As the short Loganair flight from Glasgow to Kirkwall began its approach to Orkney, I had the pleasure of viewing the stunning scenery that was waiting for me. I could relax in the peace and calm of the off-season before the warm weather kicks in, with a gentle blanket of snow on the ground.
The coastline was beautiful, with an abundance of farmland across the flatness of the landscape – quite a contrast to the different, more rugged feel of Shetland.
My first stop was the centre of Kirkwall itself, where I enjoyed spending a bit of time exploring what the town had to offer. There’s a wonderful variety of independent, local businesses – from vibrant cafes and restaurants to shops for jewellery and art.
Up bright and early the next day, where I was really looking forward to my tour with a local expert guide, who would take me through a selection of the fascinating sites on the island. The Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the Italian Chapel – all of them capturing the imagination, with my guide bringing the history into vivid life.
The Orkney Museum is also well worth visiting, to get a better understanding of the rich history of the islands. From the Stone Age to the Picts and invading Vikings and on to the present day; with accompanying details and videos to create an immersive experience.
You can also find great examples of Orkney Chairs here. These traditional pieces of furniture are unique to the islands and an instantly recognisable part of Orkney’s identity. Centuries ago, these were crafted using driftwood collected from the shores and, in the present day, the tradition continues, although with a modern twist.
After taking the time to get under the skin of the mainland, it was time to head to South Ronaldsay. To do this I drove across the Churchill Barriers, originally built during World War II, as a defensive measure to prevent enemy ships and submarines from entering Scapa Flow, they also link the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.
Then it was on to the ferry to the wildlife watchers’ haven of Westray, where I was to meet another local guide to take me around the island. Across enchanting beaches and captivating castles, they regaled me with tales of Orkney history. On a more modern note, we saw the Take-off strip of Papa Westray, sadly I couldn’t fit in the flight which lands here that some of our customers choose to include. The flight only takes a total of 90 seconds! No in-flight meal on that one.
Finally, it was onto the ancient village of Birsay, a peaceful place with honesty boxes full of fantastic local produce dotted around. With almost all of the land in this parish devoted to agriculture, it’s lush with green farmland and happily grazing cattle. Birsay boasts several monuments, including the 16th century Earl’s Palace. Although only the ruins now remain, it’s easy to be transported back to the times when it was in its full grandeur.
Just a stone’s throw away is St Magnus Church which, though first established in 1064, has been continually refurbished throughout the years. The simple minimalism of its hushed interior is deeply calming, with its three stained glass windows providing a dramatic contrast.
It was the perfect location to reflect on my first visit to magical Orkney, with a return journey already in mind.
Words & Images by Linsay.
McKinlay Kidd offer a number of holidays to Orkney, including self-drive, public transport and small group guided tours.
If you’re interested in a guided experience, why not book a space on our North Highlands and Orkney Guided Rail Tour? Perhaps the world’s shortest flight has taken your fancy – you can experience this for yourself on the Orkney Experience holiday or, if you’d prefer to travel car-free, we have options including our Far North Line to Orkney trip. Do let us know if you’d like to include Orkney as part of a tailor-made Scotland tour. Visit our website for more holiday inspiration.