Orkney & Shetland
From standing stones to chambered cairns
The islands beyond the northernmost tip of Scotland glory in some of the most beautiful and rugged landscapes in the world. For more than five thousand years they have been home to farmers and fishermen, who left monuments so impressive that this has been called an archaeologists’ paradise. During the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, the people of Orkney and Shetland were among the first in Britain to begin building Megalithic chamber tombs and later henge monuments. The islands are also blessed with an extraordinary natural beauty. Wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, covering the green cliffs with colour and the exquisite scent of heather. This tour was recently named as one of The Times’ Best Cultural Holidays for 2022.
Your Departure date
Deposit: £750 Single supplement: £575
Day 1 - Lerwick
We meet in our hotel on Shetland.
|Hotel||Brae Hotel, Shetland|
Day 2 - Mousa Broch & Old Scatness
We start our exploration of Shetland’s archaeology at Mousa Broch, situated on the uninhabited island of the same name a couple of miles off the east coast of Shetland’s mainland and now an RSPB reserve. The ferry will drop us at the jetty and we walk along the shore for just over half a mile to reach the site. The broch towers over the landscape at 13 metres tall with three corbelled chambers in its solid base. Built somewhere around 3000BCE, it was originally built with two wooden floors accessed by stairways which you can still climb. Returning to the mainland we drive south to Scatness, an Iron Age broch and village occupied for around two millennia. The site was discovered when Sumburgh Airport expanded in the 1970s to accommodate increased air traffic and is now a public heritage project. The broch survives to nearly 4 metres in height and the surrounding houses are single walled with an upper storey, possibly for storage. We end the day at Jarlshof a spectacular site on the headland overlooking the West Voe. Here, there is evidence of over 4,000 years of human history - Neolithic houses, Bronze Age village, Iron Age broch, Norse longhouse medieval farmstead and 16th century house.
Day 3 - Unst
Today we take two short ferry crossings to reach Unst, Britain’s most northerly inhabited island, where we discover the island’s Viking heritage. A large number of Viking longhouses have been discovered (at least 60) – the greatest number found anywhere, including Scandinavia. We will visit one of the excavated sites at Underhoull where there is evidence of outhouses, annexes and drains which have been added to the longhouse during its development. Remains indicate there was also a wooden sprung floor and possibly a mezzanine level. We continue to Haroldswick to see the Skidbladner, replica ship, and reconstructed longhouse. In the afternoon we drive towards Skaw to take in the view of the Muckle Flugga lighthouse perched on the northern tip of Unst. Before catching our return ferry, we will also visit Muness Castle, a late 16th century tower house destroyed by French pirates in 1627 and abandoned in the 18th century.
Day 4 - Shetland
Our last full day on Shetland and we start with Stanydale Temple on the West Mainland. This extraordinary structure gained its name from its similarity to the megalithic temple sites in Malta. Its origins date between 2500-2000 BCE but it appears to have still been occupied into the early Iron Age. A series of alcoves, some with hearths and two massive post holes to support a timber-framed roof confirm the grandeur which helps to set this building apart from other Neolithic structures in Shetland. From there we drive to the Scord of Brouster, one of the earliest Neolithic farm sites in Shetland. Excavated in the 1970s, it spans a period from just after 3000 BC to around 1500 BC and comprises several houses and interlinked field walls. Returning to Lerwick, we visit the fantastic, award-winning Shetland Museum which displays over 3000 artefacts and end the day at Clickhimin Iron Age Broch and later wheelhouse situated just outside Lerwick.
Day 5 - St Ninian's Isle - Scalloway - Orkney
We explore St. Ninian’s Isle where we see the Church - a striking white shell sand spit links the islands. Excavation revealed a fabulous hoard of Pictish silver. Continue to South Voe Croft Museum, an engaging evocation of rural life in Shetland. The afternoon will be spent visiting Scalloway Museum.
This evening we will take a ferry to Orkney.
Day 6 - Stenness
Today we explore Stenness in Orkney’s West Mainland and home to some of the best-known ancient monuments. We start at Maeshowe the largest and most impressive of Orkney’s chambered cairns. A zenith in European prehistoric architecture and accomplishment, this chambered tomb has been a distinctive presence in the landscape for millennia. During midwinter when the sun dips below the horizon, it shines directly through the entrance passage to illuminate the rear wall of the central chamber. After we visit the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two stone circles – henge monuments – each occupying an opposing promontory between lochs. With seasonal excavations underway, we will also visit the Ness of Brodgar where for over a decade, archaeological excavations have uncovered an astonishing array of Neolithic structures including monumental buildings and hundreds of examples or prehistoric artwork.
Day 7 - Island of Rousay
We travel to the Island of Rousay to explore Midhowe chambered tomb, sealed 4,500 years ago containing the remains of 25 people. On to the much later Iron Age defensive structure of Midhowe Broch which stands on the rocky foreshore of Rousay between two inlets and consists of a circular tower with a very thick exterior wall. We end our day at the double chambered tomb of Taversoe Tuick.
Day 8 - Kirkwall
Today we explore Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall. Highlights include St. Magnus Cathedral, Earl’s Palace and Bishop’s Palace. In the afternoon, we pay a visit to Tankerness Museum.
Day 9 - Skara Brae & Birsay
We start our explorations on the island at Skara Brae, the amazingly well-preserved Neolithic village occupied for over 600 years. On the southern shore of the Bay of Skaill, buried for thousands of years of years beneath the sand, the stone buildings of Skara Brae were gradually exposed by storms until a sea wall was built to preserve them. Eight stone dwellings survive and their interior fittings give a unique glimpse of life as it was in Neolithic Orkney. After lunch, we visit the Brough of Birsay, a small island that can be reached on foot by causeway at low tide. Birsay has been settled continuously since Neolithic times and was once a centre of Viking power. The remains of a Norse settlement can be found at the top of the ramp leading onto the island as well as the ruins of a 12th century Romanesque church. We end the day at Gurness Broch where we explore the remains of the 8-metre tower. Built between 200 and 100 BCE, the broch was a tall, easily defended tower surrounded by a series of small stone dwellings. These in turn wee circled by outer defences comprising of three ramparts and three ditches.
Day 10 - Orkney
We start the morning at Cuween Chambered Cairn, a fine example of Neolithic architectural design similar in style to Maeshowe. It was excavated in the early 20th century when a number of human and animal skulls were found. We continue to one of Scotland’s oldest independent museums, Stromness Museum, which is maintained and managed by a group of volunteers. After lunch, we head further south and across Churchill’s Barriers. Now a vital link and causeway between island communities, these structures have become as iconic as Orkney’s ancient landmarks. Created at the instigation of Sir Winston Churchill, they were intended to block off the eastern approaches to the naval anchorage of Scapa Flow and the work was undertaken by Italian prisoners of war being held on the island of Lamb Holm. We return across the causeway, and end our day at the other remarkable structure bult by detainees, the Italian Chapel.
Day 11 - Kirkwall
Our tour ends today in Orkney and, from here, we make our independent journeys home.
Please note that the order of the itinerary is subject to ferry availability and is therefore likely to change.
Tour dates & prices
Included in your cost:
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Professional Tour Manager
- Local travel aboard a private air-conditioned coach
- Meals as per the itinerary, wine and tea or coffee with dinner
- Entries to all sites as per the itinerary
- Field notes
- All taxes & gratuities
|Tour Departure||Tour ID||Departure date||Return Date||Guided by||Price||Deposit||Single supplement||Availability|
|20 July 2024||AOAS240720||20 July 2024 (Saturday)||30 July 2024 (Tuesday)||Peter Yeoman||£4,090
|£750||£575||Book your trip|