Day one – Meet and greet in Inverness
Make your way to Inverness, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. Consider arriving a day or two early as there’s plenty to see – check out Britain’s first post-Reformation Cathedral, the stately 1830s castle or the fine modern art gallery and museum. You could venture just outside the city to evocative Culloden Battlefield: discover tales of warring clans which may be more complex than you realise! Or just stroll along the river or Caledonian Canal, taking in Highland views. Let us know, and we can help with arrangements.
Meet your tour leader and travelling companions for an early evening drink before a welcome dinner and hints of what to expect over the coming week.
Your accommodation in Inverness
You’ll spend your first night in relaxed comfort in this elegant four-star hotel, surrounded by mature gardens. The on-site swimming pool and spa may help you unwind from your journey to the Highland capital, while the welcome is as genuine as they come. The core of the building dates back to the eighteenth century – history and traditional touches abound.
Day two – Venture north by rail to a castle of grandeur
Start the day with a rail journey north. Over a hundred and fifty years old and twelve years in the making, the single track of the Far North Line meanders its way past villages and townships, by castles and across firths. Sit back and absorb the abandoned beauty of Sutherland’s Flow Country; discover the areas fascinating history from Scotland’s ill-fated goldrush to the heart-racing tale of Scotland’s last wolf. Disembark at Thurso and take a private coach to the grandest castle in the North. Castle of Mey has a rich history linking the 16th Century Earls of Caithness to the Queen Mother & Prince Charles. Spend the afternoon wandering through the time-capsule displays of pomp and grandeur, then take a turn in the lush gardens and forest.
It’s only a short walk to your next base, looking over the Pentland Firth.
Your accommodation on Scotland’s North Coast
In the peaceful grounds of a royal residence on Scotland’s wild and windswept north coast, your accommodation in Caithness is a guest house of rare quality and fascinating history.
Set right on the shoreline, the house couldn’t be more dramatically located. The relaxing drawing room with roaring open fire presents a fine spot from which to take in the scene stretching towards Orkney, perhaps while enjoying a dram from the bar.
Day three – Discover Britain’s true top spot
After breakfast, you’ll delve the unique vistas and wild ambience of mainland Scotland’s far north. Walk along the coastal path to Duncansby’s breaching monoliths. These impressive sea stacks are worth a look – watch out for a wealth of seabirds nesting among the cliffs. Stop in Wick for a wander before heading to mainland Britain’s genuine – and unspoilt – most northerly spot. Several miles further north than John O’Groats, Dunnet Head is a place of towering sea cliffs and lonely splendour. There’s mysterious history throughout the peninsula too – ask your guide about its abandoned harbours and hush-hush WW2 sites.
Next it’s on to a local success story – hear tales of marauding Vikings and pirate smugglers while sipping on a selection of local gin and vodkas. Dunnet Bay Distillers offers an especially engaging tour and tasting event. Finish the day with dinner at a local Thurso restaurant before returning to the comfort of your guest house.
Day four – Over the sea to Orkney
Catch the morning ferry over to St Margaret’s Hope as the group begins its exploration of this unique place. Orkney consists of around 70 islands in an archipelago whose central core is linked by the unique Churchill Barriers. These causeways were hastily built in 1940 not so much to join islands together but as impassable naval defences, after the night in October 1939 when German U-boat U-47 navigated through tiny island channels into the vast Royal Navy anchorage at Scapa Flow to wreak deadly havoc. Ask your guide too about the incredible events involving the German war fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919.
On the island of Lamb Holm, meanwhile, the Italian Chapel is a poignant leftover from WW2 when thousands of Italian POWs were held on Orkney. Wishing for their own place of worship, they threw together this wonderful structure from corrugated Nissen huts and cast-off timbers, before decorating its interior with lasting panache.
A short road transfer will bring you to Kirkwall in the afternoon. You’ll have time to explore this attractive harbour town in your own time. St Magnus Cathedral provides a breath-taking landmark – a soaring red sandstone edifice founded by Vikings as Britain’s most northerly cathedral.
Alternatively, you could choose to visit the renowned Highland Park Distillery, next door to your accommodation. Orkney’s most famous whisky maker has plied its spiritual trade for over 220 years in historic buildings on a rise above Kirkwall. Its 18-year-old is a former winner of the ‘Best Spirit in the World’ accolade, uniting distilling skill with Orcadian heather peat, pristine spring water and cool sea salt air. Do advise if you wish to visit Highland Park at the time of reserving your place on the tour so that we can secure this well in advance for you.
Dinner this evening is at leisure – you could choose to stay in the hotel or try one of Kirkwall’s local restaurants. Your tour leader will assist with options and recommendations.
Your accommodation on Orkney
Located on the outskirts of Kirkwall, the hotel is traditionally furnished creating a genuine feel throughout. All rooms are individually styled to great effect. With an excellent reputation as a destination for locals, the restaurant features menus packed with local produce. The hotel has ample lounge areas and a whisky snug, where you will be tempted to try a dram or two from a very large range.
Day five – A Day of Orcadian wonders
Tuck into a hearty island breakfast before embarking on a full-day tour across Orkney’s patchwork of lush fields, peaty hillocks and stirring ocean views, with a locally born-and-bred guide filling in the back stories of splendid sights along the way.
You will stop at the visitor centre for Maeshowe, one of Europe’s finest chambered tombs. Dating back a staggering 5000 years, it shows the ancient understanding of the heavens with an entrance aligned so the setting midwinter sun illuminates its eerie depths. The cairn contains Viking runes carved inside by 12th century Norse visitors on their own tour of these parts – who says graffiti was a modern invention?
For an unforgettable glimpse of ancient domesticity, you’ll visit Europe’s most complete Neolithic village at Skara Brae – a cluster of houses older than the Pyramids, which lay preserved beneath sand until a wild storm in 1850 revealed it once more. There’s a real and humbling sense of the ordinary folk who lived here five millennia before, with moving echoes of the design of homes today.
Prehistoric encounters continue with the chance to walk amid Orkney’s incredible stone circles – the staggering red-tinged monoliths of the Ring of Brodgar and the quartet of coastal stones at Stenness which claim to be the oldest henge in the British Isles.
Return at the end of the day to Kirkwall for dinner at leisure.
Day six – South on the North Line
Travel to Stromness and catch a different ferry back to the mainland. You’ll cruise past the sentinel sea stack of the Old Man of Hoy, the group’s final Orcadian sight. Board the train at Thurso and travel South on the Far North Line, meandering through the vast expanse of Sutherland’s Flow Country towards the big ticket sight for the day. Dunrobin Castle and Gardens, this most northerly of Scotland’s great houses, boasts nearly 200 historic rooms in a building styled like an ornate French chateau transported to a forest-ringed North Highlands bay. The idyllic spot, well-tended formal gardens and standout architecture contrast sharply with turbulent tales of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries overseen from this place of power.
Wend your way further southwards towards the wonderful town of Dornoch. Here your tour leader will bring to life centuries of history on a guided walk. Be prepared for yarns of witches and religion through to more modern tales of celebrity – Madonna wed Guy Ritchie at nearby Skibo Castle.
In the evening you’ll enjoy a farewell dinner with your tour companions, an opportunity to cement future friendships.
Your accommodation in Dornoch
Steeped in Scottish history and fascinating legends, this 15th-century Castle is well-established as a comfortable base in this attractive historic town. It firmly stands its ground opposite the inspiring 12th-century Cathedral. Rooms are mainly in the tasteful modern extension, which enjoys views to the garden.
Day seven – Return rail to Inverness and farewells
After a leisurely breakfast, you’ll transfer to Tain for the late morning train back to Inverness. The journey of just over an hour gives you a relaxing chance to contemplate the passing Highland scenery and reflect on the highlights of your unforgettable northern odyssey.
After fond farewells in Inverness, begin your homeward journey or perhaps we can help to extend your Scottish adventure? You may even choose to stay on longer in Dornoch – just let us know your thoughts at time of enquiry.