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Orkney Islands Cruises

The Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland have a long and storied history, although many people in the UK may claim to have never heard of them.

 Around 70 islands make up Orkney (in Scottish Gaelic, the islands are called ‘Arcaibh’), but only 20 in the archipelago are inhabited. The largest island is Mainland and at 200 square miles, it’s the tenth largest in the British Isles. 

The climate on the Orkney Islands is surprisingly temperate, thanks to Gulf Stream winds and the islands’ fertile soil. Orcadians have their own Scots dialect and a rich folklore heritage. Marine and avian wildlife is very diverse here, and the strong winds are used to generate renewable energy. There’s no doubt that a cruise to the Orkney Islands also offers views of some of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe.

Top 5 interesting facts

  • Orkney generates over 100% of its net power from renewables.
  • North Ronaldsay’s sheep are semi-feral and have evolved to eat seaweed.
  • The Old Man of Hoy is a 450-foot high sea stack on the island of Hoy.
  • Couples used to get married at the giant Odin Stone.
  • Whales, dolphins and otters swim around the coasts. 
 

Highlights

History

The name ‘Orkney’ dates back to at least the 1st century BC, and these islands have been inhabited for over 8,500 years. Many different peoples have come and gone: Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes, the Picts, the Norse and the Scots. All this change has left a complex archaeological record in the Orkney Islands. 

Historic sites

A real historic highlight of Mainland is the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. This is one of the best-preserved groups of prehistoric houses in Western Europe, and dates back to around 3100 BC. Uncovered by a storm in 1850, the settlement offers a remarkable picture of life some 5,000 years ago. Visitors can walk through a prehistoric village and look into ancient homes fitted with stone beds, dressers and seats. A replica construction allows people to fully understand the interior of a prehistoric house. 

 

Standing stones

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Then there are the Standing Stones of Stenness where, according to local folklore, couples used to be wed. 

The Maeshowe passage grave is another Neolithic site in the islands, also constructed with massive stones. The Ring of Brodgar, located between Maeshowe and Skara Brae, is the largest Neolithic standing stone circle in Scotland, extending around 340 feet in diameter and consisting of 25 stones. This stone ring was constructed at least 5,000 years ago, which makes it older than Stonehenge. 

 

Cruises visiting the Orkney Islands

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