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The History of Orkney Literature

Orkney's Italian Chapel

New History Of Orkney
The New History
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Tour Orkney Islands

Rent a Self Catering Cottage on Orkney Scotland
Rent a Self Catering Cottage on Orkney Scotland
Orkney Cottages

Orkney Whisky ScotlandA tour of Orkney's inhabited islands takes the traveller back through man's history. Scattered across the fertile, flat land are countless reminders of the people who have lived here. Stone Age communities buried their dead in skillfully constructed tombs. Iron Age families inhabited underground earth houses. Celtic Christians founded monasteries, and Norse earls designed great halls.


Let NorthLink Ferries take you on a voyage of discovery to the islands of Orkney.

Ruins of palace built by Earls of Orkney in late 16th century. Remains of 7th and 8th century Pictish settlement stand on Brough of Birsay island, reached by foot at low tide. Ruins of Thorfinn the Mighty's Romanesque church, shoreline ruins of his hall and outlines of Norse longhouses. Brough of Birsay Photographs.

One of several Neolithic cairns on Rousay. Its megalithic burial chamber is 47ft long and is split into seven separate stalls by standing slabs.

Burgar Hill
Atlantic winds provide energy to power three wind turbine generators on windswept Mainland hill-top. Visitor centre in summer.

Churchill Barriers
Churchill ordered these concrete causeways to be built in 1939 to block off eastern approach to naval base at Scapa Flow. Some 250,000 tons of material were used, linking largest island of Mainland with islands of Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Click Mill
Small turf-roofed building on Mainland, Houses Orkney's only working corn mill, with wheel set horizontally, not vertically. Based on Norse design, this type was used by islanders for centuries. Signposted off B9057.

Cubbie Roo's Castle
Small keep on Wyre, surrounded by circular ditch, said to be Scotland's earliest stone castle. Built in 12th century by Norse chief. In graveyard is ruined chapel, possibly built by chief's son.

Cuween Hill Cairn
Bones of dogs and oxen were found along with human remains inside this hillside Neolithic burial tomb, south of Finstown on Mainland. Passage 18ft long leads to central chamber with adjoining smaller cells.

Dwarfie Stane
Stone Age rock tomb cut into slab of sandstone, on Hoy. Passage leads to two chambers. Legend says it is home to malevolent dwarf of Norse sagas.

Round tower of 12th century Church of St Magnus soars above roofless nave. Islanders prayed here well into 19th century.

Gurness Broch
Dry-stone tower, 2000 years old, stands on Mainland headland overlooking Rousay. It had underground well-chamber, still visible today, and upper gallery and floor. Later settlers built houses around tower.

Highland Park Single Malt is a Scotch whisky distilled by Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall in Orkney.

Holm of Papa
Tiny island with huge megalithic tomb. Main chamber over 75ft long is adjoined by 14 smaller cells. No signs of life on island since tomb was built.

Italian Chapel
In 1943 Italian prisoners-of-war built unique chapel inside two Nissen huts on Lamb Holim using scrap metal, driftwood and concrete. Interior has medieval-style wall paintings and altarpiece. Facade in traditional Italian style even has belfry.

Busy harbour on Mainland is capital of Orkneys. St Magnus Cathedral built in 1137 by Norse leader Rognvald, in memory of his murdered uncle, Magnus. Nearby is 17th century Earl's Palace, built for 2nd Earl of Orkney. Tankerness House is a 16th century merchant's home, now a local museum. Public library, founded 1683. is Scotland's oldest. Kirkwall Hotels. Fly To Kirkwall.

Knap of Howar
Whalebone mallets and spatula have been unearthed on site of two well-built stone structures on Papa Westray. About 5500 years old, they are considered to be oldest standing dwellings in north-western Europe.

Loch of Stenness
Remains of three stone circles dominate Mainland horizon between Loch of Harray and Loch of Stenness. Encircling ditch still visible at Ring of Bookan. Ring of Brodgar has 36 tall thin stones forming a circle 2 1/2 acres in extent.

Maes Howe
Massive mainland tomb, 115ft in diameter, with vaulted stone chamber and adjoining smaller cells, built about 2500 BC. Later, Viking raiders scratched messages into walls; one message alludes to finding treasure. Maes Howe Photographs.

Martello Tower
Guarding entrance to Longhope Sound at Harkness, Hoy, one of a pair of towers built 1813 to protect British convoys in Longhope Sound against French and American privateers.

Marwick Head
Cliff-top Mainland RSPB reserve supporting flocks of breeding cormorants, kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills. Reserve overlooks the spot where Lord Kitchener's boat was sunk by German mines in 1916. Monument to Kitchener within reserve.

Mid Howe
Largest of Orkneys cairns, on Rousay. Main chamber, 76ft long, is divided into 12 stalls with central passage. Benches held human remains, including 23 people buried about 2000 BC.

Noltland Castle
Castle on Westray was mainly built by Gilbert Balfour in 16th century. Its 71 gun loops in walls and 7-shape were intended to protect it from all sides.

North Hoy Nature Reserve
Windswept moorland and sea cliffs of this RSPB nature reserve make ideal habitat for hundreds of birds, from kittiwakes to Arctic skuas. Cliff formations include 450ft stack called Old Man of Hoy.

North Ronaldsay
Most northerly of isles of Orkneys is ringed by 6ft stone wall to protect crops from sheep. Sheep survive on seaweed yet produce fine wool. Prehistoric fort remains on southern coast.

Orkney Farm and Folk Museum
Two Mainland farmsteads show evolution of Orkney farm buildings over centuries. Kirbuster is the only surviving farmhouse with hearth in middle of floor. Corrigal's 19th-century house has gable fireplace and wooden box beds. Traditional breeds of sheep and poultry.

Orkney Wireless Museum
Museum at St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay; exhibits range from early crystal set to modern transistor radio; wireless sets from 1930s and old records.

Orphir Church
Ruin of 12th century circular Mainland church overlooks Scapa Flow's northern shore. Probably built by returned Crusader; only one of its type in Scotland. Apse remains, rest used to build 18th century Presbyterian structure.

Village set in curve of sheltered bay on east coast of farming island of Westray. The Norse leader Rognvald sailed here in 1136. Ruins of medieval church has tombstones with finely carved inscriptions.

Rennibister Earth House
Iron Age earth house was discovered on Mainland in 1926. Its roof collapsed under weight of farm threshing machine and revealed a floor strewn with human bones. Corbelled roof was supported on four stone slabs.

Green island fringed by golden beaches. Human bones found in chambered tomb at Quoyness suggest that people were living here over 4000 years ago.

Scapa Flow
Eighty square miles of sea enclosed by Mainland's south coast and isles of Burray, South Ronaldasy, Flotta and Hoy. This natural harbour was naval base during both world wars. Scapa Flow.

Skara Brae
Buried by sand for 4500 years, Stone Age Mainland village was discovered in 1850 when storm tore sand away. Its roofless houses, linked by covered passages, have central hearths, stone bed-frames and a stone dresser. Paved courtyard where village council probably met. Skara Brae Photographs.

Port town in sheltered Mainland harbour. Single, narrow street whose seaward houses have little jetties of their own. Fishermen offload catches of lobster and crab. Museum illustrates maritime history and island wildlife. Hudson's Bay Company recruiting site now Pier Arts Centre. Stromness Hotels.

Taversoe Tuick
Room for many bodies in this split-level Neolithic burial mound on southern coast of Rousay. Upper entrance is at ground level, lower one found through a 19ft sunken passage.

If you would like to visit Orkney as part of a highly personalized small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:

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