Boulders, Beasts and Battles: Geological Landscapes, Stories and Controversies of North-West Scotland

Explore the dramatic landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, and discover the clashing clans, Highland Clearances and Earth science theories that layer these sites with meaning.



New option to start and finish your trip from London, with first-class rail ticket from London to Edinburgh and return, for a small additional cost at checkout. You choose the time of your train on the return journey. Ticket price includes reserved seat and breakfast, light lunch or dinner served at your table.

  • Uncover the geological processes behind some of the world's most amazing scenery, guided by geologists and local experts
  • Dive into the history that marks these lands, from Iron Age settlements and the Highland Clearances to the Jacobite Risings and World War II
  • Map the history of geology itself, with tales of pioneering geological mapping techniques, the rise and fall of establishment theories, and on-site insights into some of the greatest geological minds
  • Throw yourself into timeless Scottish culture as your tour a whisky distillery, sample local seafood, and nod along to traditional Scottish music
  • Enjoy first-class train travel from Edinburgh and carefully chosen accommodation in four convenient, atmospheric hotels


Join us as we unearth the geological forces that formed the world-famous landscapes of north-west Scotland and dive into the historic events that have played out across them since.

Spend eight days immersing yourself in the geology, history, heritage and legends of the Scottish capital and Highlands.  You'll visit the Moine Thrust Zone, on of the most renowned geological structures in the world, see some of the oldest rocks in Europe, and find out how Loch Ness was formed.

As you learn about the Deep Time process that formed the jaw-dropping scenery around you, our expert leaders will walk you through the human scenes that have played out across these lands.  Follow a David and Goliath-style debate that pitted amateur geologists against the establishment (guess who won...).  Explore evidence of life in an Iron Age broch.  Start to understand the impact of the Highland Clearances, where subsistence farmers were evicted by landowners to make way for commercial sheep farming in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And see the many ways many wars have left their mark on these beautiful lands.

In between, Scottish whisky, music, food and friendly hospitality will help you digest all that you see, hear and feel.

  • Activity level: Easy, with optional longer walks (see definitions here).
  • TransportGetting there: First-class rail travel between Edinburgh and Inverness, with a taxi to/from your hotel. Getting around: Luxury minibus
  • Accommodation: One night in the centrally-located Premier Inn in Edinburgh; three nights in Coul House Hotel, a country house with links to the Jacobite Risings near Inverness; two nights in Ceilidh Place, Ulapool, a cosy inn with a musical reputation; and one night in The Tongue Hotel, a former sporting lodge with great views, in Tongue.
  • Weather: September in this corner of Scotland is typically mild.  Rain is always possible, and participants should be prepared with warm and waterproof clothing.


Tour Map

Tour Map

Day 1 - Explore Edinburgh

Edinburgh Skyline

Check into your hotel and check out the Scottish capital.

Settle into your hotel just off the Royal Mile, a short walk from Waverley Station, then make the most of your free time with some sightseeing.  Unmissable Edinburgh sights within walking distance of your hotel include:

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • St Giles' Cathedral
  • Scottish National Gallery
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • Free evening.

Day 2 – First-class Train to the Highlands

Coul House Hotel

Meet your tour guide and companions, and watch the views scroll by as you travel first class to Inverness.

After breakfast in your hotel, enjoy a free morning of sightseeing in Edinburgh. Then meet your Scottish tourist guide and fellow travellers at Waverley station in time to board the 13:29 train to Inverness, in first class.

Journey by rail through spectacular scenery to Inverness, then take the pre-arranged taxi to Coul House Hotel, a splendid Georgian country house featured in the Good Hotel Guide and with links back to the Jacobite rebellion.

  • Check into Coul House, Strathpeffer for the next two nights
  • Group dinner

Day 3 - Culloden to Loch Ness: Battles, Burials and Beasts

Old Leanach Cottage

Travel back in time and relive the Jacobite Uprising, Bronze Age civilisations, and the creation of Loch Ness

The day starts with a visit to Culloden, the site of the final battle between the British Government troops and the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. Take a private tour of the battlefield with your Scottish tour guide.

Next, your guide takes you back about 4,000 years to a Bronze Age burial site. Clava Cairns is an exceptionally well-preserved example of Scotland's early civilisations.

After a light lunch, cruise across the legendary waters of Loch Ness. It was formed along an ancient geological fault; we can't be sure when the Loch Ness monster arrived!  You'll take in iconic views of Great Glen, Aldourie Castle, Bona Lighthouse and even visit the  spectacular Urquhart Castle, as your guide regales you with stories about these famous places.

  • Return to Coul House in the late afternoon.
  • Group dinner.

Day 4 – Loch Maree to Loch Broom: Ancient Rocks to Nuclear Missiles

Loch Broom

Tour the dramatic landscapes of Loch maree, Gairloch and Loch Broom - classic Highland scenery and home to some of Europe's oldest rocks.

In part thanks to the Lewisian rocks, which are 3.2 billion years old - meaning around 70% of Earth's history happened before after their formation - this part of the Highlands has been designated the North West Highlands Geopark.  We'll stop to appreciate the remarkable mountain landscapes, the underlying geology, which includes billion-year-old valleys, and striking glacial scenery formed a mere 12,000 years ago.

After lunch in Gairloch, you'll hear the story of the Wester Ross area of the Highlands at the Gairloch Museum, set in a converted nuclear bunker.  The area was strategically important for North Atlantic Convoys in World War II and played a role in later aspects of British-US cooperation, including the deployment of US submarines equipped with nuclear missiles.

Our onward journey around Gruinard Bay and Loch Broom is the perfect opportunity to explore the stories of the Highland Clearances and their impact on local people, many of whom emigrated to North America.

  • Check into The Ceilidh Place. This lively and welcoming hotel, restaurant, book shop and music venue in Ullapool is your home for the next two nights
  • Free evening.

Day 5 – Knockan Crag and Famous Thrusts: Mapping the Origins of Northwest Scotland, the History of Geology and Clan Clashes

The Geopark Visitor Centre

Marvel at the landscapes that inspired pioneering geological techniques and clashing geology theories.

As we stop at some internationally celebrated sites, we'll investigate the highly charged Victorian 'Highland Controversy' that contributed so much to our understanding of the way all mountain belts form.

Visit the UNESCO Geopark visitor centre at Knockan Crag, just north of Ullapool, and see the wild terrains surveyed by early pioneer geologists.

The world-famous Moine Thrust (a fault that has moved rocks tens of kilometres from the east) and the Glencoul Thrust (which inspired one of the most important interpretations in world tectonic geology) will play a key role in developing your understanding.

Put your learnings into action as you assess a more recent scientific debate on the hunt for a massive, 1.2-billion-year-old impact crater: do the rocks of the Glencoul Thrust Sheet show any evidence (a ground zero) of this immense meteorite collision?

After all that, dive into lunch at Kylesku Hotel and Restaurant, a former coaching inn with seafood that’s as spectacular as the views along the Loch and to the mountains.

In the afternoon, we visit the Clachtoll area to see some previously enigmatic rocks – now agreed to be part of the ancient ‘ejecta blanket’ blasted out by the meteor impact. Much more recently, the site was home to an Iron Age family. We’ll explore the exceptional archaeology and review life in an Iron Age broch.

Next, delve into the local Clan intrigues and clashes at the Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt, including a betrayal in 1650 with national consequences.

Finally, unwind with an evening of traditional Scottish music from local artists.

  • Overnight at The Ceilidh Place
  • Group dinner

Day 6 – Durness to Tongue: Caves, Coves and Clearances

The Tongue Hotel

Immerse yourself in vast geological features, the birthplace of modern global tectonics – and the childhood holidays of a Beatle...

Today we head north for spectacular coastal scenery, the sandy coves of Sango Bay and the village of Durness before ending the day on the edge of Loch Eriboll.

Your first stop is the enormous, cathedral-like Smoo Cave, carved in the Durness Limestone by the sea and an inland underground stream. Then, we head to the stunning sandy coves of Sango Bay to learn how the strange ‘oystershell rock’ was pivotal in unlocking the earth history here.

After lunch in Durness, where John Lennon spent his childhood holidays, we explore the Highland Clearance trail at Ceannabeinne, where the villagers of Durness rioted to avoid eviction.

The afternoon is dedicated to Loch Eriboll, which was the World War II base for HMS Hood. There are dramatic views south into what was the approximately 400-million-year-old Caledonian mountain belt. This ground was mapped by Henry Cadell in the mid-1880s. The structures he found here inspired him to conduct some amazing early experiments to illustrate how such thrust faulting could shorten continents.

The day ends on the loch’s eastern shore, with a visit to the remote cottage base of Charles Lapworth’s pioneering geological mapping in the 1880s and the very rock outcrop that saw the final demise of the Murchison-Geikie establishment ideas. For many, this is the birthplace of a new global tectonics.

  • Overnight in The Tongue Hotel, a traditional lodge with homely rooms in Tongue. Think log fires, taxidermy and tweed
  • Group dinner

Day 7 – The North Coast to Strathpeffer: Rocket Launches and a Whisky Distillery

Glen Ord Distillery

Explore the coves and rocky headlands of Scotland’s wild north coast, before rounding out the day in a whisky distillery.

From Tongue, we drive north until we reach the sea around Melness. The Portvasgo area is an isolated, picturesque community of crofts and fishing communities set against a backdrop of the spectacular north Scottish coastline and a distant Orkney island. And it may soon become one of Europe’s first rocket launch sites!

Tear your eyes from the horizon to examine a 900-million-year-old boulder bed that has been folded and the boulders streaked out, like warm toffee, into rods and layers by the deep, high-temperature, slow geological flow that occurs below mountains.

After lunch in Tongue, we drive south down Loch Hope via Altnacaillich to visit the malt whisky distillery of Glen Ord. It’s a fitting last stop of the tour before we head back to Strathpeffer.

  • Check back into Coul House, Strathpeffer
  • Final group dinner

Day 8 – Return to Edinburgh

The end of your tour. Catch the taxi and train back to Edinburgh.

Linger over your last breakfast of the tour at Coul House, then transfer with the group by taxi to Inverness station to catch the 1050 train to Edinburgh. Share your tour memories as you travel first class. Your tour ends when you arrive back in the Scottish capital at 1429.

Note: this provisional itinerary is subject to change as specific locations and accommodations release more information regarding access in the coming year.

Single Supplement

There is a charge of £380 / $475 for solo travellers.

Rail Ticket

There is a charge of £250 / $313 for a first-class rail ticket London-Edinburgh-London per person.

Activity Level and Transport

The activity level is rated as EASY (see our definitions here) and is suitable for occasional walkers. The tour will include walks of up to 1.6km (1mi) on country paths and on rocky beaches (with a maximum and optional-walk is 5km (3 mi) with a steady climb up to 300m (1000 ft)). Sturdy waterproof footwear is essential. September weather is typically mild, with daytime highs of 15-18°C (60-65°F) and night-time lows of 5-7°C (40-45°F). Rain is always possible, and participants should be prepared with warm and waterproof clothing.

Transport will be by small luxury coach and first class rail.

If walking is an issue, alternative arrangements can be made during the scheduled longer walks, so please let GeoCultura know in advance.

The Tour Includes/Excludes

The Tour Includes:

  • The services of your Tour Leaders who will be with the group throughout the tour
  • Local Historians to guide the tour on selected days
  • Transportation costs from the start to the end of the tour (Edinburgh city centre)
  • All accommodation costs for the seven nights, assuming double occupancy rooms (single occupancy - small surcharge)
  • All breakfasts, 5 lunches, plus 5 dinners (with one free evening in Edinburgh and one in Ullapool)
  • Entry fees, local guide fees and activity fees, where arranged as part of the tour
  • All service charges and most gratuities

The Tour Excludes:

  • Extra or optional activities not described in the tour
  • Personal expenditures, any alcoholic drinks with meals, and extras at the hotel such as laundry bills
  • Transportation to the start venue or from the end venue of the tour. However, at extra cost we can arrange transport and pick-up from other locations. Please contact us for details +44 2081 451001 or use our Contact Form 
  • Passport and visa fees

Participants are required to carry their own health and travel insurance in case of accident or unforeseen circumstances.

Alternate Activities

The tour leaders can provide suggestions for alternate activities for individuals who prefer not to participate in certain of the tour walks or visits.



Night 1: Premier Inn, 33 East Market Street, Old Town, Edinburgh

Nights 2, 3 and 7: Coul House Hotel, Strathpeffer
A stunning Georgian building with wonderful grounds’, this 1820s mansion has been run as a hotel by ‘lovely, friendly’ hosts Susannah and Stuart Macpherson since 2003 - Good Hotel Guide (46th edition)

Nights 4 and 5: Ceilidh Place, Ullapool
"It is more than 50 years since actor Robert Urquhart opened a café in a boatshed and invited musicians to play in exchange for a meal. This lively social hub is still a place for music gigs, but now with gallery space, bookshop, restaurant and bar, having spread itself across adjoining whitewashed cottages. Bedrooms have a pleasing simplicity, no TV but a retro radio, and an eclectic mix of books chosen by customers." Good Hotel Guide 2022

Night 6: The Tongue Hotel, Tongue
"This traditional Lodge is a charming, contemporary Inn which retains its authentic heritage with antique furniture, taxidermy, wood panelling and log fires. This is a place to spend a few nights with its homely bedrooms (tweed fabrics, armchairs, sherry decanter) and cosy lounge in which to relax and read." Scottish Hotel Awards, 2020

Note: If required for reasons beyond our control, GeoCultura reserves the right to substitute alternate accommodations of equal or higher quality.

Deposit and Payment Terms

Deposit: A deposit of 10% of the tour price is due upon registration for a tour.

Final payment: Full payment is due 60 days before a tour begins, or upon registration if within the 60-day window.

Cancellation by participant: A participant may cancel a registration after securing a confirmed place on a tour for any reason. The following refund terms will apply:

  • Greater than 60 days before tour begins: Any monies paid plus half of the deposit will be refunded
  • 30 to 59 days before tour begins: 35% of tour price will be refunded
  • 15 to 29 days before tour begins: 25% of tour price will be refunded
  • Within 14 days of tour or during the tour: No monies will be refunded

Cancellation by GeoCultura: GeoCultura reserves the right to cancel any tour due to low enrolment, inability to run the tour or concerns about the safety, health or welfare of participants. If a tour is cancelled before it begins, all monies paid will be refunded (including any deposit).

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions page for additional details.

Rob Butler 

Rob Butler

Rob Butler is Professor of Tectonics at Aberdeen University; he is active in the Geological Society of London and is on the Board of the Scottish Geology Trust. 

Rob is an enthusiastic and captivating spokesman for the earth’s geology. He delivers frequent talks on the landscapes and history of the Scottish Highlands (and other topics). Some of these may be viewed on his educational YouTube page, The Shear Zone. He has also appeared in the BBC’s Men of Rocks series.

As an expert tectonic geologist, Rob’s best-known research is on the structural geology of mountain belts (NW Scotland, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Apennines and Arabia), and he has worked extensively on the "Salinity Crisis" in the central Mediterranean.

Rob has won a number of awards from the Geological Society of London, most recently the first Dewey Medal (2018), awarded for significant contributions to geology through field work, leadership and promoting geoconservation.


Rob Knipe

Rob Knipe

Rob Knipe is the Chairperson at GeoCultura and an Emeritus Professor of Structural Geology at the University of Leeds; he splits his time between homes in Yorkshire and Wales and revels in engaging the public in the history and application of science. He also created and led ‘Rock Deformation Research Ltd’, a leading structural geological consultancy.

Rob has immersed himself in the Scottish Highlands for more than 40 years, during which time he has developed a passion for its geology and landscapes that almost rivals his passion for his native Wales!

Rob has won awards for his work, including the prestigious William Smith Medal from The Geological Society of London, and is a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

Rob is currently involved in Energy Transition, and works with local and national groups promoting changes towards a carbon neutral society. He is also part of the World Heritage Site team working to raise awareness of the slate landscapes in North Wales.  


Taija Torvela

Taija Torvela

Taija is an Associate Professor at The University of Leeds and an expert in earth structures and mineral resources. Taija has worked in the Universities of Abo Akademi University in Finland, Aberdeen, Helsinki as well as Leeds, and has also spent time in industry, including working on the geological repository for containment of spent nuclear fuel in Finland.

Taija is passionate and experienced at communicating the complexities and uncertainties of interpreting earth processes. At present Taija is committed to promoting the understanding of how earth processes underpin societal needs for the energy transition, particularly the future challenges for stewardship of the required mineral and metal resources.




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North West Highlands