Welcome to this adventure and to the exploration of the far
north of Scotland, its gardens, its vast landscapes and spectacular
coastlines and its warm and genuine hospitality, and welcome too,
to Orkney, a group of some 70 islands lying off the northern tip of
Scotland. Orkney brings a particular and extraordinary dimension to
this tour, and we have two days to explore its unique and
This tour is, in essence, a scenic progress around the very top
of Britain, visiting stunning gardens in breathtaking locations,
learning a little of its history and heritage, and enjoying a good
deal of excellent Highland hospitality.
The far north
The far north is a vast, sparsely populated area with a few,
mostly single track roads, crossing a remote and wild landscape; it
is stunningly beautiful, with huge, strange shaped mountains,
remote lochs and enormous skies. This is truly the Highlands, not just an ill-defined area on a
map, but a mindset and way of life. A little understanding of
the Highland Clearances, the seminal
event of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Scottish
history will not go amiss, and it is worth noting that Sutherland,
this most northerly part of Britain, is Sutherland because it was
the southern land of the Norse raider!
Five thousand years ago on Orkney, prehistoric man began
constructing extraordinary stone monuments, a series of important
domestic and ritual monuments which, individually, are masterpieces
and, collectively, represent one of the richest surviving Neolithic
landscapes in western Europe. We will spend a day in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, learning a little
of this fascinating ancient past. More recently Orkney's chief
influence, like that of Sutherland, was Norse, and, together with
its northern neighbours in the Shetland Islands, Orkney remained a
Norwegian province until 1469.
A superb three-part BBC series, Britain's Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney,
was screened in the UK this past winter, and if you are able to
watch it, I heartly recommend it. And this website, Orkneyjar, is useful for background reading -
and, if nothing else, you will learn that it is Orkney or the
Orkney Islands, but not the Orkneys!
Despite the remoteness and its northerly latitudes the far north
has a surprising number of excellent gardens and we will take you
to a selection of the very best, a range of gardens encompassing
the different styles and sizes, and we do so unhurriedly, at our
own pace. The charitable organisation, Scotland's
Gardens, has a useful website and I remain indebted to Kenneth
Cox and his wonderful book Scotland for Gardeners.
Sleeping & Eating
Because this is, in essence, a grand progress around the
northern-most coast of Scotland we have placed an even greater
emphasis on our comfort and convenience. All told, we stay in five
establishments during our progress; all different, all individual,
all in the Good Hotel Guide and, save for our first night
and for Orkney, all known to us and well-liked by us.
Our first and final evenings - driving to and from
the far north - are one-night affairs, and the middle six nights
are spent at three hotels, each for two nights.
Our first night is spent just north of Inverness, at Coul
House Hotel, Stuart and Susannah Macpherson's rambling
1820's mansion, bought by them in 2003, sight unseen! We then have
Friday and Saturday nights on Orkney at, The
Foveran, an award-winning restaurant-with-rooms and,
frankly, the best table in town. Returning to the mainland, we have
two nights at the wonderful Forss House Hotel, one of our
favourite hotels and truly one of the best hotels we have ever
stayed at, and then two nights in Ullapool, at The
Ceilidh Place, a mildly quirky establishment, which I
particularly enjoy, not least for its lovely residents' lounge, its
honesty bar and its great range of local beers! Our final night is
at the rather luxurious, and very comfortable, Roman Camp Hotel, within easy
striking distance of both Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports.
We have chosen these establishments for several reasons, among
them the fact that they have good kitchens, producing some superb
food and we will dine-in every evening, with the possible exception
of our second night in Ullapool - when we might go and get some
exceptionally good Fish & Chips!
Please let us know if any of the website links become
dysfunctional. Thank you.