We recently returned from our 3 week trip to Northwest England and Scotland, including three nights in Kirkwall. It was one of the highlights of the trip! For a small place it has plenty to see and do. We had no problem filling our 2.5 days, and another day would have allowed a day trip to another island. Orkney does not feel like Scotland, it seems to hold on to its Viking roots. In fact, I found it fascinating that despite all the discussion of Scottish independence that we saw many Orkney flags flying but only one Scotland flag (in Scotland itself the flag is flown everywhere). I wish I had discussed this with an Orcadian! For the historian or archaeologist there are the neolithic sites such as Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the stone circles, and the Tomb of the Eagles. We also visited the Italianate Chapel. Kirkwall is lovely for a stroll around the waterfront and the cathedral is well worth a stop. I didn't realize that the sunken fleet in Scapa Flow still show a bit above water. I found it haunting. Sadly two divers were lost the very day we drove that area. They've put together a "craft trail" that includes a lot of jewelry designers. We also did the Magnus Eunson tour of Highland Park (included transit to and from accommodation, a tour, tasting seven of their whiskies, and a glass and certificate). We also purchased some nice souvenirs from the Orkney Brewery. Unfortunately we arrived just as it closed so we only got as far as the shop and didn't have time to get back for a tour another day. Driving was very easy. We got the last automatic transmission vehicle on the island: a gigantic Land Rover! The size of the vehicle was absolutely no problem. Even in Kirkwall we easily got around and were able to park without problem. Anyone who is leery of driving in the UK could try it out here first!
Andrea, thanks for the excellent trip report. Skara Brae is a place I have wanted to see for 15 years. I am really into the neolithic sites. Where did you pick up the Land Rover, and from what vehicle rental company? Sounds like a great trip!
Hi Rebecca, We rented from Drive Orkney. To get the Land Rover, the guy met us at the airport and took us to the "office" which is also Orkney Tool Hire. It cost £208 for three days with CDW. There's no problem finding anyone in the airport; it is so small!! Orkney is the kind of place that for returning the vehicle we were instructed just to leave it at the airport unlocked, with the keys in the glove box. He said that he'd go get it "sometime next week". We stayed at Avalon House which is a purpose built B&B about 20 minute walk from the centre of Kirkwall (although we always drove as there was free parking). It was very comfortable and welcoming. We had dinner at Helgi's (great fish and chips!), the Kirkwall Hotel (lamb was terrific), and Foveran (expensive but not worth it, IMO). If you go in May/June take a sleeping mask. It never got dark and although we had privacy blinds they weren't room darkening.
Another approach is to pick up a car in Edinburgh for less than $159 / wk, drive up to Thurso/Scrabster (six hours), and hop the Stromness ferry. You'd need to factor in the ferry cost (NorthLink). Also, some of the inter-Ork ferries are not daily.
Ed - Sadly, neither of us ever having driven standard we always end up paying significantly more than $159 per week. Maybe I'll have to go back to Driver's Ed classes! We chose to fly after looking at the length of drive, on reflection the amount we paid to save time is rather a lot per hour. We met another couple who were driving from Avalon House to Speyside in one day. They left at about 5am. Rebecca - If like me you fall in love with some Sheila Fleet jewelry, you might consider the Historic Scotland Pass that includes discount in the shops. We paid £84 for one-month continuous membership and that got us into all Historic Scotland properties (it pays off really quickly if you are there for any amount of time and go to the biggies like Stirling and Edinburgh Castles). You also get 20% off in all their shops so that is a way to bring down the high prices of Sheila Fleet jewelry. (I said no way would I buy at that price but then fell in love with her Swallows collection).
You actually landed on that airport on Mainland - - in a moderate-sized plane and walked away from it - - intact? On the runway that's high on the ends and low in the middle?
Sure, now you tell me about the structural deficiencies of the airport!! Now that I think about it, it was a bit wild when we landed. Our joke was that if you liked the airport, it was actually a shed you could order at sears.ca.
Andrea and Ed, Thanks to you both for all the information! Getting out my maps now, spreading them on the dining room table...hubby always knows it's going to be expensive when the maps come out!