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Although less than ten miles from the Scottish mainland, the fiercely independent Orkney Islands, with their remote charm, can at times seem like a world away. With its relaxed way of life, the difference is apparent from the ferry, as soon as the mainland falls away behind. Soon Orkney's magnificent landscape comes into view - a blend of rolling green fields, shimmering lochs, pretty heather moorland and stretches of brilliant beaches. The 70 islands of Orkney seem calm and peaceful, and yet these places are filled with exciting things to do - there are standout ancient sites, atmospheric ruined castles, charming fishing ports with their grey-flagged streets, and even melancholy shipwrecks from the Second World War.

Skara Brae
Ideally situated in the sweeping, sandy Bay of Skaill, Skara Brae is an extraordinary archaeological site pre-dating both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Inhabited in about 3180BC, the small huts - complete with stone furniture - have survived the last 5000 years in remarkably good condition. The site was discovered in 1850, after a huge storm stripped the earth that had grown over it. Skara Brae has proved to be of almost unparalleled importance to scholars of Stone Age life, and in 1999 it was made part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the nearby Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Italian Chapel
The Italian Chapel, on the tiny island of Lamb Holm, is now all that remains of a Prisoner of War camp from the 1940s. Having been captured in North Africa, the Italian prisoners were made to build the Churchill Barriers, in order to protect the natural harbour of Scapa Flow. As Lamb Holm was not connected to the rest of Orkney until the Barriers were completed, it was agreed that the Italians could build a chapel there for themselves in their spare time. Using basic and limited materials, the chapel was completed using considerable decorative and artistic skill. Almost all of the interior features are flat, but have been painted to appear three-dimensional. One of the prisoner-artists even returned in 1960 to restore some of the paintwork. The building is still used as a chapel today, and has become one of the UK's best-known, moving icons of peace and reconciliation.

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1 result matching: Escorted Rail Tours to Orkney

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Save up to £100pp
4.0 stars(60 reviews)
7 days from
£1,715 pp £1,665 pp
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  • DestinationScotland
  • Starts / EndsEdinburgh
  • AccommodationHotel
  • TransportCoach
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Our customers love our Orkney tours
Orkney and the Shetland Isles
MW Salisbury
5 stars
“Our hectic tour of Shetlands and Orkney was well-planned by GRJ and executed excellently by our outstanding guide, Carly, in a pleasant professional manner ably supported by excellent local guides. The exceptional benign weather and calm seas added to our pleasure and enjoyment of this most memorable trip. Personally, I thought that there was too great an emphasis on archaeology at the expense of the Northern Isles' 18th to 20th Century heritage. There are minimal lift facilities at Inverness Station and all ferry terminals and no lift faculties at the Brae Hotel, Shetlands, Standing Stones Hotel, Orkney; the GRJ brochure should give greater emphasis to the importance of all travellers being capable of handling all of their baggage up and down steps easily. Some of our reserved train-seats were beside a pillar rather than a window so they were unable to see the fascinating two-hour train journey between Edinburgh to Aberdeen with crossings of the Forth and Tay rail-bridges and views over the Firths of Forth and Tay as well as the Montrose Basin nor the views of the Moray Firth and Cairngorms on the four-hour train journeys between Thurso and Inverness as well as Inverness and Edinburgh. The trains to and from Inverness were overcrowded and lacked sufficient luugage space; the Thurso train had no onboard refreshment facilities. I would recommend that there should be the opportunity to see the WW2 'Shetland Bus' - Norwegian Special Forces artefacts in the Scalloway Museum - if necessary at the expense of driving past Scalloway Castle. It might be worth considering extending the tour to include a visit to the new Scapa Flow Museum on Hoy. This was a demanding and enjoyable tour ably led by an experienced guide; the shortcomings of the Scotrail train services appeared to be largely beyond the remit of GRJ. Photographs: 1. Scalloway - WW2 'Shetland Bus' - Norwegian Special Forces Secret Base. 2. Italian Chapel, Churchill Barrier, Scapa Flow. 3. Walled Garden, Castle of Mey and Pentland Firth.
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