The Orkneys and Shetlands

Wanting to take a 2-week trip into lesser-known territory of the U.K., in September ’04 I covered a lot of ground, first visiting London, the Isle of Man and western Scotland (April ’05, pg. 16 & May ’05, pg. 79). At long last, I was leaving by ship for the Orkney and Shetland islands.

My research had led me to a 3-day/2-night Orkney and Shetland holiday booked through Northlink Holidays, a subsidiary of Northlink Ferries (e-mail info@northlink or visit, for £429 (near $825) single. The price included two nights aboard ship in a cabin with private bath, breakfasts, dinners, transfers and guided tours. Northlink Ferries is a company organized three years ago to take over the old P&O services with new ships and facilities.

Promptly at 6 a.m., the ferry Hamnavoe left Scrabster, Scotland, for the 90-minute crossing to Stromness in the Orkney Islands, where I was promptly met by a van and a gentleman who was to be my guide for the day.

We visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skara Brae, the tomb of Maeshowe and the stone circles of Brodgar and Stenness in the morning. In the afternoon we visited Scapa Flow (famous in WWI and WWII), a unique Italian chapel built by Italian POWs in WWII, the 13th-century St. Magnus Cathedral and the town of Kirkwall.

At 5 p.m. I was taken to the Orkney Hotel in Kirkwall where dinner was provided in their lovely dining room, but I had to wait until 10:30 p.m. for the included transfer to the Northlink ferry Hrossey at Hatson Pier in Kirkwall, which sailed at 11:45 p.m. for Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.

After my included shipboard breakfast, I was met in the terminal at Lerwick by another van and gentleman who was to be my Shetland Island guide. Here, I visited such places as the multiperiod site at Jarlshof and the tombolo at St. Ninian’s Isle. (A tombolo is a spit that connects the mainland with an island and is composed of material coarser than sand, including gravel, cobbles and boulders, all within a constant state of change. This one was noted as far back as the Dark Ages!)

Driving through the unspoiled scenery of Mavis Grind and West Burrafirth, we stopped in Port Arthur at the North Atlantic Fisheries School for lunch in their Da Haaf Restaurant.

To end the day, I spent some time walking through the town of Lerwick, returning to the ship in time for the 5:30 sailing overnight to Aberdeen, Scotland. Dinner and breakfast were included in the self-service restaurant; however, navigating around the ship proved to be difficult due to the very rough seas, making some of the 220 passengers decidedly uncomfortable.

After breakfast upon arrival in Aberdeen, I debarked the ship and walked over to the train station only to find that my pass was not valid during peak periods. I had to wait two hours for another train to Edinburgh. This train, because of track work, ran two hours late.

Arriving in Edinburgh, I decided to leave my luggage at the holding facility before taking a city bus tour. The charge for storage of each bag was £5 and I had two bags.

After the city tour I rode a city bus (Lothian Buses day-saver pass was only £2) to the suburb of Leith, where it was too late to visit the former Royal Yacht Britannia. Discovering the Mamma Roma Restaurant (4/5 Antigua St., Edinburgh) a pleasant 15-minute walk from the train station, I was able to have a delicious dinner of minestrone soup and penne pomodoro for £10.45.

Because I had planned on spending the day in Edinburgh, I booked a Caledonian Sleeper from Edinburgh to London Euston Station. The cost, because it was booked less than seven days in advance, was £95 ($183) with a wakeup Continental breakfast; however, a standard one-way day ticket plus a hotel in London would easily have cost me almost twice that.

Finally, from London Euston, I took the underground back out to Heathrow at a cost of £5.40 for my Virgin Atlantic flight to Boston.

Thoreau said that the world is but a canvas to our imagination. A trip to western Scotland and the Northern Isles shows how magnificently that world was created.


Hollywood, FL