I can't promise the same will happen for you but if you want an amusing romantic story to tell you could do worse than going to Maeshowe on Orkney Mainland. My girlfriend and I were there a few years ago, standing opposite each other among the rest of the group in this small Neolithic chambered burial cairn. Our Historic Scotland guide (trying to ensure we could all see a particularly fine piece of 12th century Viking graffiti) asked whether I'd like to move to stand beside my wife? My hesitation evidently made her doubt the status of our relationship for she then asked,"You are married aren't you?"... I had to admit we weren't, upon which she promptly offered to conduct the ceremony there and then, telling us she was “qualified”! A response absolutely typical of the generous and ever helpful Orcadians.
But what a magical place to get married! Visit Maeshowe on the shortest day of the year and if the sky is clear the rays of the setting sun will shine for several moments directly along the narrow entrance passageway, dramatically illuminating the wall of the 5000-year-old chamber within.
Regarding the wedding - unfortunately for us no cake had been prepared so we were forced to decline our guide's kind offer. We'll have to go again another year ...
Last February me, my boyfriend and two mates drove from Manchester to Aberdeen, hopped on the ferry to Kirkwall and drove onto Orkney in the dead of night. We woke up in our lovely Scapa Flow Lodge overlooking the bay, cooked up a big breakfast and headed out into the neolithic theme park that is the Orkney mainland. We took a guided tour of the mysterious and Viking-graffitied Maes Howe and explored the underground maze of houses that is Skarabrae.
But the most magical experience of the holiday was heading off of the main road and seeing the Ring of Brodgar open up before us as we drove over the brow of the hill. The deserted site saw us drop our cheese and beetroot chutney sarnies to marvel and wander/wonder among the perfectly placed stones. We couldn't help but imagine who'd built them, ask ourselves whether those long gone people had been inspired most by the rugged land or the starry sky, and pretend for those few moments that the stones belonged only to us. There was nothing to distract us but the fast falling sun and the draw of the cosy pub, tasty whiskey, and live music we'd been promised back in Kirkwall.
Scorralee, Scorradale Road, Orphir, Orkney, KW17 2RF
Google map: bit.ly/viSsjx
While the Stones of Stenness are not as numerous as the nearby Ring of Brodgar, this stone circle is much more peaceful. I almost don't want to recommend this as it is the ring's quiet calmness that seeps into you if you take the time to stand and stare. The combination of the size of the stones and the low rolling countryside mean that the circle can be seen from some considerable distance but for me it is the spirituality that you feel when standing within the circle that makes it special.
On the shore of the Loch of Stenness, Orkney
Google map: bit.ly/tShXMM
Its a burial tomb containing thousands of remains including skulls of our ancestors. The Tomb is entered through a tunnel and trolley (think the Great Escape!) which the kids loved. Once inside, you can see some of the remains which have been placed behind protective glass. There is also a museum where you get hands on with some of the items found in and around the tomb. The view from the tomb is spectacular, as its set next to cliffs overlooking the sea.
Tomb of Eagles, Liddle, St Margarets Hope, Orkney, Scotland, KW17 2RW
Google map: bit.ly/rqQ5yq
The Orkney Isles are one big historic site!
A treasure trove of sites which span the centuries from the stone age to WWII. Visit magical stone circles, atmospheric tombs, the oldest surviving dwelling in Europe, quaint fishing villages -all with stunning loch and coastal locations to boot!
My favourite is Noltland Castle on the small island of Westray. No tickets or stewards -simply knock on the door of the nearby farm house for the key. You'll most likely be the king or queen of your castle and have it all to yourself!
The challenge is to come out without buying anything: it is a challenge I usually fail. Who would have thought that it would be possible to cram so much temptation into such as small space. Whatever you are looking for you will find something here: adult or child/fact or fiction. There is room to browse though close quarters means that conversations are usually shared - new friendships as well as new books are to be found. There are (by the way) no prints.
Papa Westray (or "Papay" to the locals) is one of Orkney's most northerly islands and the two minute scheduled flight between its neighbouring island of Westray is the world's shortest. This tiny, friendly island is rich in wildlife and archaeology. And if you can persuade a local fisherman to sail you across to the uninhabited Holm of Papay, then you can climb down into the ancient chambered cairns to see the prehistoric rock carvings. Take a torch & a sense of adventure! Bliss.
I spent an idyllic holiday camping and cycling in Orkney last summer. I took my bike on the train to Aberdeen, then caught the ferry to Kirkwall. So easy and really cheap if you aren't taking a car.
My first day was spent cycling between the two major towns on the mainland (the largest of the Orkney islands). A beautiful summer cycle, broken up by trips to impressive stone circles, tombs and a 1950s style ice cream parlour. Compared to neighbouring Shetland, Orkney is a cyclist's dream. It's incredibly flat and the drivers are well used to cyclists, so it was a refreshing change to share the road with considerate drivers.
The gorgeous fishing town of Stromness entertained me for a few days. Impressive contemporary art gallery, coastal walks and plenty of pubs to sample the locally brewed ales.
There are so many islands to visit, it is tricky deciding which ones to choose, as they all have their own character. I opted for a day trip to Hoy (famous for the Old Man of Hoy magnificent sea stack). This is the one island not so suitable for you bike as it actually has hills, including Orkney's only munro. I discovered a bothy in which you can stay or camp by, overlooking one of the UKs most spectacular beaches.
I also spent a few days on Westray and Papa Westray, or Papay and it is lovingly known to it's 75ish residents. Many of whom I met and couldn't have been more friendly. It's a cliche to mention it, but it is all about the slow pace of life and everyone has the time for a chat. The wildlife seemed to have the same relaxed cheerful outlook, with seals always popping their inquisitive heads up out of the turquoise water.
Forget an afternoon in the Natural History Museum, Orkney is a living and breathing museum. There are very few places which allow you to step back in time to 2200BC, and even fewer which can give you a detailed picture of what life was like in those times, but Skara Brae is only one of the fascinating sights that this island offers. And with coastal erosion becoming an increasing concern, it may not be around forever.
As well as the numerous sites of historical interest, there are plenty of activities for the more adventurous. Orkney is listed as one of the world's top dive sites (admittedly a dry suit is neeeded) for sights of vessels sunk during the world wars. There are courses and activities to cater for every taste, from outdoor pursuits to fire making and ancient Orkney crafts.
An Orkney adventure can be achieved on any budget, whether for a comfortable stay in a warm, friendly hotel, or a getting back to basics holiday camping or caravaning. Despite the bleak outlook in the winter months there are still highlights of a visit at any time of the year, notably the winter solstice at Maes Howe or the Kirkwall Ba' on Hogmanay. But there is nothing more beautiful than the view over a deserted beach when the sun sets over the sea on Orkney.
The small, picturesque village of St Margaret's Hope is well worth a visit just to experience the food which is conjured nightly in this award winning restaurant. The freshness of the fish is guaranteed as the restaurant changes its menu daily to reflect what has been caught that day, and there is a meat option available for non fish lovers. I would return to Orkney in an instant for no other reason than to dine here again.
Think of your carbon footprint and take your bike to Orkney. There's no need to go abroad with stunning white sands and turquiose seas here in the UK.
I spent 10 days there last summer, camping and cycling. Have a break from the saddle with stops to see stone circles, burial tombs and ice cream parlours.
It's also really cheap to get to. A train to Aberdeen, then as a ferry foot passenger to Kirkwall.
I can't promise, but the summer I went there was glorious sunshine and little wind. Unlike gorgeous neighbouring Shetland, these islands are beautifully flat, perfect for cycling. Locals seem very used to cyclists, so there was great service on the ferry (priority boarding and disembarking), and the majority of car drivers were incredibly considerate.
My favourite island was the lovely Papa Westray. - compact, rare birds, curious seals, artist studios, the oldest dwelling in Britain and the friendliest folk on earth!
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