Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands lying off the north coast of mainland Scotland. With a population of about 20,000 spread across 19 islands, the area has a long and rich history and a diverse economy.
Today, alongside agriculture and tourism, the islands are known for their thriving crafts, music, quality food and drink and as a global centre of expertise for the emerging marine renewable energy industry, being home to the European Marine Energy Centre.
The islands of Orkney are steeped in history and it is very much a part of everyday life. From the Stone Age, to the Viking era, through to Orkney's part in both World Wars it would seem that every corner of Orkney can lay claim to a site of historical significance of some era.
Neolithic Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage site and includes the perfectly preserved stone age village of Skara Brae, the chambered cairn of Maeshowe and the impressive Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar. Excavations are currently underway on the Ness of Brodgar a massive Neolithic complex believed to be even older than Stonehenge.
Orkney's crucial part during both World Wars have left many wartime wrecks lying in the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow which are now a world famous dive site and tourist attraction.
Orkney's landscape is generally green and fertile, with gently undulating hills and a stunning coastline of red sandstone cliffs, sandy beaches and rocky shores. A paradise for nature lovers, Orkney has an abundance of wildlife, sealife and flora and fauna.
Orkney's climate is generally mild, thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream, but it is also very changeable. It isn't unusual to experience four seasons in one day!
There is only a 10 degree Celsius difference between the summer average temperature of 15°C and the winter of 5°C. Winters are prone to strong winds and gales but the summers see skies that barely get dark and that develop the most stunning of sunsets, the effects of which can last for hours into the night.
On a bright day pollution-free skies mean clear views for miles around.
The capital of Orkney is the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall with a population of around 8,500, situated on the northern shore of the Orkney Mainland. The town is dominated by the magnificent red sandstone St Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald Kolson.
Kirkwall has much to offer both young and old with a variety of independent retailers, three well-known supermarkets, large sports centre including fitness and health suites, swimming pool, golf course, library, cinema, theatre, nightclub and many hotels and bars which provide for a lively night life.
Stromness, the second largest town in Orkney, lies 16 miles to the west of Kirkwall and has a population of around 2,000. This picturesque town is one of Orkney's main seaports and lies around the sheltered harbour of Hamnavoe. Stromness has a unique character with waterfront houses and piers, narrow streets and lanes and many buildings of historical interest. The town has a thriving business community and is the producer of several of Orkney's most popular exports - Orkney fudge, oatcakes and crabmeat.
Despite its relative remoteness, Orkney is well-connected, with daily links to mainland Scotland via sea and air (with direct links to Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh).
Ferries operate between the main islands and there are local bus service, including a regular service between Stromness and Kirkwall.
Culture and leisure
Culture is a way of life in Orkney and brings thousands of visitors a year to enjoy a packed programme of events including the world renowned St Magnus International Festival and the International Science Festival. Stromness plays host to the hugely popular Orkney Folk Festival, Orkney Blues and Orkney Jazz Festivals and is home to the celebrated modern art gallery, the Pier Arts Centre.
- St Magnus Festival
- Orkney International Science Festival
- Orkney Folk Festival
- Pier Arts Centre
- Stromness Shopping Week
There really is something for everyone in Orkney. Whether your interests lie in physical activities such as diving, hill-walking, rugby and sailing or you prefer a more relaxing pursuit such as fishing or a round of golf you will find it here. Being part of a small community means that facilities are easily accessed generally without any waiting lists and local clubs always welcome new members.
Stromness has an 18-hole golf course, swimming pool and fitness suite, squash club, all-weather pitch as well as being the base for the recreational dive boats
Kirkwall is home to the Pickaquoy Leisure Centre that offers exercise and fitness zones, health zones, running track, a large arena, cinema and new swimming pool. Half price student memberships are available.