The Northern Isle of Orkney boasts ten millennia of history — and that’s just the bit we know about. Ancient brochs, remarkably intact, are lapped by crystalline seas in a startling contrast; Neolithic chambered graves are dug into lush ground; ruined Medieval castles are an almost ghostly presence on the landscape, and monumental henges preside over sparkling lochs.
As for more recent happenings, there’s the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow, commemorated at the solemn Lyness Naval Base, and the squat stone Martello tower at Hackness.
But for all the history that has been packed into this archipelago, there is just as much excitement to be gained from Orkney’s more recent endeavours. We head to Highland Park Distillery for a sneak peek at the production of one of Scotland’s most beloved exports. The perfect opportunity, we think, to see if you agree with their beautifully honeyed Single Malt being christened three-times ‘Best Spirit in the World’.
From the moment we set foot on Orkney, its plentiful charms are apparent — but look a little closer, and you never know what you might find...
- Spectacular sea cliffs of Noup Head, Westray
- Views of the Old Man of Hoy as we sail to Scrabster
- Orkney’s Naval history in Scapa Flow and the Lyness Naval Base
- The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Maeshowe, Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae
- A dram of the finest whisky at Highland Park Distillery
Ten thousand years of human history, set in unfathomably ancient landscapes, and wild expanses populated just as much by wonderful wildlife as by people — welcome to Undiscovered Orkney.
Saturday 29 July 2017
We depart by coach from our local departure points and travel north, stopping en route for refreshments. We will continue to Scrabster in time to catch the evening Serco Northlink ferry to Stromness where dinner will be served in the restaurant on board the ‘Hamnavoe’. On arrival in Orkney we will transfer the short distance to Kirkwall where accommodation has been arranged at the comfortable Kirkwall Hotel, overlooking the harbour.
Sunday 30 July 2017
Following breakfast this morning we depart for the island of Westray, the ‘Queen of the Orkney Isles’, which is reached by ferry from the pier directly opposite the hotel, sailing along the old Viking sea route to the north, past the islands of Egilsay and Eday.
On Westray, we firstly visit The Scaun Natural Arch at Westray’s northmost point, where we should see sea birds such as the Shag, Black Guillemot and Fulmar. After a visit to the unique Quoygrew 10th century Norse site, we will visit the Kirk of St Mary in Pierowall Village. After lunch in the Pierowall Hotel (not included), we visit Noup Head RSPB Reserve (where there are puffins too) and the site of the Stevenson lighthouse.
Finally we visit the Westray Heritage Centre, and Noltland Castle, one of the most unusual castles in Scotland and testament to a troubled period of Scottish history. It was built in the 1560s by Gilbert Balfour from Fife, who was up to his neck in the political intrigues common during the time of his sister-in-law, Mary Queen of Scots, and as a result had made some powerful enemies. Using local grey sandstone, the castle follows a typical "Z" plan layout, and with 7 ft thick walls, Balfour's castle was a stronghold in every sense of the word. The lower floors have no accessible windows that could be exploited in an assault and are peppered with gunloops - 71 in total. The main block was designed to have three storeys but was never completed.
In the late afternoon we return by ferry to Kirkwall where dinner will be served back at the hotel in the evening.
Monday 31 July 2017
Following breakfast this morning we depart for the island of Hoy, the second largest island in Orkney, which is mountainous in the north and flatter and more fertile in the south. After a 45-minute ferry trip across Scapa Flow to the port at Lyness, we will travel first to the north of the island for a look at the Dwarfie Stone. This isolated block of red sandstone, some 8.5 metres long, is the only prehistoric rock-cut chambered tomb in Britain and dates from around 3000 BC. The location is stunning and, provided everyone keeps quiet for a moment, the silence is deafening! A few miles further on we reach Rackwick Bay, a fine beach of large round boulders with high cliffs at either side of the bay and a constantly changing seascape. The composer Peter Maxwell-Davies lived here for a while and it would be hard not to find inspiration in this idyllic spot.
Travelling back to the southern end of the island we will learn about the more recent past with a visit to the Lyness Naval Base and Interpretation Centre, which houses an important record of the role the Royal Navy played in Orkney during both World Wars. The former pump house has been converted to provide a comprehensive series of interpretative displays, as well as being home to a fascinating outside collection of military equipment such as vehicles and guns. World War I displays include a propeller and other artefacts from HMS Hampshire, mined off Orkney in 1916 with the loss of Lord Kitchener. Guns salvaged from the German High Seas Fleet which was scuttled in Scapa Flow in 1919 form part of the display along with railway engines on tracks. There is a large photographic collection as well as objects on display inside, where you can see one of the pumps in action. A short film presentation is shown in a unique setting – inside a huge disused fuel tank. Lunch is available here (not included).
In the afternoon we will have a visit to the stone-built Martello Tower at Hackness. These two towers, constructed between 1813 and 1815, were built as protection for the Baltic convoys and were also used during WW1. We will also pay a brief visit to the Naval Cemetery, a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made in this important theatre of two world wars.
Later we return by ferry to Houton and drive back to Kirkwall where dinner will be served in the evening.
Tuesday 1 August 2017
Enjoy your full Scottish breakfast. Today we have an all day excursion of mainland Orkney visiting the many archaeological sites including Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2700 B.C. Maeshowe was raided by Vikings in the 12th Century. It houses the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world; Skara Brae, with its new visitor centre depicting the history of this world famous monument; and the Standing Stones of Stenness, lying to the north side of the Orphir Hills.
Lunch will be available in Stromness, where there will also be an opportunity to visit the local Museum and the Pier Arts Centre. Stromness has a very long waterfront and was a supply base for the Hudson Bay Company, and the whaling fleet, whose ships filled up with fresh water from Login’s Well. More recently, Stromness is famous for being the home of George Mackay Brown, one of the great Scottish poets of the 20th century. Also, the 2004 European Marine Energy Centre (read ‘wave/tidal power’) is based in Stromness.
Later we will enjoy a taste of one of the finest whiskies in the world, at the Highland Park Distillery, which uses the same traditional methods of production as it did 200 years ago.
Dinner will be served at the hotel in the evening.
Wednesday 2 August 2017
After breakfast we will check out of our hotel and transfer to Stromness to catch the morning ferry to Scrabster. On arrival in Scrabster we will return to your original pick up point.
- Four nights’ bed and breakfast at the Kirkwall Hotel, Orkney. All rooms have private facilities
- Three dinners in the hotel and one on board the Serco Northlink ferry
- Comfortable coaching
- Return ferry crossings from Scrabster to Stromness, Houton to Lyness and Kirkwall to Westray
- Visits to Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Highland Park distillery, Radwick Bay, Lyness Naval Base, Martello Tower, The Scaun Natural Arch, Quoygrew, the Kirk of St Mary, the Noup Head RSPB Reserve, the Westray Heritage Centre and Noltland Castle
- Services of a Brightwater Holidays guide
- Single supplement £140.00
- Insurance £21.00 (under 65); £42.00 (65-74); £63.00 (75-90)
Glasgow 0715 2045
Edinburgh 0830 1930
Dunfermline 0900 1900
Kinross 0915 1845
Perth 0930 1830
Inverness 1430 1530
Subject to minimum numbers, the following pick-up will be served by feeder coach or taxi to/from Perth:
Dundee 0845 1915
Subject to minimum numbers, the following pick-up will be served by feeder coach or taxi to/from Inverness:
Aberdeen 1130 1830
Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.