Marta González-Hontoria R. UNIDO


Updated Tuesday, February 27, 2024-00:44

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It was a winter morning in 1850 after one of those terrible storms with which the North Atlantic usually punishes Orkney, in the northernmost reaches of Scotland.

The story is told by a

Skare Brae

guide wearing a coat with the Scottish Historic Society logo.

Its audience is a handful of visitors who have arrived on a rainy morning to this settlement with 3,000 years of history, nestled next to the

wild Skaill Bay

, on the west coast of Mainland, the main one of the Orkney Islands.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the best preserved Neolithic town in Europe.

"That morning,

William Watt,

owner of these lands, realizes that the wind has torn away the grass that covers the dunes, revealing four of these cabins," the guide notes.

The Scottish landowner would continue excavating for the next 20 years until archaeologist Gordon Childe officially took over.

Today, what we see in the settlement of Skare Brae as the fury of the sea rages - the scenery alone is sensational - is the closest thing to a stone doll's house divided into ten rooms in which walls, corridors, doors, kitchens and even beds, all stone.

The Watt family continues to own these lands and his grandiose mansion is also still here, this one from the 17th century, converted into a museum.

Skara Brae, the World Heritage Neolithic town.M.


To give us an idea, more or less half of the 3,000 sites on the islands were built before the pyramids of Egypt or the famous Stonehence.

The latter is inevitably reminiscent of the

Ring of Brodgar,

the enigmatic circle of stones nestled on an isthmus between two lakes.

"Today we see only 27 stones of the 60 that were there," explains Anabel, official guide of Orkney.

Surrounded by a moat and about 100 meters in diameter, each stone varies in height between two and five meters: it may be that each community brought its own.

"It's a place of worship, but we don't know what kind of religion they professed."

That's one of the theories.

Others assume that the inhabitants of the island would carry out rituals, possibly violent ones;

and many others believe that the ring was built for

astronomical observation

of the equinoxes and solstices.

It is difficult to know the truth, but this only fuels the mystique that hangs over this corner of Scotland.

And the excavation continues, so perhaps the mystery will be revealed.

One of the halls of the historic Skaill House.M.


In the same area, the so-called

Ness of Brodgar

is a site equivalent in size to eight football fields.

Since it was discovered in 2003 by farmers preparing the land for planting, archaeologists have collected tens of thousands of objects.

It has become ground zero for the Scottish Neolithic.

No new find, however, surpasses that of the vaulted tomb of Maeshowe or the

Rocks of Stenness

, four enormous megaliths six meters high dating from 3,100 BC


If the wind lets up in the Orkneys, the

midges appear,

the infamous tiny Scottish mosquitoes that appear out of nowhere in veritable flocks.

It's time to get going.

Made up of 70 islets,

20 of them inhabited

by around 22,000 people, Orkney is a land of pastures and sheep.

There are no trees thanks, again, to the wind.

What there are in enormous quantities are wild flowers and birds.

In fact, it is a


destination for


a hobby that is all the rage in the United Kingdom.

To jump from island to island you have to take the


.. or a small plane that has become one of the most famous transports in the skies.

The route covers the distance between the small islands of Westray, in the north of the archipelago, and Papa Westray or


, a little further away.

Exactly, 2,700 meters further.

According to Guinness World Records, it is the

shortest commercial flight in the world.

With favorable winds, the entire journey can last a total of

53 seconds,

and two minutes if, on the contrary, the wind is not good.

But although this Loganair route seems somewhat ridiculous, it is a lifesaver for the 80 souls who live all year round in



The Viking Cathedral of St. Magnus, Kirkwall.MGH

Even more popular than the plane are bicycles, especially in summer, for obvious reasons, although it is not at all strange to experience all four seasons in just 24 hours.

The islands are filled with dazzling seaside paths.

The beauty of its cliffs and wildlife are just some of the reasons why Orkney, along with the Shetland Islands, have been chosen as "

the best place to visit in 2024"

by the American guides Frommer's.

Very close to Skara Brae, one of the inexcusable natural icons is the walk along the cliffs to

Yesnaby Castle,

a huge sea stack with arch included that takes your breath away.

Although even more famous is another of these geological skyscrapers that they call the

Old Man of Hoy

for bearing a certain resemblance to a human figure, of course, no less than 137 meters high.

To see it you have to jump to the island of Hoy, or take one of the


that link the picturesque fishing town of Stromness with the northern Scottish coast.


Also very high in the ranking of Orcadian treasures to see are the

Churchill Barriers,

which join several of the islands.

It was indeed the British Prime Minister who ordered them to be built to protect the Scapa Flow naval anchorage after a German submarine sank the

HMS Royal Oak

in 1939 with 834 sailors on board.

Today, these concrete roads are excellent routes for cycling and discovering shipwrecks from the period.

You can even dive among them.

By the way, the same Italian prisoners of war who Churchill


to build the barriers built a

curious church

with two Nissen sheds, prefabricated structures for military use, which has become a tourist attraction.

The streets of central Kirkwall.M.



Orkney forcibly turns the traveler into a nature lover, but its capital, the charming Kirkwall, is also worth it.

It has a Scottish feel, of course, but also Scandinavian.

It is extremely genuine, with no trace of McDonald's or other international chains.

From the port where both


and cruise ships stop, it is easy to find its main street, full of sportswear and craft shops and many cafes like


, with the smell of delicious pastries.

Also the occasional pub where you can try local pints.

What to take as a souvenir?

Well, a thick wool sweater would be typical.

And if we want to top it all off, it is made from

North Ronald sheep wool,

an endemic breed that feeds on algae, something quite unusual for a mammal.

From shop to shop you quickly reach the jewel of Kirkwall:

the cathedral of St. Magnus

, a peaceful Viking, conqueror of the Hebridean Islands, west of Scotland, who chose to die as a martyr before unsheathing his sword.

His remains are kept in this magnificent temple built in 1137. Behind, the Bishop's Palace tells the story of the saint and his connection with Orkney.

Another place to visit is the City Museum, which is hidden behind the façade of an old merchant's house.

This somewhat labyrinthine exhibit tells the long history of these islands and serves as an introduction to the excavations of all their Neolithic finds.

One of the gins from an island distillery.M.


The only thing left to do is visit some of the local distilleries, since we are in Scotland after all.

To the south of the city,

Highland Park Distillery,

one of the oldest in the country, has been making single malt whiskey since 1798. And for gin lovers,

Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin

has a visitor center right on Kirkwall Harbour.

Brewers, for their part, should look for The Peedie Bottle Shop, where they sell the beers of the

Orkney Brewery

, another legend of this corner in the far north of Scotland, where the fury of the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

And this gives character.

Wow, it does.


How to get.

By ferry from Aberdeen with the shipping company North Link Ferries.

By plane from several Scottish cities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh with Loganair airline.

Also from London in the summer season.

Where to sleep.

The Kirkwall Hotel (

Cozy rooms in a majestic Victorian building located on the harbour, just a stone's throw from the center of Kirkwall.

From 160 euros.

Where to eat.

The Foveran


Orkney lamb and local seafood with stunning views of Scapa Flow.

The Orkney Brewery


The oldest craft brewery on the islands.

Located very close to Skara Brae.

More information.

On the Tourism websites and

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