A highlight of our ‘Voyages of Discovery’ 2020 season is the “Scotland, Faroe Islands & Iceland” voyage that follows in the footsteps of the Vikings and Gaels. Rich in history and spectacular landscapes, this itinerary has no shortage of must-see destinations. Here is a list of the top 7 North Atlantic highlights on this voyage that are sure to take your breath away.
Dunnottar Castle (Aberdeen, Scotland), in Gaelic (Dùn Fhoithear) means “Fort on the shelving slope”. It is located along the eastern coast of Scotland, 3 kilometres south of Stonehaven. It is said that the very first building of the fortress was an old chapel built in the 5th century, though this isn’t verified. The earliest record of this site is of two sieges that would have taken place in 681 and 694 by the Picts*. It is said that the very first King of Alba**, King Donald the second was killed at Dunnottar during a Viking raid in 900. During the 13th century, the fort witnessed many battles. During the Wars of Scottish Independence, William Wallace and his men captured and imprisoned 400 English soldiers and burned them alive locked in the church. The fort was largely left derelict until the 16th century when it was rebuilt by George Keith to resemble more of a palace. Likely, Dunnottar is best known as the hiding place for the Scottish crown jewels during the invasion of Scotland by the British led by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th Century.
*Picts: a people that lived in what is now the northeastern part of Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and the Early Medieval age.
**Alba: Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland
Skara Brae (Orkney, Scotland) is a Neolithic settlement located on the Mainland (the Main Island of Orkney). The settlement which consists of eight homes is Europe’s most intact Neolithic village. It is older than Stonehenge and older than the Great Pyramids. It was occupied in 3180 BC to 2500BC. It was discovered when a particularly aggressive storm blew through the island in 1850 and revealing irregular buttes. These turned out to be the remains of the Neolithic village.
A strange fact discovered is that the earliest known record of the human flea was found in Skara Brae. Skara Brae is situated 6 miles from a site called Maeshowe, a Neolithic chambered cairn which served as a tomb. It is designed so that the central chamber is illuminated on the winter solstice. It was also decorated with some interesting Viking graffiti. It is presumed that Vikings may have broken into the tomb seeking shelter from a storm and kept busy by carving into the walls. These runes are the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found outside of Scandinavia.
Some of the translated ruins:
“These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the western ocean”
“Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up”
“Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women” (carved beside a rough drawing of a slavering dog)
The Calanais Standing Stones
The Calanais Standing Stones are found in Stornoway which is located on the Island of Lewis and Harris in the Hebrides, Scotland. They are an amazing cross-shaped arrangement of stones that were erected 5000 years ago. They predate the Stones of Stonehenge. It is believed that they may have been arranged so as a means for
The Tinganes is a historic location in Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. What makes this location so unique are the sod roofs of the buildings, which makes them look like raised lawns. Sod roofs are a traditional Scandinavian roofing technique where sod is placed on top of layers of birch bark on top of sloped wooden roof boards, offering insulation and waterproofing. This technique is mostly found on log buildings and was common practice until the late 19th century.
Known as the ‘lake over the ocean’, Sørvágsvatn is located on the Island of Vágar in the Faroe Islands. This lake is of particular interest because it creates an optical illusion to be floating above the ocean. In reality, it is thirty metres above the ocean, but at times can look to be one hundred metres above. The residents of Sørvágur, who were the first people to inhabit the area, named the lake. However to the inhabitants of Miðvágur, the village by the lake, it is known as Leitisvatn as the land is called Leiti.
Reynisdranger is an impressive rock formation off of the southern coast of Iceland. The rocks jut from the ocean, remnants of a collapsed sea cliff. The Basalt columns were featured in Game of Thrones in the 7th season. They are also included in Icelandic folklore. According to legend, the columns are frozen trolls, immortalized forever by the sun, as they happen to turn to stone when exposed to sun rays. The trolls were attempting to bring a ship back to shore before they got caught by the dawn. Another legend tells that the two trolls were tricked by the widow of a woman they murdered into coming out at dawn, as revenge.
Also known as the Westman Islands, this archipelago of islands off of the south coast of Iceland was formed by a series of underwater volcanic eruptions. The youngest island, Surtsey was formed in 1963. In 1973, 400 buildings were destroyed in the town of Heimaey when the volcano Helgafell erupted and subsequently created another volcano, Eldfell.
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