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Orkney Islands

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Trip List by tumblingweed

Solo Female's Visit to Orkney Mainland

Jun 9, 2006  
3.5 of 5 stars based on 7 votes

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Orkney Islands
  • Category: Recent trip
  • 1. Arrival

    Got up early for drive to Gill's Bay ferry from Tain. About a 2 hour drive without stops, but sooo pretty. Stopped at Keill to walk on the beach for an hour or so, bit cool and windy but very nice. The ferry ride was great, an hour and a half I think, scenic of course.

  • 2. Orkney Islands
    Orkney Islands, Scotland

    After landing at St. Margaret's Hope, drove down to S. Ronaldsay for a stop at the Tomb of the Eagles-the farmer there was looking for a good rock corner post for his fencing in the late 1950's and made this discovery. Fabulous ancient site with a nice information area at entry where one of his daughters tells you about some history and the objects they've found, quite an extensive collection. The old man (yes, he's still at it!) and his sheep dog show an early bronze age site, altho I couldn't understand some of his accent, he is very funny, likes to tease! The older tomb itself, several yards away, can be entered on a car creeper-type thing or on hands and knees, kind of a thrill to actually be able to go inside. There is some lighting, but a flashlight might be nice too. Then you can walk a bit along the seaside cliffs and wonder at the rock formations, just beautiful.
    From there drove on into Kirkwall, what a nice view of the town entering from above! Made it to the info center just before they closed and got a tide table, and with continued good luck I found there was time enough to go out to the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island, on the other side of the mainland. (Altho called mainland Orkney, actually island!) Made a wrong turn at a roundabout and drove about a mile before I realized it, looked for a place to turn around and lo and behold! There was my B&B-how's that for luck! Continued on to Birsay, should mention that used a map that came in the mail with free info packet on Orkneys. What a special place the brough is-it's quite small, only a few acres, and there is a lighthouse, the remains of a 12th century community, including a chapel, built on top of a still older site. Just beautiful that evening, had the place to myself for an hour or two. Walked back to the car before the tide came in too far and stopped at a ruined castle I'd seen on the way in, also at a grocery store where had a nice visit with the lady who runs it. As an aside, the roads I drove were in excellent repair, in fact people seem to drive about 70 MPH on the straight stretches, so it doesn't take long to go from place to place, plus very scenic!
    Next day parked at the info center and walked around Kirkwall a bit and stopped in at St. Magnus Cathedral before heading over to Maes Howe. Didn't know that tours there need to be prebooked, but again lucked out and joined the next one. So interesting to learn more about how people lived 5000 years ago, and the Viking graffiti was amazing. Then on to Skara Brae, another Neolithic sight, very extensive remains exposed by storms about 150 years ago-was a bit crowded for photos by this time of day. All of the covered passages were impressive. The admission here includes Skaill House, home of some royalty where one of the family actually lived until recently, it was left in 1950s-60s condition, nice glimpse into their lives. Raining intermittently, so was nice to be touring inside places! Drove on to Stromness, what a funny old town, streets as narrow and twisty as in Bruges! Really wanted to see the museum there for its Hudson Bay Co. information, interesting connection to the other side of the world. Great hodge-podge of peoples' collections from seafaring, things from all over the world.

  • 3. Departure

    After this went back to catch the evening ferry back to Gill's-simply didn't allow enough time to visit Orkney, if there's one place I want to return to in the UK, this is it. There seemed to be a special quality to the light there, aside from staying light so late in the day! After the ferry landed drove over to Dunnett Head for a picnic dinner, gorgeous 360 degree views, a lighthouse built by Robert L. Stevenson's father, several WWll gun turrets and some walking trails. Again, the evening light seemed different somehow, got a couple nice rainbow photos. Continued back to B&B at Tain, via Thurso and the A9 this time, loved the mountainous stretch, very steep grades are allowed in the UK, don't know how the big trucks manage without burning brakes! Arrived with about 1 cup of petrol left in the tank and nothing open, whew!