Visiting the Orkney Islands was quite the journey for me during my third trip to Scotland. These remote islands are an archipelago at the tip of northeastern Scotland, and quite a ways from Edinburgh or Inverness. I believe that if you really wanted to visit this location, you would really have to want it. I know I did, so I took the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, and then on to the Orkney Islands. I would do it again in a heart beat!
What is so special about the Orkney Islands, and why the long journey? Orkney was inscribed in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the stately title of “Heart of Neolithic Orkney”. The Neolithic period was the later part of the stone age dating as far back as 12,000 years.
There are four Neolithic monuments on Orkney:
- Makes Howe, a large chambered tomb
- Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brogdar, two cermonial stone circles
- Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement
There are also a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial, and settlement sites. The group constitutes a major prehistoric cultural landscape, which gives a graphic depiction of life in this remote archipelago in the far north of Scotland, some 5,000 years ago.
I have so far visited two of these four sites, which I will cover in this post as well as getting to Orkney and other sites to visit.
Getting to Orkney Islands and Visiting Tips:
You can look up online to find numerable reputable online tours that will take you throughout the Island. I had chosen a tour that included a round trip ride from the city of Inverness through John O’ Groats Ferries.
Since this is the tip of Scotland be prepared for windy and chilly weather, so remember to dress warmly and in layers. Also wear sturdy closed shoes that are comfortable since you may be walking on uneven surfaces.
John O’ Groats, small village and ferry point to Orkney Islands.
Ferry Ride to Orkney
Once we arrived on to the islands we were shuttled by a tour bus to the sites, as well as the city of Kirkwall where we had free time.
Kirkwall is a bustling and charming shopping town in the historic center with a Norse spirit that runs through its veins. This city has a fascinating Viking history, and also dates back as a Royal Burgh in 1486. The name Kirkwall hails from the Norse ‘Kirkjuvagr’, which means ‘Church on the bay’, and you can still feel the town’s old Viking yore.
St Magnus Cathedral, located in Kirkwall, can not be missed as it justly dominates the town’s skyline. This glorious cathedral dates back almost 1,000 years, starting construction in 1137, and taking 300 years to complete. St Magnus is the most northerly cathedral in the UK, and is a fine example of Romanesque architecture.
Orkney Dairy is an absolute must while on the islands. I was told by our guide and other locals that if you are to eat anything in Orkney, it would have to be the dairy. As a person who understands the value of high quality foods, and environments I was excited to try both their local cheese and ice cream. The freshness and creaminess of both products were amazing, and I recommend trying their top quality dairy items as well.
Fun Fact: WWII was the turning point when Orkney farmers switched to dairy farming. The change was to help the needs of the 60,000 service personnel who were based on the islands. In 1946 when the military pulled out of Orkney there was a large remainder of milking cows, which eventually gave birth to Orkney’s dairy industry.
The lovely Skraill House overlooks the Bay of Skraill and Skara Brae, which is the UNESCO Neolithic Settlement. This 17th century mansion is the finest home in Orkney, and feels like a mid-century time capsule when you walk through it- pink bathroom, tiger rug, and fine clothing of the day.
Skaill House was the home of the man who first unearthed Skara Brae in 1850, which uncovered thousands of years of Orkney’s fascinating past. After careful restoration, the home was opened to the public in 1997. It still holds the look and charm of the family’s 1950s home along with other antiquities- Captain Cook’s dinner service, Stanley Cursiter paintings, Bishop’s original bed, and other items.
For visiting information, please visit: Skaill House
Skara Brae – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Skara Brae is an incredible place to visit, and one of the top reasons to visit Orkney. The site dates back to roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC, it is considered to be Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. It consists of ten clustered flagstone homes set in earthen dams, which provided wall support.
The houses included beds, cupboards, stone hearths, as well as a primitive sewer system. These sewer systems had toilets of the day, with drains in each home that carried waste into the ocean.
⭐ For more information and my complete blog on Skara Brae – Skara Brae – A UNESCO World Heritage Site | Exploring Scotland
Ring of Brodgar and Blog – A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle, and is part of the heart of Neolithical Orkney.
It is interestingly the only major British henge stone circle that is almost a perfect circle. Brodgar is a large ring and striking, it ranks with Avebury and Stonehenge as among the greatest of such sites.
⭐ For more information and my complete blog – The Ring of Brodgar – A UNESCO World Heritage Site | Exploring Scotland
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