Tales from the Travel Zeitgeist: All the Rest of Orkney

What do Suzie and Heather do when they are scouting? You might think they flit about, soaking up leisurely breakfasts and gazing out over beautiful vistas for hours at a time. Doesn’t that sound nice?

But that’s not really how it goes.

Our aim, when we travel to research and prepare for putting together a tour, is to seek out as many of the people, experiences, sites of artisan craftwork and cultural education as possible. We do this so we can curate (Heather loves to use that word!) the very best of these offerings. By the time we’ve incorporated them into a tour, we’re confident we’ve created a really worthwhile day, every day. But that means seeing and doing a LOT while scouting. We prepare a rough itinerary ahead of time. Inevitably though, our list of things to do lengthens by getting ideas in situ and by talking with people along the way. Oh! You’re doing that? Then you should go talk to…

And so what starts off as a reasonable schedule of visits quickly accelerates into a whirlwind of activity. On one day in Orkney, we left our hotel room at 7:30 am for breakfast and didn’t return until 11 pm! Here’s what we did, if you’re interested. If not, feel free to skip over this part. We visited:

The Brough of Bursay – ruins of a Viking settlement

The Woolshed – tiny wool/yarn/craft shop

The Broch of Burness – a partially excavated neolitic settlement

Skara Brae – the world famous neolithic settlement, excavated and then protected for public access, museum, cafe, etc

Okney Brewing – a craft brewery, for a tasting and tour. Our guide spoke so fast and with such a stong accent that even Heather couldn’t understand him.

Stromness – the town in which you arrive on Orkney if coming over via the Scrabster ferry) where there’s a yarn shop called The Quernstone

We drove by the very famous archaeological sites of Stones of Stennes, Ring of Broadgar, and Maes Howe. No time to stop! We have an appointment!

A visit with Orkney Boreray – the owner, Jane Cooper, keeps a small flock of rare breed Boreray sheep on her lovely, hillside croft.

A drive back to our base town of Kirkwall to find dinner.

Back out to the countryside to attend a storytelling evening. We allowed ourselves time to actually stop at the Ring of Brodgar. And good timing it was. In the morning, when we went by, there were dozens of people there. Now evening, the place was deserted and atmospheric. Stone circles and henges are still not completely understood. We know how they were constructed but not why. Nonetheless, they have a certain ageless presence that makes itself felt- especially if you’re lucky enough to visit with very few humans around.

Oops. This is at the Stones of Stennes. But it’s a good photo for revealing the scale of the stone monuments in the area. At the Ring of Brodgar, they are keeping visitors to the periphery in order to protect the site. Here, we could walk right up to them.

But somewhere in there (between fish & chips , stone circles and listening to sea tales from Orkney) we also found ourselves with an extra half hour. We decided to drive down a little road to something called Yasneby. What is Yasneby? We had no idea. So we went to take a look.

And came right to the edge of our island, looking across to the island of Hoy.

It was a half hour of crazy goodness. Pounding surf, sea birds, a view to the landmark stone called The Old Man of Hoy and petting a few visiting dogs. What could be better?

We then enjoyed a really beautiful storytelling evening full of tales of selkies and farmers and fisherman.

The next morning I was able to visit a place I’ve long wanted to go. St. Magnus Cathedral. It’s perhaps the only stone cathedral built in predominantly red sandstone. I walked in, wandered a bit and then just sat myself down for a good look at how the thing was built, its many intricate carvings and the wonderful, massive central columns. Covid precautions meant no access to the belltower or really any guided tours. So, it was just me and the building, saying hello to each other.

We left the Orkney Islands after that. Onward to the rest of the north coast. More to see, do, scope out. And I’ll share some of that with you soon.

11 comments

  1. Thank you, Susie, for the armchair travel experience! You make me feel as if I am there. The photos are stunning-everyone!

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  2. I’m so enjoying your posts! The photos are beautiful and the travel log makes me yearn to get back to Scotland. Just post when and what you can. It’s all beautiful!

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  3. This latest dispatch reached my inbox at 3:30 this Sunday morning. Waiting for me to enjoy with a cuppa and scone.( new bakery alert in my area!)
    All of the sites are of interest!! I hopped over to the Visit Orkney website to find Yasneby. Noted as a must see for that incredible view, the sea stacks and red sandstone cliffs. A serendipitous find indeed. Those are often the best!
    Next I read Jane’s story about starting her flock on her website Orkney Boreray along with so much great info on the breed, conservation efforts and then went down a rabbit hole on the page where she highlights other maker connections to her and her sheep.
    Heather is spot on using curate to describe RTT scouting – the best kind of hands on research and she does a fab job of it! To curate: bring together, sift through, determine the best of the rest, organize and make the presentation. (I wrote exhibit copy for museum exhibits as a college intern) It’s no wonder I felt like I had found my tribe, my peeps in the merry band of travelers I so related to on my first trip to the UK with RTT. Curating …..to bring together the stories of the place and the people and what inspires them to create – that is what stood out for me when I was looking to travel – specifically fiber travel – and found RTT. The connections between the land, the animals, materials and the makers. Plus finding comfy digs and the best food. I am all in! Oh and don’t forget the book shops…..curate away!!

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  4. All very beautiful and most interesting – but the cathedral…I’d still be there and you’d have to leave me behind. I didn’t study architecture like you did and I was so impressed by its intricacies. All I can say is a trite WOW!!!

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