WINDSWEPT and remote, the desolate beauty of these islands offers wild scenery, empty beaches, puffins in summer and, in winter on a clear night, the otherworldly beauty of the Northern Lights.
Untouched by centuries of change, the islands’ glut of ancient treasures cause the mysterious remains of our ancestors to rise from the land in all directions: their homes, their standing stones and the fabled dwellings of creatures from folklore.
Acccessible and affordable – here are 5 reason you should put Orkney on your wish list:
The oldest standing stones in the British Isles:
Forget Stonehenge: the standing stones on Orkney, at Steness and Brodgar, are the originals, predating their southern cousins by at least 500 years. Thanks to an almost total lack of trees and an undeveloped landscape, the stones – which stretch across the landscape from Hoy to the Mainland – form part of a huge astronomical calendar, protected by UNESCO and considered one of the most important Neolithic sites in the whole of Western Europe.
The Vikings left their mark on Orkney and the countryside is littered with the remains of their lives – and their graffiti. The ancient passage tomb of Maeshowe is a sophisticated piece of Neolithic engineering. Lined up with the standing stones which criss-cross the countryside it is also an ingenious astronomical calendar, coming into its own at the Winter Solstice.
However, its crowning glory is the graffiti that hiding Viking raiders have etched onto it’s hallowed walls. As well as the names of their girlfriends and what amounts to ‘I was ‘ere’ there are some ruder pieces including the legend ‘Thorni f*cked. Helgi carved.’ Just going to show that teenage boys are teenage boys, whether in this century or a thousand years ago.
If you’re a keen photographer you’ll have no end of weather beaten scenery to capture here. There are a plethora of islands to choose from, all boasting rugged beaches and rare wildlife – including a pair of sea eagles on Hoy.
The iconic sea stack known as the ‘Old Man of Hoy’ makes an easy walk and island hopping is simple – there are regular ferries leaving from the mainland so you can take your pick – Sanday and Shapinsay for the coast, Rousay for archeaology or wild North Ronaldsay for wildlife.
Sunken German World War 1 Fleet
If you’re a history buff you’ll have heard of the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. Seventy-four German ships were sunk here as the last shots of World War 1 were fired. The British Navy tried in vain to prevent them sinking and some of the boats, which are now part of an internationally acclaimed diving spot, are still visible as you drive across the bridge.
Just beyond this, stop at the Italian chapel, built by 550 Italian Prisoners of War sent to the then uninhabited Island during World War 2.
And lastly, because this is a real place…
I don’t think I need to add anything here.