Get lost in the fantasy of castles and Stonehenge. Now add pirates, sharks and whales. It’s not a fantasy—it’s an adventure cruise around Britain and Ireland!
In London, hop on a double-decker bus, visit the infamous Tower of London, or take in a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Drink a pint at a pub or sample cuisine from around the world. From the fish ‘n’ chips to the guards at Buckingham Palace, you can’t help but fall in love with London!
Visit Plymouth, the site of the rendezvous of the anti-Armada fleet in 1588, the place where explorers like Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh departed on their global exploits, and the last port the Mayflower reached before heading to America. For birders, a visit to Plymouth’s Dartmoor National Park is a must.
Britain’s Isles of Scilly greet travelers with a wide range of scenery—from woodlands, heaths and wetlands to rocky headlands and sand dunes. The ruins of more than 900 recorded shipwrecks lie off the rocky coastline. Stop and smell the rare flowers and plants that grow here thanks to the humid climate and clear waters. Learn about how flower cultivation sustains the local economy.
An Ireland cruise to the ancient Saltee Islands reveals a haven for seabirds like gannets, puffins and Manx shearwaters. A rare population of gray seals lives on Great Saltee. Walk in the footsteps of Neolithic humans on your Ireland tour, and view the remains of religious settlements on these islands that, geologically speaking, are 600 million to 2 billion years old. Imagine the flourishing period in their history (about 1500 – 1800) when they were a base for pirates and smugglers.
Head to the Shetland Islands for a blend of Scotland and Norway. View spectacularly varied scenery—from rocky crags to fertile farmland, pebble beaches and stupendous cliffs. The wildlife—fish, seals, otters, birds, plants and insects—will similarly delight you. Enter the Bronze Age with the ruins of 3,000 years of continuous settlement at Jarlshof.
Discover spectacular wildlife, rolling moorlands, ancient ruins, massive cliffs, abundant bird nesting sites and bustling port cities on your Ireland and Britain tour—all while enjoying the comforts of a small cruise ship.
Gazing at London’s recent architectural feats—like the gigantic London Eye Ferris wheel, the 30 St. Mary Axe building, and Huron Tower—it’s easy to forget the just how far back the area’s history goes. Underneath some of this innovative, award-winning architecture lie the ruins of Roman stone walls. Britain’s prehistoric sites like Stonehenge speak to even older roots.
Few traces exist of the original inhabitants of Britain before Roman rule. Monuments like Stonehenge, Woodhenge, several sites of standing stones and other archeological sites dating from the Bronze Age remain to puzzle scientists and visitors as to their function and construction methods.
Julius Caesar first invaded Britain in 55 BC. The inhabitants (known as Britons) retained their political freedom but paid tribute to Rome for nearly a century until Claudius I began conquering the island in AD 43. Britain prospered under Roman rule from AD 43 until the collapse of the Roman Empire in 410. The Middle Ages followed, marked by cycles of invasions conducted by British Celts.
By the 5th century, the roots of English-speaking people had taken hold in Britain. Three pagan tribes—the Angles, Saxons and Jutes—migrated from Germania. Known collectively as the Anglo-Saxons, they settled most of southern Britain, mingling with the remaining Romano-Celtics who survived the violence of the Middle Ages.
Four centuries later, Vikings arrived to raid and settle parts of Scotland and England. Viking travel to Ireland resulted in the founding of Dublin and Cork. Vikings thrived for about two centuries until the French-speaking Normans conquered England in 1066. By 1172, the Normans reigned over much of Ireland as well. The repeated occupying and conquering of Britain by such varied peoples explains why there are so many different words in the English language today—many are Germanic, Latinate, or French in origin.
Richard the Lionheart was Britain’s ruler from 1189 to 1199, until he ventured off on the Third Crusade. While Richard was away, his corrupt brother John ascended the throne. Turmoil ensued as church leaders and barons rebelled against John’s rule. In 1215, John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a document that limited the king’s power and made him subject to English law. This groundbreaking document would later influence the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The House of Tudor ruled England from 1485 – 1603 and included both the infamous Henry VIII (and his many wives) as well as Queen Elizabeth I. The Tudor family rule, known as the Elizabethan Age, produced outstanding works of drama and poetry—including those of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
In 1707, the Act of Union officially created the Kingdom of Great Britain, fusing together England and Wales with Scotland. The same year, the political parties known as the Whigs and Tories emerged with influence over the monarchy.
Over the next few centuries, it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire—as the British dominated the globe through exploration and conquest. Britain’s influence remains around the world, though much of its territories have been lost. In 1997, Scotland and Wales voted to establish their own legislatures. In 1998, after decades of political and religious turmoil, peace talks ended with an agreement to design a legislative assembly for Northern Ireland.
Photos: Ben Forbes