Are you getting the idea that islands seem to feature majorly in this holiday of mine? I have always yearned to see the Orkneys! I’m not sure why, but it’s most likely because of a book or books I’ve read in the past! It fascinates me that most of Orcadian history is Nordic/Viking related rather than Celtic. This means their language/accent/folklore is quite different from Mainland Scotland, or from the Hebridean islands. So…..Much to explore!
I stayed the night of Tuesday 18th July at a very comfortable BnB called Teuchters just 2 minutes from the Gill’s Bay ( not far from John ‘O’ Groats) ferry terminal, ready to board first thing on the Wednesday, to travel to Orkney. This time on a ferry was different from earlier on in my trip as I now had a car, but the staff are well used to giving specific and helpful directions for the whole process. Although chilly, I like to ride on the outside deck..Much better viewing!
After a restoratative coffee and flapjack (a kind of Oaty slice) in the peedie ( small) café, a chat to some fellow travellers, and a quick walk around the village, I set off to explore South Ronaldsay. A few things struck me immediately, and continued to do so all around the islands of Orkney that I was able to visit:
- Generally the Orkneys are quite flat, with not many trees.
- Most of the islands consist of fertile looking farmland….Lots of very happy, healthy looking cows.
- Orkney is an archeological paradise: bones, fossils, buildings, utensils etc from 2000-3000 years ago ( or longer) are the norm!! And quite easily accessible.
- The Orkneys were quite strategically important in WW2. (for the Navy especially)
- The Orcadians are generally (only really met 1 exception) friendly, kindly and welcoming. They didn’t seem to eye the tourist with distrust but embraced us!! ( Literally in 1 case!)
- Orcadians are proud of their Viking heritage.
- There’s a wonderful music, art and theatre culture on Orkney.
- It’s wonderfully easy to drive around South Ronaldsay and the Mainland without needing to use a ferry service. Which is what I did. If I’d had more time, I would have happily used the connecting ferry services to the other major Orkney islands. I would have needed a yacht to see them all, however!
- The coast line(s) are spectacular!
- They brew their own , highly respected whisky, plus there are 3 Gin companies.
- Local dairy produce and seafood are GOOD! Excellent restaurant ( with beautiful views) at the very South of South Ronaldsay.The Italian chapel built by Italian POWs.The Churchill barriers, now a causeway that joins South Ronaldsay to the Mainland.
After exploring South Ronaldsay for quite a few hours, I crossed to the Mainland ( via the Churchill barriers) and proceeded to Highland Park Whisky Distillery for a tour and tasting! It was very interesting and I enjoyed the 2 drams I tasted! My preference was for the 12 year old Whisky with the peatey taste! A long, time-consuming process is Whisky making!
On arrival in Stromness, I manoeuvred my way through the narrow, sometimes one way, streets and found my delightful Airbnb accommodation for the next 3 nights. It was great! Owned by a young couple who are slowly renovating their very old townhouse, Number 19A is situated right on the narrow , winding, quirky main street. Excellent! After my Whisky quaffing, interesting day, I slept very soundly that night!
Thursday was a very wet day! But that was ok, there was plenty to look at and explore that was undercover. I happened to be in Stromness in their 67th annual Shopping Week, which added quite a lot of bustle to charming little Stromness. Shopping week started as a way to bring locals, businesses, farmers and culture together. All the shops have special displays and deals! There was live music by local artists, thankfully undercover , as it poured most of the day, face painting, stalls, lots of food and lots of people. After doing my personal best for ‘shopping week’ , I dropped my parcels home and then explored the wonderful Art gallery. A wonderfully soggy, fun, friendly, expensive day!!
Friday, thankfully, was a dry day with sunshine, so it was perfect to explore the many amazing archeological discoveries on the mainland of Orkney. Stones of Stenness.Barnhouse Neolithic village.Ring of Brogdar.Skara Brae Neolithic village.Repca hut from Skara BraeBrough of Birsay.
As you can see from the above photos, it was a beautiful day for touring the many archeological treasures on the mainland of Orkney.
The next day, Saturday, was my last morning in Stromness. Having packed the car, leaving a farewell note for my hosts (they were off on a Kayak course), I drove to the ferry terminal and parked my car in the queue. It always amazes me just how many vehicles can fit in a ferry…. Trucks, buses, caravans, cars of all description and motor bikes are all parked with practiced precision! So it was goodbye to Stromness, on Orkney and a short 100 minute journey to Scabster, near Thurso, on the Scottish mainland. We sailed past another famous landmark…The Old Man of Hoy!