Living beyond the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, the people of northern Scotland in the Dark Ages were known as the Picts – a name given by the Romans meaning the ‘painted – tattooed ones’.
They were renowned as one of the most warlike of the Celtic barbarian tribes of Europe, successfully attacking the Roman army, and yet few of their homes or forts have ever been found. They did however leave behind some of the finest carved stones and jewellery from anywhere in early medieval Europe, before their culture disappeared around 900AD.
During this tour we will travel through the heartland of the southern Picts in Perthshire and Angus, tracking down these elusive people and coming face-to-face with them through the clues of their everyday life as seen in the incredible artistry of their monumental stone sculpture.
We’ll explore a newly excavated fortress of the Pictish kings, and view their exquisite jewellery and symbols of power in important museum collections in Edinburgh and Perth – with unique access to new discoveries.
In the Footsteps of the Picts Tour Highlights
- Curator-led tour of Pictish jewellery and sculpture in the National Museum of Scotland
- Magnificent Pictish stones at Aberlemno
- Forteviot, a palace of the Pictish kings
- Boat trip to the Isle of May, an excavated Pictish healing centre and monastery
- Return coach travel from Glasgow & Edinburgh
- 3 nights’ hotel accommodation with dinner, bed and breakfast – staying at the Links Hotel, Montrose
- Comfortable coach travel throughout
- Services of a professional tour manager
Single supplements apply – £90. Offer is subject to availability.
In the Footsteps of the Picts Tour Itinerary
We depart by coach from our pick-up points Glasgow and Edinburgh and transfer to our first visit, the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh (where you may also join the tour). Here we will be joined by one of the curators for a specially-arranged guided tour of the collection Pictish jewellery and sculpture held here, which includes the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure, which was discovered in Shetland in 1958 and is the only Scottish hoard of fine metalwork of this date to survive in its entirety.
We then continue to our hotel where dinner will be served in the evening.
After breakfast we begin with a visit to the symbol-inscribed cross-slab depicting angels and a striding cloaked figure at Eassie.
We then travel through beautiful Strathmore to Brechin, with its intact early medieval round-tower (one of only two in Scotland) with Romanesque carvings.
In the adjacent cathedral are the remains of an inscribed cross-slab depicting the Virgin and Child; a unique recumbent slab of 10th/11th century date, and an upright cross-slab from nearby Aldbar depicting the biblical King David.
We then have another sculptural high-point with a visit to nearby Aberlemno, with its four magnificent Pictish stones.
Arranged along the roadside are two pre-Christian pillar stones inscribed with mysterious Pictish symbols, along with a magnificent cross-slab carved with a hunting scene and book-wielding angels. In the churchyard is one of the finest of all Pictish cross-slabs with its famous depiction of a battle, thought by some to depict the Pictish defeat of the mighty Anglo-Saxon army at Nechtanesmere in 685 AD.
From here we travel the short distance to St Vigeans Museum of Pictish Sculpture, which houses one of the most important collections of early medieval sculpture in Western Europe, comprising 26 stone sculptures of the 8th-10th centuries, including cross slabs, recumbent gravestones, a ‘hogback’ stone and rare architectural fragments.
We then go next door to visit the old parish church, on the site of a royal Pictish monastery – a close examination of the church walls will reward us with the discovery of fragments of other stones still held fast within the medieval mortar.
Dinner is served in the evening back at our hotel.
After breakfast we head west into the edge of the Highlands to Dunkeld (‘The Fort of the Caledonians’) on the River Tay where we will visit a Pictish hillfort.
We then head a few miles south to the attractive village of Dunning, Perthshire, a focus of the cult of St Serf.
We will visit the site of the Pictish monastery, now occupied by St Serf’s church, with its early 12th-century tower and rare Romanesque doorway. Our focus, however, is the magnificent 9th-century Dupplin Cross with its inscription to King Constantine (died 820).
We then travel the short distance to Forteviot, the royal centre of the Pictish kings, where king Cináed mac Alpín died in palacio in 858, having created the first unified Scottish kingdom of the Picts and Gaels.
Part of this may be reflected in the unique Forteviot arch, now in the National Museum in Edinburgh. The fragmentary remains of four major monuments from Forteviot have recently been redisplayed in the church, together with the hand-bell of an early saint.
From here we continue to Perth Museum with its fine display of Pictish sculpture, notably the St Madoe’s cross slab.
Dinner is served in the evening.
Following breakfast we check out of the hotel and drive to St Andrews, where we see the decorated stone sarcophagus of a great Pictish king, featuring biblical royal imagery along with artistic influences showing their European connections.
Then we’ll take a boat (weather permitting) to visit the monastery on the Isle of May at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, a national nature reserve with many thousands of breeding seabirds. Excavations here have revealed an early Christian site with 1000 years of sanctity, which was a place of healing and healthcare, attracting generations of pilgrims, some of whom died and were buried here. Examination of their skeletons have given unique insights into illness and care in the Pictish period.
Sailing back to the mainland the Isle of May, our last connection with the Picts, will slowly disappear from view, just as they themselves vanished into the mists of time over a thousand years ago.
Following this we return to our original departure points, with arrival due in the early evening.