The islands’ earliest inhabitants have left a remarkable legacy in the shape of the many stones circles, burial cairns, tombs and prehistoric dwellings that pepper the landscape.
The most famous of these are the cluster of ancient monuments whose archaeological and cultural importance has led to them being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site: two remarkable ceremonial stone circles, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, the ancient stone houses of Skara Brae prehistoric village and the large chambered tomb of Maes Howe, perhaps the finest example in Europe.
Collectively, this Heart of Neolithic Orkney is history that has stood the test of time – literally - and provides an incredible insight into how people lived in this far northern archipelago 5,000 years ago.
Remote as it is, travellers have been coming Orkney for quite some time. Step inside the large atmospheric cairn at Maes Howe and you’ll see graffiti left by some earlier visitors to it – the Vikings!
Orkney’s Norse heritage is of course a defining characteristic of the islands and can be found today in their place names, history and traditions. It’s also very evident in Orkney folklore and given that the Vikings were seafaring race, it’s not surprising that the sea and what lurked below its often wild surface is a major theme running through Orcadian mythology. Stories are told of the seal people – the selkies - as well as of the black-clad finmen, mermaids, sea-trow; sea-serpents and monsters, all of whom were waiting to enchant or carry off unsuspecting islanders.
Nowadays, the inhabitants of seas around Orkney are much more appealing. The coastal waters attract visiting dolphins and whales and both common and grey seals are can be found all year round.
The island’s cliffs are also home during the summer months to huge colonies of breeding seabirds while during the autumn and winter, this is a stopping-off point for migrating birds. Orkney is in fact a mecca for twitchers with no less than 13 RSPB reserves around the islands to explore.
Visit the dedicated Brave site for more information.