British Isles

For Carla’s family

April 2003.

Gaelic roots

Dear Carla,

Though the language is the same as in your home country, you will find that the British Isles offer a great deal of the unknown, from culture to art, to customs, and even cuisine. During your journey, you will immerse yourself in lilting accents, rolling hills, beautiful seascapes, and ancient sites—a perfect opportunity to expand your children’s horizons and deepen their connection with their own ancestry.

Day 1: London

On your first day, you will settle into London and spend the day at a leisurely pace adjusting to the time zone. Your guide, Liam, will meet you upon your arrival and will accompany you for the remainder of your trip.

Day 2: Portsmouth

This morning, you will arrive in the coastal town of Portsmouth. Before embarking on the National Geographic Explorer, you will visit the Royal Naval Museum, home to the HMS Victory, the splendid three-masted flagship in which Admiral Horatio Nelson led the victorious attack at Trafalgar.

Day 3: Dartmouth

Carla, make sure you’re on deck this morning as you make a dramatic entry into the river Dar. Once you dock, immerse yourself in Dartmouth’s vast seafaring history. You will stroll along the quaint waterfront, observing many of the fine old buildings that recall its nautical past. Liam will tell you tales of the town and the stories of these structures, and may even teach you a sea shanty (song) or two.

Day 4: Isles of Scilly

On the island Tresco, you will visit the fabulous Tresco Abbey Gardens. Perhaps surprising to visitors, you will find a variety of subtropical plants at these northern latitudes—they flourish due to the helpful route of the Gulf Stream. You will also have a good chance to spot numerous birds, including shearwaters and sandpipers. Liam will point them out to you as I know Roxanne is an avid birdwatcher.

Day 5: The Skelligs and Dingle Peninsula

Carla, in Ireland today, you will explore the roots of Celtic Christianity. You will cruise slowly by Skellig Michael to view the beehive huts of a Celtic Christian monastery, built five hundred feet high atop the island in the sixth century. A half-mile distant is rocky Little Skellig, whose white spires reveal it as a favorite roost for seabirds. Go ashore at the beautiful Dingle Peninsula. Perhaps happy to be on solid ground for a bit, you will be at your leisure. Walk through the charming village of Dingle, sample an Irish coffee, and browse the shops for woolens.

Day 6: Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher

These islands contain many pre- and early Christian sites. Most dramatic is Dun Aengus, a stone fort dating to 4000 B.C. Perched on a 200-foot cliff overlooking the sea, the view staggering. Liam will, once again, share his knowledge of the region with you, weaving facts with fairytales as he delights you and your children with mesmerizing depictions of the region.

Day 7: County Donegal

Donegal (in Gaelic dun na nGall or ‘fort of the foreigners,’ i.e. the Vikings), is an ancient and dramatically beautiful area. You will board the ship Zodiacs to explore lovely Donegal Bay and then drive to Clencolumbkille, one of the most traditional areas in Ireland, where Gaelic is still the primary language. In the evening, you will be left in awe as you cruise past the 2,000 foot high cliffs of Slieve League, the highest in Europe.

Day 8: Inner Hebrides

Your family will arrive in Scotalnd today. St. Columba called Iona “love of my heart” and chose it as the site for his monastery. Walk through the ancient nunnery to 12th-century Iona Abbey, where sixty kings lie buried, including Duncan and MacBeth. The afternoon will find you on Staffa, an island famed for its great basalt columns and deep sea caves. Perhaps you and your family will feel particular inspiration in these places. After all, it was here in Fingal’s Cave that Felix Mendelssohn was inspired to write his haunting Hebrides Overture.

Day 9: Outer Hebrides

Along the wild, western coast of Scotland are the Outer Hebrides, islands steeped in history and legend, where Gaelic is still widely spoken. The day is open for exploration. Weather permitting, you will explore remote St. Kilda. A World Heritage Site, it was occupied from the New Stone Age through 1930. You will then venture to the Isle of Lewis to see the massive Neolithic Standing Stones of Callanish.

Day 10: Inverewe Gardens

After a lot of exploring yesterday, I have planned for today to be a quiet day to gather as a family and converse amid the beautiful scenery, amid the gentle grandeur that results from gardening—that is, from man colluding with nature to create art. This cooperation is evident in the famous Inverewe Gardens. Tempered by the Gulf Stream, the delightful gardens are an anomaly of sub-tropical color—grown at the same latitude as St. Petersburg. The day will be at leisure for you to stroll the gardens and relax.

Day 11: Orkney Islands

Few places in the world have the impact of the Stone Age site of Orkney. The standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar and the 6,000-year-old stone slab village excavated at Skara Brae are stunning manifestations of a culture older than the pyramids of Egypt. Later, you will see the massive Cathedral of St. Magnus, built by the Vikings, and the stately Balfour Castle on Shapinsay Island, where you recharge with a hearty Scottish tea.

Day 12: Fair Isle and Mousa

Fair Isle claims to be the most isolated settlement in the British Isles. The seventy or so inhabitants are a rugged yet amiable people, proud of their island and, of course, their world-renowned woolen crafts. After a pleasant walk around the island, you will join our island friends for tea. Later, board the Zodiac to the uninhabited island of Mousa, where you will find the best examples of an Iron Age broch (fortified farm).

Day 13: Shetland Islands

Drive through the scenic countryside, stopping to photograph resident Shetland ponies on our way to the Jarlshof archaeological site. Here you will enter the Bronze Age and view the ruins of 3,000 years of continuous settlement. This will conclude your trip through the British Isles.

Carla, it has been my pleasure to plan this Gaelic Roots itinerary for you and your family. Please feel free to contact me at any time, should the need arise.