6am, and breakfast is served. At 7am we check-out of our cabins and disembark for our coach transfer to Aberdeen railway Station.  B

 

Accommodation

Accommodation

In Shetland & Orkney accommodation is provided in basic 3-star hotels. All rooms have en suite bathrooms. Further information on hotels will be provided in the ‘Tour Hotel List’ given to tour members prior to their departure.

  • Edinburgh (2 nights): 4-star Radison Blu Edinburgh – located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, this historic building has been transformed into elegant contemporary accommodation. www.radissonhotels.com
  • Ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (1 night) – with Northlink Ferries. Our group will be accommodated in a mixture of Outer twin cabins or Inner 4-berth cabins used as either sole or double occupancy. Cabins are modern, clean and fully equipped with en-suite washbasin, toilet and shower facilities. They also include individual temperature control and tea & coffee-making facilities. Please see images below.
    www.northlinkferries.co.uk/on-board/accommodation/
  • Lerwick, Shetland Islands (4 nights): 3-star The Shetland Hotel – providing basic accommodation with generously sized rooms, close to Lerwick Harbour and an easy walk to the historic town centre. www.shetlandhotels.com
  • Kirkwall, Orkney Islands (9 nights): 3-star The Albert Hotel – a charming historic building in the heart of Kirkwall with modern, comfortable rooms. www.alberthotel.co.uk
  • Ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen (1 night) – with Northlink Ferries. Our group will be accommodated in a mixture of Outer twin cabins or Inner 4-berth cabins used as either sole or double occupancy. Cabins are modern, clean and fully equipped with en-suite washbasin, toilet and shower facilities. They also include individual temperature control and tea & coffee-making facilities. Please see images below.
    www.northlinkferries.co.uk/on-board/accommodation/
Single Supplement

Payment of this supplement will ensure accommodation is for sole occupancy throughout the tour. In Edinburgh this is a double room (for single use). In Shetland and Orkney (where hotel options are extremely limited) this will be a single room. A cabin for single use will be provided for the overnight ferry between Aberdeen and Lerwick, and between Kirkwall and Aberdeen. The number of spaces available for single occupancy is extremely limited. People wishing to take this supplement are therefore advised to book well in advance.

Notes:

  • Hotels are subject to change, in which case a hotel of similar standard will be provided.
  • Porterage is NOT provided at the hotels or during ferry excursions. All participants MUST be able to handle their own luggage.

Northlink Ferries: Aberdeen – Lerwick – Kirkwall – Aberdeen

 

 

How to book

How to Book

Making a Tentative Reservation before the tour price has been published

ASA INTENTION TO TRAVEL APPLICATION FORM

Some ASA tours fill almost immediately. Don’t miss out! You can register your ‘Intention to Travel’ by completing this application and returning this to ASA with a AUD $200.00 per person deposit. Once the tour price has been published, the itinerary and ASA Reservation Application Form will be sent to you. From the time you receive the itinerary you will have two weeks to either:

  • Send us a completed ASA Reservation Application Form together with an additional deposit of AUD $800.00 per person. On receipt of this Reservation Application and deposit, ASA will process your booking and if approved, send you a tour confirmation. At this time your deposit of AUD $1000.00 is subject to the tour’s Booking Conditions.

Or

  • CANCEL your Intention to Travel in writing. ASA will refund your AUD $200.00 per person deposit, less a $66.00 service fee (including GST).
Practical Information

Practical Information

The number of flags is a guide to the degree of difficulty of ASA tours relative to each other (not to those of other tour companies). It is neither absolute nor literal. One flag is given to the least taxing tours, seven to the most. Flags are allocated, above all, according to the amount of walking and standing each tour involves. Nevertheless, all ASA tours require that participants have a good degree of fitness enabling 2-3 hours walking or 1-1.5 hours standing still on any given site visit or excursion. Many sites are accessed by climbing slopes or steps and have uneven terrain.

This 18-day Cultural Tour of Shetland and Orkney involves:

Travel during the month of June when Shetland and Orkney enjoy long warm days and clear blue skies, making it one of the most popular months to visit. Bird watchers love the migratory cliffhangers, with puffins breeding on the islands between May and early August. Wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, covering the meadows, moorland and cliffs with colour. June brings almost nonstop daylight, known locally as ‘simmer dim’. Average temperatures in June: in Lerwick 13° to 8°C, and Kirkwall 14° to 7°C.

  • A number of days involve a full day of walking. This includes nature trails covering elevated grasslands, beaches and cliff top walks (easy to moderate level, of 3-4 hrs duration) combined with an exploration of prehistoric sites which are often extensive and unsheltered and cover uneven, rocky terrain. Please pack your walking boots!
  • Accommodation in Shetland and Orkney is extremely limited. Hotels are of basic 3-star standard.
  • Porterage is NOT included in Shetland, Orkney or during the ferry excursions between Aberdeen – Lerwick, Lerwick – Kirkwall and Kirwall – Aberdeen. Participants MUST therefore be able to handle their own luggage. Note: lifts are available on the Northlink Ferries.
  • Many day excursions include transport by public ferry between the islands.
  • Many days involve transport by air-conditioned coach with variable road conditions; a number of the roads may be bumpy.
  • Due to the boat and ferry schedules, a number of days involve early morning starts; or end in late in the day.
  • Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Edinburgh, basic 3-star hotels in Shetland & Orkney; twin-share cabins with Northlink Ferries. There is a total of 4 accommodation changes.

It is important to remember that ASA programs are group tours, and slow walkers affect everyone in the group. As the group must move at the speed of the slowest member, the amount of time spent at a site may be reduced if group members cannot maintain a moderate walking pace. ASA tours should not present any problem for active people who can manage day-to-day walking and stair-climbing. However, if you have any doubts about your ability to manage on a program, please ask your ASA travel consultant whether this is a suitable tour for you.

Please note: it is a condition of travel that all participants agree to accept ASA’s directions in relation to their suitability to participate in activities undertaken on the tour, and that ASA retains the sole discretion to direct a tour participant to refrain from a particular activity on part of the tour. For further information please refer to the ASA Reservation Application Form.

Tour Price & Inclusions

Tour Price & Inclusions

AUD $TBA Land Content Only – Early-Bird Special: Book before 30 April 2025

AUD $TBA Land Content Only

AUD $TBA Single Supplement

Tour Price (Land Content Only) includes:
  • Accommodation in twin-share rooms with private facilities in a 4-star hotel in Edinburgh, basic 3-star hotels in Lerwick and Kirkwall, 2 nights travelling with Northlink Ferries in twin-share cabins (Aberdeen – Lerwick, Kirkwall – Aberdeen)
  • All meals, indicated in the tour itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=dinner
  • Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may only include water
  • Transportation by air-conditioned coach or public ferries as outlined in the day-by-day itinerary
  • Departure airport transfer to Aberdeen Airport according to the time outlined in the tour itinerary
  • Lecture and site-visit program
  • Tour reference book
  • Entrance fees to all sites; boat excursions as outlined in the itinerary
  • Use of audio headsets during site visits
  • Tips for the coach driver, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tour Price (Land Content Only) does not include:
  • Airfare: Australia-Edinburgh, Aberdeen-Australia
  • Porterage at hotel or during ferry excursions between Aberdeen – Lerwick, Lerwick – Kirkwall, Kirkwall – Aberdeen
  • Personal spending money
  • Arrival airport transfer
  • Luggage in excess of 20kg (44lbs)
  • Travel insurance
  • Visas as applicable
Tour Map

Tour Map

Gallery
Terms & Conditions
Deposits

A non-refundable deposit of $1000.00 AUD per person is required to reserve a place on this ASA tour.

Cancellation Fees

If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:

  • More than 75 days before departure: your initial deposit of $1000.00 is non-refundable.**
  • 75-31 days prior 50% of total amount due
  • 30-0 days prior 100% of total amount due

**$500.00 of this amount (ie 50% of your deposit) may be credited to another ASA tour departing within 12 months of the original tour you booked. We regret, in this case early-bird discounts will not apply.

We take the day on which you cancel as being that on which we receive written confirmation of cancellation.

Unused Portions of the Tour

We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.

Will the Tour Price or Itinerary Change?

If the number of participants on a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates ASA reserves the right to amend the advertised price. We shall, however, do all in our power to maintain the published price. If an ASA tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all tour monies paid. Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of ASA make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes in due course.

Travel Insurance

ASA requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. A copy of your travel insurance certificate and the reverse charge emergency contact phone number must be received by ASA no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the tour.

Final Payment

The balance of the tour price will be due 75 days prior to the tour commencement date.

Limitation of Liability

ASA is not a carrier, event or tourist attraction host, accommodation or dining service provider. All bookings made and tickets or coupons issued by ASA for transport, event, accommodation, dining and the like are issued as an agent for various service providers and are subject to the terms and conditions and limitations of liability imposed by each service provider. ASA is not responsible for their products or services. If a service provider does not deliver the product or service for which you have contracted, your remedy lies with the service provider, not ASA.

ASA will not be liable for any claim (eg. sickness, injury, death, damage or loss) arising from any change, delay, detention, breakdown, cancellation, failure, accident, act, omission or negligence of any such service provider however caused (contingencies). You must take out adequate travel insurance against such contingencies.

ASA’s liability in respect of any tour will be limited to the refund of amounts received from you less all non-refundable costs and charges and the costs of any substituted event or alternate services provided. The terms and conditions of the relevant service provider from time to time comprise the sole agreement between you and that service provider.

ASA reserves the sole discretion to cancel any tour or to modify itineraries in any way it considers appropriate. Tour costs may be revised, subject to unexpected price increases or exchange rate fluctuations.

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