The Orkney Isles are located off the North Coast of Scotland.  Some of its Isles can clearly be seen from the North Coast, like at John O’Groats, where cyclists set off to (or arrive from) Lands End (on the South Coast of England).  For more than 10 years we have looked across and said ‘we must go there one day’…Orkney I mean…never have we thought we must cycle to Lands End 😉

With our reduced income we are exploring more of Scotland with our dog and our tent.  So, finally, we booked ourselves on a week long trip to Orkney.  

We based ourselves at The Orkney Caravan Park in Kirkwall.  A great location as we can easily walk into the town centre, its close to 3 supermarkets and its a lovely campground with lots of ‘extras’, like a campers kitchen with everything but an oven (so microwave, toaster, kettle, fridge, freezer etc.).  Its shower cubicles have sinks and toilets within, plus spare sink and toilet cubicles.  It is next to the leisure centre and you even get 2 free passes if you want to go swimming or play racket sports.

Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Isles and is on the Mainland.  There are various ferry ports across the Mainland giving you access to some of the other Isles:

  • from Kirkwall you can sail to the isles of Stronsay, Eday, Sanday, Westray and Papa Westray
  • from Stromness you can sail to the isles of Graemsay and Hoy
  • from Tingwall you can sail to the isles of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre
  • from Houton you can sail to the isles of Flotta, Hoy, South Walls (there’s also a causeway from Hoy to South Walls)
  • there is also a causeway you can drive across to Land Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay
So The Mainland seemed ideal to base ourselves for the week.  The most northerly isles are not feasible to do in a day, but we hoped to add to our list of Scottish Islands visited.
 
With the North Sea to the East and the Atlantic Ocean to the West the crossing was a wee bit choppier than we experienced visiting the Inner and Outer Hebrides Isles.  Our steward at the campground said the West side usually has the best weather, so if we encounter rain head West. 
 
Anyway, that’s more words than I usually write, so I’ll get to the pictures!  
 

The Mainland

Kirkwall 

Capital of Orkney, population 10,000.  Lots of 17th and 18th Century houses.
Kirkwall

 

 

 

 

 

St. Magnus Cathedral

The most northerly cathedral in Britain.  Romanesque architecture, built in 1137 and additions made over the next 300 years. It was built for the bishops of Orkney when the Isles were ruled by Norse Earls.

St. Magnus Cathedral

 The Bishop’s Palace built in the 12th Century and the Earl’s Palace built in 1607.

Peedie sea and the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces

Stromness

Notice the side street called ‘Khyber Pass’!
Stromness

 

Ring of Brodgar

A neolithic henge erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC! A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
   
Ring of Brodgar


The Standing Stones of Stenness

A neolithic henge, erected ~3100 BC…wiki says this could be the oldest henge in the UK!  
 
The Standing Stones of Stenness
 
 
 

Scara Brae and Skaill House

Scara Brae is a village (well 8 houses) which pre-dates the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, occupied 3180 BC to 2500 BC. A UNESCO World Heritage Site. Skaill House was built in 1620.
Skara Brae and Skaill House

East coast 

East coast facing west!

Mull Head Nature Reserve and The Gloup (sea arch)

The 2nd picture on the left is Auskerry Island, where the wool I have bought comes from.  They are the only other place to have the North Ronaldsay sea weed eating sheep.  There’s just one family on the island.  Gloup derives from Old Norse ‘gluppa’, meaning chasm, it is a collapsed sea cave.
Mull Head Nature Reserve and The Group

Yesnaby

There are some very interesting information boards here, which explain how this used to be part of a lake (below the equator!) millions of years ago and some of the cliffs were sanddunes on the edge of the lake!  That’s my husband and our dog on the top left picture.

Yesnaby

Brough of Birsay

This is an uninhabited tidal island.  The 3rd image is of a settlement, originally Christian (6th Century), then a Pictish settlement (7th-8th Century) and finally Norsemen (i.e. Vikings 9th Century).  The beach is full of beautiful shells, as shown in the bottom picture.
Brough of Birsay

Land Holm

A miniature Isle which is home to the Italian Chapel.  The chapel was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were there to construct the Churchill Barriers.
 
The Italian Chapel
 

Glimpse Holm and the Churchill Barriers

Glimpse Holm and shipwrecks at the Churchill Barriers

 

South Ronaldsay

Tomb of the Eagles

No photos inside the tomb, but we did crawl in.  16,000 human bones and 725 bird bones were found here.  The tomb dates back to 3500-2000 BC.
 
Tomb of the Eagles
  

Isle of Shapinsay

Balfour is the only village on the Isle of Shapinsay.  Balfour Castle, its gatehouse and douche, privately owned unfortunately…well not for the owners but for visitors to the Island.  RSPB Mill Dam site had lots of birds to spot from the bird hide above the loch.  The Smithy tea room had the best Orkney Fudge Cheesecake and ginger bread…so good we bought more cake to go!  We went on the ferry as foot passengers and it worked out a great half day trip.
Isle of Shapinsay

So to sum up our Orkney holiday…we really enjoyed the Mainland, so much so we only ended up doing one ferry trip to another isle, but we did explore all the ones joined by causeways.  We were blessed with the weather really, it rained some nights but days were mostly beautiful sunshine.  We visited lots of bird hides and spotted some new birds we haven’t seen before.  We ate loads of cakes!  Goodness knows what the scales will say when we are home!  Lots of places were dog friendly and the cafes that weren’t had picnic tables outside if you could cope with the wind!  Allistar did lose a bit of lettuce off his plate outside the Orkney Brewery.
 
I wouldn’t say that history is really my thing…but I am interested in the Vikings and the Norse history of these Isles.  I think we will likely come back and stay on one of the more northern isles, but we think we will rent a cottage and not camp next time.  We slept fine, but as I write this, on our last evening, it is blowing a hoolie and we are in a sheltered spot in the town!  

3 thoughts on “A week in Orkney

  1. It all looks so beautiful, you really make me long to go there with your beautiful photos! Husband and I are planning a motorbike trip to Scotland, and even though it’s quite a way off in the future, I’m already collecting ideas and locations, and dreaming big.

    1. I have some other posts of Scotland on my blog. Have a look at the north coast 500 route. It’s a circular route around the north coast of Scotland and takes in some beautiful scenery. Very popular with bikers

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