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This 11-day itinerary to and from Glasgow takes in the incredible scenery and charming towns of the inner and outer Hebrides, plus a beautiful freshwater lake and many off-the-beaten-path destinations.
This unique cruise sets sail from Greenock onboard MS Spitsbergen and visits the Isle of Arran, the Isle of Gigha, Islay, Iona and the Treshnish Isles, St. Kilda, Stornoway and the Shiant Isles, the Isle of Eigg, the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Colonsay. This in-depth exploration of the Scottish Isles is the perfect way to tick off so many in one 13 day trip.
Day 1: Greenock, Glasgow - embarkation
Day 2: Isle of Arran
Day 3: Islay
Day 4: Isle of Gigha
Day 5: Isle of Iona
Day 6: St. Kilda
Day 7: Stornoway and Shiant Isles
Day 8: Loch Scavaig and the Isle of Eigg
Day 9: Sound of Mull
Day 10: Isle of Colonsay
Day 11: Greenock, Glasgow - disembarkation
Your voyage starts in Glasgow. Meaning ‘Dear Green Place’ in Gaelic, Glasgow boasts over 90 parks and gardens. Famous for its Victorian as well as art nouveau architecture, it is home to such institutions as the Scottish Ballet, Opera and National Theatre. This is definitely a city you’ll want to explore more before you board MS Spitsbergen
Warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, this sheltered island with its high peaks, is a haven for wildlife. Dramatic mountains, a distinctive distillery and good hiking all add to a microcosm of Scotland. Brodick town has its 16th-century red-sandstone castle whilst the ruined castle of Lochranza was once a royal hunting lodge.
Once the seat of the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, this is ‘whisky island’, world-renowned for its peaty single-malt whiskies and many distilleries. As a stop-off for wintering geese and migrating birds, there is good bird spotting. In the charming little town of Bowmore, there are a handful of small shops, an interesting round church with no corners, plus superb cliff-top walks and a well-known golf course.
Tiny Gigha (pronounced Gee’a) is the ‘Good Isle’ and is owned by the islanders. Dairy cows produce a distinctive cheddar-type cheese, whilst Achamore House, set in fifty acres of woodland gardens, was once the home of Sir James Horlick who created a colourful and impressive display of rhododendrons.
World-famous for its religious connections, Iona was settled in 563 AD by the Irish missionary, St Colomba. The much-restored Abbey still remains a place of pilgrimage and peace. Wide views from the beach, known as ‘The Bay at the Back of the Ocean’ stretch west towards the Outer Hebrides.
You will explore Treshnish Isles, a group of distinctive volcanic islands which are home to a wealth of wildlife, from nesting puffins to colonies of kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and Atlantic grey seals.
Fingal’s Cave, immortalised by Mendelssohn’s glorious ‘Hebrides Overture’, is on the cave-riddled island of Staffa. The basalt columns here are a northern extension of the Giant’s Causeway. Discovered by the Vikings, visited by Sir Joseph Banks, and viewed by Queen Victoria, Sir Walter Scott and Samuel Johnson, this is one of Scotland’s most famous islands. It is best viewed from the sea where the colour of the waters within the cave and its rising columns are at their most impressive
Any visit to this distant and wild archipelago, with its breathtaking sea cliffs, is totally weather-dependent. As a UNESCO double World Heritage Site and the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the National Trust for Scotland, it is an unforgettable experience. The outlying stacks and islands, which are the remains of a volcanic crater, provide ledges for thousands of nesting seabirds. Minke whales are frequently seen around the swirling waters of the archipelago.
Once home to Britain’s most remote island community, it was evacuated in 1930 at their own request after 5,000 years of continuous habitation. The tiny museum that remains is a record of how hard life was on this exposed island
Originally a Viking settlement, Stornoway is the main town of the Western Isles and the capital of the Isle of Lewis, which is the largest and most northerly of the Outer Hebrides. A bustling harbour and waterfront with museums and art galleries are overlooked by the handsome Lews Castle. Further afield are mills and cottages where hard-wearing Harris Tweed is woven. There are tiny folk museums, the world-famous Callanish Standing Stones, and the mysterious Carloway Broch - the best-preserved fort in Scotland dating back more than 2,000 years.
Late afternoon you'll explore the Shiant Isles. Privately owned since 1937, this tiny archipelago set in the midst of the Minch, the area of sea between the Outer Hebrides and Skye, has numerous colonies of nesting seabirds. Puffins, razorbills, shags, eider ducks and guillemots all throng the surrounding waters, perching on volcanic ledges above basking sharks and seals.
Surrounded by the high peaks of the Skye Cullins, Loch Scavaig leads to one of the most romantic and dramatic lochs in Scotland – freshwater Loch Coruisk. Painted by Turner and a popular destination for the Victorians, this is a powerful landscape promising great hiking and kayaking.
We head to the Isle of Eigg to spend the rest of our day on this craggy island. Settled in prehistoric times, it was once the seat of the Lord of the Isles but is now owned by its inhabitants. The island has Iron Age forts, a 6th-century church, and turbulent clan history with a massacre of 395 MacDonalds in a sea-shore cave. Rising sheer above the island is the crest of the ‘Sgurr of Eigg’ offering a great hike and stunning views across the waters of the Minch to the Outer Hebrides.
Your ship will be anchored in the Sound of Mull which will enable you to explore the fascinating town of Tobermory as well as Loch Sunart.
The Isle of Mull is a large island of sweeping moors, tiny hamlets and castles. Recognised as the island’s capital, Tobermory is a delightful deep-water fishing port where brightly painted Georgian houses ring the tiny bay. Nestled under the steep hillsides, the town has a good variety of cafés and restaurants, book shops, craft shops, a tiny museum and an ancient distillery.
Stretching inland opposite Tobermory and protected by the rugged point of Ardnamurchan, lies Britain’s most westerly mainland point, Loch Sunart. The deep, quiet waters of this long loch offer sheltered kayaking, while the loch shores provide superb walking, perhaps to the recently established distillery. Guarding the entrance of the loch stands 13th-century Mingary Castle, once the stronghold of the MacIains. The castle has been frequently fought over, changing hands many times between the Macdonald and Campbell clans.
Home to over 200 bird species, including the rare and elusive corncrake, this is a gentle island of woods and pretty beaches, such as Kiloran Bay, and with Scalasaig being the main settlement. Colonsay House is home to exotic gardens and the surrounding woods, moors and fields have over 400 species of flora. The island offers easy walking and kayaking in the surrounding waters
Your voyage ends back in Glasgow, home to more than 20 museums and galleries, including the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Riverside Museum. Many of these are housed in distinctive Victorian buildings, some designed by renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This is definitely a city you’ll want to explore more before you head home.
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