Orkney Islands – an archipelago of 70 islands located on the border of the Atlantic Ocean and the northernmost part of Scotland.
The Orkney Islands are a place where the history of the people is an integral part of citizens’ lives. While the banners and cultures of conquerors succeeded each other in this land, the islanders zealously kept the traditions that have survived to this day.
The Orcadians, as the islanders call themselves, are descended from Celtic tribes mixed with Scandinavians. Such a rich mix couldn’t help but produce warriors, so the story of Orkney is replete with feats of mighty heroes.
Settlements of wooden huts where the brave tribesmen lived have survived to this day. Many have been restored, and now have almost the same appearance as it was in the early days of the village. Anyone can sign up for a guided tour, where they can get a full sense of the life and spirit of the islands.
Orkney also regularly hosts exhibitions of collections of weapons used by the islanders to brave the Vikings.
In the 18th century, the conquered Picts Islands were annexed to the Kingdom of Norway. The new county was named Orkney, a name the area still retains today.
The Scandinavians left a tangible mark on Orkadian life, most notably in architecture. Castles, cathedrals and some houses of the islanders as if taken from the movie sets of the harsh Viking warriors. Many of these places have long been home to role-players from across Scotland.
When they’re not training, role-players run tours of Orkney’s history, teach swordsmanship, and hold medieval soldier photo shoots.
Panorama from the center of the islands
The real attraction for tourists is the Orkney, which has long been buried under the strata of the earth. The true Orkney is in the Neolithic monuments of these places.
Giant cromlechs and dolmens, these temples of the ancients are among the most often visited attractions and form a powerful tourist flow.
The majestic and austere stones are believed to have served druids-wolves not only in their rituals, but also as working “tools”. The system of arranging the stones strictly corresponds to the lunar and solar cycles, forming a calendar.
There are many more such structures on the island, and most rival the famous Stonehenge in both scale and age; the New Temple complex, for example, was erected about 800 years before Stonehenge.
One of Orkney’s main megaliths is the Brogar Ring, made up of small boulders – the remains of menhirs. According to local legends, this ring is all that remains of the castle of Jotten, the giants who in ancient times were defeated by the army of the Aesir led by Odin.
Connoisseurs of Celtic and Scandinavian mythology will find in Orkney a truly promised land. But this glorious county has not been forgotten by civilization and provides tourists with plenty of modern attractions.
Fans of the water world will find plenty of fabulous things to discover under the islands’ shelf waters, teeming with rare species of marine life.
The nature of the Orkney Islands
Orkney, unlike the rest of the Kingdom, has an excellent ecological environment. This is due to the winds, which are almost always blowing with great force here. The government of the island strongly encourages alternative sources of energy that do not pollute the nature, especially wind farms.
As a consequence, in the county appeared many resorts and spas, allowing you to take full advantage of the gifts of nature of the Celtic islands.
Orkney is an open-air museum of antiquity. The islands are the best choice for those who want to plunge into the bosom of prehistoric nature, without distancing themselves from civilization.
The Orkney Islands are a small archipelago located to the north-east of the Scottish mainland. Only 17 out of 70 rock formations are inhabited, and the most interesting ones stretch out where the 300-meter cliffs drown the snow-white sandy beaches. The archipelago is famous for having the highest concentration of prehistoric monuments on the European continent. The remoteness of these places, their uniqueness and fantastic landscapes, a variety of flora and fauna make this fertile land a true paradise. Let’s find out the difference between the South Orkney Islands and the North and how interesting both are for tourists.
Where is the archipelago located?
To find the Orkney Islands on the world map, the easiest way to find the Orkney Islands is to focus on the Strait of Pentland-Firth, which divides the mainland and the archipelago. From the extremity of the country to the nearest atoll – only 16 km. A little further north are the Shetland Islands, which, like the Orkney Islands, are located on the conditional boundary between the North Sea and the Atlantic. The total area of the archipelago – just over 1000 square kilometers, half of which accounts for the “main island” – Mainland. The administrative center at the eastern end of the archipelago is Kirkwall, the largest town. The southern part of the archipelago, where the harbor Scapa Flow is quiet and closed to storms, was used as a base of the British Navy until 1956.
The islands are divided into the southern group, which includes Kava, Copinsay, Farah, Flotta, Gramsay, etc., and the northern group, Farah, Egilsay, Idea, Oscarry, Sunday, etc.
Climatic and natural conditions
It is humid at all times of the year, as the geographical position of the Orkney Islands has determined their dependence on the Gulf Stream. In summer the temperature ranges around +12 ° C. During the winter months, the average temperature does not rise higher than +4 ° C, but it does not fall below 0 ° C either.
The main peculiarity of a local climate is the incessantly blowing winds. It is believed that no other region of the British Isles can match this archipelago in the power of the relentless and fierce breeze. It carries sea salt and large quantities of rainfall, and makes the soil utterly unsuitable for the growth of trees. Their absence is immediately evident in any photo of the Orkney Islands.
Meanwhile, landscapes are very diverse – you can find here marshy plains, heaths, steep cliffs, miniature “Alps” and marshy meadows. Archipelago fauna is represented by swans, white-throated geese, loons, marsh owls, otters and seals. There is also a unique species of sheep, whose diet consists only of seaweed.
Archaeological excavations in the archipelago show that people inhabited the Orkney Islands as early as the middle of the ninth century B.C. In different periods, the land was inhabited by Celtic tribes, Picts and the Romans. The Vikings had the greatest influence on the culture: for example, the flag of the Orkney Islands, officially adopted in 2007, bears a double Scandinavian cross.
In 1468 the archipelago was given to Scotland by the King of Norway as a dowry for his daughter. This was a momentous decision for the region as the Orkneys have since become an integral part of Caledonia. From the 17th century the inhabitants of the archipelago began to trade with the United States and Canada, organizing large commercial corporations on the territories of these countries. Beginning in the 19th century, the mining industry developed on the islands, including the exploitation of limestone and peat deposits.
What to see?
The sights that can be seen in the Orkney Islands are mainly monuments from the Neolithic period, most of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Some of the most interesting sites include:
. Located on the island of Mainland, between two lakes – Harray and Stennes.
- The burial cairn (stone mound) of Meishaw. – An ancient settlement located near Skale Bay.
- Dwarf Stein – tomb in the form of a megalith whose age is estimated at 4-5 thousand years. It is located in the valley of the glaciers on the island of Hoy.
- Nape of Hope is an ancient settlement that emerged during the Neolithic period. It is located on the island of Papa Vestrey.
- Stenness megaliths, set about 6.5 thousand years BC.
- “Tomb of the Eagles,” located in Isbister, on South Ronaldsay Island. Explored in 1958, the crypt was a huge repository of bird and human bones, of which there were more than 16,000.
- St. Magnus Cathedral – a beautiful and majestic temple, built in 1607 in the form of a castle with turrets.
- Skyls House is a beautifully preserved mansion of the 17th century.
- Hackness Martello Tower, a stone fortification located on Hoy Island. North Ronaldsay. Operational navigation station is set on the island of the same name.
Where to stay?
There are many types of tourist accommodations on the Orkneys, represented by cozy hotels, mini-hotels, condos, cottages, guest houses and hostels. The most popular are:
The food in the Orkney Islands will please the most picky gourmets, as you can find everything you could want: rhubarb jam, delicious pies, top quality veal and lamb sausages, fish, seafood and many other delicacies. Eating outlets are represented by classic restaurants as well as cafes that prepare gourmet take-out dishes. The most popular are:
The Orkney Islands are famous for their artists and artisans, whose unique masterpieces are known far beyond Britain. On the archipelago you can buy products made of ceramics and glass, textiles, knitwear. Professional workshops and rural studios make furniture, tapestries, musical instruments. Here tourists are offered to see with their own eyes the process of production of unique handmade goods.
Also in the Orkneys you can buy:
- traditional sweaters – on the island of Westray;
- Jewelry – in the village of Berseys;
- Pottery – in Mainland;
- Boyrants (analogues of tambourines) in Stromness.
The most famous products of the Orkney Islands are Highland Park and Scapa whiskies. Alcoholic beverages are made according to an old recipe and are considered to be some of the best in Britain.
In addition to traditional tourist tours of the Orkney Islands, the archipelago regularly hosts a variety of themed festivals that attract participants from around the world. The most important are:
- Orkney Folk Festival (May) – an authentic folk music festival;
- St Magnus (June) – art festival;
- Orkney International Science Festival (September) – International Science Festival.
The easiest way to get from one island to the other is by comfortable ferries, using the services of Orkney Ferries. They operate a boat service between the northern part of the archipelago and the islands of Mainland, Flott and Hoy. In summer, John o’Groats Ferries offers flights between South Ronaldsay, Barwick and John o’Groats. The southern islands are connected to the main archipelago by freeways, for which you can rent a car. For travel within an island, a bicycle is ideal.
You can save a lot of money if you use public transport between islands.
How to get there?
The archipelago can be reached by water, using the services of ferries running from Highland. Depending on the time of year, there are between 4 and 12 trips per day:
- Scrabster to Stromness (1.5 hours); – Kirkwall (6 hours);
- Giles Bay to St. Margarets Hope (1 hr.);
- John Ogrotts to Burwick (40 min).
There are buses and trains from London to Aberdeen and other ports.
It would be much faster to fly – there are regular flights from all major UK cities, including Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and London.
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