May 26 and May 27:
We flew from Houston, Texas, on May 26 and arrived in London, UK, on May 27 with connections on to Aberdeen, Scotland. The Patio Hotel was our home base in Aberdeen. We spent the afternoon of the 27th walking around Aberdeen and along the esplanade facing the North Sea.
After a leisurely breakfast, we did some birding in the park and esplanade area across the street from our hotel. Even though it was raining and cold, we walked to the main Aberdeen shopping district to sight see and shop. The M.V. Aleksey Maryshev, our ship for the cruise, sailed out of Aberdeen harbor late in the afternoon and headed for Fair Isle, our first port of call.
Our early afternoon landing at Fair Isle (24 miles SW of Sumburgh Head in the Shetland Islands) was cancelled because of fog, rough seas and overall bad weather (a big disappointment). After dinner our captain was able to lower the Zodiacs so that we could land on the Island of Mousa (off the SW coast of the Mainland Shetland Islands) for an evening of birding and touring an Iron Age broch.
Our ship was anchored in Sumburgh Head, the most southerly point on the Shetland mainland, and remained here while our group visited the archaeological sites in Jarlshof and did some birding. Late in the afternoon, the island of Foula was our next stop (to make up for missing Fair Isle). The island lies 24 miles west of West Burra off the SW Mainland Shetland Islands. With only thirty-two residents, it is a hardy group of people who live here. Our group could take one of several tours with the locals as guides. We chose to bird.
The entire day was spent in the Orkneys viewing various archaeological sites in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae (Europe's best-preserved Neolithic village), and Maes Howe (chambered tomb and henge monument). Our ship landed around 8 AM in Stromness, and we proceeded by bus to the various monuments. Interspersed with viewing the archaeological ruins, we did manage some birding. While in the city of Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, we visited the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces (the finest Renaissance building in Scotland..minus its roof), St. Magnus Cathedral, a small museum near the cathedral, and the port area. On our return bus trip to Stromness, we drove by Scapa Flow (WWII naval base in a sheltered harbor) and the Churchill Barriers (stone barriers closing off access to Scapa Flow). We also stopped at the Italian Chapel in Lambholm, Orkney, which was the brain-child of WWII prisoner of war Domenico Chiocchetti. After leaving Stromness, we cruised past the 1,000 foot high cliffs and the Old Man Of Hoy off the western coast of Hoy.
We cruised past the tiny sea stack of Sula Sgeir (N of the Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides) early in the morning looking for birds and later landed on the western side of the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis to visit Black Houses in the village of Gearrannan. The Black Houses date back to the end of the 1800's and typify life on this outpost and the dry stone masonry and thatched roofing in use at that time. Since religion plays a big part in the local life, the Black Houses were not open for viewing on a Sunday. Early in the evening we took a two hour Zodia cruise around the Flannan Islands which are located in the N. Atlantic west of the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Along with our time in the Orkneys, this birding cruise was one of the highlights of the trip.
This morning we made Zodiac landings on Hirta in the archipelago of St. Kilda (64 Km W-NW of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. These are the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides. They are owned by the National Trust for Scotland and are one of Scotland's four World Heritage Sites. After viewing the stone buildings (cleitean) in the area and finding the St. Kilda's Wren we were ready to Zodiac back to the ship. Unfortunately, that was not possible for an additional two hours because those of us who chose not to search for the Snowy Owl were left stranded. The afternoon was spent cruising via our ship throughout the archipelago looking for seabird colonies.
The island of Iona was our port of call this morning. It is a 3 mile long, 1.5 mile wide island that lies off the western tip of Mull. We visited the Abbey and enjoyed views of the Nunnery. Because we spent a long time looking for Corncrakes, we really didn't get a true flavor of the island. This is a stop we recommend..Be sure to sample the local food and visit its shops. We'll have to go back again to do that. In the afternoon we cruised off the western tip of the island of Mull. The weather was gorgeous, and it proved to be a very enjoyable part of the trip. Birding definitely could have been better.
We disembarked in Oban, Scotland (another city to spend time in) and headed to Glasgow airport to discharge those leaving for home. Along the way, we stopped in the village of Luss located on Loch Lomand (beautiful and quaint). We spent the rest of the day in Glasgow. We toured George Square, the financial district, several shopping areas, St. Mungo's Cathedral (well worth a visit), and the Acropolis. The Millennium Hotel on George Square turned out to be a good hotel choice with excellent food and service.
Flew to Newark, NJ from Glasgow, Scotland, and then home to Houston, TX.