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Explore prehistoric sites and experience a very different way of life.
Our self-drive touring holiday of Orkney & Shetland gives you the opportunity to experience the landscapes, wildlife and archaeological heritage of these magical, and very different, parts of the UK. Both have featured recently on the BBC, yet in very contrasting ways: Orkney is hailed for its rich folklore, prehistoric sites and abundance of wildlife, while Shetland owes its ever increasing popularity to the hit TV series Shetland based on Ann Cleeves’ gritty – and fictional – crime stories.
This holiday is based on ferry crossings, starting from the north coast of Scotland near Thurso and returning to Aberdeen. Let us know if we can tailor-make it for you to link with a self-drive tour of the Scottish Highlands.
We also offer a fly-drive holiday as an alternative way to visit Orkney & Shetland.
Travel to Orkney by ferry from Caithness, on the north coast of Scotland, with the crossing taking just under an hour. Watch for dolphins which sometimes play in the bow waves. Your hotel is a short drive away from the ferry port, in the island’s capital, Kirkwall.
A genuine feel pervades this small family owned hotel, located on the edge of Kirkwall. Weather permitting, enjoy a welcome drink on the small terrace, which overlooks the distinctive pagoda-roof of the neighbours: the Highland Park distillery. (Do find time to pop in for a tour of the traditional whisky making process.) You’ll be in good company if you choose to take dinner at your hotel, a popular destination for locals as well as visitors. Savour your chance to try lamb with its distinctive flavour due to the seaweed diet of the sheep, or sample local seafood including mouth-watering prawns and delicious stir-fried squid.
You’ll find pre-history at almost every turn across the Orkney islands: from neolithic chambered cairns, stone circles and standing stones through to the fascinating Stone Age village at Skara Brae. It lay covered for centuries, if not millennia, before a sandstorm in the 1920s revealed the amazing ruins. Now it forms part of the World Heritage Site in the centre of the Orkney Mainland, along with the tomb of Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar and the mighty Standing Stones of Stenness.
While these are some of the most impressive ancient sites in Europe, you’ll find other beguiling places of interest scattered across the whole island chain. The Vikings left their mark, such as the beautifully proportioned round church at Orphir as well as their grafitti which we now admire as works of art! Visit the “Orkneyinga” Viking history interpretation centre to learn more.
Another day you might head for South Ronaldsay – now connected by the famous Churchill Barriers to the Mainland. Stop off to admire the ornate Italian Chapel, crafted from scraps by prisoners of war, and look out for the many wrecked ships poking their remains out of the water around Scapa Flow.
We’d also suggest a day of further island hopping by ferry, perhaps across to nearby Shapinsay for a good stretch of the legs or a visit to more mountainous Hoy for an alternative perspective on the Old Man sea stack. If, like us, you can’t get enough of the archeological discoveries, head over to Rousay with its Midhowe Broch and Cairn. Here you can see evidence of many different eras dating as far back as Neolithic times.
Travel by overnight ferry to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, arriving at 0730 and enjoy a leisurely breakfast on board before disembarking.
This morning you will enjoy a real treat – a wildlife boat trip. Thousands of seabirds including gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes nest and feed in the Noss Nature Reserve. As you sail below, the screeching is deafening, and you’ll feel very outnumbered, a stranger invading their territory. Meanwhile seals laze on rocks beneath the cliffs or nose around the boat. It is a wonderful way to get a real feel for both the culture and the wildlife of these islands, with knowledgeable guides on hand to inform.
Once your unforgettable excursion comes to an end, make your way to your next base.
Your hotel is an historic building, complete with nooks and crannies, winding corridors, steep steps, creaky floorboards and – supposedly – a resident ghost. Although parts date back to the 1500s, most of the building was completed in the eighteenth century by a wealthy landowning family as their own home. Consequently, bedrooms and bathrooms come in varying shapes and sizes. This is a far cry in both style and location from a chain hotel and all rooms are individually decorated. The restaurant prides itself on local produce, prepared to make the most of the fresh flavours. Do take a walk in the gardens which stretch down to the water. Look out for the gargoyles which a former owner rescued from the Houses of Parliament in London.
Make sure you visit Jarlshof, another incredible prehistoric site exposed in violent storms in the last couple of centuries. Its name, meaning Earl’s House, was bestowed by Sir Walter Scott when he used the ruins of the sixteenth century laird’s house as a fictional setting. But the surrounding dwellings and outbuildings date from thousands of years earlier. You are able to walk in and out and around them, just imagining how people used to survive here.
If you are keen to take more ferry trips, then island hop through Yell to Unst in the far north. From here you can gaze out to the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. You’re also sure to come across plenty of roaming Shetland ponies on your travels.
The capital, Lerwick, is home to Shetland’s main museum and local art centre by the harbour, as well as various locations used in the filming of the Shetland TV series. For some magnificent coastal drama of a different kind, take a trip to Eshaness and watch the waves crashing around the sea stacks and pounding the cliffs.
Time to return home. Depart Lerwick at the end of the afternoon for the overnight journey on the cruise class Northlink Ferries service to Aberdeen. Accommodation on board in a double/twin en-suite outer cabin is included in the price. Arrive in Aberdeen at 0700 and enjoy breakfast on board before disembarking and continuing your onward journey.
Orkney and Shetland, off the north coast of Scotland. The holiday described is based on taking your own car, but ask us if you would like a fly-drive proposal, flying to and between the islands and hiring a car on each island.
£895 per person for March, £945 per person for April & October, £985 per person for May & September and £1015 per person for June to August.
Prices are based on two people sharing a room for this six night holiday and includes breakfast in both hotels, ferry crossings from Caithness to Orkney, from Orkney to Shetland and from Lerwick to Aberdeen. Outer two berth cabins included on the Orkney to Shetland and Shetland to Aberdeen crossings. We also include a Boat trip around Noss during your time on Shetland (please note this only runs between May and mid-September).
If you would like to spend an extra night or two on either Orkney or Shetland, we’d be delighted to assist. Please contact us for more details.
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.
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This holiday can be arranged from March to October.
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...
Exceeded our expectations…put together with care and insight. We followed many of the recommendations and were not disappointed.Gillian & Leslie, St Helens, England
Hotels and guides were all excellent.Charles & Jennifer, Middlesex, England
I love that I can call a number and reach someone at any time. Overall the holiday was never to be forgotten.David & Vivien, Ontario, Canada
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