Home > Vacation > Scotland – Day 8: Orkney Islands

Scotland – Day 8: Orkney Islands

January 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments


A fascinating day full of adventure. At John o’Groats, board a FERRY for the 45-minute crossing to South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Islands, where a local coach and driver-guide await you. Cross the four Churchill Barriers and overlook Scapa Flow, where the German fleet scuttled itself in World War I. Visit the ITALIAN CHAPEL, built by prisoners of war in 1943 from scrap metal, concrete, and other materials. Then, head for SKARA BRAE, where you see the fascinating remains of a 5,000- year-old Neolithic village and visit SKAILL HOUSE. Yet more highlights: the Ring of Brodgar, the Orkneys’ Stonehenge, and finally Kirkwall, the small and picturesque island capital. Return to the mainland by FERRY in the late afternoon.

Getting There

John had been warning us that the weather was looking pretty bad and it was unlikely we would get to visit the Orkney Islands. This was very disappointing, as the reason several of us had chosen this tour over other tours is because it is one of the few, if not the only, tours that actually goes to Orkney. Because the weather is so unpredictable, our plan was to proceed as normal and assume the ferry was running.

Fantastic weather!

After breakfast, we hadn’t heard anything from the ferry company, which is better than a definite no. Being halfway through our trip, Steve (our bus driver) had the day off and we had a relief driver. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the bus well or the bus had an actual problem. At any rate, we returned to the hotel after a few minutes. After alot of fussing, Steve got it working again. Still, bad omen.

By now we were late, so there was no stopping at Dunnet Head, which is the northernmost point of mainland Scotland. But we wouldn’t have been able to see much anyway. Got to the ferry and it was not running. The Trafalgar tour group was stuck too. John didn’t give up. There was a new ferry, the Pentalina that had recently started service so we would try it. He said it was a catamaran, whatever that was. Doris said she had been on one before and it was pretty small. So now John needed a headcount but warned that the journey could be pretty rough. What he failed to mention was how massive the Pentalina was. I think if we’d known that, more people would have gone. But only a handful backed out. They went to the Castle of Mey instead and seemed to quite enjoy it.

Our savior!

The first part of the ferry ride was so calm, I wondered what the fuss was about. Then we got into open water with no land blocking the winds. Lots of ups and downs, but nothing bad. When we got to Kirkwall, the weather was much the same. Really windy, cold, and rainy.

Italian Chapel

First stop was the Italian Chapel. Built by Italian POW’s during WWII, it is a very small, but beautiful piece of art. We stopped for a few minutes; long enough to make a good photo and leave a small donation.


Next was Skara Brae. It is the remains of a pre-historic village; around 5,000 years old! There are numerous photos in the gallery. It was difficult to appreciate what we are actually seeing with the yucky weather. Here is where I will drop a very valuable photography hint. If there was one piece of equipment that was more important than anything else, it was my lens hood. It was hugely helpful in keeping the rain off of my lens.

A short walk away is the Skaill House. This was the home of the local Laird (Lord) who discovered Skara Brae. There is a replica of Skara Brae House 1 by the visitor centre which is really good. The centre also has a very nice gift shop and cafe.

Skara Brae - House 1

Lunch was at Plout Kirn. Interesting place. You sit down and instead of ordering they bring out plates of light sandwiches and bowls of soup.

The Ring Of Brodgar was next. More than 300 feet in diameter, it’s rather difficult to get the whole thing in one photo. The best guess for its origin is 2500 to 2000 BC. I only have one photo, due to rain drops on the lens (see above) and, ahem, people in the shot.

Less than a mile away are the Standing Stones of Stenness. Much more compact, at only about 100 feet in diameter.


Done with the major sightseeing, our final destination was Kirkwall. I think normally we would go inside the St. Magnus Cathedral, but there was a wedding at the time. That was still kind of neat, as it’s more traditional than here. Horse-drawn carriage and a bagpiper. So we just walked around the town for a while.

Finally, another WWII relic, the blockship. During the war, ships were sunk to block German U-boats from attacking Orkney. The photo is a bit blurry due to water drops, since we were inside the bus.

Full Gallery

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