I hopped on the ferry to Orkney, and started my tour of the island in Kirkwall. St. Magnus' cathedral is gorgeous and the castle is cool, with tons of half ruined turrets. I was in Stromness during Shopping Week, a week long festival. This was made more exciting because a local, Cameron, had made it to the final vote for the Big Brother TV show (he ended up wining). The town is nice and the museum is interesting enough.
My next two days were spent on day trips with Wildabout Orkney tours. Day one included visits to the Earls And Bishops Palaces in Kirkwall (which of course I had already seen), the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe tomb/ceremonial temple, Skara Brae Neolithic, Earls Palace, Birsay (home of Robert Stewart, father of Patrick, and very unexciting), theoretically the BROUGH OF BIRSAY tides permitting (the tides did not permit), Kirbister Farm and the Broch Of Gurness. Had I realized that you could do all this by taking a special tourist bus route, I would have skipped the tour. I am going to be honest, the guide annoyed me. I studied archaeology at university, and a lot of what he presented as fact was sketchy, to put it mildly. For non ex-archaeology students, this might not be an issue, and I know that many of the others seemed to enjoy the tour (they were also a lot older than myself as well- that may or may not be pertinent).
Day two included the Italian Chapel, designed by Italian prisoners of war, views of the Churchill Barriers which were created to seal the gaps between the islands and to protect Scapa Flow-a harbour for Allied ships during World Wars 1 and 2, the Neolithic Tomb Of The Eagles, and Mine Howe, which is billed as the mystery of the 29 steps and was one of my favourites. You put on a hardhat, pay a couple of pounds, and off you go, walking down what resembles a well with steps. No one knows what it was, and really there isn'tÃt much to see. The whole experience takes about 5 minutes, and yet I loved it. My lack of appreciation for the guide remained, but it did seem to be much more of a time and energy saver to have had a car to be driven to these particular sites.
My last day of the trip (minus the marathon day of travel to get back down to Burntisland in Fife, by ferry, bus, three trains, and a car) was a visit to Hoy. If I had had more time, the one thing I would have done on both Shetland and Orkney was to explore the outlying islands. Both groups of islands are made up of an islandreferredd to as Mainland and then tons of smaller islands. Unfortunately, Hoy was the only one I managed to fit in. I saw the Dwarfie Stane, a prehistoric tomb, chamber, who knows what, and I walked out to the Old Man of Hoy, a rock stack with lots of seabirds nesting along the cliffs. The walk takes you by some crofts, two of which have displays in them, and is an easy day walk, though itÃs best to catch the early ferry from Stromness so as not to get left behind if you are a slow walker who wants to return to Stromness again that evening.