“ Orkney (sometimes known as the Orkney Islands) is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated 10 miles north of the coast of Caithness. Orkney consists of over 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island is known as the Mainland and has an area of 202 square miles, making it the sixth largest Scottish island and the ninth largest island surrounding the island of Great Britain. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall. „
I have wanted to go to Orkney for I don?t know how long really. I think I have been inspired by many holiday programs over the years. The Rings of Brogar on the Mainland is the Henge where Billy Connolly danced round butt naked, for those who watched the World Tour of Scotland Series. Anyway, I booked a few days in the Far North of Scotland, and I soon realised that Orkney was not difficult to get to at all. Getting There -------------- There are a number of ferry companies that operate Pentland Ferries and John O Groats Ferries. The Pentland Ferry Service was attractive, because of the ferry times, and the fact you can take your car on the ferry. The total cost for car and two adults would have been £90. Alternatively, you can do tours with John O Groats Ferries, and the tour we opted for was the Maxi Tour at £33 per head. This includes return ferry crossing and escorted tour to all the main sites. I thought this would be a convenient way to see the main attractions, not to mention slightly cheaper than driving ourselves! Their website is www.jogferry.co.uk. You can reserve tickets on line for all the major tours, and pick them up half an hour before the ferry crossing from the terminal. We sailed from JOG at 900am, and the return crossing was at 700pm, so it was a pretty full, not to mention tiring day. The journey only takes about 40 minutes on the JOG ferry and it docks at the southernmost point of South Ronaldsay Island. The Pentland ferry docks at St Margaret?s Hope, which is at the top of South Ronaldsay Island and therefore the journey takes slightly longer. Alternatively there are sailings from Scrabster to Stromness, which will take a lot longer and are not suitable for a day trip. However you will get to sail past Hoy, and you could view the Old Man of Hoy rock formation. The Islands ----------- The Islands are charming and steeped in five thousands years of history including the Vikings up to the present day, when the Islands were a strategic post during the wars, and the population increased threefold. There are about 69 islands in the group, although this is debated. An island is defined as a piece of land large enough to feed one sheep for one year. The largest Island is creatively named Mainland, and this contains the two main towns of Stromness and Kirkwall. The next largest Island is Hoy. The other large Islands are Westray, Papa Westray, Stronsay, Shapinsay and Sanday. Not islands are inhabited, as you will have established when you read the definition of an Island! The sea crossing goes over the Pentland Firth, an ancient route, and the large expanse of water below the mainland is known as Scapa Flow and is famous for its shipwrecks and a popular spot for divers. You can get to the Mainland from South Ronaldsay by driving over four causeways known as the Churchill Barriers. These link Burry and a couple of smaller islands on the way. During the war, Italian Prisoners of War were shipped to Orkney and they were told to build these massive barriers, to protect the UK from German Invasion. The Italians were not keen on doing this, but relented and realised it would aide communication between the Islands. The barriers are named Number 1, 2, 3 and 4 Barrier ? more imaginative titles there! Most of them are passable all year round, although Number 2 Barrier is closed during high winds. Temperatures in Orkney, contrary to popular opinion, rarely drop below 5 degrees Celsius and rarely exceed 22 degrees Celsius in summer. At almost 60 degrees N line of Latitude, the Islands are at equivalent latitude to Oslo, the tip of Greenland, and the south Border of Canada?s North West Territories. During the summer, there is practically 24 hour daylight, with the sun setting a few degrees west of North, and rising again shortly after a few degrees East. During the autumn, Orkney?s Skies are lit with the Northern Lights. < br> Things to Do ------------- 1. Visit the Highland Park Distillery and Visitor centre. Here you can watch a short video, which goes into a little history if the Islands as well as the history of the distillery. You can do a tour of the distillery itself. There is a coffee shop and a shop for purchasing your wares. The Distillery makes 12 yr, 18 yr, 25 yr, and rarely 40 yr old single malts. You get to taste one while you are watching the video, and while I am no whisky fan this stuff was fantastic. A bottle of 12 yr old malt costs £21.99 in the shop. The distillery is the most Northern Distillery in the world. It was started in 1798 by a local priest, who used to make the whisky under the church pulpit, and was not caught by the Customs and Excise people. In a nice little twist of fate the present day distillery is on the site of the old customs house. And no distillery is complete without its cat, named MALT! 2. The Italian Chapel is a fantastic building. It stands alone on the island of Lamb Holm, which is one of the small islands that are linked by the four Churchill barriers. It is the only remains of Camp 60 ? a prisoner of war camp housing Italians. It still stands today as a symbol of faith, peace and reconciliation. What is unique about it is that it is constructed from one of the Nissen Huts. The outside was painted to resemble brickwork and a belfry was added to the front to disguise the fact that it is actually a Nissen hut. The results are spectacular, when you consider what little raw materials the Italians had. After the war, the sculptor and artist stayed on at Orkney to complete all the detail of the chapel, and had it not been for intervention by the Orcadians, no doubt the chapel would have simply been destroyed along with the rest of the campsite. On the day of our visit, there was a wedding in the evening (Friday Evenings are traditional wedding times in Orkney), and the chapel is in regular use today. 3. The Standing Sto nes of Brogar. This henge dates back over 5000 years and is older than Stonehenge in England. The henge originally consisted of 60 standing stones placed 6 degrees apart. Like Stonehenge, it is not certain how the stones were brought to the area. About 27 of the stones are left standing, one being hit by lightning in 1980, causing it to fall over. Many of the broken stones remain where they fell. The story is if you walk around the stones anti clockwise, it will bring fertility. Some of the stones also have graffiti dating back hundreds of years; it?s not a modern thing evidently! 4. St Magnus Church, which dates back to 1064, although it has been rebuilt since then. This is believed to be where St Magnus? remains were taken after he was killed by his brother in 1115AD. 5. St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. Kirkwall was founded in 1035 and is an Old Norse town, with a fabulous cathedral. You can do ours of the upper floors for a £4 fee, although it is donations for the remainder of the cathedral. It is said that the remains of two saints are buried here. It was a most pleasant day on our visit, and it was here we sat outside on the lawns in front of the cathedral for over an hour, with our little picnic of bread and fabulous Grimister Cheese! A really enjoyable location, right on the High Street. 6. Scara Brae. This is a five thousand year old village in the grounds of Skaill House uncovered during a storm in 1850. Since that time there have been a number of excavations, to uncover several houses. You can walk around the houses and view the midden that connected them. A Workshop has also been unearthed. These houses were built before the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge! As well as viewing the actual village, there is a reconstructed house that you can walk through to gain an appreciation for what we believe the conditions may have been. There is also a Video show, and gift store, coffee shop. The entrance fee is £4 and this also allows you access to Skail l House which was built in 1620. Eating and Drinking ------------------- Both Kirkwall and Stromness are really one street towns. We snacked in Stromness, but you could eat a pub meal at the Ferry Inn, or the Bistro next door, as well as one or two other pubs and restaurants. And make sure you try some of the local beer from the Orkney Brewery, including the Skull Splitter! Local produce includes Fish and Cheese, although not usually together. Make sure you try some of the Original Orkney Ice-cream made at the Orkney Creamery, it is great. Shopping ---------- Orkney is full of craft designer jewellers including Sheila Flint, Aurora, Hourston, Ortak; as well as the obligatory local knitwear shops. Overall, a trip I have been waiting to make for years, and it was certainly worth the wait. Orkney has a magical aurora about it, and is a beautiful part of the world. If I go again, we would certainly get accommodation on the Island and take our car over, to spend a few more days just relaxing and enjoying the attractions and the scenery. Helen Bradshaw June 2002
You're in the Highlands, and you want to go to the Orkneys but you've only got a day.....what do you do? Well the first thing you do is jump on that ferry and get across there!! Orkney is a gorgeous isle with loads of history and some great sites. It's fairly small, and all the islands are linked by causeways so you can see all the major sites in one day! To get across the sea to Orkney you can either get the passenger ferry from John O'Groats or get on the car ferry at Scrabster. Now if you're gonna want to do Orkney in a day i suggest you take a car. It's £25 each way for a car and £10 each way per adult person, dogs are free. There was 4 of us so that cost us £130 return (£32.50 each). It's advisable to get there about 30-40 minutes before the ferry leaves to ensure a place. The first ferry leaves about 9.40am and there's no need to book in advance and you pay on the ferry. When returning, however it is advisable to book a place. The last ferry back leaves at 5pm and can be quite busy so get booked on the minute you land in Orkney...the ticket office is right at the dock. They'll also give you a weather report at that time as the weather is quite changeable and the area is liable to swells (makes the journey back all the more fun!) When you arrive in Orkney just follow the main road (A961) across the causeways. These are old WWII defence barriers, known as the Churchill Barriers, which have been re-inforced and now used as roads. At barrier No. 3 you can see sunk and abandoned war ship wreckages peeking out of the sea. Also note the differences in tidal level here! This is due to the meeting of two seas which have slightly different tides. If you follow this road to St. Mary's (on the small island of Lamb Holm), which is just after the first Churchill barrier you come to. This little chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war during the second world war out of 2 corrugated niss en huts. It is a memorial now the 550 P.O.W's station at Camp 60, lovingly restored by the same artist who helped construct this church in the mid 40's. The prisoners, obviously catholic, felt the need for a place of worship and after being granted a gift of the 2 huts set about building their own church. A façade was prepared and it provides an impressive entrance to the huts, which are still original and obviously had a military purpose at some point. Once inside though, you would never know that you were inside what is basically a tin hut. The entire chapel has been delicately painted to look like genuine stone and the pulpit area is stunning. He artwork is fantastic and you can tell a lot of work and care has gone in to this. Entrance to the church is free, and with all churches you are invited to leave a donation. For a £1 you can get a little information booklet, which in my opinion, is money well spent! The church is not manned therefore they rely on honesty, so please adhere to this and don't just run off with the booklets without leaving a donation, it's just downright rude! If you carry on the A961 you eventually come to Kirkwall, the largest town in Orkney, and while you are here you must go the Highland Park Distillery. Value for money or what here! You can get a tour of the distillery for a bargain £3, £2 if you are a student. It's a great tour, informative and enjoyable and you get a nip of the distillery's own aqua vitae and it's gorgeous, believe me! Look out for the 2 distillery cats Malt and Barley, always an added bonus for the kids when you do these things. These are mousing cats though so please don't let your kids torment - like most cats they're pretty docile but won't stand for nonsense! If you manage to get in a small tour its much more personal, and if you're very lucky the guide will let you see a bottle of there 40yr old which is kept under lock and key (it'll cost you a whopping £999.99?I'll have 3 please!) If by this point you are hungry, go to Stromness?apparently it's got THE best fish and chips, but unfortunately I couldn't find it! However there are many fine restaurants in Kirkwall, and just as many good chippies!! After having food get on the B9056 and head towards Skara Brae. It's only 1.9m northwest of Kirkwall and it's the site of a neolithic village that was unearthed during a huge storm in the 1850's. The village was built 5000BC and must be one of the best examples of it's kind! IT unfortunately will cost you £4.50 to get in which I think is a bit pricey and there is no student discount. Be aware of this! It says that a reduced fare is available but it's only for OAP's and try as I might, the nice woman at the desk did not believe that I was 61 (I'm 25 but look 12)! For the privilege of paying £4.50 you not only get entrance to Skara Brae and the excellent reconstruction of House No 7 (its house..not a room! The guide gets very upset if you call it a room!), but into small museum, an audio/visual presentation and Skaill House. Skaill House is a 16th century house and the best thing in it is a display of a crockery set that Captain Cook picked up for the family that owned the house on one of his jolly jaunts. Oh and beware of the people that are buried in the hallway?freaky!! If you're in to rocks in fields and like things like stone henge you really should go and check out the Ring of Brodgar, just outside of Stromness, west of the B9055. You pass this site on the way back to the ferry so you night as well go. The ring of standing stones is still a pretty complete circle and still very impressive. There is 27 stones remaining out of 60 and the circle is a-huge! Nobody is really sure what the stones were used for. The were once regarded as the Temple of the Sun, and there are 4 stones with carvings on them. One has the Norsk f or Bjorn, one an anvil, another a cross and one another a really old inscription. These were added after construction of the Ring (which was built around 5000BC as well) proving that vandalism is an age old pastime. Look out for some of the excellent name carving dating back to the 18th and 19th century?it's so neat and must have taken ages! People in those days must have carried specialised chisel equipment! Further down the road, about a 5minute walk from Brodgar, there are the Stones of Stennes which were known as The Temple of The Moon, and in between Brodgar and Stennes there is a single indicator stone which is consequently known as the Comet stone. Entry to all these is free and tours can be organised through the tourist information. There is plenty more to see in Orkney but it's difficult to fit it in one day, especially if you've got kids with you so plan ahead if you wan tot see more. Remember to allow time to get back to he ferry and allow for weather. IT's a good idea to phone the ferry terminal (you can get the number from the ticket office on the ferry) at some point during the day to get an update on your ferry and the weather or you may find yourself stranded. Finally, keep an eye out for some of the amazing wildlife you're bound to see on the way back...anything from seals to gannets to terns to the well loved and famous puffins! Fantastic! For more information on Orkney and these points of interest, check out these web sites: www.stonepages.com www.historical-scotland.gov.uk www.orkney.com Go on give it a visit! It's well worth it, and there's so much more to see than i managed to fit in my day trip
I live and dive in Shetland, also visit Orkney when I get the chance, the diving up here is fantastic and there's plenty to see and do, here's a bit more detail. Orkney and Shetland both have a lot of ancient history to keep people amused if they aren't diving, Jarlshof, Clickimin Broch and Mousa Broch in Shetland are all worth visiting as are Skara Brae and Maes Howe in Orkney. St Magnus Cathedral is well worth seeing, I pop in for a look whenever I'm in Kirkwall. The Highland Park Distillery is pretty interesting too. Both Islands are rich with music, and have annual Folk Festivals, but I wouldn't try to combine these with diving as they tend to go on pretty late. Eating out in Orkney is a lot better than Shetland, huge portions abound and I always come back overweight. The Royal Hotel in Stromness is particularly good and there's a place in St Margerets Hope (I haven't been there, but friends have highly recommended it) that has a Michelin star. My favourite eateries in Shetland are the Spice of India, an excellent curry house, and Busta House Hotel, near Brae. For more info on the Islands try their official websites - www.orkney.com www.shetland-tourism.co.uk To get to Orkney you can either get a ferry from Scrabster (about 2 hours) or from Aberdeen (about 10 hours). There're also daily flights from Aberdeen, but this isn't much use if you've got a carload of diving gear. The ferry from Aberdeen - Shetland takes 14 hours, and is overnight, there're also flights from Aberdeen. Scapa Flow in Orkney is something of a mecca for wreck divers. The German High Fleet was scuttled here at the end of WW1 and a few sizeable chunks of it remain, from shallow down to a max. depth of 45m Orkney (Particularly Stromness, which has a hyperbaric chamber) is well geared up for diving, with a dozen or so charters boats operating in the Flow. Visibility in the flow can be quite good, though not as good as outside where 20m+ is possible. The German ships are interesting - The bow of the Brummer(35m) is remarkably intact and the Bayern Turrets (upside down in 37m) are amazing, but there are other equally good wrecks to be seen. My favorites are the Cotovia, to the east of Orkney in about 40m, a 4000t SS sunk by mine in 1917. Mostly flat, but the huge boilers stand upright, pretty awesome. The Tabarka is a 2600t blockship in about 15m in Burray sound. Its fairly intact but upside down, you can go inside and swim the length of it, looking at the boilers below you (they've fallen down)and the keel suspended above you, has great viz due to being in the tidal stream and loads of life. As a footnote, a lot of people rave about the James Barrie (Trawler in 40 odd metres), but I thought it was merely okay. Another dive to avoid is The Old Man of Hoy, very pretty above water but a boulder strewn bottom beneath. Its gimmickly named "washing the old mans feet" apparently. Shetland is situated to the far north of Scotland. Although only 70 miles long it has thousands of miles of coastline, due to the number of Voes (mini fyords) and smaller islands (over 100). In general the tide is less than the rest of the UK and the waters can produce visibility of up to 30m in winter, dropping to 6-8m if the plankton is bad in summer.Temps vary from 4C to 12C, so a drysuit is advisable. There are numerous scenic dives around Shetland, plenty of seals and caves and a lot of wrecks. Diveable within 30 mins of Lerwick harbour are The Glen Isla (45m), Gwladmena (39m), Valkyie (50m and sits upright in a gully), Samba (25m), Pionersk (Russian factory ship in 22m), Lunokhod (5-45m), Queen of Sweden (Dutch East Indiaman in 15m) and many others, ranging from shallow to about 80m There are plenty of wrecks around Shetland including a WW1 E-boat in 35m (Unst) , the ill-fated oil tanker the Braer at Quendale and several galleons. The Orkney c harter boats Karin and Jean-Elaine take divers up to Shetland, and the local charter boat Alluvion operates out of Lerwick. If you fancy diving here ask on the usenet group uk.rec.scuba, several Shetland divers lurk there.