Guided Tours of Scotland
Multi-day Road Trips to Orkney
The Orkney Islands lie just a few miles from Scotland's North Coast, a short ferry journey from either Gill's Bay or Scrabster across the Pentland Firth, to the ports of St Margaret's Hope and Stromness respectively. The archipelago is made up of approximately seventy islands, twenty of which are inhabited by the 20,000 population of these isles. The most populated and largest island is known simply as 'Mainland' and is, conveniently, home to the majority of Orkney's stunning array of historical and archaeologically significant visitor attractions such as Skara Brae, St Magnus Cathedral, Maes Howe, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.
In the Summer months of May, June and July the days are long on the islands, with up to 20 hours of daylight. Unlike much of the Highlands, the soil on Orkney is fertile and the sea bountiful, and for these reasons, humans have been coming to these islands to farm and fish for millennia, and as archaeologists are just beginning to discover, Mainland Orkney was a place of pilgrimage to the pre-historic tribes of the British Isles, perhaps even the epicentre of neolithic life here! The amazing history of Orkney does not begin and end with the stone age, the islands were also very strategically important during WW1 and WW2 and evidence of this can be seen everywhere; from scuttled ships and machine gun posts to the Churchill Barriers - the causeways that connect Mainland to the Holm Islands, Burray and South Ronaldsay, as well as the incredible Italian prisoner of war chapel on Lamb Holm. Scapa Flow, with its sheltered anchorage, became one of the Royal Navy's largest wartime bases in the Twentieth Century and was pivotal in the movement of supplies and weapons for the Arctic and Russian convoys. As a result of this activity Scapa Flow was frequently targeted by German U-boats and consequently there are many wrecks on the sea bed around Orkney. This fact, coupled with the clear waters of the North Atlantic make the area a haven for divers. The Vikings also played a huge part in the history of Orkney, ruling over the Northern Isles between the 9th and 15th centuries. Their legacy can still be clearly felt through place names, such as Stromness, Orphir and Birsay and most obviously through the beautiful towering red sandstone edifice of St Magnus Cathedral which dominates the islands' capital Kirkwall.
Orkney is also famous for its food and drink, particularly the seafood from the clear waters where the Atlantic crashes in to the North Sea - you can dine on locally caught lobster, scallops, langoustine and crab, at very reasonable prices. With a lot of dairy farming on the islands, Orkney Cheddar is one of the archipelagos biggest exports. There are two whisky distilleries, Scapa and Highland Park, one gin distillery and two breweries on Mainland Orkney, all of which you can visit to sample their produce on site.