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Experience Britain's most northerly railway as you journey to the fascinating Orkney islands.
A carefully designed self-guided train tour, which combines travel on the scenic Far North Line, from Inverness to Thurso, a chance to explore the north coast of Caithness, and a stay on the remarkable Orkney Islands, with their UNESCO World Heritage site status and fascinating Neolithic remains.
If you would prefer a fully-escorted tour, in a small group of maximum 15 passengers, take a look instead at our week-long North Highlands & Orkney Guided Rail Tour.
This holiday starts from Inverness, accessible by air from the south of England or by rail from Edinburgh, Glasgow and other points south. You will join the afternoon departure on the Far North Line – the most northerly railway line in the UK. The route crosses the Moray Firth then makes a wide sweep inland at Dornoch, passing through Lairg and Rogart before returning to the coast. Watch for the distinctive towers of Dunrobin Castle, before the railway turns inland once more, and crosses the “flow country” of Sutherland. After passing Altnabreac, one of the remotest stations in Britain, you will reach the coast once again at Thurso.
This is a welcoming guest house, owned by a local lady who is passionate about the area. The decor is a blend of old and contemporary style and modern facilities. The house is convenient for the town centre and local hostelries, whilst one of the best seafood restaurants in the country is a coastal walk or short taxi ride away.
Today you will join our local driver-guide, who will bring you on a fascinating trip to explore this corner of Scotland. Your guide will be happy to discuss options with you, from the stunning landscapes of Dunnet Head, John o’ Groats and Duncansby Head, the historic grandeur of Castle of Mey, or pay a visit to Dunnet Distillers – gin fans should look out for the Rock Rose, a personal favourite.
You will make a stop for lunch, though this and entrance fees are not included.
This morning cross by ferry to Orkney, and then travel by taxi transfer to Kirkwall, your base for the next two days.
Orkney has so much to offer, from world class archaeology to breathtaking scenery. We will provide you with plenty of recommendations to ensure you can make the most of your time on this fascinating archipelago.
The main island (Mainland) hosts a plethora of major prehistoric sites, including the breathtaking Standing Stones of Stenness – some up to six metres high. The nearby Neolithic Ring of Brodgar is particularly magical in the evening light – and gained contemporary notoriety when Billy Connolly danced naked through the stones on his “World Tour of Scotland”! Archaeological excavations continue to take place nearby at the Ness of Brodgar. Still remarkably intact, the 5,000 year old houses at Skara Brae offer a real insight into prehistoric village life, complete with sideboards and bed recesses. For more local insights, take a look at the Viking runes at the magnificent tomb at Maeshowe which prove that graffiti isn’t a 20th century invention!
For those interested in more recent history, the evocative Scapa Flow contains the melancholy relics of two World Wars. On its banks, you will find the beautifully ornate and incredibly moving Italian Chapel, which was constructed by interned Italian Prisoners of War.
Wildlife flourishes here. Birdwatching is popular and there are plenty of fabulous seal-watching spots – and if you are lucky Minke whales, dolphins, porpoise and occasionally the odd Orca whale are seen playing in the island waters. On dry ground you will be tempted by the deliciously fresh food, from seaweed-reared lamb to Scrabster squid.
A network of ferries connects Orkney mainland to many of its other islands, including Hoy (Orkney’s second largest island), Rousay and Shapinsay. Additionally, you could visit Westray and Papa Westray. Situated slightly further afield, these two islands are best accessed by plane – if you choose to do so, you will experience the shortest scheduled flight in the world when travelling between the two islands.
Your base will be a comfortable family-run hotel on the outskirts of Kirkwall. A destination for locals as well as visitors, the restaurant prides itself on serving the best local produce. And it would be amiss not to drop in and see the neighbours – the world famous Highland Park distillery is just next door.
This morning you will join a small group tour. During the tour you will journey through Orkney’s rich archaeological landscape, home of the some of the Neolithic period’s greatest architectural wonders.
A day to explore the town at your own pace, perhaps taking a short ferry to the island of Shapinsay or using local transport to visit more of the area. Kirkwall is a welcoming town, featuring unique shops which boast local crafts including fabulous silver jewellery and highly covetable knitwear. We will provide full recommendations to help you make the most of your time.
Today you will journey south via ferry and a return trip on the meandering Far North Line back to Inverness. Here you will stay in a centrally located guest house for your final night.
You will have time for a stroll by the River Ness or Caledonian Canal, soaking up the atmosphere of the Highland Capital.
Let us know if you would like to add-on a boat trip on Loch Ness or trip to the Culloden battlefield before you head home. We are also happy to advise regarding onward connections by air or rail.
This holiday is part of our ever-growing collection of public transport based holidays, enabling you to reach destinations around Scotland – in this case, including Orkney – without the need to drive. We feel strongly that true sustainability also means promoting and helping to maintain a way of life in areas where the economic benefit of tourism can make a genuine difference to the local community, which is why we have used locally owned small accommodation and local guides on this holiday.
Thurso, in Caithness, Kirkwall on Orkney and Inverness.
£1050 per person for April & October, £1130 per person for May to September.
Prices based on two adults sharing a room, for six nights on a bed & breakfast basis. The holiday includes return train travel on the Far North Highland rail line from Inverness to Thurso, return ferry travel to Orkney, taxi transfers in Thurso and from the port to hotel on Orkney, a six hour guided tour of the Caithness area and a full day small group guided tour of key historical sites on Orkney.
The price for a single traveller, based on sole occupancy of double rooms is £1550 for April & October, £1630 for May to September.
Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions, recommended routes, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.
All itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.
You are requesting availability for
This holiday can be arranged from April to October. Due to timetables, the holiday will include a one night stay in Thurso at the end, instead of Inverness for departures up to 21st May and from 30th August.
Availability is individually checked for a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses and other independent businesses, so please bear with us and we will respond in 1-2 working days.
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All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.
We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.
Last month I was in Orkney for the first time. I have never been that far north before. I flew from Glasgow to Kirkwall, the main town, instead of tak...
The holiday was extremely enjoyable - the accommodation chosen was excellent and the information provided was very helpful.Margaret, Tasmania, Australia
Everything worked a treat and we were blessed with lovely weather!Nancy, North Yorkshire, England
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