A cruise around the Scottish islands can introduce you to a host of fascinating wildlife and historical sites, making this an excellent choice if you’re looking for a break close to home that offers something a little bit different.
The remote isles that are dotted around the country’s northern shores are amazing places to visit, with a typical itinerary for an Arctic holiday departing from Oban including stops in the Isles of Skye, Iona and Barra, a visit to St Kilda and a few days cruising around the Shetland and Orkney Islands.
To help you figure out if this kind of break is for you, we’ve put together a list of a few of the things that you can see while exploring this part of the British Isles.
The Isle of Skye
One of the first stops on this sort of trip will be on the Isle of Skye, where there are breathtaking landscapes and fascinating historical sites. We’ve compiled a brief selection of some of the highlights:
• Dunvegan Castle – Located on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, this castle has been the home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for more than 800 years. Parts of the current building date from as far back as the 14th century, with the dungeon and keep among its oldest sections. You can venture inside to see family heirlooms, portraits and other exhibits, while the castle’s formal gardens are beautiful.
• Old Man of Storr – The Old Man of Storr is a strange rock pinnacle located just inland close to Portree. Its sheer rock face has been scaled only a handful of times, with mountaineer Don Whillans the first to reach its peak.
• Quiraing – This is another unusual rock formation that was formed by a landslip. The walk to see the pinnacles at the northern end of the Trotternish Ridge will give you the chance to fully appreciate Skye’s rugged natural beauty.
St Kilda is an archipelago of volcanic islands that boast some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Aside from the spectacular scenery, the main reason to visit these isles is to observe the wide variety of seabirds that nest here. Among the species you can see around this UNESCO World Heritage Site are fulmars, gannets, puffins, shearwaters, puffins, kittiwakes and guillemots.
While the unrivalled bird-watching opportunities may mean you’re keen to stay on the boat to get the best views of these impressive colonies, don’t miss the chance to step ashore and learn more about St Kilda’s fascinating past – evidence of Bronze Age settlements that are more than 2,000 years old has been found on the isles.
The Shetland Islands are the most northerly isles in Britain and have a fascinating blend of Scottish and Scandinavian culture due to their subarctic position. Of the 100 islands in the group, just 15 are inhabited, which makes them fantastic for wildlife watching. As well as a wide variety of seabirds, you can also observe large grey seal colonies along the coast and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of an otter or two, or see whales and dolphins frolicking in the waves.
Wildlife isn’t the only attraction of the Shetland Islands, though, as they have a rich history with more than 6,000 years of human settlements in the region. The uninhabited island of Mousa is home to the world’s best preserved broch (a round tower), which is between 2,000 and 2,500 years old, stands some 13 m high and still boasts its staircase.