Orkney Mainland Sightseeing

Thank goodness for blog dashboards, so I can add to this post in draft form in snips and bits over the past month.  Otherwise it’d never get written.  I’ve just been busy with the kids, knitting, my first craft fair, designing a website and us all being ill.

ANYway… Sightseeing on Orkney!

Wow, what an island the Orkney Mainland is!  I thought it would be full of boring things.  I mean, bimbling around ruins generally isn’t my idea of fun.  Example, Skara Brae: it’s interesting to look into a hole in the ground and see all these organised rocks and think, “Gosh, weren’t people back then really clever?” for a few minutes.  Whereas if you’re 5, it’s pretty boring.  To be brutally honest.

rainbow Broch of Gurness Orkney Islands

Rainbow onto Mini Minx's head; the rest of us just got wet.

I thought the Broch of Gurness would be the same.  Oh no!  Maxi and Midi were positively encouraged to go chasing around and over and under and through and in and out of it.  And chasing around after them really made the site interesting to me.  I mean, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic when your kids are spotting all kinds of tiny holes and chimneys and mazes.  It bucketed with rain suddenly and we all got soaked, but the intense double rainbow lifted all our spirits (there’s something really magical about rainbows!)

After counting windmills (I never knew Midi was so good at counting – I was really impressed), we drove round the coast to catch the rest of the sights.  Let me backtrack a little: we started off in Kirkwall, up the hill to Finstown, then screeched off a right to do an anti-clockwise circuit along the coast, past an old-fashioned doocot (dovecote?), towards the Brough of Birsay.

Brough of Birsay- we only had to wait an hour for the tide to drop enough to walk over to the island along the causeway. The nice man at the Broch told us the times of low tide, so knew when to pitch up, and that we’d have enough time to see the Earl’s Palace.  At first glance, to my uncultured eyes it *looked* like a boring old ruin, till we let the minxes loose.  Midi was fearful of enclosed spaces, but Maxi liked spotting chimneys and staircases and hiding in old fireplaces.  Again, her excitement was so infectious.

Skara Brae Bay of Skaill

Bay of Skaill behind Skara Brae

We thought the girls would be knocked out by Skara Brae, the 5000 year old village.  Maxi liked the fact that it had stone beds and cupboards, but otherwise she wasn’t that impressed because she could only walk along the path and look.  The woman at the ticket office warned her to watch out for Vikings, which spooked the hell out of my little 4 year old <tut, tut>.  The path from the ticket office to the village is edged with little stones marking out big occasions in human history, with the distances between them proportional to the time lapse.  Blimey, it really gets across just how long ago 5000 years was!

Hole O Rowe

Pic of Hole O'Rowe gatecrashed by some minxes

Walking back to the car, the Bay of Skaill right below the village beckoned enticingly in the sunlight.  Well, we had to do another beautiful beach!  The minxes built sandcastles and I walked along it to get a better view of the natural arch, the Hole O’ Rowe.  The best spot to see it was halfway along (funny old thing, right below the only house in sight).

From there we cut across to the:

Ring of Brodgar Orkney IslandsRing of Brodgar, huge circle

Standing Stones of Stenness Orkney IslandsStanding Stones of Stenness, small circle

Everyone was too tired to get out and look, so we put kids’ music on the CD player and did a windscreen tour down to the south and back anticlockwise to Kirkwall, before going for dinner to celebrate Mother’s Day.  The meal was fine, but I must admit I had the most fun that day just knocking about with the family.

The next day after a brilliant breakfast of local produce (all supplied by Sheila of Innisgarth), we went straight to Maeshowe.  Walking in, I wasn’t that impressed.  Was I expecting lightshows and Disney?  But the man doing the guided tour was absolutely brilliant.  He was funny and interesting.  I loved the Viking graffiti; Maxi liked looking at all the places to hide in; Midi liked getting a big reassuring Mummy cuddle till it was time to go out into the light again.

After Maeshowe, we drove to Quoyer Viewpoint, right by the loch.  We sat in the car and ate our sandwiches and treats, watching geese being blown sideways with the backdrop of the stone circles and standing stones.

Brough of Birsay

Midi Minx pretending to be a tank commander, Brough of Birsay

Talking of standing stones, the tourist guide tells us that the Stone O’ Quoybune is a random standing stone that legend says goes to the nearby loch for a drink every New Year.  I don’t know about that one, but everywhere you look there are random standing stones, not just at the top of hills.

The weather definitely turned, so as it started to rain heavily we decided to drive back home to mooch round Kirkwall for a bit.  We stopped at the Cuween Chambered Cairn, though.  Mini Minx needed a feed and a sleep and it was bucketing down (the only bad weather our whole trip), so The Boss and elder 2 minxes walked up the hill to go explore.  Midi absolutely refused to go into the dark, so she was delivered back to me, and our newly-intrepid Maxi Minx led her Daddy into the pitch black chamber.  They had an absolute hoot of a time.

Even though we only had 1 and a half days to sightsee round Orkney (!), with 3 little girls who got tired quickly, we felt like we had enough time to do what was important to us.  We saw what we really wanted to see and there’s still plenty to fill another fortnight’s holiday hopefully next year (and more).  But we also had time to just amble round some beaches, too, digging sandcastles (Midi), admiring seashells (Maxi) and eating sand (Mini).  We also had a lot of fun driving around singing silly made-up songs (everyone except The Boss), and reading out roadsigns and map names and sniggering (ok that was me.  Eg Twatt and Greeny.  I’m immature.  I know).

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