Infinite Scotland

Orkney | Lowland/Farming

Take sand and mud by the mountain load. Add to river water. Pour downstream into a basin large enough to hold all of what is now Scotland, and then some. Keep doing this for millions of years. Add weird-looking fish and primitive plants to taste.

Once the layers of gloup are 400 metres thick, let them settle. Now wait. And wait. Fast-forward about 390 million years, and: ‘Hello, Orkney!’.

Orkney is a big, varied, beautiful group of islands, across the Pentland Firth  from the north-east corner of Scotland. There are about 70 islands in all, about 20 of which are inhabited.

Older rocks lie beneath, but much of what you can see of Orkney above the surface of the sea or land comes from what formed in and around that ancient, long-vanished lake. Now known as ‘Lake Orcadie’, this filled part of a huge scoop in the earth’s surface, between high mountains and the open sea.

Culture

George Mackay Brown

Culture

George Mackay Brown, ‘GMB’, as he was known to many, was born and spent most of his life in Stromness, Orkney’s other town – a place that George called ‘Hamnavoe’ in his work. His father, John, was a part-time postman of Orkney descent, his mother, Jane, a Gaelic speaker with Highland ro...
More information
Other

Great Selkie of Sule Skerry

Other

In Orkney, as in Shetland and the Hebrides, legend has it that some seals are not as they seem. Some are supernatural beings – ‘selkies’ – that can cast their skins and come ashore as beautiful humans – seductive to normal mortals who see them. By taking and hiding a selkie’s skin while ...
More information
Wildlife

Greylag Geese

Wildlife

One aspect of seasonal birdlife that has changed a great deal in recent years is the arrival of very large numbers of greylag geese. These birds arrive on Orkney from Iceland in autumn and then spend the winter here. In the past, they could be numbered in the hundreds. Now, there are tens of thousan...
More information
Culture

Kirkwall

Culture

It’s easy to notice how aspects of the Orkney landscape feature in works of art, history and architecture in the past and present, whether in buildings, writings, paintings, music and more. The cathedral at the core of Orkney’s largest town, Kirkwall, is part of this. It was built in the time wh...
More information
Culture

Maeshowe

Culture

The massive cairn of Maeshowe was built to house the bones of honoured dead. It is made of huge Orkney flagstones, some weighing up to 30 tonnes. The way those stones are used is magnificent, laid in layers that curve up and inward to the peak of the central chamber. The low entrance passage to this...
More information
Environment

Neolithic Orkney

Environment

Thanks to the fertility of the sandstone-linked Orkney soils and the food from waters both fresh and salty, Neolithic people here had time to celebrate their island world. Time to mark both the changing seasons and the passage of their folk from life to death. Part of the way they did this was to cu...
More information
Environment

Orkney Cliffs

Environment

In summer, some of the cliffs on Orkney are thronged with seabirds. Again, Neolithic people would have known this aspect of the seasons here. They caught some of the seabirds as food, including the now extinct great auk. Guillemots – a small relative of the great auk – are still prominent among ...
More information
Wildlife

Orkney Vole

Wildlife

Orkney voles are a ‘sub-species’ (distinctive type) of common vole – a species that is widespread across Europe, but not found in mainland Britain. The only other similar (but not identical) ones in Britain are on Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. Orkney voles are big – about twice the size ...
More information
Wildlife

Sea Birds

Wildlife

In summer, some of the cliffs on Orkney are thronged with seabirds. Again, Neolithic people would have known this aspect of the seasons here. They caught some of the seabirds as food, including the now extinct great auk. Guillemots – a small relative of the great auk – are still prominent among ...
More information
Culture

St Magnus Festival

Culture

The St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual celebration of the arts, was founded in 1977 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Orkney’s resident composer (and Master of the Queen’s Music) this has grown to become a major midsummer event. Music is at its heart, but it also encompasses drama, dance, literatu...
More information
Environment

The Old Man of Hoy

Environment

The Old Man of Hoy - at 137 metres, one of the world’s highest sea stacs – show how less than half the depth of sediments that settled in the ancient ‘Lake Orcadie’ would look. Once the lake dried out, desert dunes swirled over it. These also give colour to the sandstones and flagstones that...
More information
Culture

The Ring of Brodgar

Culture

The Ring of Brodgar is a perfect circle of stones, nearly 104 metres across, with a ditch around it that was cut from solid rock. There are two entrance causeways to the ditch, at its north-west and south-east sides. So the Ring may have been part of a much longer, larger super-monument, taking in t...
More information
Culture

The Stones of Stenness

Culture

‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ is now a World Heritage Site with several major stone-age structures in the care of Historic Scotland here. At the eastern side of this area, a settlement was built at Barnhouse around 5,300 years ago. Not long afterwards, the village of Skara Brae (now the finest...
More information
Wildlife

Wading Birds

Wildlife

Many kinds of wading birds breed here or use the islands as wintering grounds. Flocks of curlews, oystercatchers and lapwings are a common sight as they feed on Orkney pastures in summer. Come autumn, flocks of knot, godwits and other waders, newly arrived from places far to the north, whirl in to f...
More information
Wildlife

Greylag Geese

Wildlife

One aspect of seasonal birdlife that has changed a great deal in recent years is the arrival of very large numbers of greylag geese. These birds arrive on Orkney from Iceland in autumn and then spend the winter here. In the past, they could be numbered in the hundreds. Now, there are tens of thousan...
More information
Wildlife

Orkney Vole

Wildlife

Orkney voles are a ‘sub-species’ (distinctive type) of common vole – a species that is widespread across Europe, but not found in mainland Britain. The only other similar (but not identical) ones in Britain are on Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. Orkney voles are big – about twice the size ...
More information
Wildlife

Sea Birds

Wildlife

In summer, some of the cliffs on Orkney are thronged with seabirds. Again, Neolithic people would have known this aspect of the seasons here. They caught some of the seabirds as food, including the now extinct great auk. Guillemots – a small relative of the great auk – are still prominent among ...
More information
Wildlife

Wading Birds

Wildlife

Many kinds of wading birds breed here or use the islands as wintering grounds. Flocks of curlews, oystercatchers and lapwings are a common sight as they feed on Orkney pastures in summer. Come autumn, flocks of knot, godwits and other waders, newly arrived from places far to the north, whirl in to f...
More information
Environment

Neolithic Orkney

Environment

Thanks to the fertility of the sandstone-linked Orkney soils and the food from waters both fresh and salty, Neolithic people here had time to celebrate their island world. Time to mark both the changing seasons and the passage of their folk from life to death. Part of the way they did this was to cu...
More information
Environment

Orkney Cliffs

Environment

In summer, some of the cliffs on Orkney are thronged with seabirds. Again, Neolithic people would have known this aspect of the seasons here. They caught some of the seabirds as food, including the now extinct great auk. Guillemots – a small relative of the great auk – are still prominent among ...
More information
Environment

The Old Man of Hoy

Environment

The Old Man of Hoy - at 137 metres, one of the world’s highest sea stacs – show how less than half the depth of sediments that settled in the ancient ‘Lake Orcadie’ would look. Once the lake dried out, desert dunes swirled over it. These also give colour to the sandstones and flagstones that...
More information
Culture

George Mackay Brown

Culture

George Mackay Brown, ‘GMB’, as he was known to many, was born and spent most of his life in Stromness, Orkney’s other town – a place that George called ‘Hamnavoe’ in his work. His father, John, was a part-time postman of Orkney descent, his mother, Jane, a Gaelic speaker with Highland ro...
More information
Culture

Kirkwall

Culture

It’s easy to notice how aspects of the Orkney landscape feature in works of art, history and architecture in the past and present, whether in buildings, writings, paintings, music and more. The cathedral at the core of Orkney’s largest town, Kirkwall, is part of this. It was built in the time wh...
More information
Culture

Maeshowe

Culture

The massive cairn of Maeshowe was built to house the bones of honoured dead. It is made of huge Orkney flagstones, some weighing up to 30 tonnes. The way those stones are used is magnificent, laid in layers that curve up and inward to the peak of the central chamber. The low entrance passage to this...
More information
Culture

St Magnus Festival

Culture

The St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual celebration of the arts, was founded in 1977 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Orkney’s resident composer (and Master of the Queen’s Music) this has grown to become a major midsummer event. Music is at its heart, but it also encompasses drama, dance, literatu...
More information
Culture

The Ring of Brodgar

Culture

The Ring of Brodgar is a perfect circle of stones, nearly 104 metres across, with a ditch around it that was cut from solid rock. There are two entrance causeways to the ditch, at its north-west and south-east sides. So the Ring may have been part of a much longer, larger super-monument, taking in t...
More information
Culture

The Stones of Stenness

Culture

‘The Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ is now a World Heritage Site with several major stone-age structures in the care of Historic Scotland here. At the eastern side of this area, a settlement was built at Barnhouse around 5,300 years ago. Not long afterwards, the village of Skara Brae (now the finest...
More information
Other

Great Selkie of Sule Skerry

Other

In Orkney, as in Shetland and the Hebrides, legend has it that some seals are not as they seem. Some are supernatural beings – ‘selkies’ – that can cast their skins and come ashore as beautiful humans – seductive to normal mortals who see them. By taking and hiding a selkie’s skin while ...
More information