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Our Orcadian adventure now captured, partially at least, in a travel video. Just a bit of fun using a mixture of a Canon 200D and our very basic Go Pro. It’s a long way from the (Nottingham) shire to the edge of Scotland and then on to the Orkney Islands but don’t worry, its not just 12 hours of us driving each other mad.

I actually quite like this video though, a lot more fun editing this one together. I didn’t quite do the whole storyboard thing I said i was going to do last time although some of the planned shots didn’t quite work but some really did well, especially the car going over the camera and then away from the camera.  In fact I might just do more of these, blogs are dying, kids these days can’t be bothered to read  more than a few words so video looks to be the way forward.

I’m not expecting to fly up the ranks of YouTube just yet but with a whole 5 subscribers… I should start monetising, reaching out to brands, directing Bond movies, show my bum in a bikini as a preview thumbnail….

Enjoy The Road to Orkney travel video. You can see the other posts on Orkney below:

Adventures in Orkney – What you need to know

Adventures in Orkney – Top Sites to See in Orkney

Following on from the earlier post of our Adventures in Orkney- What You Need To Know and for those who are absolute suckers of big erect stones (schoolboy giggle), then you might like the below of our top sites to see in Orkney. Orkney has it all, a collection of fine features that we saw on our adventures in Orkney. Not a comprehensive list, but I’ll add to it later when I finish the video.

The Ring of Brodgar

Moody, atmospheric, yes, they both describe me and this place. The Ring of Brodgar is one of the largest neolithic henges in Britain and an iconic site in the ancient history of Orkeny. Set against a dramatic sky and the moody waters of the Harray and Stenness lochs, gives this near perfect stone circle of 104 metres across a very atmospheric place for prominent community ceremonies. Erected 4500 years ago, these stones are much smaller than those of Stenness with 27 of the original 60 stones still stand and watch as visitors pass.

The Broch of Gurness

Heading north on Mainland to The Broch of Gurness, we find a wallet full of cash. Not quite Viking or Iron Age treasure, especially as we handed it in (yes all of it, every penny). Located on a windy shore overlooking the nearby island of Rousay,  at first glance, the place looks inhospitable, the water of Eynhallow Sound looks deadly choppy with a constant battering from the wind.

The Broch of Gurness

But back 2000 years ago, the climate a a couple of degrees warmer and this was one of the most important settlements in Orkney with up to 14 houses around the broch. The broch itself, a fortified tower, would have been imposing, up to 10 metres tall. I can’t build a greenhouse base 2 bricks high never mind a lichen spotted drystone wall that high. Less busy than Maeshowe but no less important, its worth a trip.

 

Cuween Hill Cairn

First off on our visit is the neolithic chambered cairn of Cuween Hill. Constructed over 4500 years ago, this stands over 2 metres tall inside. Historic Scotland has thoughtfully provided a torch for you to grab before you enter the gated narrow passageway but the batteries were as long dead as the 8 human remains that were found inside. Also inside, the skulls of 24 small dogs. We didn’t have the heart to tell Lord Nelson, he was already traumatised by the ferry trip and now he’s inside a tomb wondering why the smell of ancient dogs is hanging around.

 

The Standing Stones of Stenness

Magnificently tall. You see these stones long before anything else around the Brodgar area. Raised 5000 years ago, these four remaining stones are up to six metres eight. As if neolithic man didn’t have enough to do, slogging these stones from different parts of Orkney would have been a mammoth undertaking. Estimates suggest 50,000 hours to build the circle and henge. That’s nearly as much time as we spent planning our Orkney trip. I’m just glad Nelson didn’t wee on them.

 

Unstan Cairn

A well preserved and a free to visit tomb. Even better that there’s no hoards of people. This cairn located on the scenic shore Loch of Stenness looks like a smaller version of Maeshowe but built differently inside with stalled burial compartments. Unstan is notable for the pottery that was found inside and gave rise to Unstan Ware that was found around afterwards and thought to date back to 3000BC. An undignified shuffle will get you through the narrow passageway.

The Churchill Barriers

The sea is everywhere in Orkney. Wherever we drove, you were always reminded that you were on an island as the fantastically blue sea was always in view. Some of the islands are connected by the Churchill Barriers, constructed after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak and the loss of 834 lives in 1939 by a German U Boat that had penetrated the previous blockship defences of the scuttled German fleet in WW1. Some of those scuttled boats still jut out of the water at Scapa Flow and reminds me of the boats in the harbour at Stanley in the Falklands. The barriers were constructed with the help of Italian prisoners who also manged to build themselves a little Italian Chapel.

Tomb of the Eagles – Isbister Chambered Cairn

Another tomb but one with a more personalised experience. This tomb was discovered by a local farmer back in the 50’s when he was looking for some stone for his farm. Digging by a wall he found some axe heads a a few other items, kept on digging and uncovered a stone chamber with human skulls and eagle bones inside. Recognising that he was coming across something quite significant, he contacted the archaeology department who took 18 years to come out. So he opted to continue on his own and the Tomb of the Eagles is still run by the family now.

It’s a more personalised experience with hands on artefacts, talks on the discovery of the 5000 year old neolithic tomb and how the bodies were excarnated before being placed inside. In the end, 16,000 human bones were found. Its a mile walk to the tomb, located, and I would suggest deliberately placed overlooking a stunning rocky outcrop. To get in to the tomb’s low entrance, you pull yourself along a trolley with an overhead rope. It’s a superb location and on the way back took a walk around the coastal route spotting a group of 5 seals in the water.

 

We were in Orkney for 3 days. There are loads to see, loads to do and in all honesty we should have stopped longer. We should have visited more islands, especially Hoy which looks stunningly moody and impressive as you drive to Stromness. Don’t let the long drive put you off, you wont regret it.

The road to Orkney is a long one. It doesn’t look far on a map but it’s a 12 hour drive and far more than the 500 miles that The Proclaimers would walk. There is also a pretty hefty swim involved if you don’t get the ferry across to the Orkney Islands as well. That’s just one way for our 3 night stay on our adventures in Orkney.Sunset at the Ring of Brodgar

We’ve decided to go somewhere a little bit off the beaten path, somewhere a bit more remote to get away from it all and get away from people. So, a bit like Brexit, we decided to drive off the edge of a cliff and then just keep going regardless eventually hoping to hit something. We said that last time we visited Scotland that we’d be back and do an extreme Scottish road trip, driving to Orkney is defiantly that.

Orkney is not one island but a collection of seventy low-lying islands populated by Orcadians, more Scandinavian than Scottish. Orkney has its fair share of sites to see from the neolithic, norse, nature, wildlife and weather. Now they’re all on our doorstep for us to discover and explore with our adventures in Orkney. Considering the amount of questions we’ve had, I’ve decided to list these in the style of a Q and A session on Orkney – what you need to know.

Orkney, it’s a bit remote isn’t it?

Yes, that’s the idea. Don’t worry though, it’s got Tesco. You don’t have to drive far to get away from anybody and it’s also close enough for civilisation. Mainland Orkney is not massive and you can drive round in a day if you wanted but you’d be cheating yourself. Yes, there’s WiFi. Yes there’s accommodation, yes there’s Airbnb. And yes, Italian prisoners of war were held here during WWII although not in Airbnb and they didn’t have WiFi. They were put to good use though constructing causeways to get between some of the islands.

Block ships at Scapa Flow
Block ships at Scapa Flow

But it’s miles away isn’t it?

Yeah…. not wanting to drive 12 hours in one go from Nottinghamshire, never mind the 30 wee stops for the dog, we’ve split our trip up with an overnight stop on the way up at Blair Atholl. We did consider camping but our tent was so mouldy that even after disinfecting it, it was still creating new cultures of unbelievable toxicity that it could spawn a chemical catastrophe that a third world dictator would die for and give us some awful lung condition in the next few years. So we opted for a cheap Airbnb caravan instead.

John o' Groats Orkney sign

The Proclaimers would walk 500 miles but we drove nearly 600 miles, and considering diesel prices for a guzzly 4×4….. Driving north on the eastern part of the North Coast 500, we drive just past John o’ Groats to catch the ferry from Gills Bay for the one hour trip to the Orkney Islands. No you don’t have to book the ferry but you might be taking a chance. Yes, it’s not cheap (£140 return).

Surely there’s nothing to see?

Are you kidding? Considering that neolithic Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the sheer amount of neolithic stones and tombs, some older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge, give the long-suffering Mrs Cook déjà vu of our megalithic monument tour from a few years back. I’m a sucker for big erect stones, I wish Mrs Cook was as well.  People have been here for 10,000 years, they’ve left a few bits behind. Have you not heard about Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae? There’s even a current archaeological excavation going off at the Ness of Brodgar.Broch of Gurness towards Rousay

Did we tell you about the wildlife? Plenty. We see seals swimming in the sea and swear they waved at us. Sea stacks at Yesnaby and stunning coastal scenery, clear blue waters and lovely sandy shores at Skail Beach at Skara Brae. Drive right through the quaint fishing village of Stromness or explore the many cairns. You don’t have to pay to go into most cairns, there’s an element of trust that the people who visit Orkney are not complete scumbags who will come in to a tomb and daub graffiti of sexual innuendo or steal the torch that’s provided. Unless you are a viking boasting about a sexual conquest at Maeshowe. We spent 3 nights in Orkney and still had so much more to see.

What about the weather?

Yeah, it’s wild and its windy, well it was for us. The weather is mix of sunshine and soaking showers with wild wind. The ability to look like a man who’s left his waterproof coat in the car and get completely drenched in 30 seconds from one moment of having glorious sunshine to stinging rain whipped up by the winds caught us out a few times. A walk on the Brough of Birsay or the coastal area of Mull Head past the collapsed sea cave called The Gloup and up to the Brough of Deerness made sure we regretted our clothing choices.

Should I visit the Orkney Islands?

Yes. It’s good enough for Vikings s it should be good enough for you. See the next post, Top Sites to See in Orkney. We loved it. Video coming soon.

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