From our harbour-side hotel in Orkney’s capital of Kirkwall, we strike west the next morning into the heart of Neolithic Orkney. Much has been discovered in recent years about the pivotal role of Orkney in Neolithic life and we explore many aspects from the high ceremonial of the Ring of Brodgar, through the mysteries of the chambered cairn at Maeshowe, ancient by the time it was desecrated by Vikings who left runes that we see in the main chamber, to the domesticities of Skara Brae, a coastal village engulfed in sand and then rediscovered some 200 years ago after another storm dislodged some of the covering sand. I never tire of marvelling at the antiquity of Skara Brae. As one walks down a path from the visitor centre to the village there is a stone timeline alongside listing other events in civilisation. These give a real sense of just how humbling this place is, and how transient our part is in this continuing story. More modern Orkney predominates our final day with time to explore Kirkwall’s cathedral, castle, museum and characterful shops in the morning, before we set off for the Italian Chapel and the south islands linked together by the Churchill Barriers, both relics of World War II. Scapa Flow is the sheltered anchorage enclosed in part by the Churchill Barriers and, if time permits, we’ll drive round its northern edge to visit Orkney’s second town of Stromness. Immortalised by George Mackay Brown’s writing, Stromness is a characterful little port, which has a distinct flavour and is always worth paying a visit to.
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