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9 nights
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Hebridean Island Odyssey

An exploration of the Hebrides aboard the MS Serenissima

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  • Wildlife Tours/ Natural World

Words do not do justice to the spectacular beauty, rich wildlife and fascinating history of the Inner and Outer Hebrides which we will explore during this expedition aboard the MS Serenissima. One of Europe’s true last remaining wilderness areas affords the traveller a marvellous island hopping journey through stunning scenery accompanied by spectacular sunsets and prolific wildlife. With our naturalists and local guides we will explore the length and breadth of the isles, and with our nimble Zodiac craft be able to reach some of the most remote and untouched places.

Having arranged hundreds of small ship cruises around Scotland, we have learned that everyone takes something different from the experience. In the northern summer, when the sun barely shrinks below the horizon, there is a stillness and an almost wistful feeling in the air. This is the time when the enchanted visitor will be moved and seduced by the majesty and untamed wilderness of the islands, lochs and seascapes. We are indeed fortunate in having such marvellous places so close to home. Now, more than ever there is a great appreciation for the peace, beauty and culture of this special corner of the UK. Whether your interest lies in horticulture or the natural world, history or bird watching or simply being there to witness the timeless beauty of the islands, this trip will lift the spirits and gladden the heart.

Learn something of the island’s history, see their abundant bird and marine life, but above all revel in the timeless enchantment that these islands exude to all those who appreciate the natural world. We will be joined by our Expedition Team, who are all experienced naturalists, ornithologists and marine biologists and along with the wonderful crew and combined with the comfort aboard the MS Serenissima, this carefully planned but flexible itinerary will be a voyage to remember.

  • Your View

    Iona

    Sailing around the Scottish Isles on a square-rigger sailing ship - our trip of a life time by Chris Bates-Brownsword

    In July‐August this year, Harold and I enjoyed our first overseas trip for some years, two weeks of which we spent aboard a beautiful sailing ship called Sea Cloud II, which took us on a wonderful voyage of discovery around the remote Scottish isles. After an overnight stay in Edinburgh, which included a tour and dinner at Edinburgh Castle, we travelled by coach to the port of Dundee on the eastern coast of Scotland, two and a half hours away. There, on the afternoon of July 22, our adventure really began when together with about 90 other people, we embarked on Sea Cloud II and settled into our surprisingly spacious cabin before heading up on deck to watch the crew cast off for the overnight sail to Scrabster, our first port of call, 200 nautical miles away. As we enjoyed a glass of bubbly and watched Dundee receding into the distance we knew this trip was going to be something very special – as indeed it turned out to be. Over 12 days, the route took us north to the Shetland and Orkney islands, and then down the western coast to the isles of the Outer & Inner Hebrides, before arriving at Oban (the unofficial capital of the West Highlands), and our point of disembarkation.

    The voyage took us past many different islands – Lewis, Skye, Rum, Iona, Mull, Islay, Gigha – and our daily shore excursions introduced us to the rich Scottish and Viking history of the region (as well as giving us lots exercise to walk off the culinary delights provided by the chef on board the vessel!) Prior to going ashore, we enjoyed illustrated talks on board, delivered by Professor Alan Borg (former Director of the British Imperial War Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum) which gave us the history behind the ancient sites before we visited them. We certainly came to understand the huge Norse influence in this part of the world, even today, as ancient Viking festivals and ceremonies are still celebrated – and to understand that Scots are actually modern day Vikings. Harold and I also spent a couple of days exploring the island of Mull before we boarded the ship. My mother’s great grandmother Susan MacDougall was born on Mull. She married John Poole, from Cambridgeshire and they came to Australia when she was 31 years old, and settled in the Saddleworth district, north of Adelaide.

    One of mum’s relatives wrote a book which takes the MacDougall family history right back to Dougal, the eldest son of Somerled, King of the Hebrides who inherited his father’s “empire” in 1164, when the clan was founded so all the history is there – which is great news for us descendents – most of the hard work is done and all we have to do is read it! As beautiful as Mull is today, it is not hard to imagine how harsh life would have been in those days. For us, travelling over by ferry from Oban to Craignure, and meandering along the narrow roads in perfect sunshine, it was a delight. We spent hours walking around Tobermory, the main town on the island and one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you looked there were amazing photo opportunities.

    Later, when we re‐visited Tobermory whilst on the sailing trip, we again walked up the steep hill overlooking the bay (this time during the evening) and gazed down at Sea Cloud, lights ablaze on a shimmering sea. A young man staying in accommodation nearby came up behind us and said: “Her name is Sea Cloud II” and I’ve looked her up on the net” and he started to tell us about her travels. He was surprised to hear that we were passengers who’d just come ashore for a visit – so we were able to give him a few details about shipboard life! His reaction to the vessel was familiar – everywhere we went the ship grabbed people’s attention ‐ locals and workers alike lined the wharves, boats in harbours came by with binoculars trained on the ship, local pipe bands and dancers welcomed (and farewelled us).

    It was something special to stand on the deck at twilight and watch a lone piper “pipe’ the ship farewell until he became but a tiny speck in the distance. We were amazed to discover that there are over 100 islands in the Shetland group, and that only 17 of these are inhabited. Gaelic was never spoken in Shetland – they spoke a Norwegian dialect before modern Scotland came into being, and the clan system is entirely absent from Shetland and Orkney. The Vikings came there on raiding forays in the 8th Century, and all these events are recorded in the Viking stories (or “sagas”). They were a warlike lot who, if they were not off plundering somewhere, fought each other. Over time, they gradually settled into the crofter’s way of life. However, for a very long time Vikings were essentially raiders whose routine was ‐ plant the crop and go on a spring raid – return, plant the crop and go on an autumn raid – and so it went on. Professor Borg’s favourite Viking story was about two chieftains who met for a fierce battle, the victor cut off his opponent’s head and tied it to his saddle. Bouncing up and down on the triumphant ride back home, the head bit him on the leg and he died of septicaemia a week later!

    The Shetlands came under Scottish rule in 1470 when they were handed over as part of a marriage settlement. Both Shetland and Orkney were important sites during the 2nd World War, and the islanders are enormously proud of this heritage. Norway was a key resistance centre against the Nazis, and the little town of Aalesund, half way up the Norwegian coast became an escape route from Norway to Scalloway (the arrival point in Shetland). Dangerous missions in tiny boats, between these ports (many during wintertime) were undertaken by Norwegian sailors with exemplary skills. This process became known as “The Shetland Bus”, and a book of the same title, written in 1951, tells the story. The most famous of all Shetland Bus people was Leif Larsen, who did 52 missions before attempting to blow up the German battleship Tirpitz, which was trapped in a Norwegian fjord. The mission was unsuccessful, but Larsen escaped, although other colleagues were caught and shot. The Shetland Bus/Lief Larsen memorial is known and celebrated by all islanders. In the southern part of the Orkneys, lies a natural harbour called Scapa Flow, which became the main base for the British Fleet in WW2. In this sheltered area, British pilots also underwent training sessions learning how to land aircraft on ships.

    For many (including me, until I learned otherwise) a picture of island life would probably include a small farmhouse (or croft), with a few sheep wandering nearby, piles of peat outside to fuel the fires and keep the occupants warm, green rolling hills sometimes sweeping down to lonely shores. Whilst you still certainly see such vistas, these days the main industries tend to revolve around oil and tourism. Oil was discovered in the Shetlands in the 1970’s, and tourism is growing at an astounding rate. Whilst touring around Lerwick, the principal town of Shetland, we learned that there were 57 cruise ships booked to visit the area in 2014. Whilst a great employment and income opportunity for islanders, we need to remember that the tourist season runs from March to September, and that for the other 5 months of the year, 140 mile per hour winds are commonplace, many of the animals have to be brought inside and even the humans avoid going out much!!

    Fishing is still a major industry, with 7 super trawlers and a number of fish factories on site. ‐ Knitwear, agriculture/crofting are also active industries. Sport and leisure activities are a large part of life for islanders, with excellent facilities, and music is also a great tradition , with lots of variety, although playing the fiddle or violin is almost routine for most kids. We saw many wonderful castles as we travelled, including the Castle of Mey purchased and restored by the Queen Mother in 1952, Broughton Castle where “Downton Abbey” is filmed, and Dunollie castle (or the ruins of) the current stronghold of the Clan MacDougall. The climb to the Dunollie is well worth the breathtaking views to be seen over the town of Oban. The wonderful gardens and tropical plants we saw in Scotland (like Inverewe on the banks of Loch Ewe) were something of a surprise and result from the warm currents of the Gulfstream, or North Atlantic Drift, which flow to this part of the world all the way from Mexico, allowing great cascades of colour throughout the year. The hydrangeas were the largest and bluest I have ever seen.

    I hope this brief description whets your appetite to hear more about our sail around the isles – there is so much more to tell and we look forward to continuing this journey with you sometime soon.

    More information

Serenissima

Serenissima

The handsome 100-passenger MS Serenissima began her career as the Harald Jarl, cruising the Norwegian coastline and fjords. Extensively renovated in 2003 she was rechristened MS Andrea and began her life as a classic cruise ship, and was chartered by Noble Caledonia for a number of years. In spring 2012 MS Andrea was purchased by our long-standing associates Volga Dream and renamed the MS Serenissima.

After a thorough renovation and upgrading, the charming MS Serenissima commenced cruise operations in April 2013 and we have chartered her for the majority of each year since knowing her to be perfect for small ship cruising. With her small size she can navigate into small, remote ports inaccessible to the big cruise ships and appears an impressive sight when moored. With her fleet of Zodiacs she is capable of both destination and expedition cruising.

View vessel details

Itinerary

Day 1 - Fairlie.

Embark this afternoon in the port of Fairlie. Transfers will be provided from Glasgow Central Station and International Airport. Sail this evening.

Day 2 - Gigha & Jura.

Today we visit the gardens of Achamore House on the small island of Gigha. The Horlick family, better known for the eponymous milk drink, have created a stunning garden with their collection of azaleas, rhododendrons and exotic plants. Gigha is a place apart; heather covered hills, deserted beaches and a single lane verged with wild flowers that meander for some six miles between cottages and farms. Privately owned by its 120 inhabitants, it is a gem of a place and somewhere not easily forgotten. Return to the vessel for lunch as we sail over to Jura, arriving in the late afternoon. Dominating the views of Jura are the three hills called “The Paps of Jura”, the highest being Beinn an Oir at 785 metres. We will go ashore at Craighouse and will be welcomed in the cooperage where we will be given an introduction to the Jura Distillery and an opportunity to taste the local product. Alternatively, join one of our naturalists on a walk along the shore to look for otters, seals and birds or join the local bus for a short drive around the island.

Day 3 - Colonsay & Oronsay.

Lying between Mull and Islay, we will spend the day exploring these Islands, with their craggy, heather-backed hills, sparse woodland yet with an impressive array of plant and birdlife. Near Colonsay House, built in 1722 by Malcolm MacNeil and bought by Lord Strathcona in 1904, we will visit the attractively dilapidated wooded gardens, which protect the tiny, enigmatic 8th century St Oran’s Cross. Oronsay is separated from Colonsay by a wide expanse of shell sand, ‘The Strand’ that can be crossed by foot when the tide is out. The ruins of a fine Augustinian Priory built in 1380 contain the tall Oronsay Cross, a superb example of late Medieval artistry from Iona. This island is owned by Mrs. Frances Colburn and managed by the RSPB who run a trim, environmentally friendly farm.

Day 4 - Iona, Staffa & Lunga.

Iona has been occupied for thousands of years, but also a place of pilgrimage and Christian worship for several centuries. It was to this flat, Hebridean Island that St Columba fled from Ireland in 563 and established a monastery. Here his followers were responsible for the conversion of much of pagan Scotland and Northern England. No less than 62 Scottish Kings are buried in the Abbey. Visit the Abbey or perhaps walk along the white sandy beaches or go in search of the corncrake amongst the irises. As we sail towards the Treshnish Isles we will drop anchor off Staffa, the south side where the perpendicular rock face feature an imposing series of black basalt columns, known as the Colonnade, which have been cut by the sea into cathedralesque caverns, most notably Fingal’s Cave. Weather permitting we will land to walk around to the highest point or take a walk to the northern part of the island where Puffins nest. Northwest of Staffa lie the Treshnish Isles, an archipelago of uninhabited volcanic islets. The most distinctive, and where we would hope to land, is Lunga, the largest island and summer nesting-place for hundreds of sea birds, in particular kittiwakes, shags, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and puffins. This island is often described as a ‘green jewel in a peacock sea’.

Day 5 - Barra & Mingulay.

This morning we will land on Barra which is near the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides and visit Castlebay, which curves around the barren rocky hills of a beautiful wide bay. Kisimul Castle lies in the bay, the ancestral home of the MacNeil chief. During lunch, we will sail the short distance to Mingulay, which is nearly 1600 acres and the largest of the group of islands south of Barra. Its towering cliffs and stacks face the Atlantic while the east side slopes gradually down to the sandy beach of Mingulay Bay. Despite there being a continuous population on the island for at least two thousand years, evacuation began in 1907 and the island was completely abandoned in 1912. Ruins of the village remain close to the shore which we will explore on a guided walk.

Day 6 - St Kilda.

Arrive at first light in St Kilda, a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some fifty miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. The largest island, Hirta, once supported a population of over 200 but the last islanders left in the 1930s. The Medieval village has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland and offers a marvellous link with the past. The islands are also an important breeding ground for many seabirds including Atlantic puffins and northern fulmars. Later, cruise past two of the largest gannetries in the world at Stac Lee and Boreray. These impressive stacs rise 170 metres from the sea and are home to up to 60,000 breeding pairs of northern gannet.

Day 7 - Lochmaddy & Dunvegan.

This morning sail into Lochmaddy for a visit to the famous bird reserve of Balranald on North Uist. Listen for the call of the rare corncrake over the machair and enjoy a walk amongst the dramatic scenery of sandy beaches, dunes and marshy loch where we hope to see corn buntings, skylarks and breeding waders such as lapwing and oystercatchers. Over lunch we sail to the MacLeod stronghold of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Remarkably, the castle has been almost continuously occupied by the MacLeods for nearly eight centuries. Tour the castle, a fascinating place that contains work of at least ten building periods. Then explore the gardens, following paths through woodland glades past pools and burns fed by a waterfall. The formal gardens were laid out in the 18th century and make a wonderful contrast to the moorland hills and sea. Look out for seal colony on the adjoining rocks as we return to the ship.

Day 8 - Stornoway & Shiants.

On leaving the island capital of Stornoway, today’s tour takes you across the island to the beautiful west coast of the island and to Callanish. Described as Scotland’s Stonehenge, the Callanish Standing Stones date from around 3000BC. There are a total of 32 stones in a circular and avenue design. The stones stand like a petrified forest on the flat top of a peninsula which reaches out into East Loch Roag. Visit the excellent visitor centre to learn more about the site and venture out amongst the stones themselves to experience their mysterious atmosphere. Continue around the west coast to the site of Dun Carloway Pictish Broch. Probably built sometime in the last century BC, it would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area. We then head north to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, a reconstructed settlement of traditional black houses where people and animals lived in close proximity. The houses are made using dry stone masonry and have thatched roofs, distinctively weighted down with rocks. Visit the small museum, enjoy a display of a typical crofting activity such as weaving and take in the views at this dramatic site on the wild Atlantic coast. This afternoon we will board the Zodiacs for a cruise around the spectacular basalt cliffs of the Shiant Islands, a group of little islands located a few miles off the shores of Lewis. This is an excellent place to spot puffins, razorbills, guillemots, seals and hopefully White Tailed Eagles.

Day 9 - Canna & Rum.

Today, we will visit the Small Isles. Spend the morning on Canna , owned by the National Trust for Scotland and with a population of only 20 but a fertile and prosperous farm. We will enjoy a guided walk along the shore and through the woods and fields to where there is a chance of seeing both golden and sea eagles. Sail during lunch to the adjoining island of Rum which is a nature reserve. We will walk the nature trail, a beautiful area of wild flowers and typical Scottish island scenery.

Day 10 - Oban.

Disembark after breakfast. Transfers will be provided to Glasgow Central Station and International Airport.

Oban to Fairlie

Day 1 - Oban.

Embark this afternoon in the port of Oban. Transfers will be provided from Glasgow Central Station and International Airport. Sail this evening.

Day 2 - Rum & Canna.

Today, we will visit the Small Isles. Spend the morning on the island of Rum which is a nature reserve. We will walk the nature trail, a beautiful area of wild flowers and typical Scottish island scenery. Sail during lunch to Canna which has a tiny agricultural and cattle-rearing population. From a walk along the cliff top we may see golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons. At the cliff edge the rare loose-flowered orchids grow.

Day 3 - Stornoway & Shiants.

On leaving the island capital of Stornoway, today’s tour takes you across the island to the beautiful west coast of the island and to Callanish. Described as Scotland’s Stonehenge, the Callanish Standing Stones date from around 3000BC. There are a total of 32 stones in a circular and avenue design. The stones stand like a petrified forest on the flat top of a peninsula which reaches out into East Loch Roag. Visit the excellent visitor centre to learn more about the site and venture out amongst the stones themselves to experience their mysterious atmosphere. Continue around the west coast to the site of Dun Carloway Pictish Broch. Probably built sometime in the last century BC, it would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area. We then head north to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, a reconstructed settlement of traditional black houses where people and animals lived in close proximity. The houses are made using dry stone masonry and have thatched roofs, distinctively weighted down with rocks. Visit the small museum, enjoy a display of a typical crofting activity such as weaving and take in the views at this dramatic site on the wild Atlantic coast. This afternoon we will board the Zodiacs for a cruise around the Shiant Islands, a group of little islands located a few miles off the shores of Lewis. This is an excellent place to spot seals and hopefully White Tailed Eagles.

Day 4 - Lochmaddy & Dunvegan.

This morning sail into Lochmaddy for a visit to the famous bird reserve of Balranald. Listen for the call of the rare corncrake over the machair and enjoy a walk amongst the dramatic scenery of sandy beaches, dunes and marshy loch where we hope to see turnstones, purple sandpipers and sanderlings. Over lunch we sail to the MacLeod stronghold of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Remarkably, the castle has been almost continuously occupied by the MacLeods for nearly eight centuries. Tour the castle, a fascinating place that contains work of at least ten building periods. Then explore the gardens, following paths through woodland glades past pools and burns fed by a waterfall. The formal gardens were laid out in the 18th century and make a wonderful contrast to the moorland hills and sea. Look out for seal colony on the adjoining rocks as we return to the ship.

Day 5 - St Kilda.

Arrive at first light in St Kilda, a remarkable uninhabited archipelago some fifty miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. The largest island, Hirta, once supported a population of over 200 but the last islanders left in the 1930s. The Medieval village has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland and offers a marvellous link with the past. The islands are also an important breeding ground for many seabirds including Atlantic puffins and northern fulmars. Later, cruise past two of the largest gannetries in the world at Stac Lee and Boreray. These impressive stacs rise 170 metres from the sea and are home to up to 60,000 breeding pairs of northern gannet.

Day 6 - Mingulay & Barra.

This morning we will call to Mingulay, which is nearly 1600 acres and the largest of the group of islands south of Barra. Its towering cliffs and stacks face the Atlantic while the east side slopes gradually down to the sandy beach of Mingulay Bay. Despite there being a continuous population on the island for at least two thousand years, evacuation began in 1907 and the island was completely abandoned in 1912. Ruins of the village remain close to the shore which we will explore on a guided walk. During lunch, we will sail the short distance to Barra at the tip of the Outer Hebrides and visit the only settlement of any size, Castlebay, which curves around the barren rocky hills of a beautiful wide bay on the south side of the island. Kisimul Castle lies in the bay, the ancestral home of the MacNeil chief.

Day 7 - Lunga, Staffa & Iona.

Arrive this morning at the Treshnish Isles, an archipelago of uninhabited volcanic islets. The most distinctive, and where we would hope to land, is Lunga, the largest island and summer nesting-place for hundreds of sea birds, in particular kittiwakes, shags, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills and puffins. This island is often described as a ‘green jewel in a peacock sea’. Later we will drop anchor off Staffa, the south side where the perpendicular rock face feature an imposing series of black basalt columns, known as the Colonnade, which have been cut by the sea into cathedralesque caverns, most notably Fingal’s Cave. Weather permitting we will land to walk around to the highest point or take a walk to the northern part of the island where Puffins nest. This afternoon we will visit Iona which has been occupied for thousands of years, but has also been a place of pilgrimage and Christian worship for several centuries. It was to this flat Hebridean Island that St Columba fled from Ireland in 563 and established a monastery. Here his followers were responsible for the conversion of much of pagan Scotland and Northern England. No less than 62 Scottish Kings are buried in the Abbey. Visit the Abbey or perhaps walk along the white sandy beaches or go in search of the corncrake amongst the irises.

Day 8 - Colonsay & Oronsay.

Lying between Mull and Islay, we will spend the day exploring these Islands, with their craggy, heather-backed hills, sparse woodland yet with an impressive array of plant and birdlife. Near Colonsay House, built in 1722 by Malcolm MacNeil and bought by Lord Strathcona in 1904, we will visit the attractively dilapidated wooded gardens, which protect the tiny, enigmatic 8th century St Oran’s Cross. Oronsay is separated from Colonsay by a wide expanse of shell sand, ‘The Strand’ that can be crossed by foot when the tide is out. The ruins of a fine Augustinian Priory built in 1380 contain the tall Oronsay Cross, a superb example of late Medieval artistry from Iona. This island is owned by Mrs. Frances Colburn and managed by the RSPB who run a trim, environmentally friendly farm

Day 9 - Gigha & Jura.

Today we visit the gardens of Achamore House on the small island of Gigha. The Horlick family, better known for the eponymous milk drink, have created a stunning garden with their collection of azaleas, rhododendrons and exotic plants. Gigha is a place apart; heather covered hills, deserted beaches and a single lane verged with wild flowers that meander for some six miles between cottages and farms. Privately owned by its 120 inhabitants, it is a gem of a place and somewhere not easily forgotten. Return to the vessel for lunch as we sail over to Jura, arriving in the late afternoon. Dominating the views of Jura are the three hills called “The Paps of Jura”, the highest being Beinn an Oir at 785 metres. We will go ashore at Craighouse and will be welcomed in the cooperage where we will be given an introduction to the Jura Distillery and an opportunity to taste the local product. Alternatively join one of our naturalists on a walk or join the local bus for a short drive around the island.

Day 10 - Fairlie.

Disembark after breakfast. Transfers will be provided to Glasgow Central Station and International Airport.

Dates and Prices

Prices per person based on double occupancy
27 June 2016 to 6 July 2016
Category Price
Category 1 Inside cabin £2895
Category 2 Standard Stateroom £3295
Category 3 Superior Stateroom £3495
Category 4 Deluxe Stateroom £3895
Category 5 Junior Suite £4295
Category 6 Executive Suite £4695
Category 7 Owner's Suite £4695
Category 8 Standard Single £3295
Category 9 - Inside Single £2895
Category 2 for Sole use £3995

Oban to Fairlie

Prices per person based on double occupancy
18 to 27 June 2016
Category Price
Category 1 Inside cabin £2895
Category 2 Standard Stateroom £3295
Category 3 Superior Stateroom £3495
Category 4 Deluxe Stateroom £3895
Category 5 Junior Suite £4295
Category 6 Executive Suite £4695
Category 7 Owner's Suite £4695
Category 8 Standard Single £3295
Category 9 - Inside Single £2895
Category 2 for Sole use £3995

Tour Reference Code: SCSEHEBRIDEAN

Price Includes: 9 nights aboard the MS Serenissima on a full board basis with house wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner onboard, Noble Caledonia onboard team, shore excursions, gratuities to crew and on excursions, transfers, port taxes.
Not Included: Travel Insurance.

  • 2015

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  • 2016

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Destinations

  • Europe

    To see our current selection of tours in Europe click here.

  • United Kingdom

    To see our current selection of tours in United Kingdom click here.

    Few places cram in as much scenery, history and culture as the United Kingdom. England's southwest is dominated by a rugged shoreline and swathes of open national parkland, while its sprawling and vibrant capital London dominates the southeast. Hillwalkers can take some serious hikes in the Scottish Highlands or England's Lake District. True British wilderness remains - stark, sometimes stunning and often inaccessible, particularly in the far north of Scotland. Historic Edinburgh is a fascinating city to explore, while Glasgow explodes with nightlife options. Visitors to Wales can meander from the urban highlights of Cardiff to Snowdon's jagged peaks in the north. Across the water, Belfast is reviving as a tourist destination, and Northern Ireland's countryside is green and rolling.

    • Key Facts

      Capital:

      London.

      Geography:

      The British landscape can be divided roughly into two kinds of terrain - highland and lowland. The highland area comprises the mountainous regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland, northern England and North Wales.

      The English Lake District in the northwest contains lakes and fells. The lowland area is broken up by sandstone and limestone hills, long valleys and basins such as the Wash on the east coast. In the southeast, the North and South Downs culminate in the White Cliffs of Dover.

      The coastline includes fjord-like inlets in the northwest of Scotland, spectacular cliffs and wild sandy beaches on the east coast and, further south, beaches of rock, shale and sand sometimes backed by dunes, and large areas of fenland in East Anglia.

      Note: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although they form one administrative unit (with regional exceptions), they have had separate cultures, languages and political histories.

      The United Kingdom section consists of a general introduction (covering the aspects that the four countries have in common) and sections devoted to the four constituent countries. The Channel Islands (Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and Herm) and the Isle of Man are dependencies of the British Crown. These are included here for convenience of reference.

      More detailed geographical descriptions of the various countries may be found under the respective travel guides.

      Government:

      Constitutional monarchy.

      Head Of State:

      HM Queen Elizabeth II since 1952.

      Head Of Government:

      Prime Minister David Cameron since 2010.

      Electricity:

      230 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are standard.

      Timezone:
    • Money

      Currency Information:

      See the individual Money sections within the Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland sections for information on currency specific to these regions.

      Pound (GBP; symbol £) = 100 pence. Notes are in denominations of £50, 20, 10 and 5. Additional bank notes issued by Scottish banks (including £1 notes) are accepted in all parts of the UK, although some smaller shops outside Scotland may prefer English banknotes. Coins are in denominations of £2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 pence.

      Credit Cards:

      American Express, MasterCard and Visa are all widely accepted. Cash can be obtained from a multitude of ATMs available across the country.

      ATMs:

      Cash can be obtained from a multitude of ATMs available across the country.

      Travellers Cheques:

      Widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling.

      Banking Hours:

      Mon-Fri 0930-1630 (there may be some variations in closing times). Some banks are open Saturday morning; some all day Saturday.

      Currency Restrictions:

      There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.

      Currency Exchange:

      Money can be exchanged in banks, exchange bureaux, some post offices and many hotels. The exchange bureaux are often open outside banking hours but charge higher commission rates. All major currencies can be exchanged.

      Currencies: Exchange Rates:

      • 1 AUD = 0.58 GBP
      • 1 EUR = 0.78 GBP
      • 1 GBP = 1.00 GBP
      • 1 USD = 0.62 GBP

    • Climate

      Best Time To Visit:

      Owing to it being an island, the UK is subject to very changeable weather. Extremes of temperature are rare but snow, hail, heavy rain and heatwaves can occur. For detailed descriptions, see Climate in the respective country sections.

      Required Clothing:

      Waterproofing throughout the year. Warm clothing is advisable at all times, and is essential for any visits to upland areas.

Serenissima

The handsome 100-passenger MS Serenissima began her career as the Harald Jarl, cruising the Norwegian coastline and fjords. Extensively renovated in 2003 she was rechristened MS Andrea and began her life as a classic cruise ship, and was chartered by Noble Caledonia for a number of years. In spring 2012 MS Andrea was purchased by our long-standing associates Volga Dream and renamed the MS Serenissima.

After a thorough renovation and upgrading, the charming MS Serenissima commenced cruise operations in April 2013 and we have chartered her for the majority of each year since knowing her to be perfect for small ship cruising. With her small size she can navigate into small, remote ports inaccessible to the big cruise ships and appears an impressive sight when moored. With her fleet of Zodiacs she is capable of both destination and expedition cruising.

 
  • Jacuzzi - On Deck
  • MS Serenissima
  • On Deck
  • Venice Restaurant
  • Deluxe Stateroom
  • Executive Suite
  • Your Cabin/Suite

    Accommodating no more than 100 passengers, the cabins are attractively designed for comfort and convenience. All cabins are fully air conditioned with an ensuite bathroom with shower, sink, toilet, a selection of toiletries including shower gel, soaps, shampoo and conditioner, hairdryer, robes and slippers. All cabins come equipped with telephone, flat screen television, safety deposit box and other thoughtful appointments. Bottles of still and sparkling water are replenished daily. There are ten different grades of cabin arranged over five decks, and with the exception of the three inside cabins, all staterooms feature either windows or portholes. Because of the very nature of the ship, the cabins do vary in shape and size, adding to the vessel’s overall charm. 

    Cabin sizes vary between 10 and 22.7 square metres.

  • Your Space

    The facilities onboard include two lounges – the larger Andrea Lounge is comfortable and spacious and the smaller Harald Lounge is more intimate. There is also a small library with a computer for internet access. The outside areas are something special with a spacious observation deck allowing for 360 degree views of the passing scenery. From here, step down to the lido area with fitness room, Jacuzzi and outside bar.

    The covered seating area at the back of deck 6 is ideal for relaxing with a drink in hand. Perhaps, one of the best known and loved features of this vessel is its unique style. During the major refit in Sweden the then owners commissioned Swedish interior designers to create a Gustavian style interior. This bright Swedish 18th century influenced, country house style works particularly well on a vessel of this vintage, providing intimacy and classic nautical sensibility often lacking in larger vessels. 

  • Your Dining

    The free seating Venice Restaurant accommodates all guests in one sitting. Being on deck 5, it has great views from all tables. The picture windows mean the restaurant is light and airy. Breakfast is served buffet-style with cooked dishes available and eggs to order by the ship’s accomplished chef. Lunch is also served buffetstyle with hot and cold dishes available. Dinner is served a la carte and is four courses, except for at the Captain’s Dinner, which is a six course affair. In addition, there are al fresco dining facilities available in good weather.

    Where possible, local produce is sourced for an authentic dining experience. A choice of red or white wine, beer, soft drinks, and water are included at lunch and dinner. Tea and coffee are served around the clock in the Andrea Lounge. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere onboard, when dining you are able to choose your seating arrangements at your leisure and dress is informal except for the Captain’s Dinner for which you may wish to dress in smarter attire.

  • Life Onboard

    The MS Serenissima is more akin to a countryhotel than one of the large ships trawling the seas today. The European Captain, Officers and crew offer a first class service and have been selected for their professionalism and caring attitudes. The atmosphere onboard is warm and welcoming, and the emphasis is not on around the clock entertainment and dining, but instead on well-thought out itineraries, relaxation, time spent with like-minded passengers and discovery. 

  • For your comfort

    There are so few ships of this generation still cruising and MS Serenissima is a great testament to her present and previous owners that they have seen fit to invest considerable sums over the years to keep her in top form and complying with the stringent health and safety requirements. There is a doctor onboard and during your voyage you will have the opportunity to visit the Captain and Officers on the bridge.

  • Deck plans
    • 2015

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    • 2016

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Your View

Sailing around the Scottish Isles on a square-rigger sailing ship - our trip of a life time by Chris Bates-Brownsword

In July‐August this year, Harold and I enjoyed our first overseas trip for some years, two weeks of which we spent aboard a beautiful sailing ship called Sea Cloud II, which took us on a wonderful voyage of discovery around the remote Scottish isles. After an overnight stay in Edinburgh, which included a tour and dinner at Edinburgh Castle, we travelled by coach to the port of Dundee on the eastern coast of Scotland, two and a half hours away. There, on the afternoon of July 22, our adventure really began when together with about 90 other people, we embarked on Sea Cloud II and settled into our surprisingly spacious cabin before heading up on deck to watch the crew cast off for the overnight sail to Scrabster, our first port of call, 200 nautical miles away. As we enjoyed a glass of bubbly and watched Dundee receding into the distance we knew this trip was going to be something very special – as indeed it turned out to be. Over 12 days, the route took us north to the Shetland and Orkney islands, and then down the western coast to the isles of the Outer & Inner Hebrides, before arriving at Oban (the unofficial capital of the West Highlands), and our point of disembarkation.

The voyage took us past many different islands – Lewis, Skye, Rum, Iona, Mull, Islay, Gigha – and our daily shore excursions introduced us to the rich Scottish and Viking history of the region (as well as giving us lots exercise to walk off the culinary delights provided by the chef on board the vessel!) Prior to going ashore, we enjoyed illustrated talks on board, delivered by Professor Alan Borg (former Director of the British Imperial War Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum) which gave us the history behind the ancient sites before we visited them. We certainly came to understand the huge Norse influence in this part of the world, even today, as ancient Viking festivals and ceremonies are still celebrated – and to understand that Scots are actually modern day Vikings. Harold and I also spent a couple of days exploring the island of Mull before we boarded the ship. My mother’s great grandmother Susan MacDougall was born on Mull. She married John Poole, from Cambridgeshire and they came to Australia when she was 31 years old, and settled in the Saddleworth district, north of Adelaide.

One of mum’s relatives wrote a book which takes the MacDougall family history right back to Dougal, the eldest son of Somerled, King of the Hebrides who inherited his father’s “empire” in 1164, when the clan was founded so all the history is there – which is great news for us descendents – most of the hard work is done and all we have to do is read it! As beautiful as Mull is today, it is not hard to imagine how harsh life would have been in those days. For us, travelling over by ferry from Oban to Craignure, and meandering along the narrow roads in perfect sunshine, it was a delight. We spent hours walking around Tobermory, the main town on the island and one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you looked there were amazing photo opportunities.

Later, when we re‐visited Tobermory whilst on the sailing trip, we again walked up the steep hill overlooking the bay (this time during the evening) and gazed down at Sea Cloud, lights ablaze on a shimmering sea. A young man staying in accommodation nearby came up behind us and said: “Her name is Sea Cloud II” and I’ve looked her up on the net” and he started to tell us about her travels. He was surprised to hear that we were passengers who’d just come ashore for a visit – so we were able to give him a few details about shipboard life! His reaction to the vessel was familiar – everywhere we went the ship grabbed people’s attention ‐ locals and workers alike lined the wharves, boats in harbours came by with binoculars trained on the ship, local pipe bands and dancers welcomed (and farewelled us).

It was something special to stand on the deck at twilight and watch a lone piper “pipe’ the ship farewell until he became but a tiny speck in the distance. We were amazed to discover that there are over 100 islands in the Shetland group, and that only 17 of these are inhabited. Gaelic was never spoken in Shetland – they spoke a Norwegian dialect before modern Scotland came into being, and the clan system is entirely absent from Shetland and Orkney. The Vikings came there on raiding forays in the 8th Century, and all these events are recorded in the Viking stories (or “sagas”). They were a warlike lot who, if they were not off plundering somewhere, fought each other. Over time, they gradually settled into the crofter’s way of life. However, for a very long time Vikings were essentially raiders whose routine was ‐ plant the crop and go on a spring raid – return, plant the crop and go on an autumn raid – and so it went on. Professor Borg’s favourite Viking story was about two chieftains who met for a fierce battle, the victor cut off his opponent’s head and tied it to his saddle. Bouncing up and down on the triumphant ride back home, the head bit him on the leg and he died of septicaemia a week later!

The Shetlands came under Scottish rule in 1470 when they were handed over as part of a marriage settlement. Both Shetland and Orkney were important sites during the 2nd World War, and the islanders are enormously proud of this heritage. Norway was a key resistance centre against the Nazis, and the little town of Aalesund, half way up the Norwegian coast became an escape route from Norway to Scalloway (the arrival point in Shetland). Dangerous missions in tiny boats, between these ports (many during wintertime) were undertaken by Norwegian sailors with exemplary skills. This process became known as “The Shetland Bus”, and a book of the same title, written in 1951, tells the story. The most famous of all Shetland Bus people was Leif Larsen, who did 52 missions before attempting to blow up the German battleship Tirpitz, which was trapped in a Norwegian fjord. The mission was unsuccessful, but Larsen escaped, although other colleagues were caught and shot. The Shetland Bus/Lief Larsen memorial is known and celebrated by all islanders. In the southern part of the Orkneys, lies a natural harbour called Scapa Flow, which became the main base for the British Fleet in WW2. In this sheltered area, British pilots also underwent training sessions learning how to land aircraft on ships.

For many (including me, until I learned otherwise) a picture of island life would probably include a small farmhouse (or croft), with a few sheep wandering nearby, piles of peat outside to fuel the fires and keep the occupants warm, green rolling hills sometimes sweeping down to lonely shores. Whilst you still certainly see such vistas, these days the main industries tend to revolve around oil and tourism. Oil was discovered in the Shetlands in the 1970’s, and tourism is growing at an astounding rate. Whilst touring around Lerwick, the principal town of Shetland, we learned that there were 57 cruise ships booked to visit the area in 2014. Whilst a great employment and income opportunity for islanders, we need to remember that the tourist season runs from March to September, and that for the other 5 months of the year, 140 mile per hour winds are commonplace, many of the animals have to be brought inside and even the humans avoid going out much!!

Fishing is still a major industry, with 7 super trawlers and a number of fish factories on site. ‐ Knitwear, agriculture/crofting are also active industries. Sport and leisure activities are a large part of life for islanders, with excellent facilities, and music is also a great tradition , with lots of variety, although playing the fiddle or violin is almost routine for most kids. We saw many wonderful castles as we travelled, including the Castle of Mey purchased and restored by the Queen Mother in 1952, Broughton Castle where “Downton Abbey” is filmed, and Dunollie castle (or the ruins of) the current stronghold of the Clan MacDougall. The climb to the Dunollie is well worth the breathtaking views to be seen over the town of Oban. The wonderful gardens and tropical plants we saw in Scotland (like Inverewe on the banks of Loch Ewe) were something of a surprise and result from the warm currents of the Gulfstream, or North Atlantic Drift, which flow to this part of the world all the way from Mexico, allowing great cascades of colour throughout the year. The hydrangeas were the largest and bluest I have ever seen.

I hope this brief description whets your appetite to hear more about our sail around the isles – there is so much more to tell and we look forward to continuing this journey with you sometime soon.

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Next Departure 3 May 2015 View all dates
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