The Western Isles of Scotland are remote both geographically and culturally from mainland Britain. It is often said by the locals that "the next parish is America". For the pilgrim, there is an unspoilt quality to the place: the best preserved standing stones in Celtdom are to be found on this western fringe of Europe; there is a bleak, harsh beauty to be found here and a cultural blend of Folklore, Christianity and the Goddess in the landscape.
This journey is for those who want see parts of Scotland beyond the tourist haunts, to experience isles of Skye, Harris & Lewis, islands where the blend of Gàidhlig and Viking culture sets this place apart from the world.
Your guide, Scot AnSgeulaiche, is a seanachaid or tradition keeper and storyteller and so is experienced in history of Scotland, its sacred places, its spirituality from times past and also in knowing locations that are stunning, but less visited.
These first two days set a ground to understand the ancient
beliefs and sense of spirit of the Scots, and the land that formed them.
Day 1: We travel north west from Edinburgh through the Trossachs to the coast, giving time for experiencing the important things in life, such as the Three Sisters of Glencoe, eerily beautiful. We'll go hiking in Glen Nevis in the afternoon, amidst the foothills of Britain's tallest mountain and the home of the Cailleach Bheur the Goddess of the Hills, possibly the oldest diety in Europe. Walking is an important activity to understand what is here - your feet must tramp the ground. There will be Tales of Cailleach Bheur to open your understanding of her place in Scottish beliefs.
Day 2: We travel further west and into Glen Elg a place of green lushness that has been lived in continously for at least 2000 years. We then reach and begin to explore our first island, Eilean a'Cheò, the Isle of Mist, Skye. There will be other stops of interest along the way. We have the evening free to roam Portree with its colourfully painted waterfront and partake in some great seafood.
Day 3: We explore the northern
loop of Skye, beginning with a view of the Man of Storr and the waterfall at Kilt Rock
and then we'll hike into the range of hills known as the Quiraing with its gravity-defying
pinnacles and crags and its almost unprecedented complete lack of folkore to explain its strange atmosphere. The canvas
here is huge and humans seem very, very small. The views are stunning. Again the focus here is on opening the senses to what is
being offered by the land. Later, we take in the vast ocean from the top of Skye, get a glimpse of crofting and continue on to
Fairy Glen where the locals say that the Wee Folk have inhabited since long ago. This will be a place for sacred practice,
both together and alone. Second evening in Portree.
Day 4: It's on to the ferry to Harris! If the guests are interested, we'll delve a little into a particular kind of Scottish Spirituality: Na Hearradh - the new distillery on Harris, making whisky and gin. We'll talk to the locals about why this is a "Social Distillery".
We spend the afternoon exploring our fourth island, Bernera Mòr, around Bostadh's beaches and Iron Age Norse village remains. As we cross Lewis we'll stop at one small part of the complex that is the Calanais stones, just to give a more technical introduction to the relationship between solar, lunar and standing stones that we'll need for the next day.
Day 5: The destination of our pilgrimage: we will step back in time as we walk amongst some of the most incredible formations of standing stones in the world at the interlinked stone rings and alignments that make up Calanais. We'll spend the whole day here so there will be plenty of time to make ceremony as a group and also solo time to just be, to appreciate the interplay of landscape and standing stones. Afterwards, for those who have a more active bent, I will lead or direct guests to the more hidden parts of this complex, which covers many miles; for others, there are a miriad of experiences to be found just by listening to the landscape and the sea inlet around these ancient sites.
Day 6: we'll cover two milenium as we explore a well preserved thatched home from the 18-20th Century,
a restored Viking site from a thousand years ago and a fort from the Iron Age Celts. We'll see if our weaver friends are
working and experience the process of the famous Harris Tweed. Did you know the world
famous Harris tweed is made by only about 80 people, each working from home? The making of a' Chlò Mòr
(the tweed) will give guests another perspective on the culture and landscape of these isles: tweed is taken very seriously here!
Day 7: A leisurely morning of making Brigit's Crosses (Saint and Celtic Goddess much revered in these parts) before we board the afternoon ferry back to the mainland. On board there is plenty of time to collect thoughts into a journal, watch the porpoises and seabirds go by and gaze with wonder at the tiny, uninhabited islands we pass along the way. We disembark at Ullapool and travel south for dinner and a night in/near Inverness.
Day 8: Back to the Highlands and heading south. We'll visit a very different kind of stone circle and cairn, almost five thousand year old. We'll make a stop dedicated to ancient Celtic poetry that will give you a sense of the Celtic perspective on nature, human existence and art. We'll make other small stops as places of note interact with the group's interests. If the weather is right, we'll make one of the above a venue for our popular picnic lunch. Our journey returns us to our meeting point in Edinburgh near the end of the day and we bid a sad farewell.
Note: Because ferry schedules change we may rearrange the order of the itinerary to take advantage of the best crossings for our schedule.
* Note about accommodation: Each day of the tour has an associated evening covered in the tour cost, including the last day after the tour ends and you are dropped off. The evening before the tour begins is not covered, but can be booked for you in a hotel near to the start point of the tour, to assist your travel plans. There is no charge for arranging this and you will pay the host directly. My preferred type of accommodation is high standard B&B. This allows you to stay with and meet locals, gaining the richness of their experience
In 1773 the elderly Dr. Samuel Johnson (he of the first English dictionary) was taken on a tour of a hundred days by his younger Scottish lawyer friend, James Boswell, to the Western Isles. Both men wrote an account of their trip. Johnson's contained his rather disparaging observations about the Highlanders; Boswell's account was mostly about his observations of Dr. Johnson. From the beginning of the tour: "Johnson had provided himself with a pair of pistols but was persuaded to leave them in Edinburgh."