The Orkney Islands is a group of 70 islands which are home to a multitude of fascinating relics of historical rule, from the Picts to the Vikings and eventually to the Scots in 1472. The islands have many prehistoric relics – Stone Age villages have been unearthed and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. In Arthurian legend, Orkney was the home of King Lot and his descendents of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table fame so, if you are an ancient history buff, book your ticket now.
The islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, just 6 miles off the northeast coast of Scotland. The Mainland is the largest island and only 17 of Orkney’s 70 islands are inhabited. As they are rocky and mountainous, some of the most dramatic scenery is along the coast where cliffs plunge down to white, sandy beaches.
Being so far north, even in summer – July, August and September – the mercury rarely goes higher than 12 °C (54 °F), it rains frequently and wind and fog are common. The upside is that one experiences daylight for around 18 hours a day, with the sun rising at 03:00 and setting at 21:00, but never with complete darkness, allowing you to still read at midnight!
Access to Orkney is by car ferry, from various locations and with varying routes, such as Scrabster to Stromness; Aberdeen to Kirkwall; and Gill’s Bay to St. Margaret’s Hope of Orkney. Once on Orkney inter-island ferry services connect all the inhabited islands to Orkney Mainland. During the summer months a privately-run ferry service operates from John O’Groats to Burwick. Buses to Kirkwall connect with the ferry.
By coach, there is a daily service between May and September running from Inverness to Kirkwall (via the ferry at John O’ Groats). A year round service runs from Inverness to Scrabster, There is a bus connection from Wick railway station to Scrabster.
If driving, take the A9, which connects with central Scotland and England’s main motorways. Perth to Inverness is 114 miles and Inverness to Scrabster is a further 111 miles.
The main train line runs from Inverness to Thurso and you then need to take a local bus to the commuter boat locationss at Scrabster or John O’Groats; or Aberdeen which has a station near to the harbour.