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    The Best of Scotland: Orkney Islands…

     

    Ferry crossing to Orkney © 2003 Scotiana

    Ferry crossing to Orkney © 2003 Scotiana

    Dear readers,

    Today, in our quest of the best of Scotland, I invite you to discover the Orkney Islands, one of our favourite Scottish places. There is something magical in these islands of the North, something different than in mainland Scotland. In sharing our pictures with you I’ll try to give you an idea of the beauty of the place.

    There are two main routes for crossing the approximate 10-mile (16 km) distance of the Pentland Firth,  which is not a ‘firth’ in fact. The ‘Short Sea Crossing’, is the quickest and safest route to cross its stormy waters. The Pentland ferries operate on this route from Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. In the West the Northlink company operates its ferries from Scrabster to Stromness, changing its itineraries according to weather conditions. At the eastern end John o’ Groats Ferries sail to Burwick, on South Ronaldsay but this is a small passenger ferry which is run in the summer months only. The construction of a tunnel has even been considered but I’m not sure many people like the idea. It would take away part of the charm !

    Arriving at St Margaret's Hope aboard  Pentalina B © 2003 Scotiana

    Arriving at St Margaret’s Hope aboard Pentalina B © 2003 Scotiana

     

    On 16 September 2003 we embarked at Gills Bay (4,8 km from John O’Groats) aboard the Pentalina B and arrived about one hour later at St Margaret’s Hope, on South Ronaldsay. We had planned  to spend two full days in Orkney but we came back with the frustrating feeling that we would have needed much more time to visit these lovely islands.

     

    Leaving Stromness aboard MV Hamnavoe © 2012 Scotiana

    Leaving Stromness aboard MV Hamnavoe © 2012 Scotiana

    In 2012,  again in September, we embarked at Scrabster aboard the Northlink ferry MV Hamnavoe with the intention to spend five days in Orkney this time but we came back with the same frustrating feeling that we did not stay long enough there, so we’ll certainly plan another trip to Orkney one day or other 😉

    Orkney Islands Visit Scotland brochure 2012

    Orkney Islands Visit Scotland brochure 2012

     Just off the north coast of Scotland, an archipelago of around 70 islands and skerries creates a glittering array of shapes set against clear blue waters. The smaller isles of Orkney offer a world of serenity on sandy white shores while the Mainland houses the majority of the population and many attractions including an arts and crafts trail. Beautiful beaches combine with heritage, culture and wonderful wildlife to make any trip to Orkney distinct and magical.

    Orkney is a truly unique destination. A deep sense of history can be felt everywhere in the 70 or so scattered islands that make up the archipelago, islands where life is defined by the past and sculpted by the sea.

    The ferry from Scrabster on mainland Scotland to Stromness sails past the impressive red stone sea-stack of the Old Man of Hoy, then on below the cliffs of St John’s Head – the highest vertical cliff in the UK – making this the most dramatic way of reaching Orkney. Yet the drama of Hoy is misleading as the landscapes elsewhere are much gentler and well farmed.

    (Visit Scotland)

    Sound of Hoy from Warbeth beach © 2012 Scotiana

    Sound of Hoy from Warbeth beach © 2012 Scotiana

    Orkney is a magical place with its wonderful landscapes constantly renewed under the effect of a changing light, the omnipresence of ancient vestiges, the sense of welcome and hospitality of its inhabitants and the beautiful arts & crafts inspired by an exceptional historical and cultural heritage. We have still many archeological sites to visit and we will never tire of walking along the old paved streets of Kirkwall and Stromness, of watching the comings and goings of boats in the harbour, eager to taste again the delicious local specialties and to revisit Highland Park Distillery, our favourite Scottish distillery. We keep unforgettable memories of our last visit in the most northerly distillery in company of James, our guide, a great expert and storyteller who knew the place pretty well… not forgetting either the wee dram we shared at the end of the visit 😉

    Orkney  Pictures & Poems George Mackay Brown Gunnie Moberg Colin Baxter 1996

    Orkney Pictures & Poems George Mackay Brown Gunnie Moberg Colin Baxter 1996

    And now I come to my favourite writer and subject: George Mackay Brown, ‘the Orkney Bard’ as he is often called.  Born in Stromness, in 1921, he remained deeply attached to his town and Orkney up the end of his life. He died there in 1996, two early for me to have a chance to meet him since we first went to Orkney in 2003. As a fan of the great poet and storyteller, there is something sacred for me to visit the places he loved so much.

    GMB's house and grave in Stromness© 2016 Scotiana

    GMB’s house and grave in Stromness© 2016 Scotiana

    I would certainly not leave the islands without going to Warbeth Cemetery to spend some moments in silence at GMB’s graveside, there on his last resting place, next to his dear mother and father (‘tailor and postman’),  with the Sound of Hoy so close that we can hear the sound of the waves. GMB loved the place very much:  ‘The kirkyard was two miles outside the town, right on the Atlantic verge, where had been a medieval monastery. The kirkyard with all its fine stones and inscriptions’, he writes, ‘looked a beautiful place to me, whenever my father took us for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.’

    Celtic Cross Warbeth Cemetery Stromness © 2012 Scotiana

    Celtic Cross Warbeth Cemetery Stromness © 2012 Scotiana

    GMB’s gravestone has weathered with time since 2003 but his verse and  symbols engraved on the pink sandstone are still clearly visible… to me they are crystal-clear and luminous… “Carve the runes and then be content with silence”…

    Stromness Library Hellihole road © 2012 Scotian

    Stromness Library Hellihole road © 2012 Scotian

    Bookshops and libraries are places we never fail to enter wherever we are, to feel the atmosphere, to find treasures and I also like to hear the bookseller or librarian pronounce the names of my favourite authors. By the way, up to this day and apart George Mackay Brown and Edwin Muir who happened to be GMB’s mentor,  I don’t know much about the other Orcadian writers though I discover new names everyday… some of them appear on golden plaques in St Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall: Eric Linklater, who is buried in Orkney is one of them but I haven’t read any of his books yet. Recently, while I was doing some research about Orkney on the Internet I discovered Mary Brunton. Of course, I’ve put these writers on my reading list 😉

    Orkney road to Warbeth cemetery with Hoy in the background © 2015 Scotiana 2003

    Orkney road to Warbeth cemetery with Hoy in the background © 2015 Scotiana 2003

    Swift and marvellous as dreaming, winter passed. It was spring again. The fountains of light leapt higher in the south. Daffodils, larks, lambs were everywhere. The sky grew taller and taller.

    (George Mackay brown – Portrait of Orkney)

    The weather seems to be very unpredictable on the islands in September but long days of light and beautiful bright periods have allowed us to enjoy very much our two trips in Orkney and to visit many interesting places.

    Below is a list of some of the places we’ve visited, together with pictures:

    KIRKWALL

    Kirkwall St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana

    Kirkwall St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana

     

    St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall - Tryptic detail - John Rae's monument - HMS Royal Oak memorial © 2016 Scotiana

    St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall – Tryptic detail – John Rae’s monument – HMS Royal Oak memorial © 2016 Scotiana

    Earl's Palace building and great hall - Kirkwall - Orkney © 2016 Scotiana

    Earl’s Palace building and great hall – Kirkwall – Orkney © 2016 Scotiana

     

    • St Magnus Cathedral
    • Bishop’s and Earl’s Palace (HS)
    • Tankerness House, the oldest house in the town which shelters a very interesting Museum
    • Highland Park Distillery: our favourite distillery and the most northern one.
    • The old streets and squares lined with colourful shops, restaurants and coffee-shops.
    • The harbour

    Stromness

    Stromness harbour and Brinkie Brae as seen  from the departing ferry © 2012 Scotiana

    Stromness harbour and Brinkie Brae as seen from the departing ferry © 2012 Scotiana

     

    Stromness harbour - a colourful shop window - GMB's favourite corner  © 2016 Scotiana

    Stromness harbour – a colourful shop window – GMB’s favourite corner © 2016 Scotiana

    GMB's favourite corner near the Stromness Museum - hydrangeas and squirrels in a garden - Alfred Street © Scotiana 2016

    GMB’s favourite corner near the Stromness Museum – hydrangeas and squirrels in a garden – Alfred Street © Scotiana 2016

    • Stromness Museum
    • GMB’s house at 3 Mayburn Court, in front of Stromness Museum
    • The long and narrow paved street lined with old houses and shops in the old town
    • The beautiful Warbeth cemetery overlooking the Sound of Hoy, last resting place of GMB
    • The harbour

    Archeological & historical sites

    We have visited many islands in Scotland and all have left us unforgettable memories but no island resemble another. One of the main features of Orkney is the omnipresence of archeological vestiges which makes you travel back in time so easily …

     

    Ring of Brodgar Orkney  © Scotiana 2012

    Ring of Brodgar Orkney © Scotiana 2012

     

    Skara Brae Neolithic Village - The Watch Stone - Maeshowe burial chamber © Scotiana 2016

    Skara Brae Neolithic Village – The Watch Stone – Maeshowe burial chamber © Scotiana 2016

    • The Ring of Brodgar
    • Maeshowe: a chambered cairn
    • Skara Brae: a Neolithic village 5,000 years old aged.
    • The Tomb of the Eagles

    Other favourite places

    The Italian Chapel Lamb Holm Orkney © 2012 Scotiana

    The Italian Chapel Lamb Holm Orkney © 2012 Scotiana

     

    The Italian Chapel and statue of St George killing the dragon - Lamb Holm - Orkney © 2016 Scotiana

    The Italian Chapel and statue of St George killing the dragon – Lamb Holm – Orkney © 2016 Scotiana

    Skaill House general view, entrance and library near Skara Brae neolithic village © 2016 Scotiana

    Skaill House general view, entrance and library near Skara Brae neolithic village © 2016 Scotiana

    • The Italian Chapel
    • Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barriers
    • Skaill House: the finest mansion in Orkney and the home of the man who discovered Skara Brae

    Landscapes

    A causeway in the Orkney Islands © 2012 Scotiana

    A causeway in the Orkney Islands © 2012 Scotiana

    Black cattle near  Skaill House and Stromness Golf © 2016 Scotiana

    Black cattle near Skaill House and Stromness Golf © 2016 Scotiana

    Harvest time in South Ronaldsay Orkney  © 2016 Scotiana

    Harvest time in South Ronaldsay Orkney © 2016 Scotiana

    South Ronaldsay cliffs - Stromness Bay - big waves at Skara Brae © Scotiana 2016

    South Ronaldsay cliffs – Stromness Bay – big waves at Skara Brae © Scotiana 2016

    • The beautiful seascape with its many islands lying off the shore
    • The impressive cliffs :
      • the Old Man of Hoy
      • the Gloup (about 20 km from Kirkwall, after Deerness)
    • The colourful kaleidoscope of the countryside with its gentle hills, its cultivated fields and meadows often surrounded by typical dry-stone walls where healthy cows and sheep are peacefully grazing thick and green grass.
    A ferry sailing in Hoy Sound - rainbow in the sky off the island of Hoy - the Old Man of Hoy © 2016 Scotiana

    A ferry sailing in Hoy Sound – rainbow in the sky off the island of Hoy – the Old Man of Hoy © 2016 Scotiana

     

    And there are many many more things to enjoy there…

    Kirkwall Judith Glue shop © Scotiana 2012

    Kirkwall Judith Glue shop © Scotiana 2012

    Orkney arts & crafts shop Scotiana photos montage © 2016 Scotiana

    Local arts and crafts objects in  KirkwallJudith Glue shop and in Stromness Waterfont Gallery shop © 2016 Scotiana

    without forgetting our favourite distillery …  their 18 Years Old whisky is a must ! Inspector Rebus would certainly agree with us 😉

     

    Highland Park Distillery buildings and logo - Kirkwall © 2016 Scotiana

    Highland Park Distillery buildings and logo – Kirkwall © 2016 Scotiana

    Malting room - copper stills and Rebus special whisky bottle in Highland Park Distillery whisky © 2016 Scotiana

    Malting room – copper stills and Rebus special whisky bottle in Highland Park Distillery whisky © 2016 Scotiana

     

    Cheers !

    I hope to have made you want to feel by yourself the magic of Orkney but stay tuned for there will be detailed articles about the different sites I’ve only mentioned today.

    Bonne lecture !

    And enjoy the videos I’ve downloaded for you below. There are truly wonderful! 😉

    A bientôt.

    Mairiuna

     

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