The Orkney Islands
A relaxed holiday looking at Orkney's natural and historic heritage
It's quite extraordinary that a group of islands so close to the Scottish mainland could be so totally different in character and atmosphere, not only to Scotland itself but to the west coast islands and its northerly neighbour, Shetland.
Orkney is unquestionably unique and it has something for everyone. Our holiday takes in all aspects of the islands and includes visits to several of the remarkable archaeological sites including Skara Brae which dates back to 3200 BC and was not rediscovered until a storm uncovered it in 1850. The islands not only have a rich cultural heritage but are also home to a wealth of birds with spectacular seabird colonies and several species not found further south. And, if we're lucky, we'll be able to see the diminutive Scottish Primrose – primula scotica – which is found only in Orkney and a few sites in Caithness on the Scottish mainland.
Our two-centre holiday is based at Sands Hotel on Burray for the first four nights, moving to Lynnfield Hotel in Kirkwall for the remainder of your stay. Travel to the islands is on the Orkney Bus from Inverness with a scenic drive up the east coast of Scotland to John O'Groats. Here we take the small ferry across to South Ronaldsay on Orkney where Andy Mitchell, our tour leader, will be waiting to meet us and take us to the hotel where we arrive in time for dinner.
Our tour leader, Andy Mitchell, is well-known to Island Holidays regulars and on this occasion he'll be showing you around his home islands where he has lived for 15 years, at first working for the RSPB and then setting up his own environmental consultancy.
- The Orkney Islands: Wildlife, History, Archaeology and Island Exploration
- Fully guided group tour
- Departure: 05 June 2020
- Nights: 7
- Fully inclusive cost: £1,685 based on sharing a twin or double room.
- Single room supplement: £490
- Deposit: £400 pp.
- Meal Basis: Full Board
- Activity level: Easy
- Tour leader: Andy Mitchell
- Maximum Group Size: 8
- Travel: The Orkney Bus
- Departs: Inverness
- Included in cost: Transport from Inverness, inter-island ferries, full board accommodation, transport, entrances, Island Holidays local guide.
- Not included in cost: Travel insurance, tips, drinks and items of a personal nature.
- Orkney 2020 detailed itinerary
Your tour leader
For 16 years Andy Mitchell was a career civil servant in his home town of Derby and then Leeds before realising that the outdoor life was calling him. He moved from Leeds to North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory in Orkney for a year's training and ended up staying for nearly five years, as well as falling in love with Orkney. A spell of various expeditions abroad and jobs in conservation followed which gave him a breadth of knowledge and experience. He then joined the RSPB working on research into Song Thrush declines before moving back to Orkney to manage the reserves on Egilsay and Rousay. After ten years with RSPB he left to set up his own business advising on wildlife tourism and doing environmental assessment work based at his home on South Ronaldsay. Birds are his main passion – not in the sense of having to see every species but as conservation indicators. His other interests are all things Cuban, beekeeping, music (he's learning to play the fiddle) and seeing the delight on people's faces when they see those special wildlife moments.
We meet at Inverness Bus Station to join the Orkney Bus which leaves at 1420 hours. The route takes us across the Moray Firth and on to the Black Isle. Never far from the coast and often right beside it, our destination is the most northerly village in the United Kingdom, John O'Groats. Don't get too excited – it's not the most thrilling of places but we don't stay long. The passenger ferry takes us the 40 minute crossing to South Ronaldsay on Orkney where our tour leader, Andy Mitchell, will be waiting to whisk us to the Sands Hotel – about a 10 minutes' drive from the ferry – which will be our base for the next four nights.
After quite a long journey yesterday, we won't be going too far today. We'll have a leisurely start before setting out to visit the Tomb of the Eagles where we'll see the site itself and also enjoy the interpretative centre where family members tell us about the discovery and the finds. We'll take a stroll along the cliff-top at Burwick with views across the Pentland Firth, the entrance to Scapa Flow with the islands (Stroma, Swona and Pentland Skerries) and John O'Groats in the distance. After lunch at the Skerries Bistro we'll take a boat trip (weather permitting)) in Scapa Flow where we�ll learn about both its 2nd World War and its natural history. We return to Sands Hotel for dinner and overnight.
We remain in the south of the islands with a visit to the East Mainland. We'll visit Mull Head Nature Reserve at the tip of Deerness with its superb scenery and geology and lots of seabirds and bonxies and an excellent interpretative centre. After lunch at the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre on Burray we'll visit the centre itself before heading out for a cliff-top walk on South Ronaldsay, the exact location depending on the weather. We return to Sands Hotel for our last night before moving on to Kirkwall.
After a leisurely breakfast we'll check out from Sands Hotel to head up to the islands' capital, Kirkwall where the excellent Lynnfield Hotel will be our base for the next four nights. After a guided walk round Kirkwall and a light lunch we'll have a free couple of hours in town to visit the Tankerness Museum, indulge in a little retail therapy or simply explore the nooks and crannies of this fascinating town. We'll then drive the short distance to the Highland Park distillery on the edge of town for a guided tour. Your hotel is just around the corner from here and your luggage will have already been delivered. Dinner will be in the Lynnfield.
Today we leave Mainland to visit another of the Orkney Islands – Rousay. We drive up to the north where we have a quick visit to the Broch of Gurness before catching our ferry for the half hour crossing to Rousay where we'll visit various archaeological sites including the famous Midhowe. After lunch at the Pier Restaurant (the local pub) we'll take a nature walk on the RSPB reserve or along the west coast returning on the 1730 hours ferry to Mainland and Lynnfield Hotel.
Today is the first of two we will spend in Orkney's Neolithic Heartland where we'll balance history and archaeology. In the morning we'll visit the jewel in Orkney's archaeological crown, Skara Brae where an excellent self-guided tour gives a real insight into the significance of this ancient site. After lunch at the Birsay tearooms we'll have a super nature walk at Marwick Head. Here there are lots of seabirds and it's a joy just to sit on the cliffs amongst the sea pinks and watch their comings and goings. Marwick Head is also the site of the Kitchener memorial. Once again we return to Lynnfield for dinner and overnight.
For our last day on Orkney we return to the West Mainland to visit the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe. After a morning of archaeology and history and a light lunch we go for a nature walk at Yesnaby hoping to find the Scottish Primrose in flower. Our day concludes with a walk through Stromness with its narrow lanes and wonderful atmosphere before returning to Lynnfield for our last dinner together.
The Orkney Bus leaves the Orkney Travel Centre at nine o'clock and we retrace our steps across the Pentland Firth and down the east coast of Scotland to Inverness where we arrive at 1.25 in the afternoon.
Please note that the itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or your tour leader.