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Orkneys Assistance

Going to the Orkneys, flying from EDI to Kirkwall, midweek in August for 2 nights. The plan is to line up some type of tour, or private car hire to see Skara Brae, Tomb of the Eagles, the Highland Park Distillery, and do some hiking. We were then going to take the John O' Groats ferry back where I was thinking we could rent a car.

I'm looking for suggestions on tours/ car hire/ public transportation while we're on the islands as well as a suggestion for car rental once we get back to the mainland. Are there car hire places within walking distance to John O' Groats? We're planning to keep the car for 4-5 days and drop off in Edinburgh.

On a separate note, any suggestions on hostels with en suite facilities or comparable B&Bs would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your assistance!!

Posted by
9110 posts

You might have scrambled/screwed this one.

You can drive the whole thing yourself. Skara Brae and Eagle's Tomb are both about a half hour or so from Kirkwall, but in opposite directions. Get a map for Eagle's Tomb or you'll wander forever within two miles of it. Don't skip the two stone circles.

Orkney car hire has a free pickup shuttle from the airport if you're renting one of their cars. They'll probably charge to tote you to the ferry down at Burwick to get to John O'Groats.

Peedie Hostel is right on the Front in Kirkwall. I have a sneaking suspicion that they have an ensuite room or two. Orcades isfurther back and I know nothing about them. Most of the B&Bs seem to be up the hill to the east and it's so far that you'd probably want to drive into town for supper - - they ain't cheap, either.

Now the problem - - I can't picture a car rental place anywhere near John O'Groats. Actually, I think you'd be stuck with awkward/infrequent public transportation if you went back that way.

What you might have to do, absent flying back out, is toss a couple more days at the project and drive up to Scabster for the Stromness ferry and come back the same way. Edinburgh to Thurso is a good six-hour drive.

Pam might be able to unscramble it a little better.

Thanks for the excellent feedback Ed!
I am definitely having a hard time wrapping my head around car hire on/ around the islands. We thought flying up from EDI, spending a couple nights, and then driving back to Inverness would be a viable option but it doesn’t sound like it. Perhaps we’ll get a roundtrip flight out of EDI and rent our car from there when we get back.
It also sounds like car hire on the islands is a better option.
I will definitely check into the hostel you recommended. That sounds preferable to the options I’ve seen on the hill.

Posted by
9110 posts

I think you're on the right track now.

But wait for Pam before you jump. We tromp the same areas but have distinct perspectives. She'll fill a lot of gaps.

Posted by
5668 posts

Yes, definitely, do the car hire on the island. It's not hard and it's easy to drive around the island. If you only have two nights, that is really not a lot of time. It's a lot easier to do one day on the Mainland--Scarra Brae, Ring of Brogdar and Maehowe. The Tomb of the Eagles is great and worth a visit, but it is way the heck down at the southern tip of South Ronaldsay. So, if your heart is set on seeing this, I would advise adding another day.

I don't think that there are any car rental agencies in either John O'Groats or Thurso, the two ferry terminals. What you can do is either take the ferry to Thurso, and then the bus or train to Inverness at which point you can pick up a car. Or, you fly to Inverness or Aberdeen from Kirkwall and pick up a car. We did the former. It's a nice journey to take the ferry from Stromness to Thurso, and then take a bus or train to Inverness. We got a car in town--not at the airport--and then drove on to Strathpeffer where we were meeting friends.

Orkney is a wonderful place and worth the journey.


Posted by
20 posts

One other option, depending on which day you plan to leave Orkney would be to catch the late ferry that runs Mon/Wed/Fri night from Kirkwall to Aberdeen. I used this option several years ago getting a room with ensuite - and considering the fact I got a full nights sleep and transport it was fairly reasonable in terms of pricing (even cheaper if you don't care about the room with ensuite). The current time tables can be found at

It may be a workable solution depending on your plans after returning to the Scottish mainland.

Posted by
278 posts

If you do rent a car when you get to Kirkwall, you can stay somewhere outside of the town. When my mom and I were there in July 2012, we stayed about 5 minutes east of Stromness at the Mill of Eyrland. This was our second-favorite B&B on our trip (favorite was the Pottery House on Loch Ness)--convenient location for getting to Stromness, the Stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe. Staying in an 1830s converted mill was quite awesome, and the rooms were comfortable, Morag's service was excellent, and the breakfasts were very tasty.

Actually, everything on the West Mainland is relatively close to each other, so unless you're planning on spending most of your time on South Ronaldsey, anywhere between Stromness and Kirkwall would be within a reasonable drive to get to anywhere.

Flying into and out of Kirkwall from Edinburgh or Inverness/Aberdeen would be a good idea, I think. The ferries coming from the mainland to Orkney are pricier than you would think, so if you want to save yourself the several-hour drive from any of those cities to the ferry terminal would be really convenient. We did stop at Dunrobin Castle on our drive from Inverness to the ferry, which we enjoyed tremendously. (Our flight from Kirkwall to Edinburgh was my first-ever propeller plane flight, so that was pretty cool!)