Hiking Scotland’s Western Isles: From Iona to the Outer Hebrides

Led by John Barbour, Professor of Religion, and Meg Ojala, Professor of Art and Art History

May 13–25, 2019


This program is filling quickly — only one space remains available. (Due to the size of vehicles, the maximum number of participants on this program is 16.)

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We invite you to join us for a wonderful adventure that combines hiking in spectacular locations with a wealth of fascinating history and archaeology. After our welcome dinner and a night in Glasgow, our hiking tour takes us in three minivans along Scotland’s west coast to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, visiting the islands of Mull, Iona, Staffa, Eigg, and Skye, and then to Harris and Lewis. We return to Glasgow on a one-hour flight.

The western Highlands and Islands have evolved as a landscape of gentle farmland and expansive peat bog surrounded by rugged hills, secret glens, and hidden lochs. At the edge of the land is a unique seascape, wild and exposed, dominated by the archipelago of islands that make up the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Sculpted by the sea, these islands have long and varied coastlines with high cliffs, caves and arches, spectacular sea lochs or fjords, and enchanting bays of sand or pebble. Some of the natural highlights on our tour include the magnificent basalt columns on the Isle of Staffa, stunning vistas of sea and mountains on ferry rides, and spectacular day hikes in hills and on coastal paths winding through secluded valleys, sandy and rocky bays, and rugged terrain.

We have chosen our visits and walks to showcase the varied forms of natural beauty and cultural interest to be found on Scotland’s islands. We visit several unique sites guaranteed to appeal to anyone who has an active curiosity about history. Many sites are “off the beaten track,” and, where they are internationally renowned, such as those on Iona and Lewis, we try to see them at their quietest and best. You will experience daily the interest and variety woven into the story of Scotland.

Cultural highlights include the restored medieval abbey of Iona, the ruins of several ancient forts and castles, striking churches and chapels, and the 5000-year old Standing Stones of Callanish. On the Isle of Lewis we will be joined by Dr. Mary Macleod, an archaeologist and part-time minister. John will provide optional readings and lead discussions on Celtic Christianity, pilgrimage, and rituals of walking in the world’s religions; Meg will share her ideas and insights about landscape photography. Together they will lead discussions about the philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, and pleasures of walking, referring to classic and recent literature and works of art.

See the full Itinerary.

Program Leaders   

Professor of Religion John Barbour and Professor of Art Meg Ojala led St. Olaf’s Global Program in 2001- 02, Term in Asia in 2008-09, and nine January interim courses in Rome, Mexico City, Chicago, New York City, and Holden Village. In all these places and many more they have been avid walkers! In 2017 they led an Alumni Program devoted to walking in Scotland, with a different itinerary.

John’s teaching and research interests center on ethical and theological issues raised by works of fiction and autobiography, for instance their exploration of the nature of sin, grace, or community. He is the author of four scholarly books and Renunciation: A Novel (2013). The grandson of a Scottish geologist, John spent his junior year in college at the University of Aberdeen and has visited Scotland many times.

Meg teaches photography and makes pictures about the experience of place. She has explored and photographed the banks of the Cannon River near her home, the temple sites of Angkor Wat, the interior of a factory in southern Minnesota and most recently bogs and fens. Meg exhibits her work regularly and is represented by Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis.

What to Expect   

This active land tour features daily hikes that are easy to moderate in difficulty. To fully enjoy the experience, participants should be in good walking condition and enjoy hiking. We will enjoy six walks of between three and six miles, sometimes over rough paths with several hundred feet of ascent, and several shorter walks. Three minibuses, each with a local driver/guide, will accompany our group, which is limited to only 16 participants. Our guides will explain in advance the difficulty of each day’s hike and, if you prefer, you can
opt out of any hiking excursion and be driven to the next stop. Some days require several hours of driving—but past spectacular scenery, and with breaks for meals, ferries, and sightseeing.

The weather in late May can vary dramatically. No two days are the same here as cloud and sun, light and shade, wind and rain continually alter the canvas. May is usually the driest month on Scotland’s west coast, but you need to be prepared for rain and wind. The average daytime high is in the low 60s, with nighttime temperatures dropping to around 50. The days will be long with a late sunset and extended twilight.

You need to be fit and an active walker by the time of departure. You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit cdc.gov or who.int.

Program Fee   

The program fee is $5,975 per person. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by John Barbour and Meg Ojala, accommodations, ​all meals from dinner on May 14 through breakfast on May 25, admissions for group activities, ground transportation during the program, gratuities to group guides, drivers, and meal servers, and limited medical coverage while overseas. For single occupancy, add $780.

Airfare to and from Scotland is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: International Airfare • Airport transfers • Any passport and visa fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Baggage and trip cancellation insurance • Beverages, including at group meals • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities • Lunch and dinner, unless specifically included on program itinerary.

A $500 per person deposit is required upon registration. Register now or see the full Payment Schedule.

Making Your Travel Plans   

You should plan to depart the U.S. on Monday, May 13, 2019 in order to arrive in Glasgow on May 14. Plan to depart from Glasgow airport after 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, 2019. There are convenient bus and train connections for those visiting Edinburgh or other Scottish destinations.

Flights will be available 11 months prior to departure; however, we recommend you not purchase non-refundable airfare until we can confirm the program has enough participants to go.

For more tips on making your travel plans, visit booking your flights.

More Information and Documents   

See a variety of Resources, including frequently asked questions, general health information, included travel insurance, and more.

Helpful Documents

Payment Schedule
Terms and Conditions
Release and Waiver

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