Northern Isles: Orkney

IMG_3172By Mary Jo

After the fun of the RNA conference, it was time for the tourist part of this trip, which meant flying to the far north of the UK: Orkney and even farther north, Shetland. Fellow Wench Pat Rice and I flew to Orkney from Manchester with our husbands The Mayhem Consultant (mine) and The IT Guy (Pat's.)

The islands have been settled for at least 8500 years, first by various Neolithic groups, then by Norsemen in the 9th century CE. The Norwegian king pledged Orkney and Shetland as a temporary dowry for his daughter, Margaret of Denmark, but he never reclaimed it by paying the agreed upon dowry so the Scottish Parliament annexed the islands in 1472 and Scotland .Orkney.Wikicommons.jpgthey've been part of Scotland ever since. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Both island groups differ from the rest of Scotland because their roots are Norse, not Gaelic, and for centuries they spoke the now extinct Norn language. Gaelic became an overlay after the Scottish annexation, and later still, English. But even today, there is a local dialect with roots in Norn. One of the first things our wonderful guide, Lorna Brown, said was that she would speak to us in standard English, which isn't the way she spoke at home.

We spent three days in Orkney with Lorna and had fabulous sunny and mild weather. By the end, I was ready to move there. <G> Though I'm sure I'd feel differently in the very short days and long nights of a far northern winter!

 

IMG_3174I expected Orkney to be rugged, but in fact it's mostly rolling green hills covered with farms. The soil is very fertile and there are lots and lots of cows, both dairy and beef. As a farm girl myself, I mentioned to Lorna that the cows were very sleek and contented. She said that the "coos" weren't just happy but downright smug. <G>

Orkney has masses of history from the Iron Age on. Skara Brae is the most complete Iron Age village in IMG_3260 northern Europe and was discovered when a ferocious storm blew the sand of one of the house on the sea shore property of a Victorian laird.

IMG_3228There are various standing stones–here's a picture of me by one of the Standing Stones of Stenness. Not far away is the Ring of Brodgar, and in between major excavations are taking place at a site called the Ness of Brodgar.  Fascinating, and for ten pounds you can choose a meter square that will be excavated soon, and if anything interesting is found there, they'll email you a picture of it. <G>

In more recent history, the huge natural harbor of Scapa Flow was the site of the infamous sinking of the battleship Royal Oak after an attack by a German submarine on October 14th, 1939. The shock and horror on an attack that took over 800 lives and opened the gates of war was similar to the effect of Pearl Harbor in the United States.

IMG_3195In order to block some of the entrances to Scapa Flow to prevent more submarine attacks, the Churchill Barriers were built. These were four causeways that blocked submarines; now they are roads connecting several of the islands. Italian prisoners of war were brought in to do the work, and they settled in and among other things, used two Quonset huts to create a beautifully decorated Catholic Chapel.  Here's Pat standing in front of the IMG_3199church, and a shot of the interior.

 

Modern Orkney is a treasure trove of artists and craftsfolk. To mention just two: Leila Thomson and her daughter are both artists who work from nature. Leila's tapestries are superb and awe and way out of the range of most people, but she sells prints of her work that are pretty wonderful and much more affordable.

Hoxa

And Leila has a sister, Sheila Fleet, who makes stunning jewelry. She bought an IMG_3182adjacent decommissioned church and turned it into a marvelous shop and gallery, and also a fabulous café. Not to be missed if you visit Orkney!

I could go on and on. I haven't even touched on St. Magnus Cathedral, which was started in the 12th century, has an amazing history, and is owned by the people of Orkney rather than a particular church.

It's time to wrap this up, but I wonder. Have you been to Orkney? Has anything in the blog made you want to visit it? If so, I highly recommend the  IMG_3332!

Mary Jo, born tourist 

 

130 thoughts on “Northern Isles: Orkney”

  1. Your descriptions and photos of Orkney were wonderful. I would love to visit there! I had no idea that the Germans sunk a British battleship which was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is so much history there! Thanks so much Mary Jo for sharing your trip to Orkney.

    Reply
  2. Your descriptions and photos of Orkney were wonderful. I would love to visit there! I had no idea that the Germans sunk a British battleship which was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is so much history there! Thanks so much Mary Jo for sharing your trip to Orkney.

    Reply
  3. Your descriptions and photos of Orkney were wonderful. I would love to visit there! I had no idea that the Germans sunk a British battleship which was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is so much history there! Thanks so much Mary Jo for sharing your trip to Orkney.

    Reply
  4. Your descriptions and photos of Orkney were wonderful. I would love to visit there! I had no idea that the Germans sunk a British battleship which was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is so much history there! Thanks so much Mary Jo for sharing your trip to Orkney.

    Reply
  5. Your descriptions and photos of Orkney were wonderful. I would love to visit there! I had no idea that the Germans sunk a British battleship which was similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is so much history there! Thanks so much Mary Jo for sharing your trip to Orkney.

    Reply
  6. Wonderful post, Mary Jo. Are the standing stones considered part of a henge? The image of the tapestry (or print?) with the flying birds was lovely. I can see why you were captivated. And your description of the jewelry certainly whetted my appetite. I’d love to visit Orkney.

    Reply
  7. Wonderful post, Mary Jo. Are the standing stones considered part of a henge? The image of the tapestry (or print?) with the flying birds was lovely. I can see why you were captivated. And your description of the jewelry certainly whetted my appetite. I’d love to visit Orkney.

    Reply
  8. Wonderful post, Mary Jo. Are the standing stones considered part of a henge? The image of the tapestry (or print?) with the flying birds was lovely. I can see why you were captivated. And your description of the jewelry certainly whetted my appetite. I’d love to visit Orkney.

    Reply
  9. Wonderful post, Mary Jo. Are the standing stones considered part of a henge? The image of the tapestry (or print?) with the flying birds was lovely. I can see why you were captivated. And your description of the jewelry certainly whetted my appetite. I’d love to visit Orkney.

    Reply
  10. Wonderful post, Mary Jo. Are the standing stones considered part of a henge? The image of the tapestry (or print?) with the flying birds was lovely. I can see why you were captivated. And your description of the jewelry certainly whetted my appetite. I’d love to visit Orkney.

    Reply
  11. Thanks for the tour Mary Jo. I knew of Orkney, but didn’t know much about it. Wish I was still able to travel. But since I cannot, I’m so thankful for posts like this one.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for the tour Mary Jo. I knew of Orkney, but didn’t know much about it. Wish I was still able to travel. But since I cannot, I’m so thankful for posts like this one.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for the tour Mary Jo. I knew of Orkney, but didn’t know much about it. Wish I was still able to travel. But since I cannot, I’m so thankful for posts like this one.

    Reply
  14. Thanks for the tour Mary Jo. I knew of Orkney, but didn’t know much about it. Wish I was still able to travel. But since I cannot, I’m so thankful for posts like this one.

    Reply
  15. Thanks for the tour Mary Jo. I knew of Orkney, but didn’t know much about it. Wish I was still able to travel. But since I cannot, I’m so thankful for posts like this one.

    Reply
  16. Scotland is a place dear to my heart. But have not been to Orkney so want to thank you for the wee tour. Lovely tidbits and photos!

    Reply
  17. Scotland is a place dear to my heart. But have not been to Orkney so want to thank you for the wee tour. Lovely tidbits and photos!

    Reply
  18. Scotland is a place dear to my heart. But have not been to Orkney so want to thank you for the wee tour. Lovely tidbits and photos!

    Reply
  19. Scotland is a place dear to my heart. But have not been to Orkney so want to thank you for the wee tour. Lovely tidbits and photos!

    Reply
  20. Scotland is a place dear to my heart. But have not been to Orkney so want to thank you for the wee tour. Lovely tidbits and photos!

    Reply
  21. I add my thanks for this tour of Orkney. I knew it existed, but I had NO idea of it’s history. I seems to be a wonderful place.!

    Reply
  22. I add my thanks for this tour of Orkney. I knew it existed, but I had NO idea of it’s history. I seems to be a wonderful place.!

    Reply
  23. I add my thanks for this tour of Orkney. I knew it existed, but I had NO idea of it’s history. I seems to be a wonderful place.!

    Reply
  24. I add my thanks for this tour of Orkney. I knew it existed, but I had NO idea of it’s history. I seems to be a wonderful place.!

    Reply
  25. I add my thanks for this tour of Orkney. I knew it existed, but I had NO idea of it’s history. I seems to be a wonderful place.!

    Reply
  26. Yes Ma’am, your pictures and descriptions have made me want to go to Orkney or Shetland, or any part of Scotland.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  27. Yes Ma’am, your pictures and descriptions have made me want to go to Orkney or Shetland, or any part of Scotland.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  28. Yes Ma’am, your pictures and descriptions have made me want to go to Orkney or Shetland, or any part of Scotland.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  29. Yes Ma’am, your pictures and descriptions have made me want to go to Orkney or Shetland, or any part of Scotland.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  30. Yes Ma’am, your pictures and descriptions have made me want to go to Orkney or Shetland, or any part of Scotland.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  31. I haven’t been to Orkney, but I would dearly love to go there, as well as to the Shetland Island, since I am a knitter. But I recently read a murder mystery set on Orkney, which describes the church the Italian prisoners built. I would really recommend this book: Shadows of Death (a Dorothy Martin mystery) by Jeanne M. Dams.

    Reply
  32. I haven’t been to Orkney, but I would dearly love to go there, as well as to the Shetland Island, since I am a knitter. But I recently read a murder mystery set on Orkney, which describes the church the Italian prisoners built. I would really recommend this book: Shadows of Death (a Dorothy Martin mystery) by Jeanne M. Dams.

    Reply
  33. I haven’t been to Orkney, but I would dearly love to go there, as well as to the Shetland Island, since I am a knitter. But I recently read a murder mystery set on Orkney, which describes the church the Italian prisoners built. I would really recommend this book: Shadows of Death (a Dorothy Martin mystery) by Jeanne M. Dams.

    Reply
  34. I haven’t been to Orkney, but I would dearly love to go there, as well as to the Shetland Island, since I am a knitter. But I recently read a murder mystery set on Orkney, which describes the church the Italian prisoners built. I would really recommend this book: Shadows of Death (a Dorothy Martin mystery) by Jeanne M. Dams.

    Reply
  35. I haven’t been to Orkney, but I would dearly love to go there, as well as to the Shetland Island, since I am a knitter. But I recently read a murder mystery set on Orkney, which describes the church the Italian prisoners built. I would really recommend this book: Shadows of Death (a Dorothy Martin mystery) by Jeanne M. Dams.

    Reply
  36. Jane, I’m glad someone has used the church in a story! It’s terrific material, though I can’t use it for my historicals, of course.
    Okay, I looked the book up, and I want it! Thank you.

    Reply
  37. Jane, I’m glad someone has used the church in a story! It’s terrific material, though I can’t use it for my historicals, of course.
    Okay, I looked the book up, and I want it! Thank you.

    Reply
  38. Jane, I’m glad someone has used the church in a story! It’s terrific material, though I can’t use it for my historicals, of course.
    Okay, I looked the book up, and I want it! Thank you.

    Reply
  39. Jane, I’m glad someone has used the church in a story! It’s terrific material, though I can’t use it for my historicals, of course.
    Okay, I looked the book up, and I want it! Thank you.

    Reply
  40. Jane, I’m glad someone has used the church in a story! It’s terrific material, though I can’t use it for my historicals, of course.
    Okay, I looked the book up, and I want it! Thank you.

    Reply
  41. I thoroughly enjoyed “going along for the ride” when you and Pat were sharing pictures during your holiday, but it’s better to have it in a coherent narrative! Fascinating place. I’ve heard about them and even watched shows – might have been the same murder mystery come to think of it – but it’s fascinating to realize its strong Norse connection. My Dad’s part of the UK was heavily invaded by Vikings over the centuries and he claims that’s where the shocking blue eyes on his side of the family comes from, but while we like to think of the blonde blue eyes as English and the red hair and blue eyes as Scottish, in reality I think a lot of it’s Viking from all those invaders who made themselves at home all those millennia ago.
    I love the Italian Quonset hut Catholic Church! And the tapestries!!! Something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but probably never will but oh it’s so gorgeous!! Sigh…
    Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip! 😀

    Reply
  42. I thoroughly enjoyed “going along for the ride” when you and Pat were sharing pictures during your holiday, but it’s better to have it in a coherent narrative! Fascinating place. I’ve heard about them and even watched shows – might have been the same murder mystery come to think of it – but it’s fascinating to realize its strong Norse connection. My Dad’s part of the UK was heavily invaded by Vikings over the centuries and he claims that’s where the shocking blue eyes on his side of the family comes from, but while we like to think of the blonde blue eyes as English and the red hair and blue eyes as Scottish, in reality I think a lot of it’s Viking from all those invaders who made themselves at home all those millennia ago.
    I love the Italian Quonset hut Catholic Church! And the tapestries!!! Something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but probably never will but oh it’s so gorgeous!! Sigh…
    Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip! 😀

    Reply
  43. I thoroughly enjoyed “going along for the ride” when you and Pat were sharing pictures during your holiday, but it’s better to have it in a coherent narrative! Fascinating place. I’ve heard about them and even watched shows – might have been the same murder mystery come to think of it – but it’s fascinating to realize its strong Norse connection. My Dad’s part of the UK was heavily invaded by Vikings over the centuries and he claims that’s where the shocking blue eyes on his side of the family comes from, but while we like to think of the blonde blue eyes as English and the red hair and blue eyes as Scottish, in reality I think a lot of it’s Viking from all those invaders who made themselves at home all those millennia ago.
    I love the Italian Quonset hut Catholic Church! And the tapestries!!! Something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but probably never will but oh it’s so gorgeous!! Sigh…
    Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip! 😀

    Reply
  44. I thoroughly enjoyed “going along for the ride” when you and Pat were sharing pictures during your holiday, but it’s better to have it in a coherent narrative! Fascinating place. I’ve heard about them and even watched shows – might have been the same murder mystery come to think of it – but it’s fascinating to realize its strong Norse connection. My Dad’s part of the UK was heavily invaded by Vikings over the centuries and he claims that’s where the shocking blue eyes on his side of the family comes from, but while we like to think of the blonde blue eyes as English and the red hair and blue eyes as Scottish, in reality I think a lot of it’s Viking from all those invaders who made themselves at home all those millennia ago.
    I love the Italian Quonset hut Catholic Church! And the tapestries!!! Something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but probably never will but oh it’s so gorgeous!! Sigh…
    Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip! 😀

    Reply
  45. I thoroughly enjoyed “going along for the ride” when you and Pat were sharing pictures during your holiday, but it’s better to have it in a coherent narrative! Fascinating place. I’ve heard about them and even watched shows – might have been the same murder mystery come to think of it – but it’s fascinating to realize its strong Norse connection. My Dad’s part of the UK was heavily invaded by Vikings over the centuries and he claims that’s where the shocking blue eyes on his side of the family comes from, but while we like to think of the blonde blue eyes as English and the red hair and blue eyes as Scottish, in reality I think a lot of it’s Viking from all those invaders who made themselves at home all those millennia ago.
    I love the Italian Quonset hut Catholic Church! And the tapestries!!! Something I’ve always wanted to learn to do but probably never will but oh it’s so gorgeous!! Sigh…
    Thanks for letting us tag along on your trip! 😀

    Reply
  46. Karen W, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic tribes are related and that gene pool does run to blue eyes, blonds, and redheads. The Celts also have the blue eyes and red hair. but more dark hair as well. I think–I’m no geneticist!

    Reply
  47. Karen W, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic tribes are related and that gene pool does run to blue eyes, blonds, and redheads. The Celts also have the blue eyes and red hair. but more dark hair as well. I think–I’m no geneticist!

    Reply
  48. Karen W, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic tribes are related and that gene pool does run to blue eyes, blonds, and redheads. The Celts also have the blue eyes and red hair. but more dark hair as well. I think–I’m no geneticist!

    Reply
  49. Karen W, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic tribes are related and that gene pool does run to blue eyes, blonds, and redheads. The Celts also have the blue eyes and red hair. but more dark hair as well. I think–I’m no geneticist!

    Reply
  50. Karen W, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Germanic tribes are related and that gene pool does run to blue eyes, blonds, and redheads. The Celts also have the blue eyes and red hair. but more dark hair as well. I think–I’m no geneticist!

    Reply
  51. What a wonderful post!! Everything in it made me want to visit Orkney. I love history and visiting historical locations is my favorite hobby. Thanks for all the information you gave us here.

    Reply
  52. What a wonderful post!! Everything in it made me want to visit Orkney. I love history and visiting historical locations is my favorite hobby. Thanks for all the information you gave us here.

    Reply
  53. What a wonderful post!! Everything in it made me want to visit Orkney. I love history and visiting historical locations is my favorite hobby. Thanks for all the information you gave us here.

    Reply
  54. What a wonderful post!! Everything in it made me want to visit Orkney. I love history and visiting historical locations is my favorite hobby. Thanks for all the information you gave us here.

    Reply
  55. What a wonderful post!! Everything in it made me want to visit Orkney. I love history and visiting historical locations is my favorite hobby. Thanks for all the information you gave us here.

    Reply
  56. Thank you for this– brought back memories of my brief but fun visit to Orkney in 2005. We visited Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. I bought jewelry made by Sheila Fleet. In a vain attempt to see puffins, we drove all the way east, through Kirkwall and out to the coast (“if you hit Norway, you went too far”). While we didn’t see any puffins, we did find that the cliff had eroded in such a way as to form “steps” all the way down to the sea, so of course we climbed down. Really cool place. I would love to someday return and dive the Scapa Flow, where there are a lot of sunken naval vessels.
    -Beth

    Reply
  57. Thank you for this– brought back memories of my brief but fun visit to Orkney in 2005. We visited Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. I bought jewelry made by Sheila Fleet. In a vain attempt to see puffins, we drove all the way east, through Kirkwall and out to the coast (“if you hit Norway, you went too far”). While we didn’t see any puffins, we did find that the cliff had eroded in such a way as to form “steps” all the way down to the sea, so of course we climbed down. Really cool place. I would love to someday return and dive the Scapa Flow, where there are a lot of sunken naval vessels.
    -Beth

    Reply
  58. Thank you for this– brought back memories of my brief but fun visit to Orkney in 2005. We visited Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. I bought jewelry made by Sheila Fleet. In a vain attempt to see puffins, we drove all the way east, through Kirkwall and out to the coast (“if you hit Norway, you went too far”). While we didn’t see any puffins, we did find that the cliff had eroded in such a way as to form “steps” all the way down to the sea, so of course we climbed down. Really cool place. I would love to someday return and dive the Scapa Flow, where there are a lot of sunken naval vessels.
    -Beth

    Reply
  59. Thank you for this– brought back memories of my brief but fun visit to Orkney in 2005. We visited Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. I bought jewelry made by Sheila Fleet. In a vain attempt to see puffins, we drove all the way east, through Kirkwall and out to the coast (“if you hit Norway, you went too far”). While we didn’t see any puffins, we did find that the cliff had eroded in such a way as to form “steps” all the way down to the sea, so of course we climbed down. Really cool place. I would love to someday return and dive the Scapa Flow, where there are a lot of sunken naval vessels.
    -Beth

    Reply
  60. Thank you for this– brought back memories of my brief but fun visit to Orkney in 2005. We visited Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. I bought jewelry made by Sheila Fleet. In a vain attempt to see puffins, we drove all the way east, through Kirkwall and out to the coast (“if you hit Norway, you went too far”). While we didn’t see any puffins, we did find that the cliff had eroded in such a way as to form “steps” all the way down to the sea, so of course we climbed down. Really cool place. I would love to someday return and dive the Scapa Flow, where there are a lot of sunken naval vessels.
    -Beth

    Reply

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