MESSAGE: Scotland’s Orkney Islands *Video*
The Orkney Islands are a well-kept secret — even for Scots! Since few of my Scottish pals have been, I consider myself lucky to have visited these little gems situated in the North Sea.
The Orkneys are actually an archipelago comprising 70 islands, 20 of which are inhabited. They’ve been inhabited at least 8,500 years (wow!) and currently have a population of about 20,000. I visited my friends Moira and Brian on the small island of Eday, which has a population of 140. (141 the night I stayed over).
Here’re my 7 insider tips on enjoying the Orkney Islands:
MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Inter-Island Ferries. The Orkney Islands live & breathe via their ferry system that connects all the outlying islands with the “mainland” island. Part of the ritual of riding the ferry is getting a bacon bap to snack on during the crossing and, of course, swapping a bit of island gossip.
The hot gossip this summer is: Who killed the Shetland pony? Apparently a neighbor breeding Shetland ponies found one of the miniature horses dead in the field. The cause of death was a crushed esophagus.
The owners automatically assumed it was one of the neighbors who did the poor horsey in. Prime suspect: 94-year old grandmother who lives down the lane. Since the small island doesn’t have a police force, the mainland police were called in to investigate. The case remains open.
EAT (Tasty Eats) –Partan Toes. Called crab in other part of the world. The Orkneys are blessed with bountiful seafood, salmon, hand-dived scallops, Westray crab, lobster and spoots in season (razorfish).
Here’re my friends Moira and Brian showing me where they’re going to place their lobster creels on their bit of coastline:
Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Erin in the Orkneys
SEE (Must-see Sights) – Ring o’ Brodgar. A World Heritage Site, the Ring o’ Brodgar is a Neolithic monument thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC.
Considered one the best examples of a stone henge in the British Isles, the Ring o’ Brodgar’s stone circle measures 104 meters (341 ft) in diameter. While the ring originally comprised 60 stones, only 27 remained standing today.
What’s so great about visiting this stone circle (as opposed to others like Avebury and Stonehenge) is that you’re there all alone – not another person for miles. Moira and I visited at sunset and it was quite dramatic to walk amongst the huge stones. A definite treat!
SHOP (Gotta Have) – Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. The gallery and shop displays Orkney artist Leila Thomson’s lovely hand-woven tapestries, rugs, prints and mixed media — all inspired by the Orkney landscape, folklore and heritage.
In addition to the original woven pieces, the gallery also sells art prints and greeting cards. I bought a packet of beautiful postcards to send to all my British buddies!
Interested to see the gallery’s work? You can view the tapestries and shop online.
ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Diving Scapa Flow. The Royal Navy base Scapa Flow planned a major role in both WWI and WWII. After the Armistice in 1918, the German High Sea Fleet was transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow, at which point the German sailors opened the sea-cocks and scuttled all the ships. The remaining shipwrecks are now a favorite diving spot.
For wreck diving enthusiast (I consider myself one!), there are 7 large warships and 4 destroyers on the bottom of the sea bed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dive, but here’re some local operators if you’re interested:
GIVE (Greatest Need) – Wave Power. The Orkneys Islands are home to the European Marine Energy Center which conducts research on harnessing the power of waves and tides. The center installed the first tidal turbine, which has been generating energy for the national grid since 2008. The islands have the highest wave energy potential in all of Europe. Cool!
ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Italian Chapel. The Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during World War II, is a highly ornate Catholic chapel built from materials scavenged by the prisoners. The main building is two Nissen huts joined together, with the alter constructed of concrete. Domenico Chiocchetti, a POW from Moena, painted the sanctuary at the end of the chapel and stayed after all the prisoners were released to see the completion of the chapel.