Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis & Harris, Edinburgh
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Family comes first on this 10-day Scottish ancestry tour, tracing the historic footsteps of your family heritage. Step beyond into the land of oral history and legend, where you clan name was your lifeblood. This custom tailored trip will take you to witness battlefields, grand castles, island life, and ancestral mythology. Traverse the magnificent landscape of Scotland and find the wonders that shaped your genealogical past. From ancient stones to Roman ruins, heritage archives to friendly local...
Edinburgh – The Family Tree
Arrive in Edinburgh and meet your private transfer at the airport. The city immediately sweeps you up in its historic streets and ambiance. The facades of Old Town are reminiscent of traditional British Gothic architecture. People crowd the Royal Mile, a 321-foot stretch of road that leads from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse Palace. Antiquity runs deep and is palpable around Castle Rock, and stretches to the edges of the neighborhood of Cramond.
You find remnants of a 2nd century Roman fortress. The ground plan continues to take shape around the grassy plain. The aroma of the nearby sea sweeps across the old fort. A recreated bathhouse and headquarters has been pieced together over the last 50 years of excavations. The sounds of the rushing River Almond swivels past. You make your way to your hotel in central Edinburgh and have already found a culture whose history dates back far beyond what you imagined.
Edinburgh – Searching the Tree Branches
Scotland’s capital city comes to life in the morning. The sun casts a light over the deep stone and strong walls of Edinburgh Castle, an 11th-century construct. A stronghold has been placed on Castle Rock to watch over the surrounding city since the 8th century. The herbaceous aroma of freshly brewed tea rises from breakfast. Your guide meets you at the hotel and you are ready to venture through the cityscape. The castle grounds are astounding in their continued strength and interior ostentation, including housing the Scottish Crown Jewels. The day progresses and you come to the Scotland’s People Centre, home to the National Records of Scotland, and filled with around 90 million records.
The exterior looks like a government building with a façade of pale stone and a prominent statue of the Duke of Wellington riding a horse. Enter the building and you come to a circular room with books wrapping around the upper floors like a labyrinth. The quiet ambiance makes the feeling paramount. The scents of leather and paper lift from the bookshelves. Your family history becomes more tangible now than ever, rising from the pages to tell more than a story, but a significant account of the clans from which you have come, whether Armstrong or Chattan, Macleod or Wallace.
The Northern Highlands – Calling Macleod
Leave Edinburgh behind and make your way upwards to the Highlands following the trail of Macleod history. The clan’s notable came after the Battle of Largs in the 13th century. The cobblestone streets and Gothic edifices change into prairie-strewn hillsides that give way to pine and sycamore forests. The hills fade when you reach Cairngorms National Park, the spiced aroma of birch trees surrounds you. Foothills turn into mountaintops. Red Squirrels clamor through the trees. Their bushy tail can grow to a length of almost eight inches long. When you arrive at Culloden Battleground you find a large plain that reaches the distant outcrop of trees. The past comes alive in both historical value and live presentations that highlight the 18th-century battle that once took place on these hallowed grounds. You listen to your guide speak about the valiant rebellion supported by the Macleods of Raasay. Proud Scots dress in their battle garb and wander the border of the battlefield near the visitors center. A film wraps around a circular hall 360 degrees and puts you at the center of the fight. Two flags on the field mark the positions of the opposing armies. When you traverse the prairie you find stones of various sizes. Each stone is marked with etchings that display a clan name. After a short search, you can find the marker with the name Macleod still carved deep into the small boulder.
Isle of Skye – Noble Sights
Inverness stands immaculately against the calm waters of the River Ness. The buildings are streaked with silver and the 19th century Inverness Castle rises over the hillside set against the riverbanks. After breakfast, you leave the charm of the city behind. At the western edge of mainland Scotland, on the shores of Loch Duich, is the distinctive ruins of Eilean Donan Castle. The edifice stands on a small hill and is reflected in the lake. Mountains rise around the water’s banks and a three-arched bridge carries you to the small island on which the castle is located. The landscape shimmers with verdant trees and bright yellow-blossomed bushels.
The iconic Scottish landmark is situated overlooking the Isle of Skye at a point where three sea-lakes meet. The building began as a 7th-century monastic cell and in the 13th century became a full-fledged stronghold. Some walls are up to 16 feet thick. Canons poke through spaces in the upper ramparts. The interior rooms are decorated with period furniture that offers insight into the decadent past of the nobility, including Jacobean artifacts and displayed weapons. The stones remain cold. The old wooden doors are heavy and large. It feels like traveling back in time. In one bedchamber, you can see a rich oil painting portraying a collection of clan males. They are dressed in traditional Highland regalia.
Isle of Skye – Rising Clan
In the morning, you cross the Skye Bridge, which stretch 1,640 meters. The Isle of Skye is known for its remarkable landscape, quaint fishing villages, and for being a stronghold of the Macleod clan until the 17th century. Glen Sligachan is a valley that divides the Black and Red Cuillin mountain peaks. Forceful, russet-colored stones are interspersed throughout the touch of greenery that spreads through the hills. Small lakes are iridescent and reflect their surroundings.
Red deer graze in the mountain pass. The mountaintops are jagged across the skyline. The scent of stone mixes with the fresh water rising from the valley floor. The glen marks the location of the final battle between the MacDonalds and the Macleods just after the turn of the 17th century. The landscape is as famous as the legend of the battle. A large stone pokes out of the foreground. Craggy edges of the mountains score the background. The large stone is known as the Bloody Stone, for the part it played after the MacDonalds won the battle.
Isle of Lewis and Harris – Traditions Kept Alive
Dunvegan Castle is a quadrangular structure that sits atop a small bluff and overlooks an idyllic loch. The castle was home to the Macleod Clan for eight centuries and houses the mythical Fairy Flag. The nearby Colbost Croft Museum maintains traditional croft houses to depict the home lives of islanders in the 19th century. The house sits at the base of a rising hill. Stones were piled together and set with mortar to create the squat structure. The roof is made with straw and glistens in the sunlight. From a distance, you can see the smoke rising out of the central chimney.
When you enter the house you find the hearth at the center of the structure. The fire continuously burns. A black tea kettle steams over the small flame. Dishes are set in a small armoire. In the summer blossoming lilacs that bloom around the stone structure offset the smoke from the hearth. As you make your way north to the Isle of Lewis and Harris you watch over the flat top mountains at Healaval More and Healaval Bheag. Black stallions graze on the foothills. The landscape is flush with beauty and isles are brimming with family history.
Isle of Lewis and Harris – Connected Islands
The Isle of Lewis and Harris is a connected landmass that has been treated as two separate islands since the Macleod clan division. Tarbert is a charming seaside town. The marina is filled with brightly painted homes and small fishing boats that venture out to water daily. A tall church steeple creates the town’s only skyline. After breakfast, you make your way to the Seallam Visitor Centre. The center is set close the white sands of the southern shore. A small sea breeze carries the sweet salty air from the coast. The façade is painted an opulent white.
The interior is quiet like a library, but you are overflowing with excitement. The exhibits navigate the social and natural histories of the island communities, some reaching back centuries. Speak to the local expert who specializes in family lineage. Search the library for census returns, birth and marriage certificates. The fragrant scent of morning tea emanates from the tea and coffee bar. Your swirl through a list of provided information to find the modern history of the Macleods, both living on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, and those that have moved away. Your heart races as you turn the pages and learn more about your ancestry.
Isle of Lewis and Harris – Empowering Stones
The town center begins to bustle in the morning. You can see Lewis Castle on the opposite shore. The 19th-century stronghold rises above the tree line and has maintained a degree of nobility throughout the years. Outside of the city you make your way to the Callanish Standing Stones located on the island’s west coast. The field is lush and filled with a fertile fragrance. The stones are stoic and gray. 13 stones are organized around a central monolith that stands almost 15 feet tall. The crisp air fills with warm sunlight.
The importance of the ancient antiquity is tangible, dating back further in time than Stonehenge, around 5,000 years ago. Around 40 smaller stones spread from the inner circle and shape into a Celtic cross with a chambered tomb remaining at the center. The stones average a height of 10 feet tall. The area’s folklore continues to enthrall visitors, telling stories of strong-willed giants and shining entities. All you know is that there is elegance and wonder strewn about the Callanish Standing Stones that you are happy to witness.
Edinburgh – The Gathering
The sunshine spreads across the bay and filters through Lews Castle’s towers onto the horizon. You can sip your fresh brewed tea and feel the warmth settle in your hands. Fishing boats return from sea with their daily catch. Their sails fold and their anchors drop as they haul their cargo to the marketplace. You have scoured the heritage centers and found traces of your clan history dating back to the beginning. The gentle sway of the water laps at the shore.
The herbaceous bittersweet flavor of the tea lingers. You could extend your trip in search of your relatives that have inhabited the Highlands for centuries. Otherwise, you make your way back to Edinburgh and have the remainder of the day at your leisure. Once in Edinburgh you can climb Scott Monument for a unique view of the city. The gothic edifice was constructed in memory of Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. The surrounding greenery of Princes Street Gardens is precisely manicured.
The memorial’s façade looks like an antique Gothic church scaling the skyline. Detailed statues and delicately carved shapes adorn the façade. When you enter the staircase you find the narrow passageway exhilarating. Step up the spiral pathway over 200 feet high, climbing 287 steps. Once at the top you can hear the breeze passing by. You can see the city stretching out to Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that edges the city. The scent of sandstone is still prevalent. The image of Edinburgh is unforgettable.
Edinburgh – Family Connections
Unicorn Antiques houses a collection of copper pots and top hats, antique books, and ornaments. The façade sits at the end of a small set of sunken stairs. The Red Door Gallery is set on a row of cobbled streets and filled with the enticing aroma of a local cheese monger and a nearby whisky shop. The Red Door Gallery is where local artists and jewelers, display their work. The doors are always open and brimming with locals browsing the neighborhood and the wares.
Even in the morning the city is lively and energetic, filled with people going about their day, whether to work or play. Spend time enjoying the morning sunshine before your private transfer whisks you away to the airport. Your time searching for your family heritage has provided insight into your namesake, along with plenty of stories to tell. As your flight lifts off the ground you look back at Scotland knowing that the next family reunion will be a little closer to home.
- Visit the unique collection of Scottish heritage at the Scottish Genealogy Society
- Witness the memorable ancient ruins known as the Callanish Standing Stones
- Explore the famous Scottish Highlands, known for its intense and magnificent landscape
- Discover remarkable castles bordered by ethereal scenery
- Scour the historic archives at a number of visitor heritage centers
- Uncover the history of your family and clan, along with distant relatives connected by ancient alliance
- Wander the famous battleground at Culloden Battlefield
The culture of Scotland has been shaped by its history: amassed in both the city and collected from the country at large, in Edinburgh. When you arrive, your Scottish ancestry tour of tracing the family heritage begins. Spend a full day exploring the city to witness its famous sites, from castles to cathedrals. You will also spend time at the Scottish Genealogy Society, which will help you trace your family name back to a specific clan. There were many clans that lived in the Scottish Highlands; after you connect your surname with your ancestry, you venture out into the Highlands, in this particular instance, in search of Clan Macleod.
On your way to Inverness, you take your time at Culloden Battleground. The grounds are filled with markers that commemorate the many clans that fought and lost members during the 18th-century skirmish. In Inverness, you can visit the Museum and Art Gallery, which provides you with insight into the Highlander mentality. Travel south to visit the Highland Folk Museum where the imaginative images of Highland civilization come to life through the stories that traveled in and out of the country. Explore the splendor of Eilean Donan Castle, a stronghold set within the breathtaking scenery.
On the Isle of Skye, you will find a deeper connection to the Macleod clan and the isle itself. Discover the Bloody Stone in Glen Sligachan and the Eros Experience at the fringe of the island’s capital of Portree. Meander through the old seat of Macleod power at Dunvegan Castle, home to the fabled Fairy Flag. Before reaching the Isle of Lewis and Harris, you can see a traditional Colbost Croft home. Once on the new island you can traverse the tremendous landscape and see the family connection.
Wander the Seallam Visitor Centre in search of a more recent history and familial connections and make your way to Rodel to visit the 16th century Church of St. Clements. Later you will arrive in Stornoway, the capital city of the island. Outside of the city you will come to the ancient marvel, the Callanish Standing Stones. The 5,000-year-old historic site connects forgotten culture to remembered landscape. Continue onward to the Ness Heritage Centre to scour the local archives and records.
Take a moment and reach out to local relatives that have always been separated by distance. Extend your stay to connect with family and hear stories that harken back to the beginnings of the clan. Your return to Edinburgh can wait. Upon your return to the capital city, you will have the remainder of the day at your leisure. Your private transfer will meet you at the hotel to escort you to the airport on your final day in the city. You have traversed the Highlands and listened to legend to find your treasured heritage and it was well worth it.
For more vacation planning ideas, visit the tours of Scotland page.
$2,795 per person (excluding international flights)
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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