Hiking Scotland's Orkney & Shetland Islands (land tour)

Detailed Itinerary


Saturday, August 1, 2015  - DEPART HOME

Sunday, August 2 - Aberdeen, SCOTLAND | Kirkwall, Orkney
Upon your arrival in Aberdeen, Scotland, at no later than 3:00pm, you will be met and transferred to the ferry terminal in Aberdeen, where our group will board the ferry to Kirkwall, Orkney. We will have dinner aboard the ferry, arrive in Kirkwall at about 11:00pm, and transfer to our hotel. Overnight at The Lynnfield Hotel for four nights. (D)

Monday, August 3 - Kirkwall | Mainland Orkney | Kirkwall
Distance 5 mi. Height climbed: negligible
For centuries, people have assumed that the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness were the main Neolithic focus of this area, but recent excavations at the Ness of Brodgar question that interpretation. The stone circles might have been merely on the periphery of the true ceremonial center—a massive ceremonial complex that, in its heyday, must have completely dominated the landscape. Following breakfast, we will visit several important Neolithic sites on mainland Orkney, from the Ring of Brodgar to the Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, which is Britain’s largest chambered cairn. Excavations will be in progress at the Ness of Brodgar, and we will take a private tour of the site. This, the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney,’ which also includes Skara Brae (a site we will visit on August 5th), was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, August 4 - Kirkwall | Isle of Rousay | Kirkwall
Distance 3 mi. Height climbed: 300 ft.
Today we will take the ferry to the Isle of Rousay, where we will wander the most important archaeological mile in Scotland, through 5,000 years of history, visiting a number of burial cairns including Midhowe, Pictish brochs, Viking settlements, and remains of the period of the Earls and the troubled crofting times. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, August 5 - Kirkwall | Skara Brae | Kirkwall
Distance 3 mi. Height climbed: 300 ft.
We start the day with a visit to Skara Brae, possibly Orkney’s most exciting archaeological site, which was buried by a sandstorm in about 2450 B.C. It was well preserved and then revealed by another storm in 1850. Walk south along the spectacular coast with geos, natural arches, caves, and sea stacks, visiting en route the Broch of Borwick, perched high on a headland. Return to our hotel in Kirkwall for our last night on Orkney. (B,L,D)

Thursday, August 6 - Kirkwall | Isle of Hoy | Kirkwall
Distance total 6.75 mi. Heights climbed: 250 & 550 ft.
This morning we will check out of our hotel and take the ferry to Hoy, the highest and wildest of all Orkney Islands. Our walk will take us to the 5,000-year-old monument known as the Dwarfie Stane, an immense block of sandstone lying within a natural amphitheater. This is the only example in northern Europe of a rock-cut tomb similar to the chamber tombs of the Mediterranean. Drive through a glen, along what could be burial mounds, to Rackwick, from where we will walk to the world famous sea stack (at 450 ft.) known as The Old Man of Hoy. Return by ferry to Kirkwall, mainland Orkney, in the afternoon. Dinner tonight will be at The Lynnfield Hotel, before we take the overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Shetland at about 11:00pm. (B,L,D)

Friday, August 7 - Lerwick, Shetland | South Mainland | St. Ninian’s Isle | Brae, North Mainland
Distance 3 mi. Height climbed: negligible
We arrive in Lerwick in the morning, after breakfast on the ferry. Travel south today, visiting Jarlshof and Old Scatness, two archaeological sites that were occupied for more than 4,000 years. There is a remarkable sequence of stone structures: late Neolithic houses, a Bronze Age village, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, a Norse longhouse, a medieval farmstead, and a 16th-century laird’s house. The crucible of Iron Age Shetland, including Old Scatness, Jarlshof, and Mousa Broch (a site we will visit on August 10th), was added by UNESCO in 2012 to the Tentative List of cultural World Heritage sites. Our next stop is St. Ninian’s Isle, which is connected to the mainland by a tombolo (a bar of sand, or shingle). St. Ninian's was settled in pre-Norse times, and the remains of an old chapel are still visible. We will walk across the tombolo and visit the site of the chapel before transferring to our hotel, located near Brae. Overnight at the Busta House Hotel for three nights. (B,L,D)

Saturday, August 8 - Brae | Fethaland | Brae
Distance 6 mi. Height climbed: 450 ft.
Fethaland is the northernmost part of Shetland’s mainland. We walk to a ruined Haaf (meaning “open sea”) fishing station dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The ever-enterprising lairds established this and other Haaf fishing stations on remote northwestern parts of Shetland to profit from the catch of ling and cod during the summer months. Extremely brave fishermen ventured out (50 miles) into the Atlantic Ocean in open boats called sixareens. Set within the fishing station are a large, circular Neolithic house and a ruined Iron Age broch. Other places of interest that we will encounter during our walk are a Viking soapstone quarry, and a 6th-century chapel site and settlement, both situated on precarious headlands. (B,L,D)

Sunday, August 9 - Brae | Isle of Unst | Brae
Distance 3-6 mi. Height climbed: 330-660 ft.
This morning we will take the ferry to the Isle of Unst, where the excavation of three Viking/Late Norse settlements forms the center of the much larger, multi-faceted Viking Unst project. A replica longhouse has been constructed, adjacent to which the replica longship, the Skidbladner, is a copy of the 9th-century Gokstad that was discovered in Vestfold, Norway. We will also visit the northernmost cliffs of the British Isles, which are home to over 100,000 breeding seabirds. (B,L,D)

Monday, August 10 - Brae | Isle of Mousa | Lerwick
Distance 3 mi. Height climbed: negligible
This morning we will check out of our hotel and travel south for the boat to the uninhabited island of Mousa, which is famous for its Iron Age broch—the world’s best-preserved Pictish broch. It rises to 40 feet, and the skill and accuracy of its builders has resulted in a 2,000-year-old construction that appears today as though the builders have just laid the last stone and gone home for the night. Back on mainland we will drive to Lerwick. You will have some free time to explore Lerwick, its shops, and the excellent Shetland Museum & Archives, before we take the overnight ferry to Aberdeen at about 5:30pm. We will have dinner aboard the ferry. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, August 11 - Aberdeen | FLY HOME
Arrive in Aberdeen this morning, and transfer to the airport for flights homeward. Flights should depart Aberdeen no earlier than 11:00am. (B)

If you have any additional questions, please email us at aia@studytours.org (and include your full name) or call us toll-free at (800) 748-6262 (toll: 603-756-2884).