With some of the most historically significant coastlines, Scotland & Ireland offer hundreds of islands and enchanting peninsulas with magnificent archaeological sites, legends and lore. Soak up the remarkable history of a land that has been continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years with these 5 highlights:
An exploration of Inishmore includes a visit to the island’s most celebrated monument, Dún Aonghusa. Occupying a site of 14 acres, Dún Aonghusa is a fort that consists of three terraced walls surrounding an inner enclosure containing a platform on the edge of a 100-m (300-ft) high cliff. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding areas from Dún Aonghusa are breathtakingly spectacular. Excavations carried out in the 1990s indicated that people had been living at the hilltop from c.1500 BC with the first walls and dwelling houses being erected round 1100 BC. A remarkable network of defensive stones known as a Chevaux de Frise surround the whole structure. Archaeologists and scholars from all over the world visit the site annually, and some scholars suggest that the platform overlooking the Atlantic Ocean may have had ritual significance.
Skellig Michael is known throughout the world of archaeology as the site of a well-preserved monastic outpost of the Early Christian period – now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Little Skellig is equally renowned in matters of ornithology as the home of roughly 27,000 pairs of gannets – the second largest colony of such seabirds in the world.
The Office of Public Works (OPW) manages the Skelligs, and they no longer allow cruise ships to land on Skellig Michael. Visitor numbers to Skellig Michael in recent years have reached the maximum permitted by UNESCO and any violation of UNESCO criteria will affect the future UNESCO status of the island. From the comfort, safety and elevated height of our vessel, we will enjoy a ship cruise around both Little Skellig to get a glimpse of the incredible gannet colony, and the UNESCO World Heritage listed monastery on Skellig Michael, with onboard commentary about the islands from a local expert.
Skellig Michael Facts
Approximately 1,400 years ago a small group of men were searching for a place to practice their religion in complete solitude and isolation. These remarkable men ventured into the open ocean off southwest Ireland determined to build a monastery on one of the most extraordinarily remote locations on earth. Generation after generation of monks helped to hand-carve the 600 stone step with the simplest tools, to build a hilltop monastery 200 m (656 ft) above the pounding waves.
The survival of the terraces and drystone walls to this day are testament to the skill and dedication of the monks. The monastery is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a striking example of Early Christian architecture. The archaeological remains show the dramatically spartan conditions in which the monks lived, and after enduring several Viking raids, the monks eventually left the island in the 13th century. The site has subsequently become a place of Christian pilgrimage.
In the Shetland Islands, you will find Mousa Broch (a fortified Iron Age tower), located on the small uninhabited island of Mousa. The fortification is the best preserved of Scotland’s 570 brochs, and one of the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. Storm-petrels nest among its stones, which can be seen when visiting the broch at night. In daylight, a large colony of common and grey seals basks on its shores where you might also spot otter.
Located in the Outer Hebrides is the isolated and storm-battered archipelago of St Kilda, a World Heritage site, where derelict crofts bear testament to the fortitude of islanders who once tended the unique Soay sheep and harvested seabirds for food—and to pay their rent in the form of wool, meat and feathers. The isles hold Europe’s most important seabird colony and is home to Britain’s highest sea stacks (rock columns). On our Ireland & Scotland Discovery expedition, we aim to visit tiny specks of land that bear the brunt of violent Atlantic storms and rarely see visitors.
Discover the rich history in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney Islands. Initial impressions are misleading, as the harbour area looks modern, but the narrow winding streets and lanes of the old town, which have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries are appealing.
One of the mainland’s main attractions is Skara Brae, the best-preserved Stone-Age village in northern Europe, located in the spectacular white sands of the Bay of Skaill. Revealed in 1850 after a storm below away the dunes, the site dates from approximately 5,000 years ago and was occupied for about 600 years, affording visitors a unique picture of the lifestyle of the original inhabitants. Uncover more about the Neolithic Age in our quick guide to Scotland’s history.