In June 2019, we took a trip to the Orkney Islands, Scotland. This is a photo story of our little adventure around the Islands.
Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland. Orkney is 10 miles (16 km) north of the coast of Caithness and has about 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, Mainland, is often referred to as “the Mainland”, and has an area of 523 square kilometres (202 sq mi), making it the sixth-largest Scottish island. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.
The local people are known as Orcadians and have a distinctive dialect of the Scots language and a rich inheritance of folklore. Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Long time ago
The islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years, originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts. Orkney was colonised and later annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. The Scottish Parliament then absorbed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III’s bride Margaret of Denmark
Standing Stones of Stennes
The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument five miles northeast of Stromness on the mainland. This may be the oldest henge site in the British Isles. Various traditions associated with the stones survived into the modern era and they form part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is another Neolithic henge and stone circle located about 6 miles north-east of Stromness on the Mainland. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Mainland, the largest island in the Orkney archipelago of Scotland. Consisting of eight clustered houses, it was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC and is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney”.
Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation.
Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave situated on Mainland Orkney. It was probably built around 2800 BC. In the archaeology of Scotland, it gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is limited to Orkney.
Maeshowe is one of the largest tombs in Orkney; the mound encasing the tomb is 115 feet (35 m) in diameter and rises to a height of 24 feet (7.3 m). Surrounding the mound, at a distance of 50 feet (15 m) to 70 feet (21 m) is a ditch up to 45 feet (14 m) wide. The grass mound hides a complex of passages and chambers built of carefully crafted slabs of flagstone weighing up to 30 tons. It is aligned so that the rear wall of its central chamber held up by a bracketed wall, is illuminated on the winter solstice.
Broch of Gurness
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village on the northeast coast of Mainland Orkney in Scotland overlooking Eynhallow Sound, about 15 miles north-west of Kirkwall. It once housed a substantial community.
Brough of Birsay
The Brough of Birsay is an uninhabited tidal island off the north-west coast of The Mainland of Orkney, Scotland, in the parish of Birsay. It is located around 13 miles north of Stromness and features the remains of Pictish and Norse (Viking) settlements as well as a modern light house.
Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. Its sheltered waters have played an important role in travel, trade and conflict throughout the centuries. Vikings anchored their longships in Scapa Flow more than a thousand years ago; more recently, it was the United Kingdom’s chief naval base during the First and Second World Wars, though the facility was closed in 1956.
World War I
The scuttling of the German fleet took place at the Royal Navy’s base at Scapa Flow, at the end of the First World War. The High Seas Fleet was interned there under the terms of the Armistice whilst negotiations took place over the fate of the ships. Fearing that all of the ships would be seized and divided amongst the Allies, Admiral Ludwig von Reuter decided to scuttle the fleet.
The scuttling was carried out on 21 June 1919. Intervening British guard ships were able to beach a number of the ships, but 52 of the 74 interned vessels sank. Many of the wrecks were salvaged over the next two decades and were towed away for scrapping. Those that remain are popular diving sites. The ships are the world’s primary source of low-background steel.
World War II
On 14 October 1939, under the command of Günther Prien, U-47 penetrated Scapa Flow and sank the First World War-era battleship HMS Royal Oak anchored in Scapa Bay. After firing its first torpedo, the submarine turned to make its escape; but, upon realising that there was no immediate threat from surface vessels, it returned for another attack. The second torpedo blew a 30-foot (9.1 m) hole in the Royal Oak, which flooded and quickly capsized. Of the 1,400-man crew, 833 were lost. The wreck is now a protected war grave.
In response, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill ordered the construction of several permanent barriers to prevent any further attacks. Work began in May 1940 and was completed by September 1944. The barriers were officially opened on 12 May 1945, four days after the end of World War II in Europe. They are to this day known as the Churchill Barriers.
The significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance, and the island generates more than its total yearly electricity demand using renewables.
I hope you enjoyed this post about the Orkney Islands, a fabulous place and I’ve only showed you a fraction of the history and adventures you can have in these magical Scottish islands.
Visit my gallery to see more images:
Although he has been very secretive for a long time now. Our adventure was as usual led by Hamish Highlander, our Adventurer in Chief… Don’t tell him but we sneeked in this shot as he led us to a yet undiscovered hidden underground and perfectly preserved neolithic house where he recovered yet another clue!
ps: Hamish also got to meet some distant relations.