We were welcomed to Orkney with blue skies and sunshine and crystal-clear waters. If it wasn’t for the chilly wind, we might have wanted to dip into the sea for a swim!
Our first stop was at Papa Westray, where we walked to the remains of the earliest permanent settlement at Knap of Howar. Dating from 3500 BC, the houses at this settlement are some of the best preserved and most visible early Neolithic settlement in Europe. We also saw St. Boniface Kirk, standing tall above the rocky shore.
We then returned to the ship for lunch before heading out again to North Ronaldsay, where we visited the grave of Halfdan Longlegs, the son of the Norwegian King Harald Fairhair. At the nearby lighthouse, we heard stories from the lighthouse keeper who had worked there for over 50 years.
Anna's love for nature and wildlife can be traced back to her upbringing, where she spent her childhood exploring the diverse landscapes of Scotland. From the dramatic mountains of the highlands to the beautiful bays and beaches found along the coast...
The entrance to the dock in Aberdeen was quite tight but that was no problem for Captain Heidi and her bridge team. It was very pleasant to wake up to a blue sky with only a few clouds. Also, the wind had eased, and it promised to be just right for the three excursions planned for the day. Some guests visited a farm on the edge of the city that specialized in breeding Highland cows. There were many cows in the herd along with three bulls. Grace, the farmer we met, also raised a small flock of sheep and some goats. Meanwhile, another group visited a museum covering the exploits and adventures of the “Gordon’s Highlanders” regiment, beloved by Winston Churchill. Another group went to see the Pitmedden Gardens, about 12 miles outside Aberdeen. Pitmedden Gardens is a very formal garden with parterres and lots of borders, which will soon be filled with thousands of bedding plants. There are impressive walls all around the garden, which are covered with espaliered fruit trees, which stretched for hundreds of yards. The blossom was beginning to show, promising a beautiful show. The garden is kept in tiptop condition by three fulltime gardeners, who are helped by volunteers. Back to the ship and one last lunch before we face the sad reality of packing for home. But there was one last lecture in the Ice Lounge, given by our geologist Joe Holliday, informing us about plate tectonics and formation of the British and Irish Isles. Rounding off this wonderful expedition was the world premiere of the guest slideshow, which is made up of photographs taken by guests and collated by Lisa Hornak, our photo instructor. And, judging by the high quality of the photographs, Lisa has done a fine job this trip. Lastly, it fell to Captain Heidi to bring the expedition to a close, with amusing words written by a young boy on why he wanted to be a ship’s captain. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and tomorrow we must all say goodbye to Britain’s “Wild Isles.” For now.
Another dawn found us waking to a grey overcast Orkney sky. As the ship berthed, announcements were made for a landing to discover Orkney’s wonderful ancient treasures. We set off into the stunning landscape of rolling hills, green fields, and seemingly endless coastlines. Our guides set the scene with local history before we turned down a narrow road to the Stones of Stenness and the famous Ring of Brodgar. These ancient giants were erected by Neolithic people living 4,000 years ago. At one time, there might have been 60 of these stones. Despite the rain and wind, our intrepid adventurers continued walking around these wonderful stones, pondering the enormous effort it must have taken to erect them. Our journey continued to the coast and the amazing prehistoric site of Skara Brae. Uncovered by a storm in 1850, Skara Brae gives a remarkable picture of life 5,000 years ago, before Stonehenge was built. These fascinating buildings truly give a glimpse of life in the past as if trapped in a timeframe under the sand for thousands of years. The fascinating interiors revealed a higher than standard lifestyle, including stone beds, dressers, and seats. Some of us opted to go on a bird watching trip along the coastline of mainland Orkney. We were delighted with sights and sounds of birds such as turnstone, lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, and some shoveler, pochard, and a beautiful glimpse of a hen harrier. Writer: Seamus Macletchie
This morning, we awoke with National Geographic Resolution positioned in front of Noss Head, the southernmost part of the Shetland Islands. The 200-foot cliffs were made of red bed sandstone, the same rocks as the Catskills in New York since the Caledonian mountains of Scotland are a continuation of the Appalachians. There were thousands of beautiful gannets flying around the cliffs, coming and going from their nests. These white and buff-colored seabirds nest off on narrow ledges on these vertical rock cliffs to avoid predators. After breakfast, we departed from the ship for our morning activities. Most guests went on hikes along coastal sea cliffs of the Shetland Islands. We walked by several moors, which are uncultivated highland areas covered in low-growing heath. There were sea birds flying over the coast, sheep grazing in the meadows, and sea cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic. There were curious circular stone enclosures where farmers grew cabbage protected from the winds and high latitude (60 degrees North) weather. Several groups stopped to learn about the famous Shetland ponies, which were bread with long hair and short legs. We learned that these ponies are exported all around the world. As with the sheep, there were several babies at this time of year. Many guests stopped to visit a local fisherman, who showed off his one-man fishing boat. He explained, in his heavy Scottish accent and dialect, that he catches fish, crabs, and lobster, depending on the time of year. In the afternoon, some groups went hiking along the sea cliffs. There also was a walking tour of Lerwick, where we learned the fascinating history of this quaint town. The Shetland Islands were originally populated by the Vikings and Scandinavian languages were spoken here until the islands were handed over to Scotland in the 1700s. The town started as a fishing village, and then grew up the slope when it became the government center of the islands in the 1800s. Most of the buildings are Georgian style, with symmetrical stone block structures, giving it a distinct Scottish feel. During recap, we learned about sea birds nesting on sea cliffs and photo tips. After a delicious dinner, the ship cruised out of Lerwick Harbor and then south toward another great location in Scotland.