Stromness Things to Do

  • the 3 main stones
    the 3 main stones
    by iaint
  • with people (and sheep) for scale
    with people (and sheep) for scale
    by iaint
  • Skara Brae
    Skara Brae
    by iaint

Best Rated Things to Do in Stromness

  • scotlandscotour's Profile Photo

    See Stromness On A Wild Winters Night!

    by scotlandscotour Updated Nov 18, 2004

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    Stromness Busy Street

    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!

    http://www.orkneyjar.com/orkney/stromness/
    Webcam
    http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/stromness/stromness/
    http://visitorkney.com/eating.html

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    Just take a walk

    by Asa111 Written Sep 30, 2004

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    High St. Stromness
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    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.

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    Dive the German High Sea Fleet Wrecks

    by adelinemmc Updated Nov 23, 2012

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    Wreck of the Karlsruhe
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    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!

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  • See Layers of Villages in Orkney

    by hongkong88 Written Dec 9, 2011

    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.

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    Stenness

    by iaint Updated Jul 20, 2010
    the 3 main stones
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    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...

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    Skara Brae

    by iaint Updated Jul 20, 2010
    Skara Brae
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    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.

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    Maes Howe

    by iaint Updated Jul 21, 2010
    the approach

    "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.

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    Pier Arts Centre

    by iaint Updated Jul 22, 2010
    the pier

    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...

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    Brough of Birsay

    by iaint Updated Jul 25, 2010
    cold, wet & windy
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    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.

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    Broch of Gurness

    by iaint Updated Jul 25, 2010
    looking towards the entrance
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    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...

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    How Stromness helped establish Canada

    by Drever Written Mar 27, 2014
    Signal Cannon
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    The boom of the signal cannon announced the sighting of the Hudson Bay ship in the choppy waters of Hoy Sound. The three-masted four-hundred-ton barque, the Prince of Wales, swung to port as it made its approach to Stromness harbour. It was the final port of call before crossing the Atlantic. The Company’s ship had come to stock up on fresh vegetables and to draw water from Logan’s Well just as ships had done since the 17th century.

    Sailors streamed out of the vessel to enjoy their final leave before the long voyage "Nor-Wast". The Company would be signing up traders, clerks and tenant farmers for trading posts at Rupert’s Land, offering them twice the wage an agricultural labourer could earn in Orkney. Formed in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company held a monopoly over trade in the region around Hudson's Bay in Canada. After an unpromising beginning and parliamentary threats to revoke its charter, the company became hugely profitable.

    By 1799, of the 530 men working in the Hudson's Bay Company post in North America, 416 were from Orkney. Over time, they had earned a reputation as loyal, hard-working employees – sober, obedient and capable of enduring unusual cold, hunger and hardship. With a background of farming, fishing, sailing and with a good basic education, they were versatile and able to handle any task.

    In its vast territory - eventually known as Rupert's Land - the Company had the power to establish and enforce laws, erect forts, keep ships of war, and to make peace or war with native peoples. The British conquest of Canada in 1763 resolved conflicts with the French over the fur trade and made the company's territories accessible from the south as well as by sea. By 1821, the HBC territory extended to the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

    Hudson's Bay ships watered and took on stores and men in Stromness until the early 1900s. At the south end of the Stromness' single winding street is Login's Well. This watering hole was sealed in 1931. A stone by the well bears an inscription proclaiming that water from the well was used to supply Captain Cook's Discovery and Sir John Franklin's arctic exploration vessels as well as the ships of the Hudson Bay. Close by is the "Haven" where men were signed up and along side it is another building where people returning could be treated for scurvy and frost bite.

    In 1870 the company's territories were acquired by the Dominion of Canada in return for an indemnity of £300,000 and a land grant of 2,835,000 hectares - about seven million acres.

    The Hudson Bay Company founded Canada. It is startling to think the small-town of Stromness could have played such a large part in setting up such a large country. This story can be explored further in the Stromness Museum.

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    Explorer Extraordinaire John Rae 1813-1893

    by Drever Written Mar 27, 2014
    John Rae's Memorial
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    The three masted vessel the "Prince of Wales" heeled as she met the fresh breeze and turned to starboard as she entered the choppy grey waters of Hoy Sound. John Rae stood enjoying the spray of salt air, the creaking masts, crackling halyards and snapping sails. He was on his way at the age of 19 to Hudson Bay as a doctor.

    Born on 30 September 1813 at the Hall of Clestrain, near Stromness, Rae skilled in farming, fishing and sailing had graduated in surgery at the University of Edinburgh. He was the rugged individual the Company needed.

    Posted to Moose Factory he practiced there until 1845. Crees living around the post tutored Rae into becoming an expert canoeist and skilled snowshoe walker so he could tend to his far-flung practice. His hunting skills flourished as he supplied deer and fowl for the fur trading post.

    In 1846-47, Rae explored the Arctic coast westward from Fury and Hecla Straits to the Boothia Isthmus, mapping more than 600 miles of shoreline. He set out with 10 men and two boats on the first of four expeditions. The journey took him north along the Hudson Bay coast to Repulse Bay across Rae Isthmus (in his honour) into Committee Bay. Here he surveyed the coast of this bay and the southern half of the Gulf of Boothia. He discovered that Boothia Felix was a peninsula and not an island thus proving that the sought for North-west Passage didn’t exist in this area.

    In 1848 with Sir John Richardson he began a search for the missing Sir John Franklin expedition. In 1851 they searched the western, southern and eastern shores of Victoria and Wollaston islands, charted some 630 miles of unknown territory, and found pieces of wood - probably parts of the missing expedition’s vessels.

    A mapping expedition in 1853-54, covering some 1,100 miles, enabled Rae to return to London with solid evidence, from Inuit sources, of the fate of Franklin and his crew. He also discovered the last link in the sought-after North-West Passage. Further Arctic explorations in 1860 and a survey in 1864 from Winnipeg to the Rocky Mountains enlarged his already extensive knowledge of Canada's Arctic coast and northern and western interior.

    In 1852 John Rae received the Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. He received the degree of LLD from the University of Edinburgh, and that of MD from McGill University, Montreal, in 1880. He was also a member of the Montreal Natural History Society and of several other distinguished societies. Rae was the author of a book Expedition to the Shores of the Arctic Sea in 1846 and 1847 (London, 1850). John Rae spent his later life in London, England, where he died on 22 July 1893.

    His birthplace the Hall of Clestrain is still standing and now a designated heritage site but needing restoration. He is buried in the churchyard of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney.

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