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.
If you follow my blog, you have probably noticed that I have been publishing quite a few 1 day themed itineraries about Orkney. 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. The itineraries have been created by Destination Orkney as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign.
So far I've tested out itineraries specialising in Vikings, Wartime, World Heritage and the Coast. My latest and final 1 day adventure in the series is on the theme of 'Made in Orkney' which explores some of the fantastic products and independent businesses that have put Orkney on the map.
For a relatively small place there are a growing number of items made here that are sold globally and the Orkney brand is thriving. From my own experience, there seems to be as much effort and pride put in to creating a quality visitor experience and sharing the heritage of the products as there is in making them. Giving back or supporting the local community in some way, is another common theme.
This itinerary will give you a snapshot of the many local businesses on Orkney but there are countless others to explore if you have the time.
MADE IN ORKNEY ITINERARY LOCATIONS
Highland Park Distillery
In a time when I knew very little else about Orkney, I knew that it produced the well regarded Highland Park whisky. After almost a year working in a whisky shop, I got to know this particular malt and the history behind it very well. It was one of our best sellers and many purchasers shared their travel tales of discovering Highland Park on their own visits to Orkney. Back then, these far flung islands off the north coast of Scotland sounded as far away as the moon to someone who, at that time, had never been further north than Inverness!
Fast forward many years and I can happily say I have travelled further than Inverness countless times and my knowledge of Orkney extends far beyond its famous dram. So it seemed fitting that my day discovering local businesses was a visit to the place responsible for creating the product that first piqued my curiosity in this unique archipelago off the north-east coast of Scotland.
Some of the biggest draws to Orkney are the world class historic attractions and in particular the sites that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are probably some of the places that I get asked about the most so I was excited to cover them on the latest Orkney 'See You at the Weekend' itinerary. The heritage sites include the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Maeshowe, along with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites.
I often get asked by visitors to Scotland why they should include Orkney in their vacation and there are many reasons. However, if ancient history is your thing then I can guarantee you will find nowhere else in the country as rich in significant archaeological attractions as on these islands. It is always a sobering thought to remember that many of these monuments are significantly older than the Egyptian pyramids.
If you want to discover some of the Neolithic highlights then this 1 day itinerary is for you.
ABOUT THE ITINERARY AND MY ADVICE
This itinerary is one of several autumn and spring themed day trip ideas that are being introduced by Destination Orkney over the coming months as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. I'll be trying them all out so stay tuned for lots more Orkney inspiration from me.
If you intend on following the full World Heritage itinerary then I would advise some advance planning as you will need to take in to consideration opening times and book a place on the Maeshowe tour. Due to these variables it is unlikely that your route will be exactly the same order as mine. I've included a list of the locations below, with a map at the bottom of the page.
ORKNEY WORLD HERITAGE ITINERARY LOCATIONS
Stones of Stenness
One of the best places to start your day is at the Standing Stones of Stenness which may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles. As there are only four stones remaining, they don't attract as much attention as the nearby Ring of Brodgar despite their massive size. I find this a shame as they form part of what was once a significant site, dating back to 3100 to 2900 BC which precedes the Ring of Brodgar by about 500 years.
The remaining stones were part of an oval-shaped setting that once consisted of up to 12 stones, although it is thought the site was never completed and may have been built over generations. The surrounding ditch is now gone, however the central hearth remains. Evidence recovered shows Neolithic people once cooked and ate at the site.
As for its purpose, the best guesses are that it was used for ceremonies or rituals. With the hearth as a focal point, you can almost imagine the smell of smoke and people gathering around the light and warmth of the flames.
One of the reasons I opted to swap city life for island life is my love of the coast. I could happily potter about beaches and stroll along cliff tops all day long - in fact, that is exactly how I spent last weekend.
When I found out the latest Orkney 'See You at the Weekend' itinerary detailed below was based on local seascapes, with four coastal walks to cover, I was in my element. This was the excuse I had been looking for to ditch mundane household chores and adult responsibilities for the day. Instead, I lost track of time walking along wave battered cliffs, mesmerised by churning seas and feeling revitalised by the brisk sea-breeze.
It would have been easy for me to focus solely on the dramatic scenery but I was intrigued by the physical remnants left behind by the people who lived and worked along these stretches of coast over the centuries. Although each walk took me through a unique and equally stunning landscape, my imagination was in overdrive as I followed in the steps of prehistoric man, Vikings, soldiers and fishermen.
If there is one thing I recommend you do on a visit to Orkney, it would be to include at least one coastal walk in your itinerary.
ABOUT THE ITINERARY AND MY ADVICE
The itinerary is one of several autumn and spring themed day trip ideas that are being introduced by Destination Orkney over the coming months as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. I'll be trying them all out so stay tuned for lots more Orkney inspiration from me.
The Seascape itinerary involves as much or as little walking as you are comfortable with but I do recommend wearing sturdy, waterproof footwear and be prepared for all seasons in 1 day! Also, please be careful along the cliff walks and keep to the paths. It might be very tempting to snap a photo of you balanced on the cliff edge for Instagram likes, but it is a very long way down in some places and just not worth becoming a statistic.
I also recommend taking a spare bag with you to pick up some of the litter that washes up along the beaches. If we all remove a few bits on our walk, we can make a bigger difference
ORKNEY SEASCAPE ITINERARY LOCATIONS
The walk along the cliffs at Yesnaby is without doubt one of the most dramatic coastal walks on Orkney Mainland. With rugged red crags, sea stacks, arches and geos, there are plenty of striking features to look out for.
The surrounding geology spans hundreds of millions of years and the many layers reveal the history of the landscape dating back to a time when Orkney was located south of the equator. During that period much of Yesnaby formed the bottom of a vast freshwater lake called Lake Orcadie.
On a windy day (of which there are many on Orkney!) the sea below bubbles and churns like a cauldron. The waves crash over rocks and rush through small gaps with ferocious power. On really windy days, sea foam and spray are blown over the cliff tops.
Yesnaby is a great spot if you want to witness the might of Mother Nature.
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