Anam Cara Tours, LLC
(August 21, 2019, subject to change)
Highlands & Hebrides
April 16-24, 2020
Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin, director/guide
Transportation provided by Maynes Coaches
Wednesday, April 15 – ARRIVAL (Free day in Inverness to acclimate & roam, dinner on your own, pre-paid overnight accommodations. Tour begins Thursday at breakfast.)
Overnight: Columba Hotel, Inverness
Thursday, April 16 – DAY 1
After breakfast, we’ll make a short drive to Clava Cairns. It’s one of the best-preserved Bronze Age burial (and likely ceremonial) sites in Scotland, dating back to the late Neolithic period, similar to Newgrange in Ireland. There are three cairns here, two with passage ways aligned to the winter solstice sunset, and all with subtle features, incorporated to reflect the importance of the South-west horizon. Some of the large boulders which make up the outer facing of the cairns have been carved with enigmatic cup and ring markings. It is said that the elegant and craggy trees that meander through the site were planted by Druids.
After a lunch stop, we’ll travel on to nearby Culloden, the infamous battlefield that divided families and set clan against clan.
The course of British, European and world history was changed here at Culloden on April 16, 1746. It was here that the Jacobite army fought to reclaim the throne of Britain from the Hanoverians for a Stuart king. The British army was equally determined to stop this happening. Now, 250 years on, Culloden is still a site that connects us intimately with our past and is a critical part of the “Outlander” saga. Our group will enjoy a one-hour private tour of the battlegrounds. Volunteers are on staff at the visitor center offering help in researching clan names.
Down the road we’ll process along a short path that weaves through enchanting woodlands and delivers us to St. Mary’s Well. It is a site of spiritual pilgrimage, past and present. On the first day of May, people flock to St Mary’s Well to tie “clooties” (prayer ties) to nearby trees, which, according to local lore, will ward away evil spirits for a year. You will be provided with a prayer tie for your personal offering.
We’ll return to Inverness for a complimentary arrival dinner at our hotel.
Overnight: Columba Hotel, Inverness
Friday, April 17 – DAY 2
After a hearty Highland breakfast, we’ll load our bags onto our private motor coach and begin our journey to mystical islands of the Hebrides. After a little more than an hour on the road, we’ll board the CalMac Ferry at Ullapool for our two hour and 30-minute cruise over waters known as The Minch. Also called North Minch, it is a strait in north-west Scotland, separating the north-west Highlands and the northern Inner Hebrides from Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
We arrive Stornoway early afternoon, our home for three nights. From standing stones to broad, deserted beaches, the Isle of Lewis has captured the imagination since Neolithic times. Forming the largest landmass of the Western Isles, Lewis and Harris are a single island, though Gaelic dialects differ between the two areas.
After lunch, we’ll visit the nearby St. Columba’s Ui Church. He was the Irish priest that brought Catholicism to Scotland. The church is one of the few and most complete remains of the medieval and post-medieval period on Lewis. St Columba’s Ui Church (Eaglais na h-Aoidhe) is also one of the most important archaeological sites on the Isle of Lewis. It was the main church during the medieval period and it is a burial place for the Macleod chiefs and the Mackenzies who controlled the island in later years. It contains two carved grave slabs commemorating Roderick Macleod VII (d.1498) and Margaret Mackinnon (d.1503).
After settling into our rooms, we’ll enjoy another complimentary arrival dinner.
Overnight: Caladh Inn, Stornoway, Lewis
Saturday, April 18 – DAY 3
After breakfast we’ll enjoy a day trip to the major sites on the Isle of Lewis, starting with the mysterious and majestic Callanish Stones. The Stones are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era, and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. Numerous other ritual sites lie within a few kilometers. These include at least three other circles, several arcs, alignments and single stones; many visible from the main site. The most impressive – Callanish II and Callanish III – lie just over a kilometer southeast of the main Callanish Stones, and originally consisted of circles of stones at least eight in number. The existence of other monuments in the area implies that Callanish was an active focus for prehistoric religious activity for at least 1,500 years. The Sleeping Beauty, also known as the ‘Cailleach Na Mointeach’ or ‘Old woman of the moors’, is a spectacular skyline of a woman’s prone form seen to the north east from the standing stones of Callanish. Moonrise at the time of the 18.6-year lunar standstill aligns significantly with this landscape. According to one tradition, the Callanish Stones were petrified giants who would not convert to Christianity. In the 17th century the people of Lewis were calling the stones fir bhrèige (“false men”). Another legend is that early on midsummer morning an entity known as the “Shining One” walks the length of the avenue, his coming heralded by the call of the cuckoo bird returning from Africa.
Our island journey will take us on to Carloway Broch and Bosta. Dun Carloway (Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Chàrlabhaigh) is a broch situated in the district of Carloway, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis. It is a remarkably well-preserved broch (circular stone tower) on the east side parts of the old wall still reach to 9 meters tall. Dun Carloway is built on a rock on a steep south slope at the height of 50 meters. It is the best preserved broch in the Outer Hebrides. The wall of the broch rises on the south side to 9.2 meters. The broch overlooks Loch Carloway.
Huddled atop a hill overlooking the fierce Atlantic is a quaint cluster of stone cottages known as Blackhouse Village. This once-abandoned village both preserves a piece of the Outer Hebrides’ past and serves as a picturesque place for travelers to spend a night or two. This cluster of houses was built in the late 1800s. They’re the traditional blackhouses that once dotted the Hebridean landscape. For centuries, Highlanders and their livestock lived in these one-room abodes. The houses, which featured packed earth floors, drystone walls, and thatched roofs, offered refuge from the wild North Atlantic weather. A fire in the central hearth kept the space warm, and a divider separated the human inhabitants from their farm animals, which remained huddled at one end of the building.
We’ll close our journey at the first single malt whisky from a distillery in the Outer Hebrides since 1829. Abhainn Dearg Distillery (pronounced Aveen Jarræk), or Red River in English, is a craft distillery located in Uig on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis. The distillery was founded by Mark Tayburn (Marko) and was the first legal whisky distillery in the Outer Hebrides in almost two hundred years. We will enjoy and, for those of us who imbibe, a generous whisky tasting.
Dinner and evening on your own.
Overnight: Caladh, Stornoway, Lewis
Sunday, April 19 – DAY 4
Today you’ll have a free morning. Sleep in and set breakfast time at your leisure. Some may want to roam about Stornoway on your own or attend a church service. The Free Church of Scotland is the predominant church with the Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church being the other main churches. On Sundays there will usually be a Gaelic service in the morning.
After lunch on our own, will do something a little different. Meet and greet Scottish alpacas! Callanish Alpacas is a family run alpaca visitor center located directly on the Hebridean Way in sight of Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis. Booked visits involve feeding our 6 alpacas and a tour of the other animals…more than 40 unusual chickens, 21 Indian runner ducks, 2 peacocks, 3 smiling goats and 3 sheep with a difference. All 80+ animals have names.
Time and weather permitting, we’ll enjoy a sight-seeing drive to the northern tip of Lewis, known as the Butt of Lewis. The Butt of Lewis is the dramatic northern extremity of Lewis, the tower of its slender brick lighthouse standing proud against the storms that often rage here – a spot claimed to be the windiest in Britain. This superb circular walk takes in the cliff-top scenery as well as the stunning beach – and the route can easily be extended if you wish to take in the bridge to the historic stack of Dun Eistean. For the walkers among us, there is just under a mile’s walk each way from the signpost on the road and well worth it. Lovely scenic views topped off by the bridge across to the island and the fort remains. Beautiful and peaceful with great views from the bridge. Information boards explain the history.
Dinner & evening on your own.
Overnight: Caladh, Stornoway, Lewis
Monday, April 20 – Day 5
After breakfast we will load our bags onto our private motor coach for our next ferry crossing. But first we will visit the nearby majestic Lews Castle, a Victorian era castle located west of -Stornoway. It was built in the years 1844–51 as a country house for Sir James Matheson who had bought the whole island a few years previously with his fortune from the Chinese Opium trade. It was designed by the Glasgow architect Charles Wilson. In 1918, the Lewis Estate, including the castle, was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family. He gave the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923. During the Second World War the Castle was taken over as accommodation for air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron, who operated a detachment of six Supermarine Walrus aircraft from a slipway at Cuddy Point in the Grounds. The base was referred to as HMS Mentor. After the war, the Castle was used for accommodation for students of Lews Castle College in the 1950s. After the accommodation closed, the building was left disused for several decades.
After lunch on our own we’ll catch the 2:00pm CalMac ferry from Stornoway back to Ullapool on the mainland. With its wide streets, white-washed houses, palm trees and street signs in Gaelic, Ullapool is one of the prettiest villages on the west coast of Scotland. From there we will follow the coastline of Little Loch Broom. It turns inland a bit then onto Gruinard Bay then back again to Loch Ewe. The view changes all the time, and is always spectacular.
After checking into our Gairloch Hotel, our home for three nights, locals recommend the Fish and Chip shop and buying a pound or two of fresh Langoustines (Dublin Bay Prawns) and Squat Lobsters with a bag of chips (French fries). Delish, they say! Overnight: Gairloch Hotel
Tuesday, April 21 – DAY 6
After enjoying a locally sourced breakfast, we’ll make the hour drive to the Skye Bridge. From there we will experience the rocky slopes and beaches of the Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island’s peninsulas radiate from a mountainous center dominated by the Cuillin, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country.
Skye has a long history involving the sidhe (pronounced shee). They are the fairies most of which is related to Dunvegan Castle and their ‘Fairy Flag’. The Fairy Glen has no real legends or stories involving fairies that can be traced. The simple fact that the location is unusual so it has been given the nickname Fairy Glen. We will take a shuttle bus to this rugged and remote area.
We will continue pursuing fairy lore with a visit to Dunvegan Castle & Gardens. It’s the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years. Originally designed as a fortress to keep people out, today you can tour an award-winning castle and Highland estate steeped in history and clan legend. It also boasts three gift shops plus a cafeteria and other amenities.
Am Bratach Sith (The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan) is one of the clan MacLeod’s most treasured possessions. Probably from Syria or Rhodes and woven of silk in the 4th century AD, legend has it that this sacred clan banner has miraculous powers. When unfurled in battle, the clan would invariably snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The traditional tales about its origin can be split into two distinct themes – Fairies and Crusaders. Fairy stories are difficult to relate to fact and often come about as a substitute for forgotten truth. The connection with the Crusades can be linked to the only scientific information we have about the Fairy Flag’s origin. When Sir Reginald MacLeod of MacLeod (27th Chief) had the Fairy Flag conserved and mounted in its sealed frame by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, he listened while Mr. Wace (one of the V&A’s experts) set out his theory about its origins, including the historical evidence that the Norseman Harald Hardrada (one of the early ancestors of the Chiefs of MacLeod), while on an expedition to plunder the pilgrim routes of the Middle East had brought a famous banner back to Britain where he was killed in 1066. Reginald listened politely and then said: “Mr. Wace, you may believe that, but I know that it was given to my ancestor by the fairies,” to which Mr. Wace replied, “Sir Reginald, I bow to your superior knowledge.”
We’ll travel on to Dun Beag, considered to be an excellent example of a broch: a kind of Iron Age round stone tower only found in Scotland. It stands at the top of a rocky knoll on the Isle of Skye, commanding excellent views of the surrounding landscape. The broch would have been built around 2,000–2,500 years ago. It appears to have been occupied for a very long period – medieval and later coins were reportedly recovered from the site in the early 1900s.
After a lunch stop, our final destination will be the infamous Fairy Pools. The short walk to the pools follows a gravel path that is in good condition most of the way, but does involve river crossings over stepping stones. It takes about 20 minutes to get the first and largest waterfall that marks the start of the pools This first Waterfall marks the start of the magical pools. Take some time to work your way up the river and explore all the pools. This first waterfall is the highest fall and deepest pool. The next pool up is properly the most famous, a beautifully clear blue pool idea for swimming. It features a natural arch, offering an exhilarating under water swim though the arch. There many small pools as you work your way up the river.
After making sure no fairies have joined us, we will make the hour drive back to Gairloch for dinner and evening on your own. Overnight: Gairloch Hotel
Wednesday, April 22 – DAY 7
***FREE DAY*** You will be given a list of things to do, at your own expense. Or just enjoy a down day in this remarkable location!!!
Several small villages call themselves part of Gairloch; the main amenities are in one area, but you’ll find other places to eat etc spread around. There are quite a few pubs, cafes and restaurants, some of them very good, and a very nice beach, with other lovely beaches a short drive away. The harbor is quite busy, with boat trips, fishing boats. There are some very good walks in the area, a decent butcher, a Spa supermarket, bank, petrol station and other general shops etc.
Overnight: Gairloch Hotel
Thursday, April 23 – DAY 8
After breakfast we say farewell to the Hebrides and head back to original our hotel in Inverness. We’ll follow part of North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip through the Scottish Highlands. A TripAdvisor post: “All along the journey I was warned about the infamous Bealach na Bà. As a non-Gaelic speaker, we’ll just call it by its other name, Applecross Pass. The pass climbs over 2,000 feet in a very short distance with switchbacks straight out of an alpine scene. There is even a sign at the bottom banning large vehicles and warning new drivers not to attempt the drive. The entire pass is single-track with passing places dotted throughout.”
We’ll enjoy stop to stretch our legs with a stroll to Victoria Falls, named after Queen Victoria who visited in 1877. From the car park there are wonderful views over Loch Maree, and you can follow the short path to the viewing area to see the falls. The water tumbling down the falls comes from Beinn Eighe, the impressive bulk of mountain to the south of the loch. It’s a National Nature Reserve, and well worth exploring to see the ancient Caledonian Pinewood and mountain environment.
Traveling on, we’ll arrive Achnasheen, a tiny settlement of just 28 people. For hundreds of years it has lain at an important junction in the center of the northern Highlands. Here the road from Inverness, just over 40 miles to the south east, splits in two. We’ll enjoy a complimentary lunch at the highly praised Ledgowan Lodge, located near Ross-shire where there are some of the most spectacular scenery, mountains, lochs and plenty of wild life where stags and hinds roam freely.
Our last stop will be at Rogie Falls. Located close to the car park, there is an impressive suspension bridge crossing the Black Water river at the falls, giving an up-close view of this awesome natural phenomenon.
Situated near to the delightful Victorian spa village of Strathpeffer in Easter Ross, Scotland, Castle Leod is surely one of the most beautiful, romantic and unspoiled castles in the Highlands. The castle has been lived in by the same family for well over 500 years and is the Seat of Clan Mackenzie, their Chief (Cabarfeidh), Earl of Cromartie, and his family. Castle Leod is widely considered to be the inspiration behind Outlandder’s Castle Leoch.
Dinner & evening on your own.
Overnight: Columba Hotel, Inverness
Friday, April 24 – Inverness
Enjoy breakfast at your leisure with time to explore Inverness. If you feel active and want more tour things to do, you will be provided with a list of day trips out of Inverness, at your own expense. We’ll gather for a festive farewell group dinner (complimentary) followed by traditional Scottish music, song and dance! The evening closes with our own session of goodbyes and farewells.
Overnight: Columba Hotel, Inverness
Monday, April 29 – AIRPORT DEPARTURE (at traveler’s expense)
Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin
Anam Cara Tours LLC