Orkney is a truly unique destination. A deep sense of history can be felt everywhere in the 70 or so scattered islands that make up the archipelago, islands where life is defined by the past and sculpted by the sea.

    The ferry from Scrabster on mainland Scotland to Stromness sails past the impressive red stone sea-stack of the Old Man of Hoy, then on below the cliffs of St John's Head - the highest vertical cliff in the UK - making this the most dramatic way of reaching Orkney. Yet the drama of Hoy is misleading as the landscapes elsewhere are much gentler and well farmed.

    From Aberdeen, you can also travel to Kirkwall by ferry or you can take a flight from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness or Shetland.

    Kirkwall, Orkney's main town, is a great base for touring by car or by bike. There are excellent ferry services between islands, though you can also take the world's shortest scheduled flight - 2 minutes! - between Westray and Papa Westray.

    Orkney offers a rich variety of activities on land, loch and sea to suit all abilities and interests, from golfing to walking, and from sailing to cycling. With almost 600 miles of coast and some great unspoilt areas, the islands are superb for wildlife watching and for rich and varied angling. Divers love it too, particularly around Scapa Flow where the German fleet was scuttled at the end of the First World War.

    Orkney is also the amateur archaeologist's ideal destination. Part of mainland Orkney has been declared a World Heritage Site because of the richness of its prehistoric sites. For example, at Maeshowe, visitors wonder at the skills of stone masons who built this large tomb some 5000 years ago. Nearby stand the eerie stone circles at Stenness and Brodgar while further west you can marvel at the sunken Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, overlooking the Bay of Skaill. In fact, almost every one of the islands can boast some prehistoric relic or find.

    By contrast, modern day Orkney is a hive of creative industry, with several internationally renowned jewellery manufacturers and many professional craftspeople at work in the islands. Studios and workshops are often open to the public, and there are Craft and Artists' Trails to follow.

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