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10. In the Neolithic heart of Orkney (Orkney Islands)

After the unmissable photo at the end of the northern end, at John o'Groat, we head for Orkney with the ferry from Gills Bay Ferry Terminal to St Margareth's Hope. The boat trip lasts 1h30 and the waves are rather rough. If you are prone to seasickness, it is best to avoid! Even though the island is not big, two days are not too long to explore it. Restaurants are few in number. And seafood even more, they are mainly dedicated to export.

Route : allow 2 hours between boarding at John o'Groat and disembarking at St Margareth's Hope. Once on the island, an hour is enough to cross it. The journeys are quick, the sites to visit are close to each other and the traffic is fluid.

The Neolithic heart of Orkney is a World Heritage Site, due to the oldest and best preserved megalithic sites ever discovered in Europe. Inhabited since 8500 BC. BC, Orkney became a Pictish land, before being annexed by the Vikings (Norway) in 875. They then passed into Scottish hands in 1472, thanks to the marriage of James III of Scotland with Margaret, the daughter of King Christian I of Denmark.


As soon as we disembark, we head for Mainland, the main island, an hour's drive away. Traffic there is fluid and fast. The landscapes crossed are sublime. We come across several vestiges of the Second World War, including a wreck and the Chapel of the Italians, where the prisoners' barracks were located.


The site was discovered in 1850 by William Watt of Skaill, who lived in the nearby manor house (and which can be visited). Following a major storm, the sand dunes that hid it were washed away, as well as the vegetation that covered it. The outlines of a small village, with roofless houses, thus appeared. 4 houses are cleared, then the excavations are abandoned, then looted. In 1924, following a new storm, excavations resumed.

The village dates from 3100 to 2500 BC. JC and includes eight very well preserved grouped houses. Built of local stone and semi-buried in the ground, they were silted up and remained very well preserved, even if the roofs, probably made of wood, have disappeared. These were covered with earth at the time and vegetation grew on them as insulation and additional protection.

Each house is built identically, with a large room, a stone hearth and some form of rudimentary pipework. The furniture (chairs, beds, etc.) was also made of stone and identical in each house. The entrance was very low. Major work to stabilize the cliff was undertaken to protect the site.

Info : on site, you will find a large car park and a welcome center, with a shop and a tea room. The number of people is limited, so it is better to book your visit in advance. Be careful, there is no real network on the island, it is better to do it from England. Price 12.50 pounds per person or included with the Visit Scotland pass.


A few minutes' walk from Skara Brae and with the same entry ticket, you can visit the manor of the 7th Laird of Breckness, William Graham Watt, who discovered the Neolithic site. The house has been extended several times and includes items that belonged to 12 Lairds of the same family. The place is warm and you will discover lots of ghost stories. If you're lucky, like we were, you might even meet the current Laird, who comments on the rooms of his manor.


On the island you will find several cairns (tombs) to visit. Don't necessarily make the most visible ones on the tourist route, there are others, like this one, which are magnificently well restored and which you can admire without any other public. According to research, this cairn dates from between 3,200 to 2,800 BC. JC Remains of pottery were found, as well as two squatting skeletons in the side cell and several others in the main one, as well as remains of ashes and animal bones.

You can enter the cairn through a narrow passage which requires a lot of stooping. Inside, you will see some sort of compartments. Watch out for the spiders, there was a huge one! The only one we saw in Scotland, in fact. Leave the site clean and close the cairn gate after your visit.


These standing stones date back more than 5,000 years BC. BC and are probably the oldest monument of its kind in England. Measuring almost 6 meters in height, the 4 remaining stones surround a central hearth. Nearby you can visit Barnhouse, a Neolithic village. Nearby and along the road, you will see several other standing stones. This site is listed and forms part of the Neolithic heart of Orkney.

Info : on-site parking at the side of the road. Free and open access.


This site is truly incredible, high energy and powerful. So much so that it is very difficult to photograph it. Its circumference (104 meters in diameter) doesn't help either, the circle is enormous and it's a shock to see it in the distance from the road the first time. Only the "fish eye" lens allowed us to have it in full (1st image). It is part of the Neolithic heartland of Orkney and is one of the largest in the country, along with Stonehenge and Avebury.

The dating of the site is uncertain and archaeologists have not yet excavated the interior of the circle. A concentration of other ancient remains is visible nearby. Several of the stones have runic carvings, left by the Norse peoples when they came.

Info : ample parking on site, no amenities and a ten-minute walk to reach the circle. It is monitored, free to access and it is not allowed to enter inside the circle, to preserve it.


This almost island is accessible on foot at low tide only. It is prestigious because the landscapes are grandiose and Pictish and Nordic remains have been found there. There is also a modern lighthouse. Colonies of birds, including puffins, live in numbers in the cliffs of the almost island. Be careful with the tide, it rises quickly! The access path is also very slippery.


Also nice to do and not very far from there, you can go looking for old fishermen's huts. The walk will offer you a breath of sea air and a bird's eye view of the cliffs and what is considered one of the most beautiful coastal spots in Orkney. The huge slabs of rock that meet the sea are also impressive. As for the cabins, they are buried, you will only see them at the last moment. They are over 100 years old and have been restored. They are charming and a symbol of the close bond between men and the sea. You can continue in the other direction to Marwick Head, under which flocks of birds nest. From this point of view, depending on the weather and the seasons, you may see dolphins or whales.

Info : small parking lot on site, no amenities.


It is an ancient fortification, dated between 200 and 100 BC. JC It was a tower 8 meters high, with a central room and a water tank. Around it, there were small houses, all built on the same model, allowing for accommodation for around forty people. Three defensive ditches protected it. The Picts, then the Vikings, then used the site.

Info : small parking lot on site and visitor center with shop. Do not attempt to log into the website outside of opening hours. It is closed and therefore... inaccessible. Scottish particularity.

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