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AITO Tour Operator of The Year 2016 - Gold AwardThe Telegraph Travel Awards Winner 2017

North Highlands & Orkney Guided Rail Tour

From Britain's oldest human imprints to Scotland’s geographical extremities, this new small group tour mixes breathtaking vistas with great rail trips

This richly varied week-long small group guided tour revels in the remote beauty and ancient history woven into Scotland’s far north. After exploring icons like mysterious Loch Ness, you’ll delve the mainland’s atmospheric ‘top edge’ of Caithness, before crossing to magical Orkney – a wondrous setting for incredible stories taking in ancient Britons, Vikings and both world wars. The ‘Highland Capital’ Inverness bookends your trip with its own distinctive cosmopolitan style.


At A Glance

Departure Dates

23-Aug-2019 - SOLD OUT
28-Jun-2020
09-Aug-2020

Why not...

extend your trip and visit Scotland's West Coast?

Prices From

£1765

No of Nights

6

Starts From

Inverness

Finishes In

Inverness

Speak to Us

Office Hours (UK time) Mon-Fri: 9.00-18.30
Sat: 9.30-16.30

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Details

This exclusive small group tour, with guaranteed departures on 24 June and 23 August 2019, has been carefully-designed to curate the best of the North Highlands and Orkney, helping you reach far-flung corners and uncover fascinating history, culture and local stories. If you prefer to opt-out of any of the activities described – for example, the Loch Ness boat trip – please mention this at time of reservation and we will offer alternatives wherever possible. Also do not hesitate to let us know if we can assist with your arrangements pre or post this scheduled tour.

Day one – Meet and greet in Inverness

Make your own way to Inverness, where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth. Consider arriving a day or two early as there’s plenty to see! 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.

Your accommodation in Inverness

You’ll stay for two nights in luxury serviced apartments right by the river in a very central location. While your first night dinner out is included, as is breakfast, self-catering is possible on your second night if you wish. Alternatively, we’ll point you in the direction of city dining options ranging from simple “pub grub” to finer fare.

Day two – Loch Ness waters and shore

Contemplate Loch Ness tales over breakfast, then set off to see for yourself with an award-winning guided tour offering ‘in depth’ insights into Britain’s most mysterious water feature!

You’ll get out on the dark waters on the Jacobite Cruise, sailing past the loch’s only island for a grand view of the striking Fort Augustus Abbey. You can also check out live sonar images of what’s swimming underneath you…

The 1000-year-old Urquhart Castle on the northern shore is a wonderful solid counterpoint to any ethereal images on the sonar. Exploring its ruins – dating from the 13th to 16th century – tune into resonant stories to complement loch vistas that perhaps inspired legendary Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn when he was imprisoned here. And what others once strode the medieval Great Hall?

You’ll have afternoon free sightseeing time in Inverness before dinner – 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.

Day three – discover Britain’s true top spot!

After breakfast, hit the tracks of the fabled Far North Line, taking the train from Inverness to Wick. Sit back, relax and admire the passing scenery on this four hour journey that meanders past distilleries, salmon rivers, castles and the vast peat expanse of the bird-filled Flow Country. The rail-line passes through areas of genuine wilderness, far from any road, linking small settlements in what was once a more-populous area. Your tour leader will be on hand to answer questions and share insights and will organise a picnic lunch on the train en route!

After being picked up at Wick station, you’ll delve the unique vistas and wild ambience of mainland Britain’s far north. While John o’Groats, where you’ll later overnight, steals the headlines, first you will visit mainland Britain’s genuine – and unspoilt – most northerly and north-easterly spots.

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.

Thrust into the Pentland Firth, Duncansby Head is another British extremity – the most north-easterly mainland spot. A 1920s lighthouse provides a focal point, while the cries of countless seabirds fill the air.  From here, a stroll across rough ground brings stupendous views to the dramatic Stacks of Duncansby.

For dinner, you’ll head back to Wick to an award-winning hotel bistro on the officially-recognised World’s Shortest Street!

Your accommodation in John o’Groats 

After dinner, you’ll transfer to John o’Groats to stay at what’s been described as designer accommodation dropped into Britain’s remote north-eastern corner. High-end Scandinavian-style comforts come with top level sea views across the Pentland Firth to Orkney – tomorrow’s destination is already beckoning.

Day four – Over the sea to Orkney

After a cafe breakfast, stroll onto the foot passenger ferry from John o’Groats to Burwick in Orkney – a reminder of the original 16th century ferry run by Dutchman Jan de Groot who gave this place its name. The fare he charged (around 2p) also became the name of the coin known as a groat.

You arrive on South Ronaldsay, one of around 70 islands in an archipelago whose central core is linked by the unique Churchill Barriers that you’ll cross en route to the main town of Kirkwall.

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.

Before you island hop northward into Orkney, you’ll pause for a leisurely lunch and begin to hear tales of Neolithic chambered cairns discovered by chance by locals – such as the evocatively-named Tomb of the Eagles uncovered when a 1950s farmer went digging for flagstones!

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.

Arriving late afternoon in Kirkwall, you’ll have time to settle in before exploring 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. 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.

Your accommodation in Kirkwall 

Your base for two nights is an acclaimed small hotel on the quayside that prides itself on great beds, good local food and a friendly bar that’s as popular with locals as visitors.

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 local guide filling in the back stories of splendid sights along the way.

You will stop at 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. Look out for 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.

Day six – Another side of Orkney – and a mainland clan castle

After breakfast, you’ll be driven to the port of Stromness, which has a different ambience to Kirkwall but no less enjoyable. It’s also home to the wonderful Pier Arts Centre – described by artist Patrick Heron as “one of the most perfect smaller collections of 20th century art on permanent display anywhere in the world”.

Boarding a late morning ferry from Stromness to Scrabster, enjoy fresh sea breezes on your 90-minute crossing back to the Scottish mainland. Wave to the Old Man of Hoy sea stack as you pass and keep alert for dolphins which sometimes accompany the boat. Back on the Scottish mainland, you’ll make leisurely afternoon progress to your hotel, pausing for sightseeing stops and refreshments en route.

The big ticket afternoon sight is Dunrobin Castle. The seat of Clan Sutherland, 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 and standout architecture contrast sharply with turbulent tales of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries overseen from this place of power.

Your accommodation in Dornoch

Carved from a 150-year-old grain store, your welcoming and characterful accommodation combines spectacular views across the Dornoch Firth, old-fashioned hospitality and plentiful modern comforts – kingsize beds, walk-in showers plus fast wi-fi and USB ports to download and share all your pictures now that your tour is almost complete!

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 let us know if we can help to extend your Scottish adventure.

 

*Please note – For 2020 the exact order and inclusions of this itinerary may vary slightly from that described above, but we will provide you with full details before booking confirmation. Please do contact us as soon as possible if the tour is of interest to reserve one of the limited places.*


Location

Scottish Highlands, Orkney

The tour begins in Inverness where you spend two nights, then onward to John o’Groats via Wick for one night, then Orkney for two nights, finishing with one night in Dornoch before a final train journey returns you to Inverness.


Pricing

The price as shown in the table below includes:

  • Six nights in hand-picked three and four star-standard accommodation.
  • Breakfast throughout. A picnic lunch on the train from Inverness to Wick.
  • Dinner on three evenings.
  • Half day tour including cruise on Loch Ness and time on shore to visit Urquhart Castle.
  • Rail travel from Inverness to Wick & Tain to Inverness.
  • Tour from Wick, including Dunnet Head.
  • Ferry from John o’Groats to Burwick.
  • Sightseeing transfer from Burwick to Kirkwall.
  • Full-day tour of Orkney with an expert local guide.
  • An Orkney Explorer Pass including entry to all Historic Scotland sites.
  • Ferry from Stromness to Scrabster.
  • Tour/transfer from Scrabster to Dornoch.
  • Entry to Dunrobin Castle.
  • The services of McKinlay Kidd’s tour leader, accompanying the group and providing guiding and assistance throughout.
  • Transfers as described.

From time to time we may need to make minor changes to the itinerary, such as the specific places visited, but will always replace with alternatives of equivalent or higher standard.

Not included:

  • Dinner and lunch except where stated
  • Visit to the Highland Park Distillery (optional visit)
  • Drinks
  • Gratuities and tips

All accommodation is carefully-selected and researched by us, predominantly featuring small, family-owned hotels – contact us for more detailed information. We will do our best to accommodate room preferences subject to availability at individual properties.

This tour will operate with a maximum of 15 passengers on each departure date. 

Simply complete the form below to reserve your place(s). We guarantee to hold your place(s) for 48 hours to provide time for you to pay the deposit of 10% per person.

The McKinlay Kidd Guarantee

All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.

We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.

Reserve your place(s) for North Highlands & Orkney Guided Rail Tour

Departure Dates & Current Availability
Departure DateStarts FromNights£ per person (2 sharing)£ per person (single)
Friday 23 Aug 2019Inverness6£ 1765 - Fully booked£ 2315 - Fully booked
Sunday 28 Jun 2020Inverness6£ 1765£ 2215
Sunday 9 Aug 2020Inverness6£ 1765£ 2315

To reserve your place(s) on this tour, please call us or complete the form below, making sure to select your departure date from the dropdown menu and advise of any special requirements. We will hold your place(s) for 48 hours and contact you with details of how to confirm your booking by payment of the per person deposit.

Please note: All form fields are required unless otherwise stated optional.

Tour Details

Availability of double or twin rooms can vary at individual hotels on the tour, so it helps us to understand your preferences.


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