Orkney is a large group of islands sitting North East from the Scottish mainland. Steeped in history with everything from Neolithic tombs, to vikings and even World War II sites. Orkney has a massive amount of rich material to explore. I travelled to the far north of Scotland with my mother to fulfil one of her bucket list must do’s. It was certainly worth the trip of a lifetime.
Reaching the remote Orkney islands
On a map Scotland doesn’t look particularly large. You could be fooled into thinking that a road trip to the Northern tip might only take an hour or two. Under normal circumstances with a major road network like those in North America that might be the case. Roads in Scotland outside the popular central belt are however slow and limited.
Reaching Orkney took more than a days travel from Glasgow. I broke up the distance by visiting places on route such as coastal areas around Elgin. The main A9 from Inverness will get you there, it might just take a while. Depending on how many motor homes and lorries you get stuck behind. Sit back and catch up on the latest podcast from Goseemountains.com.
Options for ferry travel to the Orkney islands are plentiful. Boats are available from Aberdeen, Thurso and all along the northern coast of Scotland. I opted for the car ferry sailing from Gills Bay on the mainland to Margarets Hope in Orkney. The ship dropped the car at the southern tip of the primary island in Orkney, helping me to escape from larger groups of tourists.
Whistle stop Orkney islands tour
Budget was limited for the trip to explore the Orkney islands so I settled on a day trip taster. Most tourists would opt for a bus tour of Orkney given such a short time frame but with a dog along for the ride I was the guide. With a huge amount of different historical sites to visit it would be easy to become overwhelmed. My trip focused on only a handful of places that provided an overview of different kinds of historical significance.
Ring of Brodgar on the Orkney islands
Orkney is full of Neolithic heritage to explore. Across the islands there are a collection of standing stones or neolithic henge. Little is known about the exact origin of the stones themselves but it’s fair to say they are extremely old and part of a protected world heritage site. Most likely they were used as a place of worship and for traditional rituals for the island natives.
Standing next to the stones was a humbling experience. The famous stones of Orkney stand tall, stretching up into the sky as you begin to puzzle how they were erected. It’s amazing what people can achieve with wooden ramps, basic rope pulleys and brute strength. Advanced mathematical equations were not in effect during the construction of these ancient sites. Visit closer to home than flying to Egypt’s pyramids.
Entrance fees when planning a day trip can really start to rack up. Thankfully all of the stone circle sites I encountered while on Orkney were free to enter. I encourage you to visit these ancient monuments while they remain in such good condition. Over the years, weather and even humans have destroyed some of the relics. Be sure to add them to your list if visiting the area.
Skara Brae neolithic settlement
Scottish school children of a certain age will recognise this one immediately. Skara Brae is a neolithic settlement found in the mid 1800’s by locals after a severe storm. It is one of the most complete neolithic settlements in Europe. Inside you will find a group of eight closely grouped dwellings that are so well preserved you could move in tomorrow. Imagine the Flinstones cartoon series and you are close.
Entrance fees to Skara Brae were reasonable at around £10 given that they included entrance to the Laird’s house. There was enough to explore in the area for a few hours and the site is truly unique. An idlic beach overlooking the site of Skara Brae would even make the ideal location of a family picnic. I certainly didn’t feel short changed from my time at Skara Brae.
A guided tour of some of the sites in Orkney would have given good context during the day. I learned enough at the time to understand what I was looking at and took away a renewed interest in the history that could be investigated later. If returning for a longer period of time to the Orkney islands I intend on reading up more prior to the visit. Knowledge is power.
World War II Orkney sites of interest
The north of Scotland was used heavily during World War II. Everything from training exercises, to look out posts and submarine pens. You won’t be short of things to see if you are a World War II history buff in Orkney. During my visit I saw Scapa Flow, once home of Viking longships. During the war it was the largest navel base in the UK.
Unknown to me, prisoners of war also spent time on Orkney. Italian POW’s built a Catholic chapel on the island during their time made from waste material. The inside of the church is worth visiting for its ornate interior, complete with alter. Recently refurbished with the help of one of the men to originally complete the construction. It exists as a fitting tribute to the men who spent so long held on the island of Orkney.
Orkney is not a one way ticket
Visiting Orkney was certainly not a one way ticket. I will return to explore more of this group of islands for a longer period of time. Taking in Shetland too would also be a bucket list experience. I am keen to find out more about the parts or Orkney I did get to see and delve into the parts I didn’t. In particular Orkney’s Viking invasions and animal life are worth further investigation. If you are traveling in the area and undecided about going be sure to take the time to visit Orkney.
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