the orkney islands

I have recently returned from a holiday in Scotland and thought you might like to see some of the places we visited.

Scotland is a beautiful country with a lot of history. Definitely worth a visit. You must, however, take rainwear as its weather is notoriously fickle.

This year we managed to book a week in a lovely self-catering place. Duchally is a part of a group called CLC, and has a hotel and a number of lodges. There are two and three bedroom lodges that are more like houses than chalets you might find elsewhere. Each bedroom has its own ensuite bathroom.

But first, we decided to go to the Orkney Islands. We set off from here, near the south coast of England, and stayed for our first night with friends in Yorkshire, then set off for Scotland the following morning.

Our first night was in a hotel that had been a castle–Foneb Castle Hotel. The view from the dining room was amazing.

The next day we set off for the very north of the country. We had seen the stacks at Duncansbury Head on TV and we wanted to see them for ourselves. The stacks have been likened to sharks fins or witches hats. The Head is the most northeasterly place in Britain.

We still had time before our ferry to the Orkneys and so we thought we’d visit the most northerly point in the UK, which is not, as popularly thought, John o’ Groats, but a headland to the west of it, called Dunnett Head. We turned up a little road, which was narrow and potholed. As it was 5 miles to the head, we decided not to go.

Travelling farther west, we came across Dunnett Bay. This was a beautiful, sandy beach. We had a nice walk along the bay. We did see one sad thing. There was a dead sheep on the beach. No idea how it came to be there.

And here’s a picture of Dunnett head. At least we saw the most northerly point in mainland Britain.

We then caught the ferry to the Orkneys. There were a lot of seabirds on the cliffs. There were supposed to be puffins, but I only saw fulmers and guillimots.

We landed at St Margaret’s Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay, from where we caught a bus to the capital, Kirkwall. As it was 8pm, and so far north, it was cold.

The bus journey was interesting as we crossed the narrow strips of sea between islands on barrages. We were told that they had been build during WW2 by Italian prisoners of war. They were actually defensive barrages, but as it was illegal to have POWs work on defences, the MOD said they were bridges, and built roads on top of them. Now they serve to allow access by land to other islands.

The biggest island, the one that has the capital, Kirkwall, is called Mainland. This seems a little odd to those of us from the mainland of the UK.

Here are some pictures of Kirkwall.

First the Cathedral.

The ruins of the Abbey

We caught the bus to Stromness at the other side of Mainland. There were Neolithic barrows and standing stones on the way. I was surprised that the island was not as flat as I had thought.

We explored the little town, which was not very crowded. The weather was still cold and windy, though, but I suspect that’s par for the course there.

We had a visit to Highland Park Distillery booked for that afternoon, so we caught the bus back to Kirkwall. Highland Park is the most northerly whisky distillery in the world, so we were told.

They produce their whisky in the traditional manner, malting their own grain, which most distilleries don’t do any more. The grain is turned by hand, but most maltings turn it mechanically.

It is dried over local peat, which is heather peat. This helps to give it its distinct bouquet and taste.

Our guide said that when the initial fermentation has taken place, what they have is essentially a very unpleasant beer. It is then taken to the stills where it is distilled into whisky.

Here is a picture of the stills.

They then mature the finished product in oak sherry barrels. Not just any sherry, but oloroso sherry.

Thus ends our visit to Orkney. I will tell you more about our Scottish holiday next week.

Incidentally, the spirit made in Scotland is whisky, while that made in Ireland is whiskey.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment in the comments box. I enjoy reading what you think. Have you been to the Orkney Isles? If so, what did you think of it. Our visit was too short, really. There’s such a lot more to see.

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9 thoughts on “the orkney islands”

  1. It has been many years since I visited Scotland it was one of my parents favourite holiday destinations…I remember they purchased a beautiful red kilt for my daughter when she was tiny… the history of the tartans is also a fascinating one …Such a beautiful country rich with history…


    1. The history of the tartans is certainly interesting. And they are so beautiful. We love Scotland, too. It must be one of the world’s most beautiful and historic countries.


  2. There is so much I’d like to explore in Caithness and the Orkneys, not least Skara Brae and Maeshowe. Fascinating history all around. This was a great introduction, looking forward to the next installment!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly is a beautiful country. If it had the weather of the south of England it would be flooded out with tourists.
      Not only is it lovely, (and the whisky is superb) it is steeped in history.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, they are inspirational. Hardly a tree to be seen. Cold winds blowing constantly. Hardy people. Wonderful history and mysterious barrows and standing stones. A marvelous setting.

          Liked by 1 person

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