This post is part of a paid partnership with Be Our Guest Scotland to showcase the diverse range of bed and breakfast and guest house options around Scotland.
Staying at Straigona B&B in Orkney
When your B&B is recommended in a Rick Steves guide, you know you are doing something right and Straigona owners, Julie and Mike, have worked hard on perfecting their offering over the years as I recently found out.
Julie is part Orcadian and spent her life visiting the Orkney Islands before a long term dream of moving to Orkney came to fruition in 2011. After buying an already established B&B with her husband Mike, they both revamped the accommodation, putting their own stamp on it and gathered up lots of little extras to ensure their guests are well catered for.
Over 10 years later Straigona is still going strong, with many returning guests and a steady stream of new visitors choosing it as their home from home during their Orkney vacation. And as I found out, it is very homely and welcoming, you are made to feel like one of the family as soon as you walk through the door which is exactly how a bed and breakfast should be and it is what makes this type of accommodation unique to the other options out there.
Located just a 5 minute drive from Kirkwall, Straigona benefits from a quiet rural setting while still being conveniently close to town. The whole house is a homage to Orkney with mugs and placemats featuring Orkney scenes, and local photographs and artwork adorning the walls.
I stayed in 'Inganess', one of three guest bedrooms. A family sized room, it was very spacious with a double and a single bed, a sitting area by the window and a desk which was perfect for me as I needed to catch up on some work while I was there.
Although there is a TV, I spent most of my time enjoying the view across fields to the sea and the small runway of Kirkwall Airport. After Julie mentioned an owl was using the adjacent field as a hunting ground, I also made use of the room binoculars to regularly scan the landscape but didn't manage to spot it on this occasion.
If there was an award for the best equipped guest rooms in a B&B, I'm pretty confident Straigona would win, it is certainly the best equipped bed and breakfast I've ever stayed at! From suntan lotion to insect repellent and hairspray to hot water bottles, Julie has gone above and beyond in supplying little extras. Of course, the standard inclusions like a hairdryer, kettle and well-stocked hospitality tray are all included too. For those heading out on a ramble there are walking poles, hats, scarves, gloves and binoculars available and even a guest mobile phone you can borrow.
Most importantly, at the end of a long day, I was glad of a super comfy bed as feeling rested in the morning is essential when you have more exploring planned. The spotless modern bathroom with a walk-in shower and supplied toiletries left me feeling revitalised in the morning.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Destination Orkney as part of VisitScotland's Year of Stories
It is hard to know where to start when it comes to peeling back the layers of stories embedded in the Orkney Islands. You could begin around 6 millennia ago, when Neolithic people first arrived, erecting the unwieldy standing stones and atmospheric tombs that Orkney has become so famous for. Or you could fast forward to the 8th century when the Vikings settled in Orkney, leaving a strong Norse legacy that can still be found in everything from place names to 21st century jewellery designs. Any Orkney story would also have to include the rusting blockships, concrete defences and ornate Italian Chapel that witnessed wartime activity in Scapa Flow, or head back even further to the geological landscape formed hundreds of millions of years ago.
This is just a snapshot of the various people and events that have shaped the story of Orkney but the narrative of these islands doesn't end there. From renewables to artisans, and festivals to fishermen, Orkney's story is constantly evolving. If you are inspired to create your own island story, you will find lots of ideas and tips in this blog post.
The Orkney Islands are located off the north coast of Scotland and along with Shetland, form part of the Northern Isles. Often just shortened to Orkney (not the Orkneys!) ,the archipelago is made up of around 70 islands although most are uninhabited.
The islands are home to over 22,000 people with the majority of the population residing in the island of Mainland (not to be confused with the Scottish mainland), which is home to the main towns of Kirkwall and Stromness. There are a number of other populated islands including Burray, Eday, Egilsay, Flotta, Graemsay, Hoy, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay, South Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Westray and Wyre.
Island hopping is easy thanks to inter-island ferries and planes. You can even take the shortest scheduled flight in the world between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray which takes less than 2 minutes from take off to landing. I've done this myself and it is definitely a unique experience.
How to get to Orkney
There are two main ferry companies that travel to Orkney -
Pentland Ferries travels from Gill's Bay to St Margaret's Hope
NorthLink Ferries travels from Scrabster to Stromness and from Aberdeen to Kirkwall
In the summer there is also a foot passenger ferry from John O'Groats
Loganair runs regular scheduled flights to Kirkwall Airport from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.
GETTING AROUND ORKNEY
Public transport is quite limited so a car will open up more options. If you prefer not to drive, Stagecoach runs a limited bus service on Mainland and to some attractions.
Both Orkney Ferries and Loganair provide island-hopping options within Orkney by plane and ferry.
Uncover thousands of years of stories - Things to do in Orkney
You could easily spend weeks or even months touring around the Orkney Islands but no matter how long you have to spare, you are probably wondering where to even start when there is so much to see and do. I recently spent three days unravelling some of the stories that have made Orkney one of the most unique and interesting places to visit in Scotland and I've listed everything I got up to below to give you some inspiration.
If you only have a few days to spare then you might want to follow in my footsteps. If you have longer to explore you can use my itinerary as a starting point and add in some of my other suggested things to do.
From local food and drink to Neolithic treasures and outdoor adventures, I've tried to include something for everyone.
Join a walking tour of Kirkwall
Joining a local guide on a walking tour is a great starting point when you want to get to know a place on a deeper level. I opted to do exactly that and met up with Brian Alexander from Kirkwall Walking Tours to learn some of the stories associated with Orkney's main town.
Brian is an Orcadian with a wealth of knowledge, not just about the history of Orkney but also about present day life in the islands. We met up at Kirkwall harbour where he shared some maritime history and the workings of the current fishing fleet before setting off for a meander around the historic town centre.
We stopped at various points of interest where Brian regaled me with tales of pirates, press gangs, saints, merchants, Vikings and even a famous tree. He also gave me a guided tour of the inside of St Magnus Cathedral, explaining its Norse origins and the background to some of the memorials within the building.
This was a really informative start to my 3 day trip and I left with a whole new appreciation of the significant history of Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands.
Sample some drams at Scapa Distillery
After a walk around town in the chilly winter wind, a whisky tasting session at Scapa Distillery seemed like the perfect way to warm up and as it was now officially afternoon, I felt it was a perfectly acceptable time to sample a few drams (or four to be precise!).
All whisky has its own story to tell, from the local ingredients that provide the unique flavour to the local artisans who oversee every part of the process, these Orcadian elements are encapsulated in every bottle of Scapa whisky.
Our host Maria put us to work nosing and tasting four very different bottlings, helping us to work out the tasting notes of each dram. With a bit of practice and guidance from Maria, picking up on the subtle notes became easier and of course the tasting part was pretty enjoyable! Don't worry if you are driving, you can still nose each glass and take the samples away to drink later.
I do enjoy my whisky and the tasting session really made me think more about the complexities of every dram and how to enhance my whisky drinking experience.
If this is an aspect of Orkney you would like to explore further, here is a list of other local distilleries and breweries that currently offer tours -
Discover local history at Orkney Museum
Orkney Museum in Kirkwall is one of those places you could visit multiple times and learn something new each visit as it is packed with artefacts and exhibits. I always recommend popping by the local museum when visiting a place as so many interesting stories are revealed that you would never discover otherwise.
Orkney Museum is a Tardis of floors and rooms filled with objects and relics dating back 5000 years, including finds from many of the famous archaeological sites, to collections from modern social history. One of my personal favourite exhibits is the display of items recovered from a Viking boat burial.
Discovered on the island of Sanday, the site was excavated in 1991 and the Viking burial that was revealed there has left many questions. Three bodies had been laid in a boat along with a number of significant and ornate artefacts which are on display in the museum, including a gilded brooch, a sword, gaming pieces and an eye-catching whalebone plaque that has been beautifully carved with dragon heads.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to explore the numerous floors as the building is bigger than you might think, although it is free to visit so you can easily return again if you missed anything on your first visit.
Go tomb-raiding on Rousay
By shopping online you can not only bring a little bit of Orkney to you but you will also support local businesses and ensure their survival so they are still around when people are able to visit again.
So many people have told me how disappointed they feel about having to cancel their Scotland travel plans this year, including visits to Orkney, the place I am lucky enough to call home.
This blow hasn't just been felt by travellers, In Scottish island communities like Orkney, local businesses have been hit hard as many of them depend on tourism for survival.
As an islander, a small tourism business and someone who has had to cancel several trips of my own, I can relate to all these difficult circumstances.
However, just because you can't travel to Scotland or Orkney right now, it doesn't mean you can't immerse yourself in an island experience. By shopping online you can not only bring a little bit of Orkney to you but you will also support local businesses and ensure their survival so they are still around when people are able to visit again.
To make things easier an online shopping page has been set up so you can find a wide range of Orkney businesses including food, drink and crafts, that can deliver to your door. To give you a flavour of the diverse Orcadian goods you can buy, check out the listings below.
INDULGE IN SOME OF THE FINEST ORKNEY FOOD
Even though you can't dine in Orkney right now, you can still sample local Orkney produce thanks to all these businesses that deliver to your door.
Jolly's of Orkney - a one stop shop for a wide range of Orkney produce including cheese, fish, tablet and sweeties. If you just can't decide then one of their hampers with a selection of goodies is a great way to sample some of the fabulous local produce. There are also themed hampers covering everything from local whisky and gin products to baked goods made from beremeal, an ancient local grain.
JP Orkney - JP Orkney use seasonal and locally sourced ingredients to create the tastiest chutney, piccalilli, relish and jam - I can personally recommend their caramelised carrot jam which is perfect with crumbly cheese and an Orkney oatcake.
Orkney Craft Vinegar - The chef James Martin recently stated that this is 'the best vinegar you can buy' and many other well known chefs have also been singing the praises of Orkney Craft Vinegar. Some of the incredible flavours include Highland Park, Rosehip, Sugar Kelp and Rhubarb. The organic ingredients for each vinegar are foraged by hand on the island and the business strives to be sustainable.
Westray Bakehouse - Westray Bakehouse has been following family recipes since 1892 and today they produce a range of biscuits, shortbread, crackers and oatcakes which are perfect for a cup of tea or a snack. I particularly recommend pairing the oatcakes or crackers with some Orkney cheese and a JP chutney or relish for the full Orkney experience!
Barony Mill - With baking mania gripping the UK, now is the perfect time to experiment with Orkney beremeal, an ancient form of barley grown and milled in Orkney for over 300 years. Order a bag from Barony Mill and whip up some bannocks, scones and biscuits.
SAMPLE SOME OF THE LOCAL TIPPLES
Whisky, gin, wine, liqueurs, rum, beer, ale and even tea and coffee are some of the speciality drinks produced in the Orkney Islands and they can all be ordered online from the businesses listed below.
A 1 day itinerary for exploring Stromness, Orkney
If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I have been working with Destination Orkney to try out a range of 1 day themed itineraries which are part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. They are perfect for any visitor but are particularly suited to those short on time or looking for things to do outside the busy summer season.
I have already covered a wide variety of topics including coastal walks, Viking history, wartime sites, world heritage attractions and locally made goods. You can find all these blog posts on my Orkney Islands page.
For this itinerary, I headed to the historic town of Stromness which is always a delight to visit. I don't think I'll ever get tired of wandering the characterful streets and taking in all the quaint and quirky details.
Stromness is a town that has been shaped by the sea, with maritime history running through the veins of its winding, narrow streets. Sitting on the fringes of a natural harbour used by Picts and Vikings, increased trade with the New World played a large part in its rapid growth as a town in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Wars between Britain and France made the route around the north of Scotland more attractive than the English Channel which resulted in Stromness becoming a popular stopping off point on voyages.
The Hudson's Bay Company would regularly stop en-route to and from Canada. Many Orcadians were recruited by them in Stromness and at one point Orcadians made up approx. 3/4 of their workforce in Canada. The town has also seen whaling fleets, herring fleets and even the Royal Navy Grand Fleet which was based in Scapa Flow during the First World War.
While various industries have come and gone, the surrounding waters have continued to be a valuable asset to the local economy. Today Stromness is at the cutting edge of marine renewables and is home to The European Marine Energy Centre which supports developers of wave and tidal energy devices and is the only centre of its kind in the world.
However, the town has managed to retain its historic character and in some places away from the cars, it is easy to feel like you have stepped back in time.
This suggested day out which starts at the historic harbour area is the perfect introduction to the sea-faring history and contemporary businesses that make Stromness so unique.
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