National Geographic Traveller (UK)




Start point: Inverness • End point: Inverness

Distance travelled: 374 miles • Average length: 7 days

Orkney is unlike anywhere else in Scotland. That’s partly down to its history: it was under Norwegian and Danish control for hundreds of years until the 15th century, and many Orcadians still claim Scandinavi­an ancestry. It’s also down to its location, across the Pentland Firth from Scotland’s northeast tip, with the largest town, Kirkwall, standing more than 200 miles north of Edinburgh.

Despite feeling far removed, it’s just 90 minutes by ferry from the Scottish mainland. By renting a car and using Inverness as your start and end point, you can easily combine exploring Orkney with a spin around Scotland’s far north, where the Flow Country is a highlight. It’s the world’s most intact and extensive blanket bog system, a peaty, pool-dotted expanse whose colour palette of mossy browns and earthy greens seems to shift like a kaleidosco­pe as clouds scud overhead.

Once you reach Orkney via ferry, the landscape is dominated by the North Sea, glinting on the horizon and pounding the shoreline, never too far from the road. On Mainland, Orkney’s largest island, a straightfo­rward loop takes in the archipelag­o’s best-known sights, many of them historical­ly significan­t, including the ancient village of Skara Brae — part of Orkney’s UNESCO-listed group of Neolithic sites — and Scapa Flow, where you can dive among shipwrecks. On Hoy, to the south of Mainland and accessible via ferry, one of the UK’s tallest sea stacks provides an easy marker for the end of your trip.



Hire a car in Inverness and head north to Scotland’s Flow Country, an expanse of rare blanket bog that’s currently being considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. At its heart is an RSPB reserve where you can walk the mile-long Dubh Lochan boardwalk, spotting lizards, frogs and dragonflie­s at ground level, and hen harriers and golden plovers overhead. A viewing tower affords views across the peatland.


Take the 90-minute car ferry from Scrabster, on the mainland, to Stromness, in Orkney, then find Skara Brae huddled next to a blustery beach. We know Neolithic people had a form of fitted furniture thanks to a storm that hit Orkney’s Mainland in 1850. It uncovered this immaculate­ly preserved 5,000-yearold village, where nine surviving homes are divided into clear rooms and feature stone dressers and box-beds. The visitor centre displays artefacts such as jewellery and tools. historicen­


A 25-minute drive east takes you to Kirkwall, home to Orkney’s main harbour and airport and liveliest pub scene. You’ll also find Britain’s most northerly cathedral, the yellow-and-red sandstone St Magnus, founded in the 12th century. The town is the most bankable spot for a proper Orcadian live music session: pop into Skipper’s, The Bothy Bar or the Auld Motor Hoose to find out what’s on. kirkwallho­ alberthote­


Once a British naval base, Scapa Flow played a key role in both world wars. Today, these sheltered waters just south of Mainland are littered with shipwrecks, from blockships sunk to keep the Germans at bay to the

German High Seas Fleet, deliberate­ly scuttled here in 1919. Take a snorkel safari for a glimpse of these wrecks or get closer to them on a scuba dive with Kraken Diving. krakendivi­


For the last leg of the trip, take the car ferry from Houton, on Mainland, to Lyness, on Hoy, then drive the 25 minutes to Rackwick. From here, hike along the cliffs — spotting fulmars and great skuas as you go — to the Old Man of Hoy, on the island’s west coast. This 450ft-tall red sandstone sea stack is best seen in late afternoon, when the sun brings out its rosy colour. Allow three hours return for the hike. orkneyferr­

HOW TO DO IT: Wilderness Scotland has a sixnight Wilderness Walking Orkney Islands group tour from £2,575 per person, including meals. wilderness­ theflowcou­

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 ?? ?? Skara Brae, a well-preserved Neolithic village on Orkney Left: A boat in Kirkwall, Orkney’s largest town
Skara Brae, a well-preserved Neolithic village on Orkney Left: A boat in Kirkwall, Orkney’s largest town

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