The world's more beautiful on foot...


Call us on 01707 331133

  • Mon to Fri09:00 - 17:00
  • Saturday09:00 - 13:00
  • SundayClosed

Call us on 01707 331133

  • Mon to Fri09:00 - 17:00
  • Saturday09:00 - 13:00
  • SundayClosed


Sun, 17 Jan 2016

From Neolithic burial chambers to 20th century naval history, the Orkneys have it all.

I was particularly interested in something between these two: Dr John Rae, an Orcadian sent in the mid-19th century by the Hudson’s Bay Company to search for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition in the high Arctic. Two hundred years after Rae’s birth outside Stromness, his statue graces the town’s waterfront.

Rae’s statue tells the story: he survived Arctic winters with his hunting knife and rifle, wearing mukluks on his feet, whereas Franklin’s party of over 100 men perished eating tinned meat.

Ninety years after Rae’s report to the British Admiralty is leaked (try googling John Rae Admiralty to know more), British naval ships are based in Scapa Flow, and Italian POWs build “Churchill” barriers:

and somehow find the time to convert a Nissan hut into a chapel:

And 70 years after that, even this peedie dog knows there are better things to eat than tinned meat:


We spent a brilliantly sunny day on Rousay (a short ferry crossing from Tingwall on the West Mainland), visiting ruins including a broch, an archaeological dig in progress with a guide to explain it all, and three chambered cairns. Also, a non-ruined local craft co-operative, and a pub.

359 people have ‘liked’ the dig on facebook! The homepage is ‘Rousay Archaeological Excavation’, where there is information about progress and finds. Very stupidly, I didn’t take a picture.

Here is what’s left of Rousay’s Midhowe Broch:

And finally, back to the West Mainland. The pub (white building) is for sale.


Hoy doesn’t have much ancient archaeological discovery of which I’m aware, apart from the Dwarfie Stane which is on a hillside set back from a road which crosses the island. ‘Hoy’ means ‘high’ (as opposed to flat) and it’s a (sort of!) hilly place:

What Hoy lacks in ruins it makes up for with scenery and naval history: an interesting naval museum at Lyness devoted to Scapa Flow and World Wars I and II, a sandy beach at Rackwick, and the iconic Old Man of Hoy and other rock formations (this one not so high but with birds):


After exploring Rousay and Hoy, we spend our last day on Pomona (aka West and East Mainland).

A warren of underground dwellings excavated at Skara Brae, and an above-ground burial chamber at Maes Howe (inverting present-day customs). Excellent people from Historic Scotland make the past come alive: I would’ve missed ancient graffiti inside Maes Howe without the guide’s help.

Standing stones everywhere you turn:

St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, in the sun. An upscale craft co-operative is to the left of the white building down a narrow street.

I learned a lot this week. Sample tidbits:
‘peedie’ means ‘little’ on Orkney; ‘peerie’ is the word they use in Shetland;
‘mainland’ refers to the largest land mass in the Orkney Islands; Caithness is in a place called ‘Scotland’.