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.
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.
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.