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On this special 8-day voyage with Albatros, you will get a unique chance to visit no less than seven Scottish islands. Each one is begging to tell you stories about a dramatic past reaching back millions of years to a birth from hot molten lava, millenniums to stone age dwellings – or just 12 years to create splendid single malt whiskies.
Your journey begins in the port of Greenock on the Scottish West Coast. Embarking on Albatros’ expedition vessel Ocean Atlantic you'll head for the island of Islay, home to several world-famous brands of peaty whiskies. Further north you'll visit Oban and Iona and onwards to Staffa and Rùm with their dramatic displays of volcanic eruptions. During evening lectures on board, you will gain an understanding into their geological history.
Your journey continues to the Outer Hebrides to visit remote Hirta in the St. Kilda archipelago and Lewis in the town of Stornoway. North of the mainland lie the rugged and scenic islands of Orkney, home to some of Europe’s oldest preserved dwellings – and Scotland’s northernmost whisky factory! The voyage ends in Aberdeen, in mainland Scotland. This spring cruise onboard Ocean Atlantic is the ultimate journey in the exciting Scottish waters, complete with whisky, wildlife and spectacular landscapes!
Day 1: Greenock, (Glasgow)
Day 2: Islay
Day 3: Oban & Iona
Day 4: Staffa & Rùm
Day 5: St. Kilda
Day 6: Stornoway
Day 7: Kirkwall, Orkney
Day 8: Aberdeen
Your journey begins in Greenock, where MV Ocean Atlantic is located by the dock. If you arrive early, why not take a walk on the Esplanade, which is a road right down by the water. From the road, you can see across the Clyde to the Highlands, Kilcreggan and Helensburgh. Fine views to start your adventure with. Boarding is in the afternoon, where the cabins are designated. After the mandatory security review and drill, your ship will sail out along the coast of Greenock that has seen active fishing boats since as far back as the year 1164
The smell of peat and smoke fills your nostrils as you approach Islay. For decades, the peat has been the primary source of fuel on this small Inner Hebridean island. This, the most southernmost of the island group is known as the Queen of the Hebrides. The island has around 3200 inhabitants and an impressive 130 miles of beautiful coastline.
You will use the ship's Zodiacs to land at the Bunnahabhain distillery where you will take a short tour of the distillery, learning about the process of whisky making from start to finish. Afterwards, a tasting is well deserved. A visit including tasting typically takes 30 minutes. Islay is probably best known for its malt whiskies and has a total of eight working distilleries. Whisky is one of the most important sources of income for the island. The whisky they produce is soft, dry, smoked and dusty at the same time. For this reason, Islay is the most visited of all the inner Hebrides in proportion to its size.
Be sure to be on the lookout for wildlife while you navigate around Islay and the Hebrides, where seals, otters, geese, waders and golden eagles amongst others, have their home.
Today’s first visit will be steeped in Christian history as you visit the small pilgrimage island of Iona. It is considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland with the arrival of St. Columba in AD 563 and the founding of the Abbey. The Abbey’s long history is rich with Viking attacks, foreign monks and even abandonment at one time, before being reconstructed to its present state. Today, Iona remains a place of pilgrimage and spirituality. Your visit entails a walk around the small town and free time around the Abbey.
The capital on the Scottish west coast is Oban. A picturesque Scottish harbour town called "The Gate of the Hebrides", Oban offers typical Scottish city life. If you want more exercise, it is highly recommended to walk up to McCaig’s Tower, built in the 19th century. A monument that resembles the Colosseum of Rome. Whisky is of course present here: In Oban, clearly, they have ‘Oban’, a small town distillery with a big whisky production (open every day, including Sundays). A more historical visit could be the Oban War and Peace museum that has excellent displays depicting Oban over the years (not only during the war). After your afternoon visit, your ship will continue northbound towards Staffa.
Venturing south around Mull during the night, you will come upon a truly marvellous natural oddity. You'll land at the small isle of Staffa. The islands hexagonal basaltic pillars were formed many million years ago, and look breathtaking. If the weather conditions allow it, you will make your way into Fingal’s cave. Staffa is uninhabited but many visitors come to see the natural wonders and formations. One such guest was the composer Felix Mendelssohn. So inspired by the sounds and views, that the composition “the Hebrides” was composed shortly after his visit. Keep a lookout for puffins, herring gulls or other flyers whilst you traverse the wonderful little island.
While navigating the waters to Staffa and beyond, keep your eyes open for sightings of dolphins, porpoises and minke whales, who are all regular guests of this area in the warm periods.
After your first stop of the day, set your sights on the more northernly isle of Rúm. The mountain filled island allows you to take a walk in nature or join a group tour to the famous Kinloch Castle. Easily the most famous building on the island, the castle was built by George Bullough who inherited the whole island from his father. The island was a private sporting estate from 1845-1957. If you opt to take a walk, the rugged landscape offers great trails and views. You board your ship and now set off towards the remote St. Kilda.
Today you will arrive at the dramatic and isolated island of Hirta, famous for its highest sea cliffs in the United Kingdom. Your ship has traversed 45 miles west of the Outer Hebrides coast to reach this most remote part of the United Kingdom. The uninhabited island has remnants of human heritage, in the shape of medieval villages and architecture. The islands were mainly used for seabird hunting and grazing. The last 36 St Kildans left on 29 August 1930 because life had become too difficult on the remote archipelago. Today there are summer residents in a mix of staff from owners of the National Trust for Scotland, volunteers and scientists.
The volcanic archipelago that consists of the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray has made its way on the UNESCO world heritage list, holding a dual status of both natural and cultural treasure. The spectacular natural landscapes, hidden coves, rugged terrain and bird-rich coasts are what we will spend our time on during our visit.
St Kilda is a breeding ground for many important seabird species. So you will be on the lookout for northern gannets, Leach’s petrels, puffins and the northern fulmar, and if we are extremely lucky, you may find the endemic St Kilda wren pecking for insects in the thick vegetation around the cliffs and rocky slopes. When seaborne, keep your eyes peeled for sea mammals, which in these areas also could include humpbacks and even orcas.
In the afternoon, you will continue your voyage towards the Outer Hebrides.
As your Jewels of the Scottish isles voyage continues, you will navigate through the northwestern part of Scotland. You are now in the remote string of islands known as the Outer Hebrides, herein lies the Isle of Lewis and Harris, a rugged and bleakly beautiful land of heather and moor, loch and stream; home to the main harbour town of Stornoway.
Arriving in the main town in the early morning, you may wish to join an optional excursion that takes in the wild scenery of the Outer Hebrides and ancient history in the form of the Neolithic Callanish Standing Stones. Expect the guides to share many stories behind the sights we pass.
Back in Stornoway, board the ship to sail during lunch, so it can circumnavigate the Shiant islands before setting off towards the Orkney Islands.
The Shiant isles translate from Gaelic to something like “enchanted isles”. The privately-owned islands have large populations of seabirds and its protected marine area make it what some would call “paradise for observations”.
During the night your ship will have sailed out into the waters between the Outer and Inner Hebrides, and in the morning you'll reach the town of Kirkwall on the windy Orkney off the mainland of Scotland. Orkney is old Norse for the "seal islands", and, like the other North Atlantic islands, Orkney has a rich Viking story.
MS Maud will depart Kirkwall and head into the west of Mainland, Orkney’s largest island. Along the way, you will pass through rolling gentle landscapes into the Neolithic Heartland of Orkney, an area designated as a World Heritage Site due to its wealth of pre-historic archaeology. Passing the Standing Stones of Stenness, you will stop at the 5000-year-old ceremonial circle: the Ring of Brodgar. From here you continue to Skara Brae, Northern Europe's Pompeii, which was hidden for almost 5000 years before a massive storm (150 years ago) revealed the ancient settlement. The 10 small homes are almost ready for moving into, fully furnished and with sanitation - all made in stone.
Day 8: Aberdeen
The captain will lead the ship southwards along the east coast of Scotland and you’ll arrive in Aberdeen, Scotland's third-largest city. At this time you’ll say farewell to the ship and its crew before departing for the airport and beginning the return journey.
Newly renovated in 2016, Albatros Expeditions' Ocean Atlantic is a ship purpose-built for expedition cruising in the polar regions, and one of the strongest ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctica. Her powerful engines are designed for extreme voyages, allowing her guests the opportunity to both witness and get up-close to the incredible polar wildlife and the regions' awe-inspiring scenery.
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