My time on Orkney was not long enough, I can tell you that up front.
What time I did have there was jam packed, and I want to share a little taste with you all.
Due to the Battle of Jutland centenary commemorations (more on that later), NorthLink Ferries took the route through the Scapa Flow so we could see the ships. While it was mainly a dry journey, it was VERY windy! Thankfully, we went past the Old Man of Hoy on the return, or I'd have been gutted.
I arrived off the ferry on Tuesday at 10:45am and was picked up by Andrew from Historic Environment Scotland. Andrew and his THICK Orcadian accent drove me around to various sites I had on my list to visit, including the two most northerly whisky distilleries! First stop? Scapa! After being founded in 1885, their visitor centre opened to the public for the first time just last year, so it was pretty exciting to see.
After that we headed to St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall to see some of the ceremony , which included Nicola Sturgeon, Princess Anne, David Cameron and music from the Kirkwall City Pipe Band (click for video of them during the ceremony) - they’re probably the main reason I stayed….
On Wednesday I had a real treat, as I was picked up in the morning by Historic Scotland World Heritage Site Ranger Elaine Clarke. The group of Neolithic monuments on Orkney consists of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar) and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites. Elaine explained that one reason they received the well-deserved UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999 is because they showed the unique ability to take you from cradle to grave in Neolithic times.
Sandra Miller provided an incredible and highly entertaining walking tour of the Ring of Brodgar.
Nearing the end of my day with the rangers, I was shown a little hidden treat – Happy Valley. As on Shetland, the Orkney islands are notable for the absence of trees, which is partly accounted for by the amount of wind. Except for this special place… Happy Valley is a garden created by Edwin Harrold in Stenness. There are trees, a waterfall, sitting areas, paths and bluebells galore! I am thoroughly convinced the faeries reside here.
What made it even better is that I really didn’t have much interest in it until Lynn showed it to me through her eyes and her stories of old. Lynn also knew plenty about my ancestor, Earl Thorfinn (The Mighty) Sigurdsson. It was a treat to hear about his days of ruling over Shetland, Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland.
I topped off my trip by renting a bike and cycling 12.5 miles round trip to the standing stones before sunset (around 10:45pm) and almost being murdered by 50 cows (ok, SLIGHT exaggeration). See my YouTube page for the video!
Orkney was amazing and there is a lot there I wasn’t able to see. I’ll just have to plan a return trip, especially after I do a bit more research on my famous Orcadian ancestor!
I think there is an incredible opportunity to bring the rangers to NYC for 2017 NYC Tartan Week, as it is the VisitScotland ‘Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology’. I think lots of people would be interested to hear about the fascinating archeological finds they are working on currently, like the Ness of Brodgar, and have discovered in years past.
The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology is a Scottish Government initiative being led by VisitScotland, and supported by partners including Scottish Government, Creative Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Museums Galleries Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, Built Environment Forum Scotland, Heritage Tourism Group, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Tourism Alliance and TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland).