Hiking Scotland’s Western Isles (land tour)
Sunday, August 16, 2015 - Depart Home
Monday, August 17 - Glasgow, Scotland | Isle of Mull
Arrive in Glasgow, Scotland, at no later than 12:00pm, and you will be met and transferred to Oban in Argyll, for the ferry to the Isle of Mull. Overnight at The Western Isles Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, August 18 – Isle of Mull: Tobermory: Dun Ara and standing stones | Duart Castle
Distance: 3 miles Ascent: 300 ft.
Our first walk is one with great views, taking in the remains of an Iron Age dun (hill fort), an early medieval castle, a disused harbor, a depopulated settlement and standing stones. We will then visit Duart Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean and for 400 years the base of their sea-born power. The castle was abandoned from 1751 until 1910, when what was left of it was purchased by Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 26th Chief, who set about the enormous task of restoring the building to the impressive state it is in today. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, August 19 - Isle of Mull | Isles of Staffa and Iona | Isle of Mull
Short walks on both islands.
Today we will visit two islands off the coast of Mull: Staffa and Iona. The beautiful, uninhabited island of Staffa is our first stop, and best known for its magnificent basalt columns. Their effect is most overwhelming at An Uamh Binn (musical cave) or, as it is more commonly known, Fingal’s Cave, which has enthralled and inspired travelers for hundreds of years. From Staffa we cruise to Iona, an enduring symbol of Christianity in Scotland. St. Columba and his followers came here from Ireland in A.D. 563 and founded a monastery that became the heart of the early Scottish Church. St. Columba’s fame attracted pilgrims to Iona from the 7th century onwards. The island also served as a burial ground for important and holy people, including kings of Scotland (among them Macbeth, who died in A.D. 1057). Viking raiders ransacked the monastery around A.D. 800, but Iona’s role as a beacon of faith was never extinguished. An abbey and nunnery were established here around 1200 and the island was a focus for medieval pilgrimage. The restored abbey church is now at the island’s heart. Other remnants of the island’s medieval heyday that survive include the ruined nunnery, intricately carved 8th- and 9th-century crosses, and carved grave slabs. (B,L,D)
Thursday, August 20 - Isle of Mull | Isle of Skye
Distance and ascent negligible
Take the ferry to Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan, and travel north through Lochaber (along the ‘Road to the Isles’) to Mallaig, where we catch the ferry to Skye. This is a peaceful and remote part of the west Highlands, with high mountains and narrow lochs. Stop at Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel, where Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) raised his standard on 19 August 1745, marking the start of his campaign to restore the exiled Stuarts to the Scottish throne. The Glenfinnan Monument commemorates the Jacobites who fought and fell during the 1745 uprising. Overnight at Kinloch Lodge for two nights. (B,L,D)
Friday, August 21 - Isle of Skye: High Pasture Cave and Cuillin mountains
Distance: 3 miles Ascent: 250 ft.
Uamh An Ard Achadh (Cave of the High Field or High Pasture Cave) is our first stop today. The cave lies in a shallow valley and contains around 1050 ft. of accessible passages. Archaeological fieldwork at the site from 2002 to 2010 has included a survey of the cave passages, the collection of material from the disturbed sediments, and a detailed survey of surface features relating to the cave, including a geophysical survey. These include a complex of structures of possible prehistoric date, which may be contemporary with the deposits identified in the cave. In the afternoon, a boat from Elgol across the sea-loch Scavaig will take us into the heart of the beautiful, jagged Cuillin mountains. Along the way we should see seals (there may be 150 or more on sunny days), many seabirds and, if we are lucky, dolphins. Return to Elgol by boat. (B,L,D)
Saturday, August 22 - Isle of Skye: Talisker Distillery, Dun Beag, Oronsay | Isle of Harris
Distance: 4 miles Ascent: 330 ft.
We start the day with a tour of the famous Talisker Distillery and Visitor Centre. After enjoying a dram of Skye’s only single malt whisky, we will walk to Dun Beag broch, a circular, tower-like structure with double walls. The walls of Dun Beag still stand up to 16 feet high. During excavations a large amount of prehistoric and more recent artifacts were found, suggesting a prolonged use of the broch. In the afternoon we will walk across the causeway to the island of Oronsay. Oronsay is a Norse word for “a tidal island.” There are at least 20 Oronsays (or Ornsays) in the Hebrides, including two on Skye. The island has impressive cliffs and although it is now uninhabited, there are traces of habitation going back thousands of years, including an ancient fish trap along the causeway. Afterward, take the ferry from Uig to Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris. Overnight at the Hotel Hebrides for four nights. (B,L,D)
Sunday, August 23 - Isle of Harris
Distance: 5 miles Ascent: 300 ft.
Harris boasts some of Britain’s finest white sand beaches, and we will explore some of these long beaches on the island’s western side. Our walk will take us across machair, past dunes and a number of superb beaches, to a medieval chapel. Machair is fertile, well-drained grassland formed by sand being blown over the peat. It forms a unique habitat, rich in birdlife and early summer meadow flowers. The ruins of the chapel date from the 15th century, but the site has been occupied by a building for about 2,000 years (prior to the current chapel was a Viking one, and earlier still there was an Iron Age broch). We will also visit the 16th-century St. Clements Church in Rodel, with its fine stone carvings. (B,L,D)
Monday, August 24 – Isle of Harris | North Uist | Isle of Harris
Distance: 4 miles Ascent: negligible
We will travel south for the ferry from Leverburgh across the Sound of Harris to North Uist. The Sound of Harris is full of islands, islets and rocks, and the route followed by the ferry is a kind of roundabout. We will walk around Balranald Nature Reserve, along white sandy, machair shorelines managed with traditional crofting agriculture, to see rare birds in their natural habitats. The eroding remains of prehistoric and medieval settlements are visible along the shoreline, where sea level rise and storms have removed the protecting sand. Early medieval crosses in nearby Kilmuir Church’s yard emphasize the importance of the area. (B,L,D)
Tuesday, August 25 - Isle of Harris | Isle of Lewis: Callanish, Dun Carloway, Gearrannan | Isle of Harris
Distance: 2.5 miles Ascent: negligible
Begin the day with a visit to the magnificent, 5,000 year old Standing Stones of Callanish (Calanais in Gaelic). The main stone complex contains around 50 stones. A ring of large stones about 39.5 ft. in diameter surround a huge monolith at its center and the remains of a chambered cairn. There are lines of stones running north, south, east, and west from the stone circle, and a number of other stone circles are nearby. In the absence of any sure knowledge, theories as to the meaning and purpose of these stones abound. Continue on to Dun Carloway, one of the best-preserved Iron Age brochs in western Scotland. The broch was probably built in the 1st century B.C., and radiocarbon dating shows that it was last occupied around A.D. 1300. End the day with a visit to the blackhouse village of Gearrannan, which dates back to the 1600s. The houses were still inhabited until the second half of the 20th century. The double drystone walls, low profile, and insulating thatch made blackhouses well suited to the Hebridean climate. We visit the museum, which provides insights into life in the village in the mid-1900s, including demonstrations of Harris Tweed weaving. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, August 26 - Isle of Harris | Glasgow | Fly Home
In the morning we travel to Stornoway for a one-hour flight back to Glasgow to connect with flights homeward (which should depart Glasgow no earlier than 3:15pm). (B)
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