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Orkney: getting there

I've been following a Facebook group for Orkney and wanted to pass along this tip. "The train journey to Thurso (for the Scrabster or Gills ferry) is absolutely stunning. Do not miss it. Then hire a car in Orkney -- you'll need one. Or hire a bike if the weather is fine."

Alternatively you can of course train to Aberdeen and take the Kirkwall ferry from there.

Another tip reminds us that with a rented car (as opposed to your own) you're not allowed to drive on some of the more undeveloped, rutted roads. Of course, those of us who don't own a car in the UK only have a choice between a rented car and no car.

Posted by
1872 posts

Thanks Epltd this is a good tip, especially for train lovers! We spent 13 days in Scotland, but couldn’t fit in the Orkney’s. We did Isle of Skye instead. Next time!

Posted by
1302 posts

The north of Scotland line from Inverness to Thurso and Wick does take longer than the bus due to predating the bypass bridges by about a century, but what is time when on holiday.

Re the roads, the road network on Orkney is very well maintained, better than the conditions in the nearest parts of Caithness and Sutherland, especially on Orkney Mainland and the barrier islands. If you do see rutted roads there, it will be private access to farms and a few B&Bs.

Posted by
2817 posts

Thanks, McGlasgow, for the additional info.

On the Orkney FB page the person was referring to a certain scenic place where you can't drive a rental car. I suppose I shouldn't have extrapolated this to a generalization -- but in my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience you see that type of restriction in rental car contracts pretty much anywhere.

Posted by
3589 posts

In 2016, I did a similar journey, without a car. My connections were well-timed with little waiting. There were no long ferry rides. There was one flight.

I took the train from Edinburgh to Thurso. I loved every minute. The route is definitely stunning.

I shared a taxi from the Thurso train station to Scrabster where I spent the night. The other person went on to her ferry.

The next morning, I had a longer than expected walk from my little inn to the correct ferry. My ferry went to Stromness. That ride was fun.

The local bus arrived shortly after the ferry's arrival. I took it to Kirkwall. I was the only person on it. I'm guessing that's because most people rent cars.

Being a slow solo traveler, I spent 4 nights in Kirkwall.

One day I went on a very reasonable day tour of the main things to see. I set that up with the TI next to the bus station. I was the only person on it, but was not charged extra. That was my busiest day.

One day I did maintenance activities. You know, like laundry, resting and watching some challenging weather from my comfy room.

And one day I nosed around town, doing and enjoying things most people probably don't and purchasing a silver ring with very primitive runes. I've worn that ring almost daily since I bought it and I'm wearing it right now.

When it was time to leave, I took the local bus from Kirkwall to the Kirkwall Airport. I
flew from there to Aberdeen.

If I were to do it again, I'd make only one change. I'd spend the night in Thurso and have a taxi take me as close to the ferry as they could.

Posted by
1277 posts

We were in Orkney in 2013. We drove from Liverpool to the borders, then dropped the rental car off on our way into Edinburgh. After a number of days there, we flew to Orkney. After three nights (not enough) we flew from Orkney to Aberdeen where we picked up another rental that took us all around Speyside, over to Skye, down through Pitlochry and Stirling ending in Glasgow.

Orkney is the kind of place where the car rental guy told us to leave the vehicle at the airport with the keys inside ... they'd pick it up later that day.

One of our all time great places.

Posted by
1302 posts

Orkney is the kind of place where the car rental guy told us to leave the vehicle at the airport with the keys inside ... they'd pick it up later that day.

A few years ago now there was a car theft on Orkney, a group of youths from down south. All the police had to do was follow them until they ran out of petrol.