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Orkney: Act One

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 9 June 2014 | Views [434]

Skara Brae on a sunny day, Mainland, Orkney Islands

Skara Brae on a sunny day, Mainland, Orkney Islands

THE ORKNEYS ARE NOT KNOWN FOR SUNNY SKIES, which is why today was such a pleasant surprise.  Except for a renegade cloud that delivered ten minutes of rain, the day was spectacular.  Even the 90-minute ferry crossing from Thurso was as smooth as glass.

Orcadians call their largest island “the Mainland” and consider Scotland almost a foreign country.  As Scotland prepares to vote on succession from Great Britian, Orcadians are talking about sovereignty from Scotland.  True.  Through much of its history Orkney’s Viking heritage has been linked with Scandinavia.

The village of Skara Brae was inhabited for 500 years before the pyramids were built.  And like so many other prehistoric sites it disappeared from memory.  It was rediscovered when a terrible storm eroded the beach and revealed Skara Brae’s wonderfully preserved stone dwellings.  By contrast the adjacent Skail House is a monument to 19th Century wealth and privilege. 


   Connie checking out the birdlife

One must keep an eye on the tide when visiting Brough Brisay; the isthmus to the island disappears at high water but the ruins weren’t our main interest.  A hike up a grassy, windswept hill leads to dizzying sea cliffs teeming with nesting puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars and our goal, the elusive razorbill.



Lodging on the Mainland is expensive and scarce so we ended up in the Kirkwall Youth Hostel.  The rooms are basic, the common bathrooms clean and the kitchen is well equipped.  There are no electrical outlets in the rooms and wi-fi costs £3/hour but it is definitely a step up from camping and it was good to cook once again.


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