My latest trip took me from Edinburgh across the rolling highlands of Scotland to the port of Inverness to board our small ship, the Variety Voyager, for a 10-day cruise to explore several hidden gems in the British Isles. It was sponsored by Vantage Deluxe World Travel.
The Highlands, which were once dominated by the clans are now an area of low rolling hills in one of the least populated areas of Europe. We stopped for lunch at a chateau in Pitlochry with grounds full of heather and other flowers.
Our first stop on our cruise was at the Neolithic island of Orkney, which played an important role in both World Wars in helping to protect the British fleet. We saw the concrete barriers named after Churchill that protected the fleet from Nazi subs. We landed in Orkney at Stromness, which was once a major whaling port. We saw a small chapel built by Italian POW’s imprisoned during World War II. On a tour of the island we inspected the Skara Brae prehistoric site that was discovered in 1850 when a coastal storm uncovered this 3,000-year-old village of stone dwellings. We saw evidence, including foundations, walls, and ceremonial sights revealing its interesting ancient past. It is known as Europe’s best preserved prehistoric structure. It predates Stonehenge and the Pyramids. Later in the day we climbed a hill to see another prehistoric site, the Ring of Brodgar, a wide ancient circle of standing stones. Twenty-one of the original 60 large stones remain a mystery of possible rituals or beliefs.
The next day’s visit to the Isle of Lewis was even more remarkable as we saw an even more famous and larger group of huge standing stones at the Callanish Neolithic Monument that predates Stonehenge by 1,000 years. It is magnificent and well preserved high on a hill overlooking a sound. Some of the stones form a circle in the middle and others are positioned in a line. It is a remarkable sight but its isolation on this island makes it less known and observed than Stonehenge.
Also on Lewis Island we toured the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village which has maintained and preserved thatched roof cottages that were occupied on the island for centuries. Some of the villages weave Harris Tweed garments.
Our next destination was the coastal fishing village of Ullapool, which is known for its many white-washed houses and buildings which line all its streets. It was first settled by the Norse who recognized its safe haven in a semicircular sheltered bay. This quaint village is quite picturesque.
The Isle of Skye was our next destination in Scotland. Since it was raining heavily, we didn’t fully appreciate the dramatic sea cliffs, rugged mountains and colorful fishing villages. A local citizen mentioned that there are more sheep and cows on the island than people. Even in the rain we were able to see its botanical beauty and flowing landscape.
Our final stop in Scotland was at the bright and colorful town of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. The homes along the sheltered bay are painted in a multiple of very vivid colors that make it one of the most attractive and picturesque towns I have seen. Another claim to its fame is the cheese by its Friesian cows who feed on a discarded and fermented grain from a local distillery. It tasted better than any beverage. Later we toured the Duart Castle overlooking the sound before we left our last island in Scotland.
We sailed next to Belfast in Northern Ireland. We enjoyed a panoramic tour of this historic city which is known for the era “troubles” between the British loyalists and Irish republicans over the political status in the country. In the afternoon I visited the Titanic Museum which illustrates the tragic story of the ill-fated ship which was sunk after hitting a glacier on its maiden voyage. The Titanic was built in Belfast.
Our next stop was at the Isle of Man, which occupies the sea between England and Ireland. The Isle is actually an independent country. First, we toured the Castle Rushen, a massive former Viking fortification. Next, we visited the small village of Cregneash, which preserves and maintains some small stone cottages in their original state and appearance. The Isle has been designated a UNESCO world heritage biosphere state because of its success in maintaining its culture, heritage and communities.
We docked next in Holyhead, Wales, and proceeded to visit the famous 13th century Castle of Caernarfon, built by Edward I to protect the country. It is a very impressive and impregnable fortress with thick walls and large towers. We concluded our day with a meal at a 15th century inn.
Then we docked at Fishguard, Wales, and ventured to the famous pilgrimage Cathedral of St. David, which was built in the 12th century. A monastery has been on the site since the 6th century to honor St. David. The town is also known as the smallest city in the United Kingdom.
On the final day of our voyage we docked in Bristol, England, stopped to see the Roman Baths and Abbey, before heading home from London. It was a very impressive, informative, and interesting trip with many historic sights.
Dave Pattison has lived in Marco Island since 1999. He has traveled to every continent and over 100 countries, and still takes five-six trips annually. Dave is a well respected travel writer, winning first place in a Florida Press Association contest. Dave was a lawyer/lobbyist for the insurance industry, and had worked in the White House for four years before retiring. A widower, Dave has four adult children and five grandchildren.