We just got back from five days in the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, and it was fantastic! After the crush and energy of London, it was so nice to go somewhere with seas and wind where there’re only 35 people per square kilometer.
Getting there and back was a pain in the butt though. On the way up we went from London to Edinburgh to Kirkwall. And they lost our bags on the way…mainly because the baggage agent at the Virgin Atlantic counter at Heathrow thought our son was soooooo cute that she let him press the button on the baggage conveyor belt…before putting the baggage claim tickets on it.
So we now get to file a £75 claim for the toiletries and pajamas we had to buy for the first night until our bags arrived. On the way back we were delayed due to fog and missed our connection in Aberdeen completely. So we had to exit security, reclaim our bags, get rebooked on a new flight, and go through security all over again. At least the little girl at the snack counter was nice enough to pour me a glass of wine in a paper cup so I could take it on the plane. :)
Transportation issues aside, I thought Orkney was quite a magical place. It’s made up of one big island called Mainland (perspective?) and a bunch of little islands. We stayed in the main town of Kirkwall (population 8,686) and found a great 3-bedroom rental cottage for only £250 per week. You can barely get a closet in a hotel for that price. So we really enjoyed it! We also rented a car so we could putter around the island.
Most of Mainland Orkney is classified as a World Heritage site called The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. It has not just one but TWO rings of standing stones (Stenness and Brodgar), one chambered burial mound (Maeshowe) and a few settlements. The most famous settlement is Skara Brae, which is considered the oldest and best preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe having been dated to about 3,000 BC.
The Ring of Brodgar was truly awesome, but I’m slightly more interested in Viking history. The Vikings featured heavily in the development of Orkney and even have their own saga, the Orkneyinga Saga. Even the sign above the airport is written in Norse runes. They also have an amazing red cathedral that was built in 1137 for the Viking Earls and Bishops of Orkney and their accompanying crumbling palaces.
But I think the most unique site has to be Maeshowe. Not only is it a great example of a chambered cairn…but when the Vikings plundered it, they left graffiti on the walls in runes. With 30 inscriptions, it’s one of the largest, and most famous, collections of runes known in Europe, which is phenomenal!! And their translations are hysterical. Things like: “Haermund Hardaxe carved these runes.” Basically, Haermund Hardaxe was here! “Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women.”
Other highlights remain from WWII. There’s an Italian chapel constructed of two “Nissen” huts…the Brit equivalent of what we call Quonset huts…and beautifully painted by Italian POWs who also constructed the two massive barriers in the bays between two of the southern islands. There are also the visible wrecks of several ships that were intentionally sunk to block German boats.
And let’s not forget the food and drink. I opted for seafood for almost every meal…scallops, scallops, more scallops and a seafood platter with crab and scallops with a few sides of mashed potatoes and black pudding. And my hubby was always on the lookout for haggis, which he found. It was also his birthday, so the lovely staff at the Kirkwall hotel restaurant brought out his dessert with a candle in it. Happy birthday, baby!
Orkney also has no shortage of beverages. For an area of less than 400 square miles, they have three breweries (Orkney, Highland and Sinclair) and two distilleries (Highland Park and Scapa). Orkney beers were my favorite not just in flavor but because of their great names…like Skull Splitter, Raven Ale, Northern Light, Dragonhead Stout, and Dark Island! My hubby also picked up a lovely 16-year-old single malt from Scapa.
For the most part, our son was pretty well behaved in the restaurants…especially since my hubby had recently downloaded 20+ new episodes of his current favorite TV show, Rescue Bots. But his favorite part of the entire trip was throwing rocks in the water at the beach. I guess if we ever want to plan a trip that will make him really happy, we can keep it pretty simple.