There are not too many places I return to over and over again [aside from local favourites] but the islands of Orkney off the north coast of Scotland is one such place. Our recent holiday was my sixth trip to Orkney but the first in a campervan and what a difference having the ‘van meant. On previous visits we have been based in one place, all trips radiating out from that base. With the ‘van we travelled across the Churchill Barriers from South Ronaldsay to the north of the mainland, staying in a different place every night and getting a different feel for these wonderful islands. In truth the journey from the wonderful Skerries Bistro and Tomb of the Otters in the south to Birsay in the north is only 40 miles but then why rush around Orkney, there is so much to see, so many different bays to explore and despite repeated visits there are still parts of even the East and West Orkney Mainland that we haven’t yet visited, never mind the other islands.
You can expect weather on Orkney and it is always colder than I remember. We have been here when the winds are relentless, on one visit we had a week of constant fog and we have had days of rain as well as fine and sunny weather. This trip was blessed with days of sunshine and what I noticed most was the sky. Orkney lies low and nothing gets in the way of the views of the sky, it is vast and hard to miss and the blue sky appears infinite. On this trip I got used to the feeling of space that those enormous skies give and I found myself missing it as we returned south. During the day we walked and drove under these skies and every evening we sat on a shore or a cliff enjoying a different view to watch the sun go down over the Atlantic, the red sky promising another fine day.
Orkney is always a great place to visit for wildlife and despite it being early August we saw plenty of birds, including puffins, black guillemots and gannets from the boat. On the cliffs we saw fulmars and kittiwakes. We watched seals bobbing in the sea and sitting on the rocks at Birsay. We searched for elusive otters and short-eared owls [we had to wait until the Scottish mainland before we spotted the latter]. Many come to Orkney for the incredible archaeological sites and we had timed this visit to see the dig at the Ness of Brodgar. I found the excellent guided tour very interesting, the site is so intriguing, and we contributed by adopting a square of the dig. We also made our first visit to the Banks Chambered Tomb, where our guide was a natural story teller who bought the site to life. We watched boats in Kirkwall and Stromness, we beach-combed at Birsay and at the lovely bay by Kirkhouse Point, we explored the cemeteries at Burwick and at Kirkhouse Point and we walked up Marwick Head to the Kitchener and HMS Hampshire Memorial and thought about the 737 people who lost their lives off the coast here in 1916. Of course we ate Orkney ice-cream and drank Orkney beer whenever we could.
It isn’t just the range of things you can do in Orkney that make it possibly the best place for a holiday, it is the tranquility and calmness of the islands. Even though I am a relaxed retiree these days I still enjoy slowing down our lives for a while on these beautiful islands.