In case you weren’t aware, the Orkney’s are an archipelago comprised of approximately 70 islands, situated off the north coast of Scotland. The closest major Orkney Island (South Ronaldsay) is a mere 16 kilometres off the coast of Caithness. My colleague (and best friend) Scott and I both work in the Oil industry, predominantly in the North Sea, so we're often passing through the Shetland Island, via Aberdeen to go offshore. However, we hadn’t had the chance to visit the Orkney Islands up until this point. A rare opportunity presented itself where we were both off work at the same time, so we decided to take a trip…
There are several ways you can reach Orkney; flights are available from Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness and are operated by Flybe; this option provides you with the added bonus of a birdseye view of the island group. You can also travel by train (or bus) to Wick or Thurso which are the closest towns to the Orkneys where you’ll have to continue on by ferry. A good option for the intrepid traveller is to take the direct ferry from Aberdeen to Kirkwell, the Orkney capital. At the time of writing Northlink Ferries provides at least 3 sailings a week.
If you intend to visit the Orkneys as part of a larger tour of Scotland, and you have your own car, then you have two options to cross the Pentland Firth to South Ronaldsay. First there is the Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope route with Pentland Ferries, or as we did, make your way to the John O’ Groats Ferry terminal and cross on the passenger only ferry service that John O’ Groats Ferries offers which takes only 40 minutes and arrives at Burwick. For us, the advantage of going to the famous John ‘O Groats was that we could maximize our time on the Orkney Island (we only had a day) by leaving our car in the carpark and joining the Maxi Day Tour Of Orkney. The tour, which cost approximately £60/pp, was convenient as it included the return ferry ride to Burwick, a coach that met us on the other side and, a driver come tour guide who would drive us to the various points of interest around the Orkneys and entertain us with facts and anecdotes during the day.
A selection of the highlights you’ll visit if you join the Maxi Day Tour are as follows;
- The Churchill Barriers
- Scapa Flow
- The settlements of Stromness and Kirkwall and its attractions
- The Neolithic village, and UNESCO World Heritage Site, of Skara Brae
- The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar
- The mystical Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
- The Italian Chapel built by WWII POWs
Both Scott and I thought the Maxi Day Tour of Orkney was a great way to gain an overall impression of Orkney in one day. The ferry at the beginning of the tour departed on time and we found the tour to be very well organised with plenty of time allowed at the various stops including Kirkwall, Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Italian Chapel. Our driver/guide was entertaining and informative with humorous commentary on both the history and social culture of Orkney. So, if you are looking to visit Orkney and don’t have a lot of time to spare then you can’t beat the Maxi Tour for value for money.