At the bottom of Scapa flow lies the many ships of the German navy scuttled in June 1919. Some were salvaged but many are still down there.
Also worth a visit are the block ships in Burra Sound. These are shallower and make perfect second dives.
German ships: the Brummer, the Koln, the Dresden, the Kronprinz Wilhelm, the Markgraf, the Karlsruhe.
Dry suit & lots of experience needed!
Skara Brae is actually multiple villages built on the same site over the centuries. It was fascinating. The day we visited it was blustery with rain showers which I gather is pretty much any day in Orkney. The weather just added to the atmosphere. You can't enter the ancient dwellings but you see them from above so you get a good look. Nearby within walking distance in a Georgian manor house that is open to visitors but still in private hands. In fact the owner was there to help show us around. It was great.
Go to the north coast of the West Mainland to see this site.
Brochs are unique to Scotland, and this is one of the best preserved. They are tall circular dwellings, and in Orkney, surrounded by a village. This one probably began in 200-500BC, and ceased being used as such about 100AD. After that it was used as a single farm until the 8th century.
Iron Age life...
To get to this site, you drive as far as you can go on the mainland towards the north west. Then you walk across the beach from the car park to the island - only accessible for 2 hours either side of low tide (ie 4 hours in total each day). Check the tide times before you set off.
Wear the right shoes & clothes...
This is how Historic Scotland's website describes it...
"A tidal island off the north coast of the Orkney mainland, the Brough of Birsay was intensively settled from the 7th to the 13th centuries AD. The physical remains comprise a 9th-century Viking-Age settlement and 12th-century monastery, together with traces of an earlier Pictish settlement of the 7th and 8th centuries. The buildings and artefacts discovered make the brough one of the most important, and attractive, monuments in Scotland."
HS has a warden on the island, so he/she takes your money or stamps your pass.
You can also walk around the island, or over to the lighthouse. Probably great fun on a nice day. When I visited, it was very wet & windy (about 35mph from the north) as well as cold. I skipped the stroll around the island. I had 3 layers on - t-shirt, shirt + jacket - and was still cold. Yes, in the middle of July.
From what I could see through my watering eyes and fogged up glasses, the setting is spectacular.
I'd been past this place a couple of times in the evening, and vowed to return during opening hours...
So glad I did. Amazing place to find in a community so small and remote. Saw Barbara Hepworth & Eduardo Paolozzi stuff...
It's free - so don't miss out! Look at the website for "what's on" and opening hours.
Just a wee gem...
"The monumental chambered tomb of Maeshowe is simply the finest Neolithic building in NW Europe. Built around 5,000 years ago, it is a masterpiece of Neolithic design and stonework construction..."
The text is from Historic Scotland's website (see below) and sums it up better than anything I could write.
You have to pre-book a guided tour from HS' visitor centre across the road (use the number below). It takes just under an hour - the tour, not the booking.
Photography is not allowed inside the burial chamber. HS' website also has a webcam.
On the day of the winter solstice, at one point as it is setting the sun shines between the 2 hills of the island of Hoy to the south of the Howe, and right up the entrance tunnel to the back wall.
This is the preserved remains of a Neolithic settlement from 3000BC. Older than the Pyramids...
It was uncovered by a huge storm in 1850, having been buried by the sand at some stage after it was abandoned.
It is fascinating to see how they lived, and the (relative) degree of sophistication.
A good visitor centre, and a useful "reconstruction" to show how it would have been when in use.
It is right on the west coast, so beware the weather!
Entry includes a visit to Skaill House - owned by the family whose predecessors "discovered" the site.
Historic Scotland's website gives much better info on the techie stuff than I could write.
Orkney is rich in historic sites of various types.
Standing stones like these are pretty common, but are spectacular.
From memory they are Neolithic, and around 5,400 years old. Think about it....
They are the oldest such stones in the UK.
The site is run by Historic Scotland, but no entry fee required. It's just a field beside the road.
The sheep just ignore you, so don't get panicky. Watch out for their droppings, or your car may need valeting...
To really get a sense of the energy and mood of Orkney life, spend a night there in the midst of a howling winter storm!!!
I guess you have read my Orkney introduction and my Stromness pages ...
So my tip is to ignore the tourism season and come in winter. Sure, the daylight is much shorter and the weather rougher - but that is the fun of it!
You can see stones and lochs and castles anytime - but to really know a place and a people, come in the quiet time.
As the boats huddle in the harbour and the wind scythes along alleyways, follow the sound of music to a lively bar, amidst the shadows and a star-filled sky.
I could take you back 5000 years in one evening!
As soon as you enter Hamnavoe and catch sight of the town from the Scrabster ferry you will realize you have been transported. Just take a walk anywhere through Stromness and you are back in the era of the great sailing ships. Narrow winding streets abound. Keep an eye and ear out for cars. Otherwise, breathe deep of the history and culture and the sea. Marvelous.