10 to 22 September 2017
An autumn cruise along the western fringes of Scotland and Ireland
The Isle of Man is one of the six remaining Celtic nations. The Manx language, folklore, ancient monuments and parliament keep alive a strong sense of identity. The island’s highlights include challenging hikes, gentle rambles, its iconic 19th-century waterwheel, Victorian steam train and Snaefell Mountain Railway.
Ireland’s oldest city was founded in AD 914 by Vikings and for over a millennium has been a hub for maritime trade. The Waterford Garden Trail includes Mount Congreve, where 28 hectares of woodland encase a lush walled garden and Lismore Castle, whose 17th-century garden is said to be where Edmund Spenser penned The Faerie Queene.
Bantry’s sheltered position between the sea and mountains nurtures sub-tropical plants, palm trees and fertile pastures. An architectural highlight is Bantry House, the seat of the Earls of Bantry. There will also be the chance to take a boat to Garinish, an island garden that was created in 1910 and filled with temples, follies and exotic flora.
Today we will anchor in Galway Bay to visit Inishmore (Inis Mór), the largest of the Aran Islands. There will be the chance to visit the prehistoric Dun Aengus, where concentric stone rings form the remains of a fort that perched 100m above the crashing Atlantic waves. The wetlands of Kilmurvey beach are a paradise for wildfowl and rare birds.
For outdoor enthusiasts the Bluestack Mountains, Glenveagh National Park and Slieve League are all within reach. Other tours will include a visit to Glencolmcille, where Columba established a monastery before setting sail for Scotland, or a cruise around Donegal Bay to admire its huge seal colony.
The archipelago is renowned for its isolation, unique wildlife and formidable geological structures. St Kilda is made up of four main islands and is the only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UK. If the weather and sea conditions allow, we will land at Village Bay on Hirta to explore the remains of the 19th-century village.
This lively village is the heart of Mull’s fishing industry. Mull’s valleys and high mountains are golden eagle territory, while the rocky shores are home to a healthy population of otters. Mull was once land of the Maclean clan, and their stronghold, Duart Castle, is a formidable fortress dating from the 13th century.
Carlingford Lough is a glacial fjord forming part of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and is a designated Special Protection Area. There are many National Trust properties in the area including Ardress House and Castle Ward. The Mournes, Cooley Peninsula and Murlough Bay offer hiking and panoramic drives.
Today we’ll visit the largest of the Small Isles. Inhabited since Mesolithic times, the island is now a National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, and a Special Protection Area for birds. Rum is also known for its slice of eccentric British history: the Victorian-Edwardian sporting estate of Kinloch Castle.
Inverewe is the site of the extraordinary gardens of Osgood Mackenzie. You’ll find giant blue poppies, dangling Chilean lantern trees and tropical-sized leaves; in the autumn the katsura tree turns a fiery red-gold and gives off a burnt sugar scent. The gardens are offset by Highland landscape, with shingle beaches, mountains and views across Loch Ewe.
For our final day we are planning a call to Britain’s last wilderness, the Knoydart peninsula, accessible only by sea or via a 16-mile hike over mountainous terrain. The peninsula covers an area of around 85 square miles and its four Munros, broad glens, rivers and lochs make it an appealing, if challenging, place to visit.