One Epic Day in Orkney

Phoebe Laine

Phoebe Laine

· 5 min read

While on our epic Scottish Highlands road trip, we spent a day on Orkney. The Orkney Islands are an archipelago off the northern tip of Great Britain. There are 70 islands in total. We spent the day on the largest and most inhabited island, the Mainland.

Getting There:

We took the early morning NorthLink ferry service out of Scrabster to Stromness on the Orkney Mainland. The trip was about an hour and a half and it was such a fun part of the experience. The northernmost coastline of Great Britain stretches out behind you as you approach the craggy sea cliffs of the Orkney Islands. The ferry is huge and comfortable and the outdoor back deck is great for pictures of the sea stacks you will pass right by. Those who get easily seasick (like me) beware! The Black Sea is choppy and this will likely be a bumpy ride. Even with blue skies, we were constantly cresting and falling and I thought I was going to throw up. I survived and enjoyed it even so!

We brought our rental car onto the ferry which made getting around really convenient as there was plenty of (free) parking everywhere we wanted to go. We came before the high season so we never struggled with parking, but I would imagine that the lots would fill up quickly if it was a little more crowded. I noticed that the public bus had stops at nearly all the popular spots so I don't think it would be too hard to get around without a car.

Our Day:

We started the day at Skara Brae which is a 5000-year-old Neolithic village that is remarkably well preserved. I had just read Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier (about Vikings arriving and interacting with the native people- which actually happened - and is a story of magic and romance - which might have happened) so I was interested in seeing the historic sites while we were here.

The best thing we did on Orkney was walk along the Yesnaby sea cliffs. I think I might have loved it so much because it was one of those "follow your heart" moments where we turned onto a tiny road because our hearts said to! We drove until the end of the road and parked. Then kept walking until BOOM we were met with the ocean crashing against the cliffs. There was something about the texture of the rocks and water that made it feel so intense. Jake and I were so excited it was nonstop "Come here right now you have to see this!!!" and "Wait no come here this is amazing." And we saw puffins and a seal! And now I've set your expectations too high and it will disappoint you if you go. Basically, just follow your heart with zero expectations and those will be the best moments of your trips (and maybe your life as well?).

Next, we headed to the Ring of Brogdar which is an incredibly impressive (and massive) ring of standing stones that is right at the heart of the mainland. You see a quilt of water and rolling green hills all around. Each of the stones is from a different part of the island and we have no idea what the site was used for. I love imagining the uses and significance of places like this that have been lost to ancient history. It's so romantic, isn't it? (can you tell I read too much fantasy??).

Next we trekked out to the Brough of Birsay. You can only access the Brough at low tide because it reveals a causeway that is otherwise covered by the ocean! Here there are more ruins and lighthouses and sea cliffs and gorgeous vibes.

Finally, since we had missed out on tickets to see the Maeshowe chambered cairn, I found a free cairn to see called the Cullween Chambered Cairn (they are truly all over the island, but few have been uncovered and prepared for living visitors). The photo below is of a little Cairn nearby. The Cullween cairn is big enough for you to actually crawl into. It is pitch black in there but bring a torch and you can see that it is perfectly preserved. It made me feel like Indiana Jones exploring ancient ruins.

We ended the day with dinner in Stromness and strolling around the tiny town before boarding the ferry again. We actually stayed the night on the ferry! They offer bed and breakfast tickets and I would highly recommend it. You get back to Scotland at 8 am and get to add a little mini-cruise to your trip. We loved it!

You can book a cabin and breakfast for only £40 a person. It was cheap, comfortable, and fun! I can't recommend it enough. You book directly on the NorthLink Ferry site.

Check out my Instagram for a video summary of this perfect day!

Phoebe Laine

About Phoebe Laine

Always planning the next adventure!

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