Whenever we return home from a trip without a doubt we will get asked the question, “What was your favorite part of _____________(fill in the blank)?”
Orkney has made the top of my list of favorites. The island is absolutely captivating and so steeped in archeological history it’s almost unreal.
1. Ring of Brodgar
I am not going to lie—I am an Outlander fanatic, bordering on crazy–so standing stones are like ‘crack’ to me. I won’t even try to explain it because it will make a huge case for crazy. Just take my word for it.
All kidding aside–The Ring of Brodgar, a 30 stone circle in Orkney, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and said to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC.
I think everyone knows of Stonehenge which is now cordoned off so you can’t get close to it anymore. Ironically this little replica below was on the beach near the neolithic village in Orkney.
Anyway, there are no barriers at these stone circles, you can get up close and personal with these standing stones. You can walk the same ground and touch the same stones as the Neolithic Man did, thousands of years ago.
2. Skara Brae
Skara Brae is another Unesco World Heritage Site, it is the best preserved Neolithic Village in Northern Europe. It is a stone built settlement close to the standing stones which were probably of religious significance to the Neolithic people.
It was discovered in the 1800’s after a severe storm. It is Europe’s most complete Neolithic Village. The houses were sunk into the ground and probably looked something like this.
Besides the magnificence of seeing this archeological wonder, the area of Skara Brae is absolutely breathtaking. You can get pretty close to the homes and look inside from the top and there is a great replica on the grounds you can visit.
Leave time to walk on the beach and see all the cairns people have built and left behind.
3. The Italian Chapel
If you didn’t know it, you would probably skip this little chapel because it doesn’t look like much on the outside. But you must, must go inside.
Built in 1943 by Italian POWs, the Italian Chapel is made of two huts, concrete and scrap metal. This was recycling at it’s finest. The entire interior was hand painted, including the ‘faux brick’, by Domenico Chiocchetti, a gifted Italian painter who was a prisoner of war at the time.
Look closely at the light holders in the picture above, they were made from corned beef tins. The tabernacle and other items were constructed from the wood of a wrecked ship.
4. Yesnaby Cliffs
Yesnaby is on the west coast of Orkney. It is renowned for it’s spectacular views of sea stacks, cliffs, and blowholes. Do yourself a favor, and hike a few minutes away from the parking area. You will get a much better view. Is it gorgeous or what?
5. Standing Stones of Stenness
Yes, there are more stones in Orkney. Yes, I was in heaven. Yes, I tried to walk through the stones for a third time. Yes, I know Outlander is fictional book and there is no such thing as time travel.
Now with that out of the way let’s discuss the stones. The Standing Stones of Stennes is another World Heritage Site. If you are into that sort of thing, you could visit 4 sites just on Orkney.
Maeshowe is another, which we saw, but I did not take pictures. Honestly, it looked like a mound of grass to me. I should have paid more attention to the guide.
These are less than a mile away from the other stones. There is an interesting story about a farmer in the 1800’s who got tired of people trespassing his land to perform rituals at the stones.
So, he tried to blow up these ancient archeological pieces of history. He started with the “Odin Stone”, which had a circular hole and was believed to have magical powers. Couples would hold hands through the stone. He got through a few more stones and was finally stopped.
6. Honorable Mention
Look at this handsome devil. We were oogling the ‘Hairy Coos’ and completely ignoring him. He was just standing there in all his glory–like he wanted a picture taking. Alright, he was probably planning his next attack….but I am sticking with my story. If you want hairy coo pics—or mean looking bulls, there is no shortage on Orkney!
Let me close with a few tips:
- We took a tour, Wild About Orkney with Rosemary and she was great.
- Take the Northlink Ferry from Scrabster
- Stay at the Ferry Inn the night before, get their free breakfast and just walk over in the morning
- Upgrade to Magnus Lounge for 7.50 pound each. It’s worth it
- You can’t see it all in a day, stay a few nights on Orkney if you can
- It’s a cruise ship stop, so plan accordingly or you will be with the hordes of people trying to squeeze into a tiny church or touch a stone.
Take care everyone!