Wild & Ancient Britain

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Tour Description

A trio of timeless lands is included in this comprehensive Britain expedition. Come with us as we delve into the lore and landscapes of Britain, Ireland, and Scotland. Our expedition vessel, the 110-passenger Clipper Odyssey, makes it easy to navigate the narrow channels and waterways of the most remote regions of the British Isles. Our Britain tour includes Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, St. Kilda in the Hebrides, and the Neolithic stones of Orkney, among other treasures. Savor a cuppa with the charming residents of remote Fair Isle. Stroll through subtropical gardens on the Isles of Scilly. This is the best of Britain adventure travel.

Wild and Ancient Britain Expedition Highlights:

  • Skellig Islands, Ireland, one of Europe’s most impressive seabird citadels, with kittiwakes, razorbills, and nesting puffins—a must during any Britain expedition.
  • Train ride on the Isle of Man Steam Railway (Britain’s longest narrow-gauge steam line), through quaint villages and to the resort town of Port Erin.
  • The Shetland Islands, where one of the region’s finest Iron Age ruins is preserved: a 40-foot broch, a dry stone structure, dating from A.D. 200.
  • Bass Rock, one of our favorite stops on this Britain tour for its 100,000 resident gannets—called one of the “Twelve Wildlife Wonders of the World.”
  • Giant’s Causeway, a stunning geological formation and World Hertitage Site.

What to Expect:

Britain adventure travel requires a relatively moderate level of exertion. You will be asked to climb in and out of Zodiacs for excursions ashore. Moderate strolls and more active hikes will be available on this Britain expedition; a few of the excursions will feature rough terrain with rocky, uneven beaches. Expect highs in the 65°F to 75°F range, cooling slightly as you travel north. These itineraries are subject to change, and landings may be tidal or weather dependent, so we only ask for your flexibility and a healthy spirit of adventure.

Itinerary

Day 1

USA / London, England

Depart on your independent overnight flight to London.

Day 2

London

After checking in to our hotel, explore the city at your leisure. This evening we gather for a welcome reception, followed by dinner, staff introductions, and a briefing.

Day 3

London / Plymouth / Embark Clipper Odyssey

After breakfast we depart via train for Plymouth. Enjoy lunch in town before we start our tour of Plymouth including a visit to an Elizabethan house built in 1631 and the City Museum and Art Gallery where painter Joshua Reynolds’ work is displayed in the Cottonian Collection. Birders visit Dartmoor National Park. Known for its blanket bogs, upland heath, and oakwoods, Dartmoor is the largest and highest upland in Southern Britain. This afternoon we board the Clipper Odyssey and settle into our home away from home for the next 12 nights.

Day 4

Isles of Scilly

Once the scourge of seamen whose ships were frequently lost among these 150 or so granitic isles, the Scillys are known today for their lovely beaches, rocky promontories, and ideal climate. Warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, the Isles of Scilly have given their fortunate inhabitants the luxury of turning a passion for growing flowers into a major industry.

This morning we board local boats and cruise to Tresco. Here we visit the ruins and exquisite subtropical gardens at the medieval Tresco Abbey. Set sail in the late afternoon for southern Ireland.

Day 5

Skellig Islands, Ireland

We pass Cape Clear and approach the wonderfully remote Skellig Islands, one of Europe’s most impressive seabird citadels. Little Skellig is home to the second-largest colony of gannets in the world; thousands upon thousands of birds greet our arrival at dawn. Weather and permission permitting we visit nearby Skellig Michael—the site of an important sixth-century Anchorite monastery and now a World Heritage Site. Numerous seabirds are found here including kittiwakes, razorbills, Manx shearwaters, and nesting puffins.

Day 6

Dunmore East / Waterford / Saltee Islands

From the port city of Dunmore East we make our way to Waterford. Settled by Danish invaders who were in turn driven out by the Normans in 1170, this historic town has a wealth of monuments, including a tower built by the Danes in 1003. Options today include a visit to the renowned Waterford Crystal glassworks, where we watch master craftsmen at work, or enjoy a drive through the beautiful countryside to Mount Congreve, a magnificent estate whose grounds comprise some of the most exquisite gardens imaginable. Later we arrive at a fine old pub whose walls date back to Viking times.

Back onboard we sail to the two privately owned islands of the Saltees. These islands attract nearly three million birds to their craggy masses. On Great Saltee Island we search for puffins, murres, razorbills, gannets, and more of the 47 bird species known to inhabit the island.

Day 7

Port St. Mary, Isle of Man

A mid-morning arrival brings us to Port St. Mary on the Isle of Man, situated halfway between Northern Ireland and England. On shore, we board the Isle of Man Steam Railway, the single remnant from the extensive Victorian system that served the main centers on the island. Our ride takes us through quaint and picturesque villages and to the southern resort of Port Erin. At 15.5 miles, the railway is the longest narrow-gauge steam line in Britain.

Day 8

Portrush, Giant’s Causeway & Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland

We spend the morning cruising along the North Antrim Coast, witnessing the dramatic landscape of Northern Ireland. Our ship docks at Portrush, from where we travel overland to the World Heritage Site of Giant’s Causeway. This three-mile section of coastline is a geological masterpiece—some 40,000 closely-packed hexagonal columns of varying heights line the coast and descend like a staircase into the sea. These were formed by the shrinking of basaltic lava that fractured into vertical pillars as it cooled. Those who wish may take a hike through the formations from the interpretive center.

In the afternoon we visit the rugged cliffs of Rathlin Island, greeted by colonies of guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, and puffins. The beauty of the island belies its tumultuous history, and among its infamous sites is Bruce’s Cave, the refuge for the fugitive Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, who later returned to Scotland to rout the British.

Day 9

Isles of Iona & Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Long regarded as a sacred place, Iona was an early center of Celtic Christianity. In A.D. 563 the Christian missionary St. Columba built a monastery here and spread Christianity throughout Scotland. Though it suffered repeated attacks by Vikings over the centuries and the original was destroyed, the monastery was rebuilt each time, and some of these later buildings still stand. We visit the monastery site; the nearby cemetery of St. Oran, where numerous Scottish kings are buried; and the 12th-century Iona Abbey.

Weather permitting, we spend the afternoon exploring the uninhabited island of Staffa by Zodiac and its most famous feature, Fingal’s Cave. The cave’s peculiar rock formations and unusual coloring are a delight to behold, and the wonderful echo of the sea from within once served as the inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

Day 10

St. Kilda & Flannan Islands, Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides, a group of stark and dramatically rugged islands, are one of Britain’s most isolated areas. We spend the morning at St. Kilda, the westernmost island of the group. At one time, St. Kilda was home to a small community; we visit their abandoned houses and cleits, beehive-shaped cells of rough stone where goods were stored.

As we sail among the Flannan Islands this afternoon, puffins, fulmars, murres, and kittiwakes should be plentiful. Of special interest to birders is the Leach’s petrel colony on the grassy slopes of Eilean Mor beneath the lighthouse. Weather permitting, we go ashore.

Day 11

Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

We arrive in the capital city of Kirkwall on Mainland Island in the Orkneys today for visits to the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral and some of the island’s major archaeological sites. Maes Howe, a chambered tomb dating from 3500 B.C., is also noted for its runic hieroglyphs left by visiting 12th-century Vikings. We also explore the enigmatic Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae, a remarkably well preserved Stone Age village buried in sand some 4,500 years ago. This afternoon we enjoy a walking tour of charming Kirkwall.

Day 12

Mousa, Isle of Noss & Lerwick, Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands, a group of remote islands with a distinctly Norse feel to them, are replete with ancient archaeological sites. Mousa (our next stop if the weather permits) boasts one of Britain’s finest Iron Age ruins, an unusually well preserved 40-foot broch, a dry stone structure, dating from about A.D. 200. After visiting the broch, we walk to a nearby beach where gray and common seals often haul out to loll on the beach.

Departing Mousa we cruise by the Isle of Noss, which supports one of Europe’s largest and most diverse seabird colonies, home to 80,000 seabirds. Here we view spectacular cliffs, jam-packed with guillemots, razorbills, gannets, shags, and more.

In the early afternoon we arrive in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands. We enjoy a guided walking tour of the town and environs, which are steeped in Norse heritage. There is also time to browse through the shops and narrow streets, shopping for world famous Shetland sweaters. This evening we overnight pier side on board the Clipper Odyssey.

Day 13

Fair Isle

One of the most isolated settlements in the British Isles, this island is renowned for the quality and intricacy of its hand-made sweaters using the wool of sheep raised on the island. It is also famous as a haven for seabirds including gannets, murres, black-legged kittiwakes, numerous gull species, and a large colony of puffins. After a short walk, we join some of the 70 islanders at their community center for tea and cakes, and a visit to the local museum.

Day 14

Isle of May / Bass Rock / Leith

The Isle of May is another of Scotland’s great seabird islands. Conditions permitting, we use our Zodiacs to visit the small bird observatory on the island. The number of birds is staggering, and they are astonishingly fearless. This is a wonderful final day: here we find puffins by the thousands, kittiwakes blanketing the cliffsides, shags on every available rock, and eider ducks at our feet.

On our way to Leith we circumnavigate Bass Rock, renowned for its 100,000 resident gannets—the largest gannet colony in the world. Seals often haul out on the surrounding rocks and numerous other seabirds command the lower regions of the island, including guillemots, razorbills, and shags. The pioneer nature documentary broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough, calls Bass Rock “one of the Twelve Wildlife Wonders of the World.”

In the evening we arrive in Leith, the port for Edinburgh. Dinner and overnight pier side on board the Clipper Odyssey.

Day 15

Leith / Edinburgh / USA

After breakfast on board, transfer to Edinburgh airport for your independent flights homeward.

Departures

Pricing Information

Clipper Odyssey

One of the finest adventure ships afloat, the Clipper Odyssey is a 110-passenger luxury expedition vessel, ideally suited for cruising in off-the-beaten-path locales. On all Clipper Odyssey expeditions, guests have access to a fleet of Zodiacs, which allows remote landings anywhere nature or curiosity dictates. All cabins on a Clipper Odyssey cruise have an ocean view, safe, minibar, individually controlled heat/air conditioner, in-room music system, and sitting area with sofa. Beds can be configured for twin or queen-size sleeping arrangements, and all cabins have an en suite bathroom complete with shower and small bathtub. In the comfort of their cabin, passengers can track the progress of their expedition on the Global Positioning System broadcast—a highlight of a Clipper Odyssey voyage for adventure-minded guests. Additional facilities include a gourmet kitchen featuring American and international cuisine, dining room, lounge, small library and gym, outdoor pool, and gift shop. An elevator services all passenger cabin decks. Ship registry: Bahamas.

All prices are in US dollars and do not include international airfare, unless otherwise noted.

Prices displayed are based on the lowest season base price and assume double occupancy. Prices are shown in U.S. dollars and may or may not include administrative fees, taxes, meals, airfare (where applicable) and Single Supplements. Cancellation penalties, blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.

Options and Extras

Tour Notes

Flights are not included in the cost of expeditions; however, Zegrahm Expeditions has a fully-staffed air department that can assist you with flight arrangements. Since many of our expeditions embark and disembark from remote destinations, the airports that serve these areas often have limited carriers and/or daily flights. As such, our air team is well-versed in planning complex routings for our travelers.