Orkney Mainland

  • Orkney
  • Monday 27th June 2022

I am loving Orkney already. Field after field after field can be see all around. There is so much farmland with houses dotted here and there. Lots of empty space. Then of course being so close to the sea, its very beautiful. Although one thing is missing for me….trees (and I guess hills)!

Today we were off to see The Ring of Brodgar. This mysterious monument is a remnant of an ancient culture. It may have been a place if ritual, spectacle and community gatherings.

Thought to be between 4,400 and 4,600 years old, this is the third largest henge (circular enclosure) in Britain and may be the oldest henge site in the British Isles.

And when you see it up close its pretty spectacular.

According to folklore, which I love, a band of fearsome giants gathered in a field between the lochs of Stenness and Harray one night and began to dance to the sound of the fiddle. They forgot to watch for the sun rising and as the first rays crept over the horizon they instantly turned to stone. Today they are frozen in place as The Ring Of Brodgar.

The Neolithic landscape around the Ring of Brodgar would have been bustling with activity. Ancient farmers may have lived in stone-built villages like nearby Skara Brae.

From here we went to see some more stones, the Stones of Stenness, raised around 5,000 years ago, but today consist of only four upright stones up to 6m in height in a circle that originally held 12 stones.

Check out the actual size of these stones!

Originally this landscape was thought to have been dedicated to ceremony and ritual until 1984 when archeologists made a surprising discovery relatively close to the Stones of Stenness. Excavations uncovered a cluster of buildings, dating to about 5,000 years ago, including houses similar to Skara Brae – Barnhouse Village. This suggests that the monuments may have been part of daily life here.

From here we drove over the Churchill Barriers to South Ronaldsay as we were heading to Hoxa Head.

Churchill Barriers

Work on these barriers began in May 1940 and was completed four years later. Much of the labour for this massive engineering project was provided by Italian prisoners of war, held in a camp on the island of Lamb Holm.

Churchill Barriers
Churchill Barrier & shipwrecks

They were officially opened in May 1945 and now act as causeways connecting the Orkney mainland with the isles of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Churchill Barriers & wrecks

This is a fascinating road trip, and en-route we could still see the wrecks of blockships previously used to block the channels into Scapa Flow, its pretty unbelievable actually.


Old ships from both World Wars lay in the sea by the side of these causeways; sunk to prevent German U-boats from entering Scapa Flow.


Diving and snorkling around this area is famous as you can only imagine what lies below. And if your not into diving, then you can simply walk and admire the many beautiful beaches.


Before reaching Hoxa Head we stopped off at the Sands of Wright and drove through the small hamlet of St Margaret’s Hope, just a stunning place with beautiful stone houses and amazing views.

Soon we were at Hoxa Head where we took a short coastal walk up to the Battery sites of Hoxa and Balfour. Hoxa Head exhibits some of the finest remaining coastal battery buildings in Orkney. Batteries from both the First and Second World Wars can be seen.

These batteries guarded this most important entrance to the Naval Anchorage of Scapa Flow.

I knew Orkney played a big role in the wars but if i’m being totally honest I didn’t realise how big.

Even on this site alone it gives you an indication of the scale of the military operation just here and there are remains like this all over! These quiet tranquil islands mustn’t have known what had hit them (literally) when the war broke out!

Just another amazing coastline

We then headed into Kirkwall, the largest town and capital of Orkney which is also an ancient Norse town. Its a busy enough town and spotlessly clean. Here’s a few of the things we saw.

Kirkwall Town Centre
Kirkwall Town Centre
Kirkwall Town Centre
The Earl’s Palace built around 1601-06 by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney.
The Earl’s Palace
Staircase inside the Earl’s Palace
The Bishop’s Palace, the grand residence of the medieval Bishops of Orkney. Built in the mid 1100’s around the same time as St Magnus Cathedral. Orkney was under Norwegian control at this time.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall – the most complete medieval cathedral in Scotland.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
The Big Tree – a 200 year old sycamore in Kirkwall. It was planted around 1815 by a landowner who made his fortune during the Napoleonic Wars.
Once a feature of a fine walled garden, the tree now stands in the main shopping street. In poor health due to its location and its hollowed out trunk, supported by a metal rod, the Big Tree is treasured by Orcadians.
The Big Tree

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