The Unforgettable Orkney Islands

I’m midway through my Scotland experience, but I just can’t get my first stop — the Orkney Islands — out of my mind.

My first evening (evenings are long at these Norwegian latitudes), I wandered down to the cathedral in Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and happened upon a stirring band of pipers and drummers. I watched as little local kids splashed in a cultural puddle created by the band, the wail of the pipes, the towering stony church, and adoring townsfolk…and I could almost see them absorbing into their DNA what it means to be Orcadian.


A band of pipers and drummers plays at Kirkwall’s St. Magnus Cathedral

Sightseeing on Orkney is a quirky mix of 20th-century world war sights and megalithic wonders from 3000 B.C. I drove past sunken war ships at Scapa Flow, one of the biggest natural harbors anywhere, and visited an adorable little chapel that Italian POWs built out of military scrap.

barriers at scapa flow

One of four Churchill Barriers built during World War II to protect Scapa Flow.

sunken war ship

A sunken war ship at Scapa Flow. (Photo: Cameron Hewitt)


The Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during World War II.

On the west coast of Orkney, I explored the Neolithic village of Skara Brae — and as the wind blew across the bluff, I understood why those early locals lived like moles in underground stone settlements.

skara brae

The prehistoric village of Skara Brae.

Then, doing my very best Chuck Berry duckwalk through a tight passage, I climbed into Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb north of the Alps — and shared that mystical space with a tiny sparrow who made her nest there.

tomb chamber

The chambered tomb of Maeshowe.

It was all simply unforgettable.


This is Day 92 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.