Orkney Islands

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Introduction

StromnessThe Orkneys sit to the north of the Scottish mainland separated from it by the Pentland Firth. These are fierce waters coming, as they do, between the North Sea and the Atlantic. There are dozens of islands - many of which are uninhabited - and the largest one, with the capital Kirkwall, is called Mainland. Kirkwall has an airport but most visitors arrive by ferry in Stromness.

Being as far north as it is, Orkney has long summer days and equally long winter nights. As always, the weather is fickle at any time of year.
 

Orkney sunsetIf you're staying in Stromness there's a circular trip - pick your own variation - that takes in a few of the historical sites. Skara Brae is to the north of Stromness on the coast and was discovered in 1850 following a storm. It is one of the best preserved groups of Stone Age houses in Europe. Well worth a visit for a glimpse of what life must have been like in Neolithic times.

On the same circuit you could see the ring of Brodgar, a stone circle set between the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. Just a couple of miles SE of here is Maes Howe, a huge tomb built before 2700 BC. The stone passage leading into the tomb appears to have been built such that the setting midsummer sun shines straight down it and into the burial chamber.
 

Ring of BrodgarYou might also want to take a trip on the small ferry to Hoy. Whether it's worth taking your bike depends on what you want to do. If you walk (or cycle) over to Rackwick Bay then you can head up the cliff path to see the Old Man of Hoy, a huge sea stack. The ferry to Hoy passes visible parts of some of the many wrecks in Scapa Flow.

From Kirkwall you could head S and cycle across causeways to get to Burray and South Ronanldsay. On the way, be sure to look out for the Italian Chapel which was built by Italian prisoners during WW2. There's also the eerie sight of parts of ships sticking up out of sandy beaches...

 

sunken ship

abandoned croft

sunken ship remains

abandoned croft

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

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