A week in Orkney

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!  

A day trip to Vienna from Bratislava

I had seen a suggested day trip to Vienna from Bratislava on Tripadvisor but discovered the night before our journey, that the train station it suggested you arrive at, in Vienna, no longer exists!!

So instead we made some slight changes and caught the 8.43 train from Hlavne Stancia (Main Rail Station) to Wien Hauptbahnhof Hpf (Vienna) €14 return.  The journey takes about an hour and you pass mile upon mile of farmland and fields.  We had our ticket checked by a Slovakian conductor and when we entered Austria we then had it checked by an Austrian conductor.  Having understood nothing that people had been saying to us for a few days it was refreshing to then hear some German which I have limited but some knowledge of.  
 
At Wien Hpf we bought a Shoppers underground railcard, €6.10, that is active from 8am-8pm. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before you board the first train, after that you don’t need to do anything but make sure you have it on you.

From Hpf we took the underground to Schönbrunn to see Schönbrunn Palace. The Palace is opposite the underground station which is great and was easy enough to find, this is not a small palace!  There are a number of different ticketing options and we opted for the Imperial Tour €12.90.  You are given a time slot for your visit, ours was 2 hours ahead, so we had apple strudel and a hot drink in the garden and then wandered around the Christmas market.

Apple strudel at the palace

 

Schönbrunn palace

The time soon went by and we didn’t even get as far as looking at the gardens.  We paid 50c each to go to the toilet and when we got back to the hotel found we had been given a voucher for a free visit (it must have come with our food!) Ah well!  I would recommend you go inside the palace a bit before your time slot so you can drop off any big bags and join the queue.

After the tour we headed to Herrengasse station on the underground and were lucky to book the last 2 slots on the 5pm English language tour at the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School). 

This meant we had a few hours to tour the shops and we bought a late lunch at Nordsee which sells nice salmon with wild rice, potatoes or vegetables, among other seafood and fish options.  The shopping streets of Vienna are so pretty.

Vienna shopping street

The Spanish horses and riders have Monday’s off, but on the tour you can see the horses in their stables. The other days they have morning practice sessions you can watch but I imagine you need to book well in advance.

Spanish riding school

After the tour of the Stables we headed to Philharmonikerstrasse (which was quite a challenge to find).  Here you will find the Hotel Sacher which has Cafe Mozart attached. Considering it is quite famous we were seated almost immediately, but it was very busy. I did try the Sachertorte (chocolate & apricot jam cake) which to be honest I found a bit dry and heavy (it was also lacking the mirror glaze I thought it was famous for).  Their other cakes looked delicious, but felt I should give it a go.

Hotel Sacher

We then walked to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) and could just make out the spire in the fog. There are lots of people trying to get you to see a concert, but we just didn’t have time.  It was then time for is to head back to Hpf station and catch the train to Bratislava.  

St Stephens cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Our train on the way back was an old fashioned one, with a corridor against one window and lots of little cabins that seated 6. No-one checked our ticket for Austria or Slovakia which was weird. 

Train carriage

 Considering how much cheaper it is to fly to and stay in Bratislava, this is a much cheaper way of seeing Vienna.

 
 

Countries visited or booked to visit in next couple of months

Liz Armstrong’s Travel Map

Liz Armstrong has been to: United Arab Emirates, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Maldives, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Peru, Sweden, Singapore, Slovakia, Tunisia, Turkey, United States, Vatican.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Four holidays booked!

Despite travelling from Inverness to London every week, I still haven’t lost that urge to travel.  Currently I have four holidays planned, ok so one is a trip down to stay with my folks…but still it lifts my spirits no end having holidays on the horizon.

In September I have booked myself on a yoga retreat in Ibiza.  I have had no end of teasing about me going to Ibiza…not about doing yoga, not about going on my own, instead it is the ‘making shapes on a dance floor, foam parties and getting drunk in the streets jokes’.  I have never been to Ibiza before and to be honest didn’t think I ever would, as I also thought it was just all about drunken people and raves…are they still called raves?  I am looking forward to going and have been trying to do a little yoga every day since I booked it…I don’t want to embarrass myself too much.  I feel I am already walking straighter and feeling more energised. 

In November I am visiting the Wirral to stay with my folks.  I have been planning a reunion for a company I worked for in Liverpool for nearly 9 years.  The venue is booked, deposit paid and 39 confirmed attendees so far.  I will also catch up with my friends from the Wirral, so it should be a great week of reunions.

In December I am off to Bratislava for a long weekend with my best friend Helen.  We will be taking in a visit to Vienna whilst we are there.  We visited Budapest a few years ago and I expect the same sort of chilly temperatures so will be stuffing thermal vests and long johns in my hand luggage.

Finally in June 2016…yes I really have booked a holiday 11 months in advance…Helen and I are off to Michigan.  In 1991-1992 Helen and I were both au pairs in Michigan and next year will be the 25th Anniversary!!!  I looked after  three girls (twin babies Molly and Trish and four year old Erin.).  It will be the twins 25th birthday whilst we are there, so a double 25 year celebration!

No holidays planned with my husband yet, but likely we will rent a cottage in Italy near Florence at some point and maybe a mini break to Islay.  I buy 10 extra days holiday a year, he doesn’t and then he spends 5 of his days on boys trips (usually to Scotland games).  So that gives me 15 days a year to sneak in more trips than him 🙂