Remote Scottish Islands to Visit
By Gavin D Smith
Arriving on Orkney, with its massive Stone Age monuments that predate the Pyramids of Egypt, you are no longer among Scots, but Orcadians. Genetic studies support that these island dwellers are a breed apart, indicating that 60 percent of the Northern Isles’ male population is of Scandinavian ancestry, some of the most concentrated Viking heritage in all of Britain. It’s logical, given that a Viking longship from Norway could reach this archipelago of 70 islands north of the Scottish mainland in 24 hours, the equivalent of a day’s drive for an intrepid seafaring Norseman.
Making their independence even more apparent, when an Orcadian refers to ‘the mainland,’ he almost certainly means mainland Orkney, the largest island, and home to the towns of Stromness and Kirkwall. The latter is the island’s capital, with the 12th century red sandstone St. Magnus Cathedral at its heart. Mainland Scotland is just ‘Scotland.’ And whatever you do, refrain from referring to “the Orkneys” if you don’t wish to see Viking blood boil.
As evidenced through 5,000 years of history, Orkney has been a hospitable home to generations. Even today, it frequently tops British polls for overall quality of life. The climate is relatively benign, if windy, crime rates are low, education and health provisions are good, and the scenery is superb. Add to that some of the finest local meat, seafood, and cheese you will ever find, the presence of two whisky distilleries, two breweries, a gin-making operation, and a winery, and this fine place to live makes an amazing place to visit.
In terms of whisky making, both of Orkney’s active distilleries are situated close to Kirkwall. One has enjoyed a high profile with regard to its single malts for at least two decades, while the other is just starting to emerge from the shadows.
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