Art Holiday Travel and Vacation information for Orkney

"The Orkney Islands. Lying off the northern coast of Scotland, Orkney consists of a group of almost treeless, gently rolling islands separated from the mainland by the Pentland Firth. The islands lie between the North Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and cover an area of 376 square miles. There are roughly 70 islands but only 17 are inhabited. Kirkwall, the county's main town, is on the largest island, The Mainland. The town is the site of the magnificent 12th century cathedral of St. Magnus and the ruins of the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces. The next largest islands are Hoy, Westray, Sanday, and Stronsay. Warm ocean currents give the islands the mild climate that makes them one of Scotland's most productive farming areas, with beef cattle being the main product. Fishing is also a highly significant industry but recently tourism has overtaken both it and farming in terms of earnings. The discovery of oil beneath the North Sea led to the construction of a pipeline terminal on Flotta, one of the islands that surround the sheltered harbour of Scapa Flow. A causeway links the southern islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay to the Mainland of Orkney. Remains of prehistoric origin are to be found in abundance. They include burial chambers and rings of standing stones as well as the Stone Age village of Skara Brae which has been designated a World Heritage Site. Viking raiders arrived from Norway 1200 years ago and colonized the islands but they came under Scottish rule in 1472 when, along with Shetland, they were ceded to Scotland in lieu of a wedding dowry." From "Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia", 1996.

Balmedie Country Park, Balmedie. Open all year. Visitor Centre open Apr-Sept, daily 0930-1630, Oct-Mar, Mon-Thur 0930-1630, Fri 0930-1600. Sandy beach, dunes and links. Picnic sites, BBQ sites (must be booked), ranger service.

Bennachie Centre, Esson's Car Park, by Chapel of Garioch. Open Apr-Oct, Tues-Sun 1000-1700, Nov-Mar, Wed-Sun 1000-1700. Interpretation of the social and natural history of Bennachie area. Base for ranger activities. Groups welcome by arrangement.

Bennachie Hill Walks and West Gordon Way Tel: 01467 794161. Series of long and short forest and hill top walks with excellent views. Wheelchair trails. Parking and access from Donview, Esson's and Back o' Bennachie car parks.

Bin Forest Walks, Bin Forest, by Huntly. Tel: 01466 794161. Car park and series of long and short walks through a varied forest environment.

Bow Fiddle Rock, East Shore, Portknockie. Curiously shaped rock formation.

Braeloine Visitor Centre, Glen Tanar Estate, Aboyne. Tel: 013398 86072. Open Apr-Sept, Wed-Mon 1000-1700, Oct-Mar, Thur-Mon 1000-1700. Exhibition, walks, nature trail, picnic area, ranger. Guided walks by arrangement. Parking charge of £1.00 per car.

Bridge of Feugh, Banchory. See salmon leap up the Falls of Feugh. Interpretative panel tells the life cycle of the salmon.

Buchan Ness, Boddam. Headland and lighthouse on the most easterly point on the Scottish mainland.

Bullers of Buchan, North of Cruden Bay on the A975. Breathtaking sea chasm and cliff scenery.

Bunzeach Cycle Route, Bellabeg, Strathdon. Tel: 01466 794161. Series of waymarked trails through the forest. Suitable for family mountain biking.

Cambus O'May Forest Walks, Cambus O'May, by Ballater. Four routes of varying distance through Forestry Commission woodland, including one specifically designed for wheelchair users.

Cambus O'May Suspension Bridge, Cambus O'May, by Ballater. White Victorian suspension bridge over the River Dee.

Catterline, by Stonehaven. Picturesque old fishing village. Seals can often be seen in the bay.

Countesswells Forest, Aberdeen. Walks, horse trails, car parks. Archaeological lazy bed agricultural system.

Crovie Viewpoint, East of Macduff on the B9031. Clifftop viewpoint overlooking spectacular fishing village. Picnic area.

Culbin Forest, by Forres. Tel: 01343 820223. Forest walks, picnic area, interpretive panels, car park.

Deeside Railway Line, Aberdeen. Scenic 6 mile walkway from Duthie Park to Peterculter.

Den of Maidencraig, Hazlehead, Aberdeen. Nature and woodland walk along the Denburn with parking off the A944.

Donmouth Local Nature Reserve, Donmouth Road and Beach Esplanade, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen. Coastal, dune and riverside walks at Don estuary. Birdwatching hide.

Doonies Farm, Old Cove Road, Nigg, Aberdeen. Tel: 01224 523400. Rare breed farm centre. Clydesdales, cattle, sheep, pigs, Shetland ponies. Picnic and play areas.

Drinnie's Wood and Observatory, by Fetterangus. Restored 19th century viewpoint. Car park, picnic site, walks.

Findhorn Heritage Centre, Findhorn, by Forres. Tel: 01309 690659. Open May & Sept, Sat-Sun 1400-1700, June-Aug, Wed-Mon 1400-1700. Discover the intriguing history and local ecology of Findhorn village. See the salmon fisher's bothy. Admission Adult £1.00, Concession/Child £0.50.

Findhorn Nature Reserve, Findhorn, by Forres. Tel: 01343 563469 for ranger service covering Moray coast. Nature reserve with public bird hide, car park and picnic site. Bird hide key from Phoenix Shop at Findhorn Foundation.

Footdee (Fittie), Aberdeen. Picturesque fishing village built 1808-9, designed by fisherfolk.

Formartine and Buchan Way. Middle distance footpath from Dyce to Mintlaw along the course of the old railway line. Four stages.

Four Hills Country Walk and Brimmond and Elrick Country Park, Aberdeen, (off A96/A944). Open all year. Hill, moorland, forest and farmland walks. "Robbers" cave.

Fowlsheugh RSPB Seabird Colony, Crawton, by Stonehaven. Tel: 01224 624824. Open at all times. RSPB seabird colony. Twice weekly boat trips from Stonehaven harbour, May-July.

Gartly Ski Trail and Mountain Bike Route, Gartly, by Huntly. Tel: 01466 794161. Ski trail (snow dependent) and bike route through forests.

Girdleness, south bank of Aberdeen Harbour. Splendid viewpoint and car park at Torry Battery.

Glenlivet Estate, Glenlivet Estate Information Centre, Main Street, Tomintoul. Tel: 01807 580283. Open all year. Large highland estate in foothills of Cairngorms. Over 60 miles of waymarked walking and cycling trails. Downhill and Nordic skiing. Ranger service and Information Centre. Free maps and guides.

Glenshee Chairlift Company Ltd, Cairnwell, by Braemar. Tel: 013397 41320. Open daily, 0830-1700 (weather permitting). Skiing in winter. Chairlift in summer to give access to summit of Cairnwell mountain and panoramic views. Licensed cafe and shop open daily. Car park, ski equipment and instruction.

Glen Tanar Estate, 2 miles west of Aboyne, off B976. Marked walks of various lengths through scenic Glen Tanar.

Hell's Lum and Cullykhan Bay, by Pennan. Chasm and "grotto-like" cliff features and bay, 1 mile west of Pennan.

Hill of Barra Walk. Walkway from B9170 at "Blankets" to join the unclassified road linking the B9170 and A947 at Kirkton of Bourtie. This walk rises to Hill of Barra from which there is an outstanding view of the Garioch, the vantage point used by Robert the Bruce to watch the Battle of Barra.

International League for the Protection of Horses, Belwade Farm, Aboyne. Tel: 013398 87186. Open all year Wed 1400-1600, Sat-Sun 1400-1600. World's largest equine charity. Rehabilitation centre for equines in need. Admission free.

Kincardine Estate, Kincardine O'Neil. Tel: 013398 84225. Country estate providing an exclusive location for group activities such as field sports, business meetings and a wide range of other pursuits.

Kirkhill Forest Walks, Kirkton of Durris (Forest Enterprise), Banchory. Tel: 01330 844537. Open all the year round. Walks, cycle trails, orienteering course, horse trails. Car park off A96. Sculptures in the forest at Tyrebagger Car park off B979.

Linn O'Dee, Inverey, by Braemar. Narrow chasm on River Dee. Local beauty spot.

Lochinch Farm, Redmoss Road (off A90), Aberdeen. Tel: 01224 522473. Open all year, dawn to dusk. Highland cattle, Scottish sheep. Loch of Loirston, home to wildlife and waterfowl.

Loch Muick & Lochnagar Wildlife Reserve, Glen Muick, by Ballater. Nature reserve, visitor centre, red deer reserve.

Loch of Strathbeg Nature Reserve, RSPB, Starnafin, Crimmond, Fraserburgh. Tel: 01346 532017. Open dawn till dusk seven days a week. Visitor Centre, toilets, birdwatching hides, otters, breeding terns (summer), roost for large numbers of wildfowl (winter). Warden on site.

Macduff Marine Aquarium, 11 High Shore, Macduff. Tel: 01261 833369. Open daily 1000-1700. Unique open air centre-piece tank, surge tanks, touch pools, sea-lab, gift shop. Admission: Adult £2.75, Child £1.50, Concession £2.00.

Mearns Forest Walks, Drumtochty Glen, Auchenblae. Forest walks, wildlife pond, picnic area, toilets.

Moray Firth Wildlife Centre, Tugnet, Spey Bay. Tel: 01343 820339. Open Jul-Aug, daily 1030-1900, Mar-Jul & Sept-Nov, daily 1030-1630. Exhibition on the Moray Firth dolphins, wildlife gift shop and activity holidays. Admission: Adult £1.50, Child/Concession £0.75.

Morrone Birchwood Nature Reserve, off Chapel Brae, Braemar. Fine examples of upland birchwood.

Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve, Dinnet, by Aboyne. Tel: 013398 81022. Visitor Centre open mid May-Sept, Thur-Mon, 1000-1800. 1,415 hectare nature reserve with visitor centre, walks, lochs.

Mulloch Forest, by Banchory (off A957). Views of Feugh Valley and Deeside, stone circles, picnic area.

Pennan, west of Fraserburgh on the B9031. Old Smugglers' Village. Location for film "Local Hero". Spectacular cliff features and bay one mile from the village.

Pitfichie Cycle Route, Tillyfourie, Monymusk. Tel: 01466 794161. Waymarked mountain bike route through the forest. Excellent views from the top trails. Suitable for walking.

Queen's View, Tarland. One of the finest views in the North East. Much loved by Queen Victoria. Car park, viewpoint indicator.

Randolph's Leap, seven miles south of Forres. Popular beauty spot on River Findhorn.

Revack Estate, Revack Lodge, Grantown-on-Spey. Tel: 01479 872234. Open daily 1000-1700 (1600 during winter). A highland estate with woodland walks, gardens, orchid houses, children’s adventure playground, gift shop and tearoom. Admission free.

Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve, Collieston. Tel: 01224 642863. Spectacular coastal area which includes beach, sand dunes, cliffs and estuary. Internationally renowned for its wildlife. Unlimited access to dunes except between April and August. Largest sand dune system in Britain. New visitor centre scheduled to open summer 1998.

St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, St Cyrus, by Montrose. Tel: 01674 830736. Visitor Centre, audio-visual, marine life tank. Open May-Sept, times may vary. Please phone for details. Dunes, cliffs and saltmarsh.

Scolty Hill, Banchory. A popular walk affording spectacular views of middle Deeside. Summit monument erected in memory of General Burnett. Car park at Auchattie.

Speyside Way Visitor Centre, Boat o' Fiddich, Craigellachie. Tel: 01340 881266 to confirm opening of Visitor Centre. Long distance footpath always open, Spey Bay to Tomintoul.

Todhead Lighthouse, by Catterline. A local beauty spot with many nesting birds.

But these impressions will grow, or fade, alongside views of living Orkney: magnificent sea scapes and serene landscapes uniquely lit under the islands' constantly changing skies; bird and animal life, sufficient to fill many more lenses than they do; sporting waters with space and quarry a plenty, for sub or surface fans; fairways where concentration can be difficult - rolled and mown spaces seem less green in Orkney; Kirkwall, with Broad Street, market cross and handsome town houses; Stromness, with its single street huddled between the brae and its piers and closes - built end on to the sea; the crofting townships of the mainland parishes and harbour villages of the North and south isles. Although each offers views of the past, business is very much of today. For this particular "fragile island economy" is particularly robust. And what of the real stuff of life......of food and fun? Our kitchens are never short of "homemade" dishes: locally grown fruit and vegetables; fresh fish, trout and salmon; the finest shellfish and highest quality beef; breads, biscuits and cheese; ice creams and our famous fudge. Wash it down if you wish with Orkney ales, or bask in the afterglow of the most Northerly of single malts, Highland Park. Take in the sights and sounds of the Jazz, Folk, Country & Irish, or St Magnus Festivals or explore the breadth and depth of knowledge at our Science Festival. Put your feet up, or let you hair down, at an Orkney "harvest home". Whatever your trade, your hobby, interest or fancy - if you're looking for space, peace, sport or action - "welcome to Orkney".

Where is Orkney?

The Orkney Islands lie off the Northern tip of Scotland where the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Comprising of 67 islands, Orkney covers an area of 974 square kilometres (376 square miles). Of the islands, less than one-third are inhabited, the islands having a total population of approximately 19,450 people (1991 census). The majority of people live on Orkney's largest island, the land mass known as "the Mainland", with the greatest population concentrations being around the Mainland towns of Kirkwall and Stromness.

Approximate Distances to Orkney from Major European Cities
Oslo 500 miles/805 km
London 580 miles/933 km
Paris 800 miles/1288 km
Berlin 830 miles/1336 km
Madrid 1350 miles/2173 km
Rome 1450 miles/2334 km

Orkney's Landscape
Of glacial origin, Orkney's islands are generally low, almost treeless, windswept and wet. The Gulf Stream passes close to the seas surrounding the islands, giving Orkney a reasonably temperate climate in which frost and snow are rare. That said, the wind is an almost continual presence here, something that is unnoticed by Orcadians but remarked at often by visitors. There are often dramatic changes in the weather and it is said that you can experience all four seasons in the course of a few hours. Summers are long with almost continual daylight (in June the sun is above the horizon for over 18 hours) contrasted sharply by the long dark winter months when the sun rises at about 8 am and begins to sink beneath the horizon again at around 3 pm. Orkney has no mountains; the highest elevation being only 1,560 feet and only one island (Hoy) exceeds 1,000 feet. The western, Atlantic-facing, coastlines of the islands are renowned for their dramatic sea-cliffs and awe-inspiring panoramic views whereas the eastern coast are generally more gentle with long, sandy beaches.

About the Orcadian People?
The people of Orkney are referred to as "Orcadians". The author J Gunn summarised the typical Orcadian perfectly when he wrote: "In general terms the visitor will find Orkney folk to be a well grown, well-nourished folk, deliberate but purposeful in their movements, kindly and good humoured, willing to meet half way, though somewhat shy and reserved, and glad to accept as a friend one who shows his appreciation of the glamour of the islands, for the natives are strongly patriotic in this respect. Their language is English, but in the pronunciation of this English every district differs from every other. Many of the words still in the Orkney vernacular are Norse. The Orkneyman also speaks deliberately, and is not given to overmuch speaking of any kind. He seems to believe the saying that 'a man can't learn much by hearing himself talk' " from: "Orkney - The Magnetic North"