Orkney – come here if you can

For years we have been talking about coming to Orkney. I have posted here about other Scottish islands that have been our holiday destinations in the past, but this year we finally made the effort to drive up here. It’s a long way and took us the best part of three days, but the effort is rewarded by staying for a week on a beautiful and fascinating island.

It’s an hour and a half ferry ride from a small village of Scrabster, next to the larger town of Thurso on the north eastern coast of the Scottish mainland. The cottage that we are renting is in the west of the “Mainland” as the largest of the Orkney islands is known. It’s about 2 miles from the 5,000 year old Neolithic village of Skara Brae, of which, more later.

We have not been disappointed here. The cottage itself is a little bit stripped pine and flowery curtains, but it’s comfortable enough. Inevitably, we tend to spend far too much time exploring the island when we are on holiday so the accommodation itself is not a primary concern, provided it’s clean and comfortable enough. It’s the island and its attractions that drew us here.

Wherever you go, there is evidence of previous occupation by long lost tribes. A quick look on any part of the map will reveal burial chambers, ancient settlements, brochs and so on. There must have been thousands of people living here thousands of years ago and they have left behind a fabulous legacy.

Skara Brae is it the most famous of them. Having been warned not to go on Monday when I enquired about opening times on Sunday afternoon (Kirkwall, the city on Orkney, is the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK, apparently – and incredibly – and two large ships were in on Monday), we arrived later in the day on Tuesday and had the place almost to ourselves. Below is a photo of the biggest and most famous of the dozen buildings preserved by the sands. You can see box beds either side of a central fire, and a shelving arrangement adjacent where food would have been stored and prepared. The only part of the property missing is the roof, which would have been made of timber or whalebones, skins and turf, all long since rotten away.

The adjacent house has a vast collection of the artifacts found within the buildings. This place is almost like Pompeii, only without the bodies, and for somewhere that is older than the pyramids, and older than Stonehenge, it’s a must-see when up here.

Not far away from Skara Brae is the Ring of Brodgar, another stone circle that is older than Stonehenge. Again, we were fortunate, or careful, to miss the time when seven coach loads of cruise ship tourists all turn up at once and we were able to enjoy this fabulous place pretty much on our own.

Even when we were there for the actual summer solstice on Monday evening, there were no more than a dozen people there. Compare that to the scenes at the younger upstart on Salisbury plain…

It’s a beautiful spot.

Nearby, is an active archaeological site called the Ness of Brodgar, which is similar to Skara Brae, but larger. This isn’t open to the public yet as it’s an active dig during the summer, but it will be good to return some time and see how it differs.

The ring is beautiful during the daytime too.


At the north end of the island, is the Broch of Gurness, a slightly later farmstead in a fabulous coastal location. 


The whole place is full of amazing sights such as these. And we have been very lucky with the weather, too, only getting wet for the first time this afternoon. Which is pretty good for the north of Scotland, even at mid-summer.

Tomorrow, we have booked to see Maeshowe, which is  burial chamber near to the Ring. So, maybe I can share some of that later in the week. There isn’t much later though, as we have to set off home on Saturday morning. Back to work on Monday. I’m sure I have posted before about the benefits / disadvantages of taking more than a week off at a time, but if my work emails are anything to go by, more than a week this year would be a week too long. Oh well…

Friday, have decided to go to Hoy, a smaller of the islands, just south from here. I can see the mountains from this window. There are sea eagles nesting there for the first time since goodness only knows when. Hopefully, we will get to see them. Our success at seeing the bird life here is somewhat mixed, it has to be said. Puffins = 0. Hen harriers = 2

Oh, and we have had to light the fire tonight. It’s a bit chilly.

One thought on “Orkney – come here if you can”

  1. Thanks Andy. My great-grandmother came from Ophir in the Orkneys. I was not sure if visiting would be worth the trip but after reading your blog, the islands are on my bucket list.

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