The Orkney islands are just north of the Scottish mainland and I’ve wanted to go there for the longest time. It is home an astounding collection of neolithic sites (cairns, standing stones and an entire village!), and due to it’s proximity to Norway, it has a wonderful mix of Pictish and Viking history that make the Orcadians a unique people. It also played a fascinating role (and was shaped by its role) in WWII.
First, here’s what the Orkneys look like on a map. We stuck to Mainland which is the biggest island.
The Orkney islands
We flew in from Inverness to Kirkwall in the morning and then caught the midnight ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen at the other end of the day! Not as long a stay as I wanted, but I’m not complaining. It was amazing and Archie – our taxi tour driver – was a passionate local and a great guide.
View from Cuween Hill near Finstown
It was a stormy old day and we got rained on from time to time. This is a good example of the landscape of Mainland. This was taken from Cuween Hill where there’s a wonderful communal cairn, smaller but similar to the famous Maes Howe cairn, and some fascinating stone stacks.
But before we went there, we’d visited Scapa Bay to see the HMS Oak memorial (800+ lives lost when a U-boat sank it while it was at anchor in the bay) and also to the Italian Chapel built by Italian POWs.
Inside the Italian Chapel
This pic doesn’t do justice to the faux carvings and brickwork, but it shows something else about the Orkneys – what happens when the cruise ships come in! Tourism is a boon and a challenge for a place where so many of the sites are fragile.
We visited the Stones of Stenness (not many left of the circle but they’re the tallest I’ve ever seen), the Ring of Brodgar (nearly 30 stones!) and Skara Brae (a complete neolithic village).
One of the stones of Stenness
We also visited the cliffs at Yesnaby near Stromness, which was the one visit enhanced by the rain!
We ended the day by spending time in Kirkwall, including a trip to the Cathedral and the very cool local museum. The museum has artifacts from all the islands and this bone playing piece was my favourite:
Found on Burray in 2004
I have so many more photos I could share from this day, but this is already a very long post! To finish, I’ll say that we spent our evening enjoying an eye-watering curry at the local Indian restaurant, finished by watching Man Utd beat Ajax in the Europa League final on the telly in a pub by the harbour. Amazing.