Just off the north eastern coast of Scotland lie the Orkney Islands. These islands are arguably the best and most accessible place in the UK to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Orkney is an archipelago, consisting of seventy islands, offering unbelievable beauty, incredible wildlife and amazing historical sites, some dating back earlier than the pyramids.
Easily accessible from the mainland, we did the trip from Inverness travelling up through Invergordon, and along the east coast to John O’Groats. John O’Groats is one those places you set out to get to and when you arrive you question why. Never mind, we were en-route to Orkney, so this was the best way.
We caught the Pentland Ferry from nearby Gill’s Bay, which offers the fastest crossing to St Margaret’s Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay. Northlink Ferries operate a service between Scrabster and Stromness.
Orkney is a major surprise. The islands making up this archipelago are green and beautiful. The air is crisp and the islands offer remarkable historical sites to visit, fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities and superb cuisine. But it’s the historic sites that steal the show.
The origin of the Orkney Islands goes back to the Neolithic age, around 5,000 – 10,000 BC. Well preserved historical sites including a preserved village, Skara Brae, with a reconstructed house is a ‘must see’. The Vikings invaded Orkney in 875 and annexed the islands as part of Norway. The Norse settled on the island and it wasn’t until 1472 that the Scottish re-annexed the islands.
If you enjoy culture and visiting historical sites you will need time to explore these islands and their treasures. Walking in the footsteps of people that inhabited these islands all those years ago is simply breath-taking.
The Ness of Brodgar is an archaeological site covering 2.5 hectares, sited between the Ring of Brodga and the Standing Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. There are many Cairns of which the most famous is the prehistoric chambered cairn, Maeshowe. It is believed that Maeshowe dates back to around 2700BC.
In Kirkwall you will find the magnificent 12th century, St Magnus Cathedral. Known as the ‘Light in the North’ this cathedral was founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald.
We stayed at Foveran Restaurant and Rooms and we were delighted. This family run establishment has excellent, comfortable rooms with fabulous sea views. The cuisine is seriously outstanding, freshly sourced local produce cooked to perfection. The Foveran is owned and run by local lad Paul Doull and other family members, as well as, an excellent team of staff. The service is professional and they go the extra mile to look after their guests. We enjoyed every meal at this fine establishment and we will definitely return.
The islands are inter-connected by a series of bridges and ferries. Accommodation varies from good quality B&B’s to 4-star hotels. Accommodation is somewhat limited so it is better to secure your accommodation as early as possible. The people of Orkney are known as, Orcadians. You can expect a really friendly welcome and a lot of interesting conversations while in Orkney with the Orcadians.
There is much excitement when a pod of killer whales visit the islands. The Orca are fairly frequent visitors and pods of up to 150 animals have been spotted. The best viewing times are May – September. Other whales, dolphins and porpoises as well as seals are other frequently spotted wildlife. The islands are on a migratory route for many birds and this affords excellent bird viewing opportunities. Sea Eagle, Fulmars, Guillemots, Gannets and puffins are some of the birds you can expect to spot.
We needed more time, but we will be back. The Orkney Islands are captivating and exhilarating. The food at the Foveran Restaurant was truly memorable and certainly well-worth returning for one day soon. The historical sites are well mesmerising and I really want to catch a glimpse of those Orca.
We took the ferry from Stromness back to the mainland and now off to west coast and the Hebridean Islands. Stornoway here we come.