The Orkney Islands is an archipelago off the northernmost coast of Scotland. We took a 40 minute ferry ride from John O’Groats across the Pentland Firth to get there.
I lived in the lowlands of Scotland as a child and the nearest I’d ever been to The Orkney Islands was when I went to the Edinburgh Tattoo with my parents and I was too young to remember that. I had a strong desire to visit the Orkney Islands and had to convince my husband who wasn’t enamored about going to some remote area that experiences gale force winds and bleak weather for most of the year. (The Orkney Islands in latitude are only about 50 miles south of Greenland.) However, we went; the weather was better than expected – some wind and rain, but nothing exceptional and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was surprised to discover that there was no Gaelic influence here – no clan system or tartans. The predominant influence historically were the Vikings or Norse from Norway, who were only about a day’s sailing trip away. They settled on Orkney in the late 700’s displacing the Picts, and their influence is all over the place.
The Churchill Barriers – in 1939 a German submarine sank a British ship in the Scapa Flow. Winston Churchill, at that time the First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered a series of four causeways or barriers to be built to block the channels between the islands. These barriers were topped by roads which enabled better access to local communities for the Orkney residents.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
This was one of highlights of the Orkney Islands for me. I felt like I’d stepped back into the world of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter – it’s such an atmospheric place that you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time to medieval Norway.
A modern wooden statue of St Olaf that I think is a replica of the one found in the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. The Nidaros Cathedral was built over the remains of King Olav II, the patron saint of Norway. More information here.
The Cathedral here was named after Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, also known as Magnus the Martyr. There’s some history here.
Skara Brae, a 5,000 year old Neolithic village, was uncovered by a storm that swept the area in 1850.