Orkney : The Green Islands

Orkney : The Green Islands

Orkney is an archipelago of seventy islands lying north of the Scottish mainland. One feature which distinguishes these islands from Shetland and the Western Isles is how green the Orkney’s are. The main islands are well farmed and the green rolling parks are testimony to this. The exception is Hoy which is hilly with peat moorland predominant. Hoy is sometimes described as the highlands of Orkney. As I write Sea Eagles have returned to Hoy, following an absence of 142 years, and are nesting on the cliffs behind the Dwarfie Stane.

The people of Orkney have their own dialect of English. Some words are not recognisable to mainland Scots. Here are examples – Quoy a park or field. Peedie wee or small. The dialect is a delight to listen to and the people are friendly and helpful.

Gardens walker group well pleased with the gardens at Finnstown Orkney
Gardens walker group well pleased with the gardens at Finnstown Orkney

We visited all the places any tourist would want to visit. The standing stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and Skail House. All special places to visit which make a lasting impression of the landscape as it would have been thousands of years ago.

Skara Brae 5000 year old village on Orkney
Skara Brae 5000 year old village on Orkney

As a garden walks group we like to visit gardens. Happy Valley near Stenness is an inspirational garden which was created by Edwin Harrold. He had no right to the house or the land upon which the garden was developed. No one bothered him and he was left in peace to create his garden. When he died the community felt that it would be a great loss if the garden were to slide into dereliction. The landowner passed the cottage and garden to the Orkney Islands Council to maintain. The Friends of Happy Valley, all volunteers, took it on. It looks superb in May as bluebells create such a lovely spectacle and scent. There are trees in abundance. A burn with waterfalls add to the beauty and tranquility of the place.

Bluebells at Happy Valley on Orkney
Bluebells at Happy Valley on Orkney

In Finstown we came upon the community garden. Taking directions from a local resident we descended on Chalky (a nickname for a teacher) whose private garden was a joy to see. Chalky gave us a master-class in landscape gardening with a sound knowledge of his plants including Latin names. What a spectacular sight. He also created the landscape gardens in the community garden and puts on a show on the highway verges beside his own garden. Impressive!

Hand made Orkney Chair and St Magnus Cathedral at Kirkwall
Hand made Orkney Chair and St Magnus Cathedral at Kirkwall

In Kirkwall at St Magnus Cathedral the weeping window display of ceramic red poppies, originally from the Tower of London, was quite outstanding. The poppies and the warm red sandstone complimented each other and drew a lot of attention from local people as well as from tourists.

We spent a few hours in Stromness walking the streets and drinking in the atmosphere. There are wonderful peedie shops full of ceramics. The Harray Pottery Shop was particularly popular with our group. Many of us carried trophies home from this raid on the ancient town.

A memorable highlight of our holiday was our visit to Hoy. We drove over to Rackwick and some of our energetic members set off for the walk to the old man of Hoy, a world famous rock stack. Alice, Diane and Irene returned elated and triumphant. It might amaze you to learn that their combined ages is in the region of 210 years. That’s my girls!

Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm and Ring of Brodga on Orkney
Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm and Ring of Brodga on Orkney

All good things come to an end. As we crossed from St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, to Gills Bay in Caithness we said farewell to a beautiful and special place. A peedie tear crept into my eye as the islands faded away. Then again this is what special places like Orkney do to you. They live on in your memory and await your return.   Brian Sutherland. May 2016.

If you wish to visit these green islands you can find a good choice of hostels and bunkhouses on this map of Orkney.

Orkney Sky
Orkney Sky

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About Brian Sutherland

​Brian explores Scotlands Gardens and Landscapes. In summer he leads the Glasgow Garden Walks Group to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. http://scotlandsgardenslandscapes.sharepoint.com