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Ride Info

Ride Overview

Neolithic Scotland: The Northern Isles

  • Arrival
  • 6/15/2019
  • Departure
  • 6/29/2019
  • Ride Coordinator
  • Jane Maxwell
  • Tour Company
  • Iron Donkey Bicycle Tours
  • Starting Location
  • Inverness, Scotland
  • Finishing Location
  • Inverness, Scotland
  • Estimated Cost †
  • $3600
  • Deposit
  • $1600
  • Number of Riders
  • 19 (min. 17 /max. 24)
  • Space Available
  • 5
  • No. of Pending Riders
  • 0

Ride Rating


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† Explanation of BAC Ride Fee – This fee is not included in the Estimated Cost and is non-refundable once submitted. The Ride Fee for US and Canada is $50 and $100 for all other countries, both are per participant.

and you can request to participate in this ride.

Ride Coordinator Comments

Space now available for two couples, and also for a single male to share a room. Note: Because of ferry schedule constraints, the itinerary for the tour has changed somewhat. Contact ride leader for information, if you are interested in joining this unique tour.

Ride Description

Neolithic Scotland: The Northern Isles

OVERVIEW:  The windswept Northern Isles are known for their rugged and haunting beauty.  Human life here dates back thousands of years, even to as early as 3000 BC.  Unlike with mainland Scotland, the Celts and later the Romans never made it to the Northern Isles.  However, the Vikings did and began conquering the resident Picts around 800 AD.  The Norsemen greatly influenced the local language, customs, and building style.  The Isles were not annexed to Scotland until the mid-15th century and they still maintain a noticeably different culture.  

Stromness, on the southern tip of the Orkney main island, is featured in the June 2014 National Geographic story “Before Stonehenge: Scotland’s Master Builders.”  This UNESCO World History Site includes the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, the Neolithic village of Scara Brae, and Maes Howe.  Loop rides from Stromness take us to all the UNESCO sites, and also to the water-powered Barony Mills, where traditional Orcadian beremeal is still produced.   Our second base in Orkney is Kirkwall, where we can visit the Highland Park Distillery as well as the 12th century Norse cathedral of St. Magnus.  A loop ride  from Kirkwall takes us to the Italian Chapel constructed from Nissen huts by Italian POWs who were brought here during WW2 to build the Churchill barriers to protect Scapa Flow; the chapel is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Orkney.

The Shetland islands are famous for Shetland wool and Shetland ponies.  Jarlshof is a Neolithic settlement located at Sumburgh Head at the southern tip of the main island.  Also located at Sumburgh is an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve with thousands of puffins, who will be nesting here in June.  (By the way, the local name for puffin is tammy norie.)  A loop ride from Sumburgh takes us past the Loch of Spiggie (another RSPB  reserve) and St. Ninian’s Isle to Sandwick, where a ferry carries us out a mile to the Isle of Mousa, home of the 2000-year-old Broch of Mousa.  Brochs are double-walled round stone towers found only in Scotland, and Mousa is the best-preserved of them all; it stands over 40 feet high, with a winding staircase between its inner and outer walls.   Our second base in Shetland is the capital, Lerwick, which is the only town in Shetland.  Tentative arrangements have been made for a tour of the Jamieson & Smith wool processing factory here.  Our loop ride from Lerwick takes us along the jagged coastline.  

WEATHER:  We are at 60° longitude, and in June the days are 19 hours long.  The average temperature in June is about 50°, with 15 mph winds (and stronger gusts).  We can expect to see some rain on half the days, although the average total for the month is under two and a half inches.  Wind is a greater factor here than rain, so be prepared to dress warmly.  

RIDE RATING:  The tour is rated 2B.  Although the daily distances and elevation gains make this a 1A tour, it is rated at 2B because of the likely windiness.  The average daily distance for the twelve riding days is 26 miles, with an average elevation gain of 1,467 feet.  There are only four required riding days, two at 27 miles and two at 17 miles.  The hardest ride is 41 miles with an elevation gain of 2,600 feet.  Routes are on paved roads in good condition, but because there are limited roads in the islands we will often be sharing the road with traffic.  

LOGISTICS:  The tour begins in Inverness on Saturday, June 15, 2019, and ends in Inverness on Saturday, June 29.  Iron Donkey has made all hotel, group dinner, and ferry arrangements, and will provide emergency sag service.  If you would like to stay in Inverness a day before or after the tour, make hotel arrangements through Iron Donkey in order to get the group rate. The tour starts with a group dinner at our hotel in Inverness  on Saturday, June 15.

From our Inverness  hotel a chartered bus takes us to Thurso at the northern edge of mainland Scotland, where we will assemble our bikes; there’s an optional 20-mile loop ride here.  The next morning we take the 90-minute ferry to Stromness, Orkney, where we will stay three nights. We then cycle up to Kirkwall, where an overnight ferry takes us to Lerwick, Shetland (breakfast provided on board after we dock in Lerwick) and from there we cycle down to Sumburgh where we spend three nights.  Then we cycle back up to Lerwick for two nights, and take the evening ferry (dinner on board) to Kirkwall.  After two nights in Kirkwall, we cycle down to Stromness to catch the ferry to Thurso, where we have our farewell dinner and spend one last night before our chartered bus takes us to the Inverness airport in the morning.

COSTS:  The $3,600 tour cost includes 14 nights’ accommodation, all breakfasts, six dinners, maps and cue sheets and GPX files, luggage transfer, emergency sag service, bike box storage, transfer by charter bus between Inverness and Thurso at the beginning and end of the tour, all ferry rides, and tips.  The price is based on double occupancy and an exchange rate of $1.50 = 1 British pound.  Some fluctuation in the exchange rate may occur between now and June 2019, requiring a price adjustment.  Bikes and Garmin GPS units are available for rent from Iron Donkey if you prefer not to bring your own; make arrangements directly at  The happy hour map meetings will be cash bar because of hotel restrictions on bringing in wine or beer. 

SIGN-UP:  To submit a request to join this ride click the link above.  When you are accepted, you will be moved from the Waitlist to the Pending List.  At this time you will receive an email notification to log into the BAC website to sign the release of liability form and pay the non-refundable BAC ride registration fee ($100) online.  Once those steps have been completed, the initial deposit of $1,600 will be due.  The balance will be due in two installments of $1,000—one by December 31, 2018, and the second by February 28, 2019.  If you have questions, please contact me:  

SINGLES & SOLOS POLICY:  Riders who want to room alone pay a single supplement fee ($712); payment by check is mailed to the BAC office. It is recommended that singles who want a roommate try to find one on their own.  However, after receipt of the original deposit, a single without a roommate will be placed on the ride and given until October 1, 2018, to find a roommate.  If they are unable to find a roommate, they will have the option to receive a full refund (minus the $100 BAC fee and payment processing fee) or pay the $712 single supplement and stay on the ride.  If a single pays the supplement, they may continue to seek a roommate, but must plan to participate without a roommate if necessary.  The Ride Leader will assist by attempting to match singles who apply for the ride.   Note: there is a limit of two single rooms on this tour.  

BAC CANCELLATION POLICY:  The BAC ride registration fee and payment processing fee are not refundable unless the entire tour is cancelled.  Refunds of tour payments will depend upon whether a replacement rider signs up, and on costs that can be recouped.  The amount refunded will be based on the principle that the tour’s remaining participants will not incur any additional cost as a result of cancellations.  If the cancelling participant is replaced, a refund will be made at that time.  If the cancelling participant can’t be replaced, any refund will be determined after the ride and final expense report are completed.  If a single participant cancels and another roommate cannot be found, in addition to other costs that cannot be recouped the cancelling roommate may also be liable for the single supplement fee of the roommate remaining on the tour.  BAC encourages members to purchase trip cancellation insurance.  

In addition to the BAC cancellation policy, those who cancel may be subject to Iron Donkey’s cancellation policy: unless a replacement rider is found, the following penalties will apply.   

  • Between tour confirmation and 90 days before departure, 10% of full payment (£204).
  • Between 90 days and 30 days before departure, 25% of full payment (£511).
  • Between 30 days before departure and departure, 100% of full payment (£2,045).

BAC STATEMENT OF RIDE PARTICIPANT RESPONSIBILITY:  Please remember that BAC Ride Leaders are volunteers, and that successful tours depend on participants providing much of their own support.  Participants are expected to come to the ride well trained, in good health and ready to accomplish the required daily riding using well-maintained bicycles.   All participants should accept responsibility for a safe and enjoyable tour.  We encourage you to read the ride description carefully and respond to requests from Ride Leader.  While on the ride, support your Ride Leader with offers to help with various tasks such as happy hour preparation and clean-up.  Please do not interfere with the ride by inviting non-participants onto any portion of the ride or tour.  Please keep the Ride Leader informed of any special requests you may have and respect the Ride Leader’s decisions.

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