Orkney is a group of 70 islands situated a few miles off the north-east tip of mainland Scotland. With its green fields and hills, stone pinnacles rising out of the sea, rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, it is the ideal place for getting away.
Fishing in the loches of Orkney is free and it is a spectacular fishing destination. Bird watching is another popular activity, as is diving around the wrecks. Orkney was an important strategic site for the British navy during both World Wars and the Germans scuttled their fleet here in 1919. For a long time the islands were owned by Norway, so they have a very mixed culture. Today, many of the tourists that come here are Scandinavian and in the shops you will be able to buy Norwegian newspapers.
The Orkney Islands lie hard off Caithness, the northernmost corner of Scotland. They are virtually treeless but extreamly green with a wild beauty. Generations of seafarers, settlers and visitors have been attracted here to the edge of the world. The Vikings left their names, bits of their folklore and graffitti written in runes. But they were latecomers. The UNESCO World Heritage site that takes in most of the main island (called “/the mainland”/ by Orcadians) protects Stone Age settlements and monuments that predate the Vikings by more than 4,000 years. Orkney captures the imagination and the eye, its balding turf reflective of constantly changing shades of light as clouds movey across windswept skies. In summer the days are lengthy and the sunniest moments are often long into the evening (a great time to be out exploring). Orcadians are friendly people, seemingly immune to the unpredictable climate, and are fiercely independent of mainland Scotland, even though their magical archipelago is situated a mere 6 miles off the north coast.
Only 17 of Orkney’s 70 islands are inhabited and some of the most dramatic scenery is along the coast where 300m cliffs plunge into white, sandy beaches. The archipelago contains a sliver of mankind’s ancient existence that’s found nowhere else. Prehistoric sites are sprinkled throughout the islands – Europe’s greatest concentration (their stone walls immune to 5000 years of climatic onslaught). The Flinstonesque furniture of Skara Brae, the tomb of Maes Howe and numerous standing stones weave a mystical milieu while providing a snapshot of the way people have worshipped, lived and perished since ancient times.
Today’s animated contemporary culture, its roots firmly embedded in traditional island life, is best experienced among the smaller islands and in the larger towns of Kirkwall and Stromness on Mainland, with their Norse roots, inviting drinking holes, chatty locals and vibrant festivals.The Orkneys are one of Scotland’s richest farming regions. Beef cattle and eggs are the most important produce. Sheep and pigs are also raised.The Islands of Orkney are a group of 70 islands and skerries 10km (6.2 miles) from the north-east tip of the Scottish Mainland. The largest island, known as ‘Mainland’ is home to most of the total 20,000 population but the main north islands of Shapinsay, Gairsay, Stronsay, Wyre, Rousay, Egilsay, Eday, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay and the south islands of Graemsay, Hoy, Burray, Flotta and South Ronaldsay are also populated. Although Burray and South Ronaldsay are ‘islands’ they are connected to Mainland Orkney by causeways. The main industry in Orkney is beef farming and much of the islands are turned over to farm land. Tourism is another major industry providing a wide variety of employment and income.The arts and crafts industry also supports a large number of employees and Orkney is one of the major jewellery producing counties in the UK.
Being surrounded by the sea has a huge influence on Orkney’s weather and the relatively warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift (or Gulf Stream) which only varies by roughly 5 degrees throughout the year means our ‘mean air temperature’ fluctuates by less than 10 degrees from summer to winter. The climate is described as ‘temperate’ with relatively low rainfall and not a great deal of snow and ice in the winter months. The most noticeable feature about Orkney weather is the wind and given the open exposure to the Atlantic and North Seas this is understandable. Orkney’s flora and fauna are also another great attraction for visitors with tens of thousands of seabirds nesting on the cliffs in the summer months.