Aberdeen—the Granite City, or the Silver City—is the third most populous urban area in Scotland. Many of Aberdeen’s buildings are of locally quarried granite; the high mica content of this stone can sparkle like silver. The traditional industries of fishing, paper-making, shipbuilding, and textiles, have been overtaken by the oil industry since discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s. Aberdeen’s heliport is one of the busiest in the world. The city is famed for its forty-five parks, gardens, and floral displays. We board the Ocean Endeavour in the afternoon.
Off the north coast of mainland Scotland, Orkney has been settled for at least eight thousand years. Many Neolithic archeological sites have been preserved here, including villages, ceremonial sites, and burial chambers. The Kings of Norway held a strong presence here until the sixteenth century and Stromness, a historic old town on the eastern shore of the main island, is a remnant from that time. A staging area for ships heading west to North America, Stromness was the last last European port of call for Hudson’s Bay Company ships and for the Franklin Expedition of 1845. The ancient village of Skara Brae and the standing stones at Stenness and Brogdar are notable sights in Orkney, among fertile rolling hills dotted with Aberdeen Angus cattle.
A key destination in Viking times, Fair Isle now harbours a hospitable population of some sixty residents who combine a respect for tradition with a modern outlook. It is also home to a National Trust Bird Observatory; over three hundred and fifty species of birds have been recorded here, including puffins and great skuas in substantial numbers. The local museum is dedicated to preserving island heritage, including the knitting of Fair Isle, is renowned the world over. The Jarlshof Prehistoric Norse settlement complex at the southern tip of the Shetlands spans more than four thousand years of human history.
The southwest coast of Suðuroy Island features dramatic cliffs that tower above the Atlantic Ocean. The western side of the island is a breeding site for seabirds, including northern fulmars, European storm petrels, European shags, black-legged kittiwakes, Atlantic puffins, common guillemots, and black guillemots. The village of Sumba—population 239—is a stronghold of Faroese chain dancing. Archaeological excavations have shown traces of occupation at Sumba as far back as the seventh century, making it one of the oldest villages in the Faroe Islands. Hiking is excellent in the foothills of nearby Beinisvøro Mountain, affording spectacular, panoramic views of the region.
Tórshavn, literally, “Thor’s harbour,” is the Faroe Islands’ capital and largest town, with a population of 19,000. Vikings established their parliament on the Tinganes peninsula in 850. Early in the history of the settlement, it was the centre of the islands’ trade monopoly and the only legal place to buy and sell goods. Following the end of the Viking age, Tórshavn gradually grew into a permanent trading area; today it is a modern European town whose principal industries are tourism and fishing. Tórshavn Cathedral was first built in 1788 and has been the seat of the Bishop of the Faroe Islands since 1990.
The northwestern shores of Eysturoy and Streymoy islands boast some of the Faroes’ most spectacular coastlines and superb hiking opportunities. Towering cliffs, waterfalls, sea stacks, and rocks seemingly pulled from the ocean floor are scattered among picturesque coastal communities like Saksun, Gjogv, and Tjornuvik. The uninhabited island of Tindhólmur may offer the single most breathtaking view in the Faroes. Each of its small peaks has its own name: Ytsti, Arni, Lítli, Breiði, and Bogdi. The nearby waterfall at Gásadalur is similarly majestic and Tolkienesque.
Mykines is the westernmost of the Faroes. Along its northern coast lies the valley Krokadalur, where great columns of balsalt (called the Stone-wood) tower thirty metres above the ocean. On the western end of the island, connected by a forty-metre footbridge, is the islet Mykinshólmur, with several sea stacks clustered at its western end and a lighthouse dating to 1909. Geologically, this is the oldest part of the Faroes, formed about sixty million years ago by volcanic activity. Mykines has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International for its large numbers of puffins and gannets, guillemots, razorbills, northern fulmurs, Manx shearwaters, European storm petrels, European shags, and black-legged kittiwakes.
Surtsey was declared a nature reserve for the study of ecological succession in 1965—just two years after it erupted from the sea floor. The volcanic mound has the distinction of being one of the world’s newest islands, having emerged over the course of three and a half years. In the first spring after Surtsey appeared above the sea surface, seeds and other plant parts were found washed up on the newly formed shore. By the spring of 1965, the first higher plant—a sea rocket—was discovered at the shoreline. Now diminishing in size due to erosion, Surtsey was named Iceland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Vestmannaeyjar lies off the south coast of Iceland and comprises fourteen islands in addition to a number of rocks and skerries. Only the archipelago’s largest island, Heimaey, is inhabited—though several of the outlying islands have small cabins used during bird-hunting season. The islands’ name originates from a time when Irish slaves fled Iceland’s south coast; to the first Icelanders (who originated in Norway) the Irish were known as “west men”. Since the early days of Heimaey’s occupation, fishing has been the principal way of life for its inhabitants. Numerous species of seabirds nest in the steep rock faces along the ocean cliffs and high on the bluffs surrounding the island. In 1973, Heimaey was threatened by lava flow that would have closed off its harbour, had it not been for human intervention. Today, Eldfell crater remains warm from subterranean magma.
Home to some of the youngest lava in the country, the southwest coast is full of natural and geological wonders such as rugged lava fields, craters, and volcanoes. The Reykjanes peninsula is home to the Álfagjá rift valley, which marks the boundary of the Eurasian and North American continental tectonic plates. Today, a bridge spans the two plates, and it was named in honour of Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson, the first known European to have travelled to North America. The south coast is filled with geothermal activity and is home to the Blue Lagoon. Today represents an expedition day in the truest sense, as we will search for opportunities and explore the dramatic island coastline.
Reykjavík, or “steamy bay”, is a cosmopolitan capital city and as much a part of the Icelandic experience as the midnight sun or the fire and ice that creates the island’s landscape. Entirely powered by geothermal energy harnessed from the Earth, the city boasts air that is crisp, clean, and pollution free, as well as thermally heated streets and sidewalks. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world, and is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland, established in AD 874. The Culture House, which opened in 1909, was originally built to house the National Library and National Archives of Iceland; in 2000, it was remodeled to promote Icelandic national heritage, including treasures like the Poetic Edda, and the Norse Sagas in their original manuscripts.
Today we disembark the Ocean Endeavour and transfer to the airport.