Arrived in Orkney Island at the port of Kirkwall early on a foggy/misty rainy day in Scotland. It was a brief tender from ship to shore arriving in the heart of Kirkwall a quaint city that is the parliamentary seat of the Orkney Islands and the largest town of the Orkney Islands. Its a ancient Norse town and architecture conveys a welcoming vibe.
It was a quick overnight cruise from Shetland, and we signed up for the included 3 hour bus excursion that included some of the local sites, a stop at the Ring of Brodgar and the port village of Stromness.
Traveling out of the main part of town, you first notice the rolling terrain with sparse landscape but beautifully blanketed in green grassed fields. You pass through small villages of stone homes, stones walls and industries that support the local residents.
You try to imagine what life is like here when there is only 4 hours of sunshine in the winter months. Life is simple, and the economy is certainly tourism (especially from cruise ships) showcasing the history of the area and marinas for the numerous fishing and diving vessels.
We drove by large neolithic chambered tomb in the field (a big earth mound) which probably built for a king or nobleman, a single standing stone which may had some importance for the solar calendar.
A turn onto a small road, we traveled to the Ring of Brodgar. After a 1/4 mile walk up the pathway to a site that can be described similar to Stonehenge where a field of standing stones erected near 2500 BC are in a circle (340′ diameter).
Even today, there is no real understanding what the purpose of these stones was for. What was believed to be a monument of 60 original stones, standing today is only 27. Experts feel it was a religious’ place for rituals and possible a sacrifice alter. The 10′ deep, 30′ wide ditch surrounds the ring of stones preventing direct access to the stones. The ditch may have served as the earth for the mounding the stones stand. The view of the nearby water bodies of both the Lochs of Stenness and Loch of Harray, it is easy to see the site was most desirable for its water access and beautiful vistas.
Historically speaking, the area is amazing – just within 2 miles, there are much more archaeological sites that are the standing stones of Stenness and Ring of Bookan (both similar to the Ring of Brodgar but Bookan lacks any remaining stones).
There is excavation of an ancient homestead complex down the street from the Ness of Brodgar site. This site has been under excavation since 2004, revealing a massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings dating from the centuries around 3000BC. Unfortunately the site was closed to tourists but the elevated seats on the bus offers a good view from the road. But departing, you have to wonder, why so many different groups of standing stones in different places within a general area? Its a mystery.
The bus tour continued to Stromness a port town on the western shoreline of Orkney which offers a quaint shopping village and near the shortest and quickest ferry routes to Scotland mainland.
After a quick walk around the historic streets, we had the most delicious ice cream made from the milk of local Stromness dairy cows and back on the bus for the return to Kirkwall.
The return trip took a slightly different route back passing by Scapa Flow. Scapa Flow is a strategic and protected water bay that Vikings would anchor their longships more than a thousand years ago. Then in recent times, it served as United Kingdom’s chief naval base during the First and Second World wars. Captured German ships were anchored in the bay of Scapa Flow and while post world war II treaties were being made, the Germans strategically scuttle the ships rather than allowing parts be salvaged by the British navy. The sunk and overturned ships can be seen throughout the bay as remnants of the last casualties of the war and offer diving sites for those interested. Due to the weather, the bus distance from the bay and movement it was impossible to get any great photos of the overturned ships in the bay.
We arrived back in Kirkwall and we considered a quick walk around the small town but the weather, and the onset of what eventually became a sinus infection (the risk of cruising with people in close proximity) made us think we could use the rest back on the ship saving our energy for Edinburgh which is the next day’s stop. Regret not strolling longer around Kirkwall itself, but it appeared to be a fine place for souvenir shopping and a beer. Fortunately, medicine did kick in just for an afternoon nap.