The Orkneys


Heather Markel, Best Selling Author, TEDx Speaker, Traveler, Full Time Travel and Business Coach

Ever since spending six weeks in Scotland in 2018, I’ve wanted to go to The Orkneys. Now, my mom and I are finally going to go there together! 

The Orkneys

A driver picks us up in Inverness and drives us all the way to Thurso. Mom and I have decided to grab a ferry which, logistically, seemed easier than dealing with flights. We arrive in time, and secure a wheelchair for mom to board. Since it’s a car ferry, I expected something quite large. I’m a little dismayed to find the ferry is smaller than expected. A short while after we set off, I go to get mom and I something to eat, and someone escorts me back to my seat, food and drinks on a tray, because it’s too rocky for me to walk, and carry everything. A short while later, I go to the on board shop and grab some sea-sickness wrist bands. I learn that what I consider traumatically rocky, is considered light chop for the regulars on board!

Durres port

Another driver picks us up when we finally arrive, a bit queasy, into Stromness. He drives us to our hotel in the midst of some rain. Our hotel is one of our favorites of the trip – The Storehouse. Its’ warm and cozy, and for meals, they have these fantastic Orkney chairs to sit in!

Cairns, Sheep and Stories

One of the best parts of our stay is, perhaps, our tour guide, Eddie, from Orkney Cabs. He picks us up early our first full day, and takes us to see some of the important sites over the next two days. Our first day comes with a giant rainbow. As we go, he tells us incredible tales of the history of The Orkneys. His storytelling is the kind that pulls you in with fascination, and he explains about his own ancestors and in the end, we’re not entirely sure that the stories are all true, but it just doesn’t matter because he’s so wonderful to listen to, we could do it for weeks.

Northern lights 1

We start our day with the Broch Of Gurness, an ancient settlement in the area and one of the best preserved.

Northern lights 1
Northern lights horse

Eddie explains that there aren’t many highland cows here because Orkney isn’t part of Scotland. Sweden, Norway and Denmark owned it but the kind of Denmark pawned Orkney and Shetland so the king of Norway could marry the princess of Scotland. So, the bloodline of people from Orkney is actually Scandinavian.

The Orkneys comprises 72 islands, of which 17 are inhabited. People settled the north and migrated south. There are 22,000 people currently living in the Orkneys. We get to see some fascinating sites. And, despite highland cows not being abundant here, we see a beauty who’s hopped the fence and stop so I can snap some photos.

Northern lights horse

The Standing Stones of Stenness are fascinating ritual and burial cairns complete with grazing sheep. One of them is friendly. When I say friendly, I mean, it may think it’s a dog and loves cuddles, and will head butt you for more, which, being that it’s a strong sheep, can knock you over! Eddie explains some of the rituals that they believe went on, and it sounds like he may be a resource for historians interested in the area!

Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse

A Windy Walk And A Fascinating Discovery

Mom and I do the Mull Head trail. The thing is, we’re not sure whether we’re supposed to walk just to the beautiful photo spot, seen below, or continue onwards. So, we continue, and it’s beautiful on a cliff looking out to sea. The thing is, it’s quite windy. So, I tell my mom we should head back. When we turn, with the wind at our fronts, my mom almost blows away. I hold on to her for dear life and pull us both back on to the main trail. Eddie tells us we made a good decision because someone had been blown off the cliff in the past year. So, take heed if you go here, it’s very windy!!

Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse

We of course visit Skara Brae, and it’s always fascinating to see human settlements from so long ago and imagine what the terrain was like and how they lived.

Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse

We see The Italian chapel -built from the remains of a bunker and put together by Italian POWs with the local community. Sort of an amazing story and also, an amazing place.

Northern lights horse
Northern lights horse

A final site is the remnants of a church. Eddie tells us they believe the golden chalice was kept there at one point in history! He explains that Vikings stopped existing when they were converted to Christianity. They became knights of the Templar with legitimate reason to plunder.

Edinburgh fountain
Edinburgh fountain

We’re sad to say goodbye to Eddie, and just make it to the final Scotch tasting of the day at the Highland Park distillery. It was started by Magnus, a prolific whiskey smuggler who made a great whiskey! Today it’s made legally, and one of the only distilleries to still use a kiln. They also use peat moss with Heather for the sweet smokey smell. One of the distinct characteristics of the distillery is that being in the Orkneys, the temperature, year-round, is fairly consistent. This means they don’t lose as much alcohol in the process! Mom and I finish the tour with a tasting, and the glasses they give you are stunning!

Edinburgh fountain

I take a quick run around the center of Kirkwall to see the church and museum before we head back to the mainland. There is something magical and mystical about the Orkneys. Mom and I both want to return.

Edinburgh fountain

We head back to Edinburgh via Pitlochry and stop off for a tasting at Dewars in honor of my stepdad as that was the one he always used to drink. We then head back to America full of cherished memories.

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