Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Highlands and Islands of Scotland

We have 2 spots left on our Spring Highlands and Islands Tour of Scotland from May 1st - 15th. Our fall Highlands tour has been sold out for almost a year but the spring tour has been quite stubborn with the last 2 spots. This is one of my favorite tours to do primarily because the history is so amazing.
We start out the tour in one of my favorite towns in Scotland, Oban. Oban is a lovely little seaside village which is a perfect jumping off place for an islands tour. While in Oban we take a short ferry ride across Firth of Lorne to the Island of Mull. On Mull we visit Duart Castle before continuing on to Iona. Duart has been the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean for over 400 years.
There is probably nowhere in Scotland that is more lovely and spiritual than Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona. lona Abbey is a celebrated Christian centre and the burial place of 48 early Scottish kings. The Abbey and Nunnery grounds house one of the most comprehensive collections of Christian carved stones in Scotland, ranging in age from 600AD to the 1600s. The abbey itself is over 800 years old!
We then journey through Glencoe, the site of the 1692 massacre of the McDonald Clan before a visit to Fort William. From Fort William we are off to the Isle of Skye, my ancestral home. We visit the grave site of Flora Macdonald as well as Dunvegan Castle and Portree. After 2 days on Skye we cross the water to the Islands of Harris on Lewis.
Once on Lewis we visit the Callanish Standing Stones. The stones have to be seen to be understood. I have visited the site on numerous occasions and they still install awe every time. The stones are of Lewisian gneiss and are 4500 - 5000 years old! The stones are a complex arrangement of some 50 stones. At their heart is a circle of 13 stones between 8 and 13 feet tall, surrounding the tallest stone on the site. This stone is 16 feet high and weighs in at about 5.5 tonnes. Some time later a stone tomb was added to the centre of the circle.
After leaving Lewis behind we are back to the mainland for a visit to one of my favorite fishing villages, Ullapool. We then head north through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. Majestic peaks, pristine lochs and breathtaking coast lines until we find ourselves in Thurso. While in Thurso we take the ferry to the Orkneys where we visit Skara Brae, a stone age village. Older than the pyramids. A sand storm left the village covered for over 4000 years leaving the buildings and their contents incredibly well preserved. Not only are the walls of the structures still standing, and alleyways roofed with their original stone slabs, but the interior fittings of each house give an unparalleled glimpse of life as it was in Neolithic Orkney.
Then we are back to the mainland to visit one of my very favorite castle, the Castle of Mey. Queen Elizabeth's mother decided to rescue this castle after the death of her husband King George XI. After a loving restoration the castle is a perfect seaside home that was a favorite of the Queen Mum's and a favorite of everyone who walks in the door.
We now head south to Inverness for a day and then to my favorite place in Scotland, Pitlochry. Queen Victoria call Pitlochry, the loveliest spa village in all of Europe. We visit castles, take afternoon tea and visit the theatre while hear before we spend our last 2 days in Glasgow.
Although most well known as an industrial city, there is so much more to Glasgow. Named the European city of Architecture and Design in 1999 it more than lives up to its reputation. An 800 year old cathedral, 500 year old Lord Provost's house and the second best shopping in the UK make this a very enjoyable city and one of my favorites.
These are just a few of the highlights on this wonderful 15 day tour. Join us for an unforgettable journey to my ancestors and to history that you could only dream about.

Shannon McDonald Tate

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