a trip to the Orkneys
February 23, 2006 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Please help me plan a week in mid-April at the Orkney Islands.

I am currently planning a week-long trip at Eastertime to Scotland's Orkney islands. I will be going alone, and mainly just want to hike around soaking in the barren scenery, checking out some standing stones, and getting some writing done.

I'm based in Edinburgh but will not be taking a car. Getting there is straightforward (coach/train + ferry), but I've heard that the public transit on the islands is extremely hit and miss (or non-existent, depending on the island). The two getting-around possibilities seem to be:
  1. choose a very good base and then only do (walking and rare bus) trips from there;
  2. rent a bike.
In terms of #1, I'd love suggestions of where that base would be, and in terms of #2, I'm a poor cyclist and I know Orkney's terrain can be kooky, so I'm wondering how feasible it is.

Beyond those basic transit questions, I'm looking in particular for recommendations of where to stay. Budget places are in order, but since I'm staying for a whole week I do wonder if there's an alternative to buy-the-night hostelling. I'd like somewhere nice, clean, quiet, and most importantly, in a good location.

Finally, any must-see vistas, sites or smaller islands? Any to-die-for eating experiences that I can repeat? Any suggestions in general?

I'm looking for just a modest, peaceful trip - lots of walking, lots of looking, lots of reading and writing and good eating. I'm not really interested in doing the whole tourist gamut of archaeological sites and museums and so on.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read and answer.
posted by Marquis to Travel & Transportation around Scotland, AL (2 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest taking a walk along the Churchhill Barriers, that block the entrances to Scapa Flow - massive concrete blocks piled up to block the channels, giving great views of the derelict blockships that were sunk into the channels in World War 1 for the same purpose. Due to silting, you can walk out to some of the blockships, they're very cool.

Also, definitely go to Hoy, it's the only one of the islands with anything that isn't relatively flat terrain.

I'd suggest you get a bike, I reckon Orkney is pretty easily navigable this way (simple road system, flat).

The beaches are just awesome too, very quiet and good for relaxing.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:07 AM on February 23, 2006

Orkney is great place. Kirkwall or Sromness are both good, interesting towns to stay - the latter is prettier and the former has a little more going on. When we went to stay for a week we rented a flat in Kirkwall - very near the cathedral. I'm not sure of this would end up particularly cheaper than hostelling but it might be worth trying.

The whole of the mainland is relatively flat so cycling would be fine. Of course it can be very wet and windy so you might need to choose your direction with care. Try some of the routes suggested here.

Try to go and see Yesnaby stacks is there is stormy weather - huge Atlantic waves and very atmospheric. Skara Brae, the ring of Brodgar and the Knapp of Howar are all outstanding historic sites - all the more so because you can usually see them without their being engulfed by crowds of other tourists. You might want to stop in and take the tour of the Highland Park distillery just outside Kirkwall. St Magnus cathedral is pretty interesting.

A lot of the fun comes from talking to the locals - unlike many places they still have time to chat with tourists here - see what they recommend for you.
posted by rongorongo at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2006

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