My final post in my mini-series of exploring Orkney (I should say that I’m hoping to get over again for another visit next year!) focuses on the east mainland including the largest town, Kirkwall!
My brother and I booked private rooms using shared bathrooms for one night at the Hostelling Scotland hostel in Kirkwall. For £35 each we stayed in a twin room in clean quiet hostel, which was just a 10 minute walk to the town centre. Breakfast costs extra or you can bring your own supplies to prepare your own in the hostel’s well equipped kitchen. There’s also a sizable lounge and dining room for you to use WiFi or relax in. It’s basic and comfortable – perfect if you’re on a tight budget especially in high tourist season. As it happened it was a very quiet night in the hostel so there were no queues for the showers the following morning!
Our first stop in exploring Kirkwall was Cafe Lolz, (The Strynd) where we feasted on bacon rolls and pancakes. It’s a very cute tearoom with an absolutely huge range of home baking displayed in a homely dresser!
It was at this point the rain came out and stayed literally all day across the north of Scotland, there was no escaping it (fortunately we had decent waterproofs) so we spent most of our morning in and out of Orkney’s shops and indoor visitor attractions.
Our absolute favourite was Orkney’s old library which has been given a new lease of life as a shop.
There were home ware, stationary and book sections, a records and CDs room, a rooms for toys and games, and even a dedicated Harry Potter room!
It felt like a proper treasure trove of a place! There’s also Archive Coffee – a restaurant and bar which we’ll revisit later on in the post!
Kirkwall really does have a thriving independent shopping scene, and the following are all worth a visit:
Highland Park also have a shop, as well as their whisky distillery just outside of the town centre. Regrettably I didn’t even catch sight of the Kirkjuvagr distillery as I’m planning a tour there on my next visit. (You can read my post of my first interaction with Kirkjuvagr when they were newly launched in 2016 here)
One event that our visit timed well with was the monthly producers market. I popped in for some bread from the Eviedale Bakehouse.
We had some time looking round the Orkney Museum which was packed out with visitors presumably trying to escape the rain! The exhibitions tell the story of Orkney from the Stone Age up until the present day. It’s a great place to visit if you have one day in Kirkwall and have no means to get out to the outlying areas to see the neolithic visitor attractions.
By the time we had hit the shops and museum, it was time to grab some lunch before heading out of Kirkwall. We returned to Archive Coffee!
The menu had a great mix of sandwiches, snacks and meals, and had a great atmosphere. They’ve also got a sister restaurant serving up an inventive menu of small plate dining which I’ll definitely be checking out next time!
My brother rated the burger and his accompanying bowl of fries was huge, so I was happy to oblige with helping him out after snaffling my salad! It was the perfect mix of textures and flavours.
As our boat back across the Pentland Firth was scheduled to depart during late afternoon, we then took a drive around the east mainland. The plan had been to find a walk to do but the continuing rain put paid to that idea. I had heard that the famous Orcadian jewellery designer Sheila Fleet had opened a new gallery, so we went to Tankerness to check it out!
A beautiful renovated parish church now houses a gallery, shop and cafe.
The entrance into the ground floor is stunning, and you can see original features of the Kirk like the pulpit and stained glass window (which you can catch sight of from my photo of the first floor below). We took a quick pit stop in the cafe too and enjoyed our drinks and traybakes.
As we started to make our way back to St Margarets Hope for our Pentland Ferries crossing back to Caithness, we stopped a couple of times at appropriate points to marvel at the Churchill Barriers, causeways which were built in the 1940s to connect neighbouring islands to the east mainland. Much of the labour of these barriers was carried out by Italian POWs, who also painted the Italian Chapel (which i visited on my previous visit in 2016).
As you cross the Barriers, reminders of nautical disasters still remain, with shipwrecks still peeking out of the water.
Had the weather been better on our second day, we would have done more exploring on the east mainland, but we had a good mix of visiting some of the must-see attractions along with just pottering round the towns!