Rocky Coast
Rocky Coast

Our Tour Manager Alastair Walker on the Delights of Orkney and Shetland

A native of Inverness with a rural background, Alastair Walker's knowledge of Scotland is wide-ranging, from the Northern Isles and the Hebrides to Perthshire, Galloway and even the Borders. His specialist subjects include Scottish military history along with the railways of Scotland past and present, though he is just as happy to showcase parts of the country that are many miles from a railway track.

We caught up with Alastair, pictured below, to find out what about our Highlights of Orkney & Shetland holiday is special to him. Find out what he had to say below.


Highlights of Orkney & Shetland

From the moment we sail from Aberdeen harbour, often accompanied by porpoises and dolphins, whilst enjoying our dinner in our 12,000 ton ferry, this is a holiday of islands and coastal vistas. Cruising northwards towards Shetland, we have the NE coast of Scotland to our port and North Sea energy infrastructure to our starboard. Waking up in our comfortable berths the next morning as we sail up the Sound of Bressay towards Lerwick harbour, one feels that you’ve entered a Scandinavian landscape of fjords, voes and geos. Indeed, Shetland is a wonderful place to visit full of contrasts from the wild and breathtaking scenery of Eshaness cliffs (anyone remember the sniper in Shetland series 1?), to the working harbour nestling alongside ancient & modern history in Scalloway. Busta House, our hotel, is welcoming with a 400-year-old core to the distinctive building nestling at the head of a sheltered voe. As one would expect, the rooms are all very individual in character, but suitably modernised. The food is invariably a highlight of staying here.

Shetland Mainland is nearly 60 miles long, and on our second day we make our way from the northern part to the southernmost tip at Sumburgh Head. I love being here at any time of the year, with seabirds abounding, particularly in May and June when the puffins are almost at your feet, but there’s also the prospect of seeing whales and dolphins off-shore from this vantage point. We conclude our time on Shetland by returning to Lerwick to catch the evening ferry to Kirkwall in Orkney. Before we do that, however, there is time to investigate the narrow streets of this bustling port. You could walk past Jimmy Perez’s (‘Shetland’) front door, or visit the excellent Shetland museum, probably the best in Scotland outside of our major cities. An evening cruise to Orkney passing just to the west of Fair Isle en route is a fitting way to end the day.

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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Our Tour Manager Alastair Walker on the Delights of Orkney and Shetland was published on 5 October 2020