Sitting just off the northern tip of the Scottish mainland, the Orkney archipelago is a mainly flat land, most famous for its wealth of prehistoric sites.
The largest island, known as ‘Mainland’, contains most of the standout sights, which generally fall within a designated UNESCO world heritage site: ‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’. The sites include the wonderfully situated Skara Brae, a domestic settlement that gives unparalled insight into the day-to-day lives of Stone Age families, and several sites of standing stones, thought to date back to as long ago as the fourth century BC.
Orkney has its own cultural identity, which is in many ways closer to that of Scandinavia than the rest of Scotland. It is a welcoming place with some picturesque towns and excellent, if often extremely windy, coastline.
Way out into the North Sea, the Shetland Islands are renowned for their wild weather but, if you are lucky, you may catch some summer sun in which to enjoy the long hours of daylight, which stretch well into the night.
The scenery is reminiscent of the northern Highlands, with steep, craggy mountains, deep glens and shimmering lochs. The impressive coastal cliffs are constantly whipped by the crashing waves of the Atlantic. All around the archipelago there are good, windswept walks, appealing towns and fishing villages and several interesting pre-historic sites.