Explore the rugged landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and Islands on this popular tour to one of the most extraordinary places in Northern Europe.
After a trip on both of Northeast Scotland’s steam traction heritage railways, you’ll experience the midsummer ‘White Nights’, when the sun never entirely sets, on the sea ferry to the enchanting island of Orkney. For three days you’ll explore its pristine beaches, stunning coastline and mystical rock formations, including the famed Ring of Brodgar. There’s a distillery visit to savour and a trip to the ‘Churchill Barrier’ causeway roads, built for defensive purposes during World War II included. On returning to the Scottish mainland you’ll journey over the most northerly railway in the UK and cap your magical tour of northern Scotland with two nights in Inverness, and journeys on the nostalgic Strathspey Steam Railway and the panoramic Cairngorm Mountain Railway in the heart of the Highlands. With fine cuisine, the services of a tour manager included, and comfortable accommodation guaranteed, book now to avoid missing out on this thrilling once-in-a-lifetime adventure holiday.
London to Aberdeen
Your adventure begins in the plush First-Class lounge at London Kings Cross, for a mid-morning departure from London to Aberdeen. Travelling along the East Coast Main Line aboard the HST 125 trainset, you’ll enjoy complimentary drinks and a light lunch as the train travels north via York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. You cross the stunning Firth of Forth and Tay Bridges and arrive in Aberdeen in late afternoon, checking into your conveniently located city centre hotel. The rest of the evening will be spent at leisure in the ‘Granite City’, exploring this hub of Northeast Scotland. (L)
Steam at the Royal Deeside Railway and Crathes Castle
You’ll visit both of Northeast Scotland’s steam traction heritage railways during the next two days, starting with the Royal Deeside Railway west of Aberdeen. This delightful standard gauge railway features a two-mile round trip through rural scenery and gentle rolling hills, running close to its namesake river. There’ll be photo opportunities en route and a ‘false arrival’ staged at the station for more. After your trip a private coach takes you a mile down the road to the fairy-tale Crathes Castle, replete with turreted towers and walled gardens. There’ll be plenty of time to explore this stylish estate before a late lunch is taken at the nearby Milton Crathes Brasserie. In the afternoon you return to Aberdeen to again bask in the culture and history of this vibrant city. (B L)
Steam at the Caledonian Railway and Ferry Crossing to Orkney
After breakfast a road coach transfers you to Brechin, home of the Caledonian Railway. A privately chartered steam train then takes you on the eight-mile round trip from Brechin to Bridge of Dun and back. Light snacks and refreshments are provided at the railway and after lunch there’s time to visit Brechin’s historic Cathedral and Round Tower. In the afternoon you return to Aberdeen and board the modern ferry for a six-hour overnight crossing to Kirwall. The ferry sails within sight of the north-eastern coast of Scotland before passing through the open North Sea. You’ll dine on board the spacious ship this evening. You reach Kirkwall at 11pm, but at this time of the year the sun is only just starting to set, an experience common to the far north during summer solstice. You disembark and transfer a short distance to your centrally located hotel. (B L D)
At leisure in Kirkwall and a visit to the Highland Park Distillery
After breakfast you’re free today to relax and explore the quaint town of Kirkwall at your own pace. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by its vibrant artisan scene and diverse galleries and craft shops. Orkney’s capital boasts many historical buildings, such as the 12th century St. Magnus Cathedral, the most northern cathedral in the British Isles. In the afternoon you visit another popular attraction, the Highland Park whisky distillery, where world-famous Scotch has been produced since 1798. To cap an outstanding day, you’ll dine with fellow travellers at your hotel this evening. (B D)
Exploration of Neolithic Orkney
You embark this morning on an exciting exploration of mainland Orkney by road coach. Among the highlights are the wonderful and fascinating landmarks that form the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ World Heritage Site to the west of Kirkwall. You’ll have plenty of time to discover the tremendous natural beauty and cultural legacy at Maes Howe, Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. At lunchtime you’ll visit the delightful fishing port of Stromness, where you can explore and buy lunch at a café or inn of your choice. In the late afternoon, following your visit to Skara Brae, you’ll see the breathtaking sea cliffs at Yesnaby before returning by road coach to Kirkwall. (B)
Orkney Beaches, Italian Chapel, Broch of Gurness and Brough of Birsay
Today you’ll discover the pristine beaches of the southern, eastern and northern Orkney shores and the so-called ‘Churchill Barrier’ causeway roads, built for defensive purposes during World War II. En route you’ll pause at the iconic Italian chapel, one of the most loved cultural attractions on Orkney. In South Ronaldsay you venture as far south as the little fishing town of Burwick, with fine views across the Pentland Firth to John O’ Groats. After lunch back in Kirkwall it’s time to explore the outstanding archaeological site at Broch of Gurness, just across the water from the sparsely populated Orkney island of Rousay. Later you crown the day by experiencing the natural beauty of the Brough of Birsay, on the northern tip of mainland Orkney. At low tide you can even walk over to the uninhabited island of Birsay. After your exciting day out, you reconvene back at the hotel for dinner. (B D)
Ferry Crossing over the Pentland Firth, Train Journey to Inverness
This morning you return to the Scottish mainland, when a road coach takes you from Kirkwall to Stromness for the morning ferry crossing over the famed Pentland Firth, past the Old Man of Hoy and St. John’s Head to Scrabster, near Thurso. From Scrabster you continue by road coach to the iconic village of John O’ Groats, the most north eastern village on the British mainland, where you can buy lunch. Afterwards you continue to Wick and board a ScotRail service train on the stunning Far North Line for the spectacular railway journey via Thurso to Inverness. Initially the tracks cross isolated moorland, then pass through lonely and isolated mountain landscapes, before hugging the coast again and running within sight of seals basking on the rocky shores. Numerous firths are navigated the long way around before the train eventually reaches Inverness, hub of the Scottish Highlands. You’ll spend two nights here at a hotel near the station in the heart of the city. In the evening there will be ample time to explore. (B)
Strathspey Steam Railway and Cairngorm Mountain Railway
This morning you travel by road coach to nearby Aviemore before joining a steam train on the Strathspey Railway. This heritage line shares the main line railway station at Aviemore and runs to Boat of Garten and Broomhill (‘Glenbogle’ in the BBC series Monarch of the Glen). The return trip on the railway provides wonderful views of the Cairngorm Mountains. You re-join the road coach to travel from Aviemore into the heart of the nearby Cairngorms National Park, where you stop for a short stroll along the banks of Loch Morlich. From here it’s just a short onward journey to the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, a 2 km long funicular and Britain’s highest mountain railway. In appearance and technical design, it’s reminiscent of the famed Alpine funiculars in Switzerland. Enjoy the magnificent views of the snow-capped Scottish mountains as the line ascends Cairn Gorm. After an equally enjoyable descent on the train your road coach returns you to Inverness, where you enjoy one last group meal at the hotel. (B D)
Return to London on the Highland Chieftain
After an early breakfast at the hotel you transfer to Inverness Railway Station to join the ‘Highland Chieftain’ express train for your return journey. Relax in your comfortable First-Class seats as you travel through the scenic Highlands. The train climbs to Drumochter summit, the highest in the UK, and then follows the valley of the River Tay to Perth. You continue to Edinburgh where you join the ECML onwards to Newcastle, York and London King’s Cross. A light lunch will be served on the journey south. (B L)
All prices shown are per person.
Meals included each day are shown as:
B = Breakfast - L = Lunch - D = Dinner