Orkney Islands

Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of the island of Great Britain. Orkney is 10 miles north of the coast of Caithness and has about 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, the Mainland, has an area of 202 square miles, making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. Orkney’s largest settlement, and also its administrative centre, is Kirkwall.

The islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years, originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts. Orkney was colonised and later annexed by the Kingdom of Norway in 875 and settled by the Norsemen. In 1472, the Parliament of Scotland absorbed the Earldom of Orkney into the Kingdom of Scotland, following failure to pay a dowry promised to James III of Scotland by the family of his bride, Margaret of Denmark.

In addition to the Mainland, most of the remaining islands are divided into two groups: the North Isles and the South Isles. The local climate is relatively mild and the soils are extremely fertile; most of the land is farmed, and agriculture is the most important sector of the economy. The significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance; the amount of electricity that Orkney generates annually from renewable energy sources exceeds its demand. Daytime temperatures generally range between 5 °F in winter and 61 °F in summer.

The local people are known as Orcadians; they speak a distinctive dialect of the Scots language and have a rich body of folklore. Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe; the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Orkney also has an abundance of marine and avian wildlife.

The mainland is the largest of the Orkney Islands and, Kirkwall is the centre town and main port. It is a Norse Viking town founded in 1035. St. Magnus Cathedral in the centre is a medieval cathedral built by the Norse Earl Rognvald Kolson in 1137. There are other Norse sights to visit on the islands such as Brough of Birsay, the rock stack in Brough of Deerness, Orphir circular church, the Earl’s Palace at Birsay, the Earl’s Palaces in Kirkwall, Skaill House near Skara Brae, the Martello towers on Hoy, and Noltland Castle on Westray.

 

Skara BraeThe prehistoric sights of the Orkney’s are the biggest tourist attractions on the island. Skara Brae is a recreation built near the actual sight of a village from 5000 years ago. It displays certain artifacts in the house such as stone beds, dressers, and other stone furnishing. Preserved under protective glass are the actual ruins left of the village. Near by the village are the standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brogar, said to have been standing since 2500 BC. Sir Walter Scott described the Stones of Stenness as an altar for human sacrifice, but it is still not sure the reason for the circles. It is calculated that the circles would have take about 5000 man-days to erect considering the digging and ploughing also involved. Ring of BrogarMaes Howe is an ancient Neolithic burial tomb that is older than the pyramids in Egypt. It appears on a grassy mound rising from a flat plain, hiding a complex of passageways and chambers, the slabs of stone weigh up to 30 tons and had to have been carried a great distance. In the east mainland is the mound in Tankerness known as Mine Howe, another rock built burial tomb. Other prehistoric sights to visit are the Brochs at Gurness (circular defensive towers made of stone), Burroughston on Shapinsay in the north isles, and Midhowe Broch on Rousay.

 

Scapa Flow BlockshipsThe Scapa Flow on Hoy is an old 20th Century naval complex built by Churchill in World War 2. A terrible disaster happened here in 1939 as a German U-Boat fired a torpedo at the blockships killing 833 members of the HMS Royal Oak’s crew. After this Churchill built barriers and causeways throughout the island, they were completed just as the war ended. Some sunken blockships are still visible. Now there is a Visitors Centre on Scapa Flow with a museum.

 

Off the shores of the mainland there are many ferry services to the northern and southern isles. Each have there own unique characteristics including historical sights, sea wildlife and natural landscapes. Some to note are the Balfour Castle in Shapinsay, Midhowe in Rousay, Ward Hill and the Cuilags in Hoy. The Highland Park Whisky Distillery is located just outside Kirkwall.

Shetland Isles

For the visitor, Shetland offers the opportunity for adventure and a return to nature – with epic coastal hikes, deserted white-sand beaches and a rich array of wildlife, from otters and orcas to Shetland ponies and bustling gannet colonies. You might come for some of the islands’ famous events, from the Up Helly Aa fire festivals to the Shetland Folk Festival and Shetland Wool Week, or to escape to a seafront bothy or a grand Georgian pile. You’ll eat amazing local produce, from Britain’s best mussels to tender lamb from free-roaming sheep. All the while, you’ll experience the famous Shetland welcome and the islands’ unique culture, with clearer Viking and Scandinavian influences than anywhere else in the UK.

But Shetland is much more than just a place to visit. Shetland’s dynamic economy has jobs across multiple sectors, and the islands are set to lead the UK in everything from renewable energy to sending small satellites into space. Whether you’re looking for a new opportunity or the chance to start a business in a beautiful part of the UK, a new career and lifestyle may be waiting for you. You’ll be welcomed into a vibrant society, where community and sustainability are more than buzzwords, with great schools, world-class infrastructure and loads to do, from sports clubs to events and outdoor activities. With low crime, Shetland is a place where children can roam freely, and where many people live with a view of the sea.

Shetland, also called the Shetland Islands, is an archipelago in Scotland lying between Orkney, the Faroe Islands, and Norway. It is the northernmost region of the United Kingdom.

The islands lie about 50 miiles to the northeast of Orkney, 110 milesfrom mainland Scotland and 140 miles west of Norway. They form part of the border between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The islands’ administrative centre, largest settlement and only burgh is Lerwick, which has been the capital of Shetland since 1708, before which time the capital was Scalloway.

The archipelago has an oceanic climate, complex geology, rugged coastline, and many low, rolling hills. The largest island, known as “the Mainland”, is the fifth-largest island in the British Isles. It is one of 16 inhabited islands in Shetland.

Humans have lived in Shetland since the Mesolithic period. Picts are known to have been the original inhabitants of the islands, before the Norse conquest and subsequent colonisation in the Early Middle Ages. During the 10th to 15th centuries, the islands formed part of the Kingdom of Norway until they were annexed into the Kingdom of Scotland due to a royal dispute involving the payment of a dowry. In 1707, when Scotland and England united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, trade between Shetland and continental Northern Europe decreased. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland’s economy, employment and public-sector revenues Fishing has always been an important part of the islands’ economy.

The local way of life reflects the Norse heritage of the isles, including the Up Helly Aa fire festivals and a strong musical tradition, especially the traditional fiddle style. Almost all place names in the islands have Norse origin. The islands have produced a variety of prose writers and poets, who have often written in the distinctive Shetland dialect. Numerous areas on the islands have been set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important seabird nesting sites. The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known Shetland animal breeds. Other animals with local breeds include the Shetland sheep, cow, goose, and duck. The Shetland pig, or grice, has been extinct since about 1930.

The islands’ motto, which appears on the Council’s coat of arms, is “By law shall the land be built”. The phrase is of Old Norse origin, is mentioned in Njáls saga, and was likely borrowed from provincial Norwegian laws such as the Frostathing Law.

Western Isles

The isles of Barra, North & South Uists, Benbecula, Harris and Lewis make up the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles, as they are alternatively known.  Situated on the extreme North West of Scotland, the Hebrides are known as the “Long Island” as they stretch for over 100 miles. The islands are steeped in history and culture, ranging back thousands of years.

The Isle of Lewis is the most northern of the Western Isles. and Stornoway is the main town on the Isle of Lewis and is also the home of the Western Isles Council. Just over 6,000 people live in the town, which represents about a third of the total population of the island.  Barra and Vatersay are the most southerly islands.  Two ferries and numerous causeways join the islands together, giving a stepping stones feel to the islands.

They form part of the archipelago of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the Little Minch, and the Sea of the Hebrides.

The Highland Clearances of the 19th century had a devastating effect on many communities, and it is only in recent years that population levels have ceased to decline. Much of the land is now under local control, and commercial activity is based on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving.

Sea transport is crucial, and a variety of ferry services operate between the islands and to mainland Scotland. Modern navigation systems now minimise the dangers, but in the past the stormy seas have claimed many ships. Religion, music and sport are important aspects of local culture, and there are numerous designated conservation areas to protect the natural environment.

Highlands

The Highlands is a historical region of Scotland. Culturally, the Highlands and the Lowlands diverged from the Late Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots language replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands. The term is also used for the area north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Scottish Gaelic name of A’ Ghàidhealtachd literally means “the place of the Gaels” and traditionally, from a Gaelic-speaking point of view, includes both the Western Isles and the Highlands.

The area is very sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges dominating the region, and includes the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis. It is renowned for it’s natural beauty and is a popular subject in art.

The Highland Council is the administrative body for much of the Highlands, with its administrative centre at Inverness. However, the Highlands also includes parts of the council areas of Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Moray, North Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire. It is the only area in the British Isles to have the taiga biome as it features concentrated populations of Scots pine forest and is the most mountainous part of the United Kingdom.