To Orkney with Mothership

We whisked The Mothership away to Orkney for a few days, because as you may recall she loves, “The history, Shauna, THE HISTORY!”. These islands, ten miles off the north coast of Scotland, have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. First by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes… then by the Picts… then invaded and annexed by Norway in 875… then re-annexed to the Scottish Crown in 1472.

All that means HISTORY GALORE, with some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. We started with the Ring of Brodgar, thought to be erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. Turns out The Mothership is a big fan of a good stone circle. If the gale force winds had not blown her back towards the car, I think she would have pottered around there all day.

Ring of Brodgar

By the way, here’s a map for context if you like that sort of thing. I do! Whenever someone writes about their travels I have to look it up on Google Maps so I can picture the journey. In this case, picture a very choppy ferry crossing, Mum chattering merrily with Gareth and myself a wussy shade of green.

Road to Orkney

Tangent: whenever I watch historical documentaries and they show pictures of old maps, I always think about the ye olde explorers toiling away at them. Then I wonder if the first folks that flew into space looked back down at the earth and thought, Hey shit, it looks just like the maps! And then I say this out loud to Gareth and he says, “Yeah!” and I realise I’ve expressed that same thought every time we’ve watched a documentary for the past ten years and I need to get some new material.

Anyway, back to the Ring of Brodgar. The stones have been up there for thousands of years so they weren’t ruffled by the weather, but Gareth was forced to retract hands and retreat into the hood of his jacket.


I will keep this one in case he ever needs a cover for a prog rock album.


Another day, this time with blue skies. The pile of big rocks on the left is one of the Churchill Barriers, four causeways built in the 1940s as naval defences to protect Scapa Flow, but now serve as road links.


We also went to the beautiful Italian Chapel. It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the island while working on the construction of the Churchill Barriers. From the Wikipedia:

“The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena.[4] He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.”



Next stop was Skara Brae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a stone-built Neolithic settlement consisting of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3200 – 2500 BC. Older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, as the little stone plaques, remind you as you walk down to the site. Being a sketchy-weathered and non-touristy time of year there were no other visitors that morning, just a wind-battered guide roaming round. I nearly did a runner back to the shop for a cuppa, because I feel awkward in such situations. I always overcompensate for the lack of crowds and go, “REEEEALLYYYY that’s so INTEResting!” then buy a souvenir that I immediately regret. But this guide was brilliant and really brought it all to life.




Aside from all the history, there were walks, tea breaks and sampling of local ales.



Then back on the ferry then home again, where Neighbour Cat pounced on the unpacked suitcase.


About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

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20 thoughts on “To Orkney with Mothership

  1. Ooh, I love Orkney! We went for our Easter break about 5 years ago and had the same experience- I think the light up there makes it clear that fairies still exist. Our favorite visit was to the Tomb of the Eagles. You have to pull yourself into the tomb lying on your back on a little trolley, but that makes the whole experience more amazing- sort of through the wormhole… Your photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  2. This post is bringing back lots of great memories and it’s so weird I was just talking to my sister about that ferry journey last night!It was pretty terrifying actually we hit a point where so many different tides meet?I remember the boat just dropping and the waves being up above the boat. We found out afterwards that they had chopped the ferry in half and stuck a bit in the middle, glad I didn’t know that beforehand! Think I need a sign like that for my cat – she also likes to sneak into cars, so much so that she now goes with my brother every morning in his jeep to feed the cattle, along with the dog.

  3. We want to get up there with the kids so badly. Mainly because my husband, sister, and father scattered his mom’s ashes near the Italian chapel (it was one of her favorite spots to visit). He hasn’t been back since and really wants to. And also because we are a family of raging history nerds and the kids and I really want to see Skara Brae for ourselves (he’s seen it.) Thanks for the wonderful blog post!

  4. I wanna goooo! That looks amazing. Everything: the chapel, the weather, the sites and sights. And the glorious cups of tea when you think your nose or finger might fall off.

    1. She’d so be up for Coast 😉

      Gareth went to Twatt on his way to visiting the Orkney Brewery! Sadly I missed, but am consoled that I have been to Twatt in Shetland. TWO TWATTS!

  5. Beautiful pictures, I especially liked the church and the description you gave. I’m also in love with cat in cars and neighbor cat. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you for the wonderful pictures. If the stars align (I’m almost afraid to even think about it, I could jinx it all), I may be traveling to Scotland next year with my sister and her husband. I really hope so, and would love to include this in our visit. Meanwhile, I can vicariously enjoy with your pictures and write up.

  7. I love the prog rock photo because it gave me a laugh – I love tourist attractions when no one else is there but I sort of need to get over the have-I-come-on-a-day-when-it-is-actually-closed creepiness – looks like a great holiday

  8. Shauna, I enjoy all your posts, but most of all your “travelogues”. In 1983 my husband & I honeymooned in England / Wales / Scotland and have such fond memories of the landscapes. What a fascinating story, that of the Italian Chapel, and what a beautiful memorial the prisoners left.

  9. that slightly unreal moment when you realize that you have just read an account of the same visit on another blog. Lol

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