Please sign in to post.

Orkney - best way to get there and how long should we stay

Hi Scotland enthusiasts, Next May we're going to Scotland with another couple to realize their dream of a bit of a whisky trail. My BFF wants to go to Orkney as she loves Highland Park. My hubby and I love Liverpool so right now we are considering flying into Manchester, arriving May 9th, and flying home from Glasgow either May 31st or June 2nd. What would be the most logical route: 1. Train to Liverpool, spend two nights. Train to Edinburgh, stay several nights. Pick up car on way out of Edinburgh and make our way north. 2. Train to Liverpool, spend two nights. Pick up car on way out of Liverpool and stop in Lake District on drive up to Scotland. Drive eventually all the way up to the ferry and get to Orkney and back. 3. Train to Liverpool, spend two nights. Train back to Manchester airport and take a flight to Orkney. Spend a few days then fly to Inverness/Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Glasgow, spend some time then pick up car on way out of town to see other areas. Any suggestions on how long to stay in Kirkwall, where to stay, or best way to get there and out would be appreciated. The distilleries that are must sees for my pals are Highland Park, Talisker, Cardhu, and Dalwhinnie. I couldn't care less about whisky, drop me off at the nearest castle/stately home/tea room/botanic garden and I'll be happy.

Posted by
1840 posts

You are going to miss a lot of good whisky if you don't go to the Isle of Islay. There are eight distilleries on the island. Plus, a brewery. I can give you details if you wish.

Posted by
1543 posts

Thanks Monte, we wondered since we are making our way to Skye if seeing Islay would then be a bit repetitive. Let me know more about the brewery.

Posted by
9110 posts

Getting there: a. John O'Groats to Brunswick is shorter, but leaves you a long drive to Kirkwall. It runs once a day? I don't know the name of the company. b. Thurso (Skabster) to Stromness is an hour and a half, but runs a couple of times a day. Stromness is fifteen minutes from Kirkwall. Northlink is the company. Staying: a. Peedie hostel is excellent and close-in (on the water) with good pubs nearby. b. Ayers Hotel is next door, seems to do a lot of business, but the staff appears snottty. c. Hildeval B&B is a bit out, but real good. Distilleries: all over the place, widely scattered. Time: In five days (just on Mainland) of dashing around like a mad man, solo with a car, I got in all of the Neolithic and most of the Pict stuff. I'd already seen Scapa Flow. I completely goofed off one afternoon. Observation: Most people give up on distilleries after the first couple.

Posted by
5678 posts

Here's a suggestion. Take option three. Rent a car in Orkney. I would stay in Kirkwall, I like Stromness, but there are more food choices in Kirkwall. In addition to checking out the Highland distillery, I would recommend a few other sites. First, the Ring of Brogdar, Maes Howe, and the Stones of Steness are all must sees. You might then want to head further up the Mainland and see Scara Brae and the Earl's Palace at Birsay. Orkney is a wonderful place. It was Norwegian until nearly 1500. It's well loved by birdwatchers and prime time is May and June. Do explore Sigurd Towrie's website for info on history and culture. Another fun thing to do is to follow the "Designer" trail. Orkney is home to some wonderful jewelry designers. My favorite is Sheila Fleet, but Ortak makes some beautiful jewelry as well. Explore this website. We visited the Hoxa Tapestry gallery when we last visited. I sure wish I could afford one. More on the crafts and designers here. My grandfather grew up on South Ronaldsay, so I would also suggest driving over the Churchill barriers, stopping off at the Italian Chapel before heading all the way south to the Eagle's Tomb. Visit St. Margaret's Hope for lunch. Hoy is a very different island, but worth a visit if you like to walk. You can do a walk up into the hills that is not too strenuous to see the Old Man of Hoy. Last time we were there, we took the ferry over to Shapinsay to visit the Balfour House and garden. We enjoyed it. And lastly, in town don't miss the Kirkwall Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. Pam

Posted by
5678 posts

Certainly you could catch a flight to Orkney. You could also take the Ferry from Stromness to Thuro where you can catch either a bus or a train to Inverness. The Ferry ride takes you right down the coast of Hoy which is very nice. The bus and train take you down the North Sea coast to Inverness. It's a nice ride. Pick up a car in Inverness. You can do so at the Airport or in town. I would stay in Inverness or in one of the small towns in the immediate area for a couple of days. I like Cawdor Castle and the gardens are beautiful. But don't miss Culloden Battlefield. It's so historic. And, you can pop over and see the Clava Cairns. (If you've read any Diane Galbaldon, this is a type of circle she references.) Also, Fort George is good. There are wonderful views of the Moray Firth. From Inverness, I would do a day trip to the Carduh Distillery. I've not been to it, but it looks like Balvenie Castle is near by. It's not restored, but it looks impressive. There are lots of castles in Aberdeenshire. So, if you want to see more, then don't do this as a day trip, but rather, stay somewhere like Balater and visit castles. But if you do the day trip to Cardhu, I would head next to Skye. One route will take you past Loch Ness on your way. This route takes you along the north shore of the Loch. Then either take the A887 west toward Skye, or you can keep going to Fort Augustus, see the Caledonian Canal and then take the A87 west. A beautiful side trip would be up Glen Garry. You will pass Eileen Donan on your way to Kyle of Lochalsh. Then over the Bridge to Skye. Many people stay in Portree as it's centrally located.

Posted by
5678 posts

An nate route would be to head north out of Inverness on the A9. Take the A835 and then the A835 west to the A832 West. Then pick up the A890 south past Loch Carron over the hill to hook up with the A87 and on to Eileen Donan and Kyle of Lochalsh. It is a gorgeous drive. I've done it several times by car and by train. On Skye, in addition to Talkisker you'll find more Jewelry. ; ) It's a beautiful Island to explore. Dunvegan Castle has interesting lore. If you are walkers at all, the area around Sligachan is good. When ready to leave Skye, take the Ferry to Mallaig. Then you can drive to Fort William. This is a beautiful drive! Half way to Fort William you'll see the Glenfinnan Viaduct of Harry Potter Fame. It's also worth a stop here to see the beautiful Loch Shiel. This is where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed and the clans were called. Fort William is very touristy. But good restaurants and Glen Nevis is a beautiful spot. As you head out of Fort William on the A82 keep going past Spean Bridge and check out the Commando Monument. Great views of Ben Nevis. And an interesting monument. Go back down the A82 and turn on to the A86. This will take you base Loch Laggan (Monarch of the Glen filmed here) and take the A889 south to Dalwhinnie. South of Dalwhinnie is Blair Castle which you would enjoy. Also, think about staying in Pitlochry. Two distilleries including the smallest. Plus there is a theatre. There's much more to explore, but from here you can head so many directions that I'm not going to try and further. PM with questions. Pam

Posted by
1543 posts

Thanks Pam for your detailed responses - I was hoping you'd reply! Further investigation makes me lean toward taking the train to Liverpool, then train to Edinburgh, and then flying to Orkney from there (the flights from Manchester to Orkney stop in Edinburgh anyway). I'll confer with my friends about all the details you've provided. Sounds like we could spend a long time in Orkney but we need to balance that against the other areas we are hoping to visit. I think I'll save up and treat myself to some of that wonderful jewelry!

Posted by
279 posts

Andrea, I spent 4 days on Orkney this past July. Mom & I weren't so much into distilleries, so I can't speak to that, but this is what we did: Picked up my car in York and drove up from there, spending a few days in Edinburgh, then drove through Glen Coe to our B&B on Loch Ness, drove to Dunrobin Castle an hour north of Inverness for several hours (beautiful manor house, gorgeous compact gardens, and a great falconry demonstration), then onto our ferry which was only an hour ride to St Margaret's Hope (cheaper than the Scrabster/Stromness ride, and I wanted to drive through the island on our way to the B&B to get an overview of Orkney). Our B&B was the Mill of Eyrland about five minutes east of Stromness and centrally located to all the UNESCO heritage sites on West Mainland. Great place with delicious breakfast, comfortable rooms, and lots of charm, well-run by Morag. As an archaeology buff, I had a ball on Orkney, going to the Brough of Birsay (and the Earls Palace just down the road from there), Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness. We drove to the tapestry gallery near St Margarets Hope (highly recommended--I've got a print of one of her tapestries on my wall now, couldn't afford an original one but enjoyed seeing them on display at the gallery), picked up some skeins of yarn in Kirkwall for my sister to knit me a scarf, and bought some beautiful jewelry (I love my Ola Gorie pieces that I got at The Longship in Kirkwall, and my mom got some Sheila Fleet in town there as well). Definitely research your trip (I cannot recommend Undiscoveredscotland.com enough for all Scotland research!!!), and find something for yourself outside of the usual stops. And enjoy!!

Posted by
279 posts

Had to cut that message a bit short; meant to add that the B&B (the Mill of Eyrland) is a converted mill from the 1830s, with a lot of the original equipment around the grounds and in some of the rooms and the guest lounge. (The lounge is the only room with wi-fi, FYI; the walls are too thick for access in the bedrooms.) I really loved it a lot as a place to stay for 4 nights as a home base. Definitely go see St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, as well as the Earls Palace and Bishops Palace across the street from it. I loved the Earls Palace (I seem to have an affinity for places that are technically ruins, but still retain much of their structure!), and took tons of pictures. Charming thing spotted from one of its windows: a rather intense croquet game going on right behind the palace!! Strolling around Kirkwall's streets is also recommended; very fun people watching, and parking is cheap in the city lots (we always parked right across from the Tourist Information Centre).

Posted by
1014 posts

We have stayed here for the past two years. http://www.thursobayholidays.co.uk/.
Great host and clean accommodations. 30-40 minute drive to John O'Groats. 30-40 minutes to Wick. Castle May, the Queen Mother's castle is a nice tour. It is a 10 minute drive from Thruso. Lovely area to just drive around in.