Welcome to the Catswhiskerstours guide to the Orkney Islands. This is an archipelago located about 10 miles ( 16km) north of Caithness on the Scottish mainland.
There are approximately thirteen principal islands in the group comprising Mainland, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Westray, Eday, Sanday, Egislay, Rousay, Stronsay, Wyre, Shapinsay, Burray, Flotta, Hoy and South Ronaldsay.
The islands are rich in prehistory, the Viking era, wildlife and outdoor experiences. Plus, there are two whisky distilleries.
The key places of interest are:
→Skara Brae: Northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic village, dating back some 5000 years.
→Brough of Birsay: 8th-12th century AD Viking age settlement with a church and domestic buildings.
→Ring of Brodgar: Henge and stone circle dating from 3rd millennium BC.
→Stones of Stenness: Henge and stone circle dating from the early 3rd millennium BC.
→Maeshowe: Chambered cairn dating from early 3rd millennium BC with 11th and 12th century AD Viking runes and graffiti.
→Broch of Gurness: Dates from 1st century BC through to 9th century AD. This site has the most extensive and well preserved domestic buildings surrounding a broch anywhere in Scotland which reflects the long history of Pictish and Viking era occupation.
→St. Magnus Kirk, Egilsay: Dates from the 12th century and represents one of the few examples of round towers outside Ireland. This is the location of the slaying of Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (St. Magnus) which is recounted in the Orkneyinga Saga.
→Italian Chapel: Two Nissan huts improvised and embellished into a chapel by Italian prisoners of war AD 1943-5. Restored in 1960s and 1990s by same men. The prisoners were employed in building the Churchill Barriers as an obstacle to U-boat penetration into Scapa Flow.
→St.Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall: Known as the ‘Light in the North’ and dominates the Kirkwall skyline. Originally founded 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald but not completed until the 15th century.
→The Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces, Kirkwall: The former dates from the 12th century and the latter from around 1600. These two picturesque ruins rank among the most fascinating medieval buildings in Scotland.
→Highland Park Distillery: The public can tour this traditional whisky distillery which still uses peat cut from local heather moor lands and floor maltings.
→Dounby Click Mill: Dates from the early 19th century and is the only surviving example of a horizontal watermill in Orkney. The mill follows a tradition of horizontal mills going back to the Viking era.
→Unstan Cambered Cairn: A so-called stalled cairn dating from the 3rd millennium BC. Interior has a Viking runic inscription.
→St. Nicholas Church, Orphir and Viking Earls’ Hall: Date from the 12th century.
→Scapa: A sheltered, natural harbour with a long navy connection in an outstanding scenic area. Here was sunk HMS Royal Oak in 1939.
The two principal towns on the Mainland are:
→Kirkwall : The islands capital which benefits from a colourful harbour and is home to St Magnus Cathedral , the ruined Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces and the Tankerness museum. There are good shopping opportunities including various craft and gift shops.
→Stromness: A historic town which is also the main ferry port. There is an excellent museum, intriguing small harbour and narrow streets. At south end is Login’s well where sailing ships used to take on water prior to crossing the Atlantic.
Other Activities and Interests on Orkney
→Artists and craftspeople: There is a ‘craft trail’ providing visitors with the opportunity to visit the studios and workshops of Orkney’s varied and creative talent across the various islands.
→Connecting with Nature: The rich habitats of Orkney are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including puffins, owls, orca whales, seals, and fragile flowers.
→Activities: Visitors can engage in a wide range of outdoor and sporting activities including walking, climbing, fishing, riding, sailing, diving, kayaking, surfing, golf, cycling and windsurfing.
By air: Flights from major Scottish cities such as Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh take about 1 hour 20 mins.
By surface: Ferries depart from Aberdeen (journey time 6 hours), Scrabster (journey time 90 mins) and John o’Groats (40 mins).
We look forward to hearing from you!