For those who go off the beaten path, there are places in the British Isles where nature is still wild and history can be touched. This 12-day expedition-style voyage from Portsmouth to Edinburgh is your chance to discover some of the British Isles’ most historically significant and wildlife-rich destinations. Cruising aboard M/V Sea Spirit, a small, luxury expedition ship is the perfect way to visit difficult-to-access locations where tourist value far exceeds tourist numbers.
The expedition begins with beautiful Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. In Scotland, you'll explore early Christian history on the peaceful Isle of Iona, magnificent archaeological sites in the Orkney Islands, and exciting birdlife on Shetland’s beautiful Fair Isle en route to Edinburgh.
Considered the home of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth has a rich maritime heritage which sets the mood for the beginning of your exciting voyage. In the afternoon you will be welcomed onboard the deluxe expedition ship Sea Spirit.
The Isles of Scilly is a group of small islands off the coast of Cornwall boasting mild weather, secluded beaches, enchanting wildlife and a relaxed lifestyle. On the lovely, sand-fringed island of Tresco, Bronze Age burial sites and romantic 17th-century castle ruins reveal a long and dramatic history. On the hallowed grounds of a Benedictine abbey, you'll discover the exquisite Tresco Abbey Garden with its spectacular collection of more than 20,000 exotic plants from all corners of the world. Here you will also find the Valhalla Museum, a collection of colourful figureheads salvaged from the islands’ shipwrecks. Delightful cafés and local shops enrich your experience even further.
Dunmore East is a popular tourist and fishing village in County Waterford on Ireland’s southeastern coast. From here it is a short journey through scenic countryside to the House of Waterford Crystal. Here you can take a guided tour of the factory to see the master craftsmen at work as well as the world’s largest collection of their wares. Also nearby is Mount Congreve, a magnificent 18th-century Georgian estate and botanical gardens containing thousands of plant species on 70 acres of intensively planted woodland and a four-acre walled garden.
On day 5 you'll visit the Saltee Islands. The larger island, Great Saltee, is the most famous bird sanctuary in Ireland. These Islands are privately owned and are one of the world's major bird sanctuaries. The Saltees are a haven for sea birds, nurturing an impressive array of Gannets and Gulls to Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. They also lie on an important migratory route and a popular stopping-off place for spring and autumn migrants.
Your port of call for today is the vibrant seaside town of Llandudno in the north of Wales. From here you'll embark on a scenic overland tour of Snowdonia National Park. You will explore some of the wildest and most dramatic landscapes in Britain and discover craggy mountains, stunning waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, dense woodlands and flowering meadows. Snowdonia is also renowned for wildlife including otters, water voles, wild ponies and rare birds such as dotterel and peregrine falcon. You'll enjoy a delightful stop at the charming and distinctively Welsh town of Betws-y-Coed in the Gwydyr Forest.
A visit to Conwy Castle is also on your list. UNESCO considers Conwy to be one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe", and it is classed as a World Heritage site. Divided into an Inner and an Outer Ward, it is defended by eight large towers and two barbicans, with a postern gate leading down to the river, allowing the castle to be resupplied from the sea.
This morning, you will disembark at the small seaside resort town of Portrush in Northern Ireland. You'll travel overland to the world-famous Giant’s Causeway. Here you'll discover a geological masterpiece—40,000 closely packed hexagonal basalt columns of varying heights descending like a staircase into the sea. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. In this area, you are also able to spot various seabirds such as fulmar, petrel, cormorant, shag, redshank, guillemot and razorbill.
This afternoon, you'll pause at Rathlin Island, the only inhabited offshore island of Northern Ireland with a population of about 150. It’s a popular spot for daytrippers, who come to see the tens of thousands of common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills. The island is of prehistoric volcanic origin and is one of 43 Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland.
Today you'll visit the uninhabited island of Staffa, weather permitting. This island of volcanic origin is easily recognised by its striking colonnade of hexagonal basalt pillars. Here you'll explore the island’s most famous feature, Fingal’s Cave. Reaching deep into the island, the undulating sea plays upon the stunning matrix of columnar basalt to create an eerie melody which was the inspiration for Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. The rugged island also provides nesting sites for seabirds including guillemots, razorbills and puffins.
Today you will also explore beautiful and serene Iona, a small island in the Inner Hebrides just off the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. At the gorgeous Iona Abbey, founded in 563 AD, you'll be spellbound by one of Scotland’s most historic and sacred sites and indeed one of the oldest Christian religious centres in Western Europe. The adjacent graveyard is said to be the final resting place of numerous medieval kings, including Macbeth. In addition to its historical and religious significance, Iona is well known for its soul-soothing tranquillity, white sand beaches and excellent birdwatching.
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, are a chain of dramatically rugged islands off the west coast of mainland Scotland. The most isolated of these is St Kilda. This remote and storm-ravaged island was continuously inhabited for at least two millennia by peoples of extraordinary hardiness. But as the modern world closed in after World War I, the remaining inhabitants chose to evacuate. Now you will find only their rough stone buildings and distinctive storehouses called cleitean, all set amidst some of the most dramatic island scenery in the British Isles. Nature-lovers will be delighted, as the island is home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds, two early types of sheep, and over 130 species of flowering plants.
Your crew will also plan for a close cruise-by of Stac Lee, a sea stack about four miles northeast of St. Kilda’s main island of Hirta. It is home to part of the world’s largest colony of northern gannet. When St. Kilda had a permanent population, islanders would come here, precariously leaping ashore to hunt birds and gather eggs
Today, you'll disembark in Stromness for an overland tour of Mainland, the largest of the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland. Attractions such as the well-preserved 5000-year-old village site at Skara Brae and the ancient Ring of Brodgar within the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” showcase the world-class cultural heritage of the island. You will finish your island tour in the charming village of Kirkwall, where you will find the landmark Saint Magnus Cathedral, built in the Romanesque style in the 12th century. You will also have free time to roam the old streets of Kirkwall and enjoy its unique atmosphere before we head to our next destination
On Fair Isle—an isolated island of rolling moorlands and rugged coastlines—one is easily enchanted by historic crofts, picturesque lighthouses, and friendly locals. The island is famous among birders for its abundance of British birds and for its numerous records of eastern rarities and migrants. Fair Isle is also one of Europe’s best places to watch seabirds, especially puffins, at close range. Additionally, the island is notable for the abundance and diversity of its wildflowers. Seals are also commonly seen in their bays. Finally, during your visit, it will be possible to see and purchase articles hand-knitted in the intricate and distinctive style for which Fair Isle has been celebrated for hundreds of years
Both of these uninhabited islands are in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. The Isle of May is a national nature reserve and includes significant colonies of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags, cormorants and terns. Harbour seals and grey seals can be spotted along the shores. There are also some historic architectural sites, including St. Ardin’s Chapel, the lighthouse and the Low and Light Cottages.
The island known as “the Bass” plays host to over 150,000 northern gannets in the breeding season, making it the world’s largest colony of these magnificent birds. The island’s steep walls are white with guano and the sky all around is darkened by the vast multitude of seabirds in flight. Your voyage is perfectly timed to coincide with this amazing spectacle—truly one of the wildlife wonders of the world.
After breakfast onboard Sea Spirit you will say farewell in Leith, Edinburgh’s vibrant port district.
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