Orkney Tour

Buildings facing cathedeal
Buildings facing cathedeal
Kirkwall: Kirkwall, the largest town on Orkney, is fronted by the old harbor. Behind the harbor are streets of older buildings extending back to the Cathedral and the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces. The shop to the left in the photo featured in a documentary about the impact of cruise liner tourism.


Stromness Hotel
Stromness Hotel
Stromness: Stromness is a port on the west coast and the second largest town in Orkney. The old town is clustered around a winding main street. The Pier Arts Centre is on this street.

Stones of Stenness
Stones of Stenness
Stones of Stenness: This ancient stone circle lies east of Stromness. Work on the monument started about 3100BC. The site was surrounded by a ditch, originally 2 meters deep, of which traces remain. At the centre of the circle is a great stone hearth. Foundations were dug for 12 standing stones, but it appears that at least one was never erected.

House site Barnhouse Village: Barnhouse, situated next to the Stones of Stenness, is a Neolithic village. occupied between 3200 and 2900 BC. Footings of stone walls survive, along with stone hearths, stone beds and dressers. The largest structure appears to have had a different function.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar: This monument consists of a huge circle of standing stones surrounded by a ditch. It is positioned on the side of a hill rather than around its top. The rock-cut ditch, 104 metres in diameter, was originally 3 m deep. Twenty-seven stones out of a supposed 60 remain. The whole area has various stone monuments within sight of each other.

Maeshowe mound
Maeshowe Chambered Tomb: The tomb, built of large stone slabs, is under a large grassy mound. It is thought to have been in use as a tomb around 2700BC, but is now empty. The stone roof is not original, as the tomb was breached via the roof in Norse times and again in modern times. The entrance is via a long, low passage, consisting of a few long slabs each weighing several tons. By contrast, the chamber is 3.8m high. It contains two recesses which may originally have been sealed by large stones. The walls consist of large stone slabs laid horizontally, with a stone upright in each corner. Many of the stones bear Norse graffiti.
Access to the site is controlled, and visitors are taken by bus from the visitor centre in a nearby village to a drop-off point several hundred yards from the tomb.

Skara Brae
Skara Brae
Skara Brae: The famous Skara Brae lies on a bay in the west coast of Orkney, some miles north of Stromness. The site was first discovered in 1850 when a great storm blew away the sand that had covered it. There are about eight houses, mostly linked by a winding passage roofed over with stone slabs. The thick walls are double-skinned with midden (decomposed rubbish) packed into the cavity. Midden also piled up around the outsides of the walls. Each house comprised a single room about 6m x6m. At the centre lay the hearth. On the wall opposite the door stood a stone dresser, and on the walls to either side were stone beds and other furnishings. There is no clear evidence of how the houses were roofed. Various artefacts (now in museums or the visitor centre) were found in the houses.
Visitors have to view the houses from a walkway running around the periphery of the village. One house is roofed to protect its contents, but a full-sized replica of this house (with extra height) stands next to the visitor centre, and should be visited before proceeding to the site.

Skaill House
Skaill House
Skaill House: This mansion stands inland from Skara Brae and shares the same visitor centre. The oldest parts were built around 1620 and other wings have been added at various dates since. It has been owned and occupied by the same family throughout. One of thr lairds discovered and excavated Skara Brae. The house has had many illustrious guests, including Lady Franklin, widow of the famous North-West Passage explorer. The principal rooms upstairs and downstairs can be visited.

Wireless Museum, Kirkwall: A one-room museum near the waterfront in Kirkwall. As the name suggests, it contains a vast number of vintage wireless sets from various eras, both vintage and military, the latter mostly from the WWII period. It also houses a significant collection of photographs of the wartime era, which may be viewed in photograph albums. See:http://www.orkneywirelessmuseum.org.uk/

Earl's Palace
Earl’s Palace
Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall: The palace was built by the notorious Earl Patrick Stewart starting in 1601. It faces the cathedral and was an ornate building with corner turrets, massive projecting oriel windows, and high-pitched slate roofs. The great hall on the first floor was south-facing and heated by two large fireplaces. When complete it was luxuriously furnished, but is now unroofed and partly ruinous. Most parts of the structure can be accessed by visitors. There is a small exhibition in the basement. It has been described as ‘the most mature and accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland.’

Bishop's Palace
Bishop’s Palace
Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall: The Bishop’s Palace adjoins the Earl’s Palace and can be accessed on the same ticket. The lower storey probably dates from Norse times. The 12th century palace was a rectangular hall-house with storage and workshops on the ground floor, and a main hall and dwelling quarters above. It is thought to have been built for Bishop William, but fell into disrepair within a century. The palace was not restored until the mid-16th century, when Bishop Reid rebuilt it as an elegant residence, adding a round tower.

St Magnus Cathedral St Magnus Cathedral: The Cathedral stands in the middle of Kirkwall and the exterior has striking patterns of yellow and red sandstone. Construction started in 1137, and continued irregularly for over three centuries. The west end of the nave was added till the late 15th or early 16th century. The stages of construction can be traced by slight changes in the design of pillars and arches. The early history of the cathedral is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga. St Magnus and his patron Earl Rognavald are both buried in the cathedral. Both met violent deaths. The interior has interesting stone carving and monuments.

Churchill Barrier
Churchill Barrier
Churchill Barriers: The defence of the various channels leading into Scapa Flow was long recognized as a problem. In 14 October 1939, the German submarine U-47 slipped past blockships to torpedo the old battleship Royal Oak, which sank with the loss of over 800 lives. Work began in May 1940 to build a series of solid barriers across the eastern channels. The work was undertaken by Balfour Beatty using local, British and Irish workers, and from 1942, Italian prisoners of war. In a massive undertaking, rubble encased in wire cages were dropped from aerial cableways, followed by concrete blocks to resist the force of the waves. Miles of narrow-gauge railway was laid to transport materials, over 900,000 tons in all. Little trace of the temporary infrastructure remains today. The causeways now carry the A961 road.

Italian Chapel
Italian Chapel
Italian Chapel: The Italian Chapel was constructed by Italian prisoners of war during WWII, in two Nissen huts provided by the military. Almost nothing else remains of the prisoner of war camp, which was housing prisoners working on the Churchill Barrier. The Chapel was fitted out by several of the prisoners led by painter Domenico Chioccetti, using salvaged materials and concrete. Internally it is painted with remarkable realism to resemble stonework, with a religious mural by Chiochetti at the altar end. The Chapel was spared demolition when the camp was cleared, and was restored in the 1960’s.

Smithy museum forge
Smithy Museum, St Margaret’s Hope: The Smithy Museum is situated in the otherwise unremarkable village of St Margaret’s Hope, in the buildings of a former smithy. It contains much of the original equipment, plus a collection of smith’s tools and related objects, ploughs etc. It’s worth a visit if you are in the area and interested in the subject matter. Admission is free.

Shetland tour

Shetland tour:
Lerwick: The main port town in Shetland, where the ferry terminal is situated.

Broch interior Broch of Clickimin: On the outskirts of Lerwick, sited on a promontory on the shore of Clickimin Loch. A round tower is in the centre of the site. The walls stand to a significant height, showing their hollow construction. There is a thick wall, probably defensive, on the landward side. Around the tower are the remains of other buildings. The site is thought to have been occupied for over a thousand years, and the structures date from different periods.

Scalloway CastleScalloway Castle: Scalloway Castle was the home of the unpopular Earl Patrick Stewart. The castle was built around 1599, and is an impressive example of a late 1500’s Scottish tower house, with external decoration. The castle is now roofless. It is one of only two castles constructed in Shetland. Next to the castle is the Scalloway museum.

Shetland Bus MemorialShetland Bus memorial: The Shetland Bus memorial stands on the waterfront in Scalloway village. It commemorates the boats that carried out clandestine operations between Shetland and Norway during WWII, and their brave crews.

Tingwall Valley? Tingwall Valley: Tingwall Valley runs north-south on Mainland. It has several lochs, and one of the few woods on the island. The name comes from the Ting, the Norse parliament which met on an island, Ting Holm, at the north end of Tingwall loch. The main road passes Tingwall Airport, an airstrip that hosts flights to local destinations.

Cliff hole Eshaness cliffs: Eshaness lies at the north-west extremity of the mainland, facing the Atlantic. The cliffs are high, and in places the sea has cut narrow inlets or ‘Geos’ running for hundreds of yards inland in some examples. One has tunneled deeply into the land creating a sea-cave, now partly collapsed at the inner end exposing a long gash in the cliff top with the sea washing far below. (The Holes of Scraada). Nearby is the Loch of Houlland. Here a causeway leads out to a small island, or holm, and a ruined broch stands on a tiny promontory beside it. The broch is much ruined, but one can still make out the structure of the massive walls and some of the inner cells. The loch was once used to feed water down to three Norse watermills, the outlet stream falling into the Holes of Scrada.
There is a lighthouse at Eshaness, now automated.

Mousa info board Broch of Mousa: The broch, the best preserved of all the brochs in Scotland, stands on the island of Mousa just off the east coast of the mainland. It can be seen with binoculars from the main road. The broch stands 13m tall and it is possible to climb the winding stair inside it. (I could see the actual broch through binoculars from the mainland).

Jarlshof house Jarlshof: The remains at Jarlshof represent occupation over about four thousand years. Buildings on the site include the remains of a Bronze Age smithy, an Iron Age broch and roundhouses, a complex of Pictish wheelhouses, a Viking longhouse, and a mediaeval farmhouse. The site, asides from the prominent Old House of Sumburgh, was unknown till the 19th century when an storm uncovered part of the site. The latter, formerly a farmhouse, was converted into a fortified house during the 16th century by the notorious Robert Stewart, First earl of Orkney.
Most of the structures, including the broch and roundhouses, can be entered. The site is near the southern tip of the Shetland mainland.

Puffins by sea
Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve The reserve adjoins the Sumburgh Head lighthouse and exhibition. Weathered cliffs provide nesting sites for thousands of seabirds which can be seen sitting on rock nests or clustering on rocks near the water. The puffins are very used to human presence and will pose on the seaward side of the fence a few feet from visitors. The promontory also offers a view of Sumburgh Airport for those interested in heavier than air flight, as well as Jarlshof and various islands.

Inscribed stones
Lerwick – Shetland Museum A major museum which will provide hours of instruction about the prehistory and history of the area. Outside is a propeller blade from the Olympic, a liner commandeered during WWI and wrecked on the Shetlands. The ship was demolished by heavy seas within weeks.

Scotland Street School Museum, Glasgow

School front Glasgow Museums
Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and operated for many years as a school for the city’s children. It closed as a school in 1979 and is now operated as a museum of the story of education in Glasgow during the 20th century.

The building is a must-see for fans of Mackintosh, being designed both inside and out in his distinctive style. It was built between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Mackintosh had to incorporate certain standard requirements such as separate entrances for boys, girls and infants, a drill hall, teachers’ rooms on each floor, raked classrooms and electric lighting. He also had to incorporate a cookery room.
Mackintosh produced two sets of drawings for the school. One set was approved by the school board and the other set, with different detailing of tiling scheme, windows, doors, stair railings and drill hall, given to the contractors. The school board did not find out till 1905 and after heated correspondence Mackintosh had to revise his designs to something more acceptable. (This sheds a different light on Mackintosh as ‘neglected genius’. If he was known to behave like this with clients, it is not surprising that he did not get much work.)

The Museum’s permanent collection includes a Victorian classroom representing the appearance with raked floor much as built in 1906, a World War II classroom still with raked floor, a 50s/60s classroom with flat floor and brighter colours, the cookery room restored to its 1906 appearance, and the Mackintosh room with information about the building of the school.
There is also a temporary exhibition space, hosting an exhibition for “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” when I visited.
All three floors of the building can be explored, and most rooms are open.
Around the back the original divided playground can be seen.

The combination of architecture and museum make this building well worth a visit.
Admission is free (donations encouraged). The Museum is opposite the Shields Street underground station and a pay car park (parking fee £5). If you mention at the museum desk that you came by car you might get a pass-out for the car park. 🙂

Rear of school
Rear view
Rear external detail
Rear detail

The Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland

House from south lawn National Trust for Scotland
The Hill House was built in 1902-3 with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, arguably Scotland’s most famous architect and designer, as architect. It was commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, and remains a remarkably complete example of Mackintosh’s unique vision. It is also widely acclaimed as a work of art and design associated with the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century.
Though very modern for its time, the house does not entirely turn its back on tradition, for some of its details evoke the spirit of old Scottish castles and tower houses.
Parts of the interior decor were designed by Mackintosh’s wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, a talented artist in her own right.
The house was originally run with the aid of several servants, and had only one private owner after the surviving Blackies sold it. It was acquired by the NTS in 1982, and they have gradually returned the house to its original appearance.
The entrance passage and hall incorporates a change in level and has elaborate rectangular lampshades, originally lit by gas, now electricity.
To the right of the entrance is the library, containing many Blackie publications. The drawing room is a large room with a bay window facing the Clyde. The fireplace is made of small putty-coloured tesserae with oval decorative panels. Above it is Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s gesso panel depicting a sleeping princess in her bower. There is also a writing desk designed by Mackintosh.
The Dining Room has dark walls with a lighter frieze and ceiling. None of the furniture was designed by Mackintosh.
Beyond the hall are the service quarters.
Upstairs are an Edwardian bathroom and a number of bedrooms. The main bedroom is L-shaped and has a barrel ceiling over the bed. The walls are stencilled and copies of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s silk hangings hang over the bed. In the upstairs east wing rooms, traces of the original decorative schemes have been uncovered.

The house can be reached by car or train. It is a must-see if you are interested in Mackintosh or art nouveau. There is a cafe in the service wing.
Thumbnails (no interior photography).

House from east garden
House from east
House from east
House from east
House from south-west
House from SW

Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Historic Scotland
Dumbarton Castle, on the Clyde near Glasgow, has a recorded history going back some 1500 years. In the dark Ages, the rock was the capital of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. It was besieged by Vkings in AD870. A medieval castle was built by Alexander II of Scotland in the 1220’s against the Norwegians, who occupied lands just ten miles downriver.
In later centuries, the rock became a formidable garrison fortress, its defences bristling with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.
Substantial new artillery fortifications were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These are what the visitor sees today, for nothing survives from the Dark-Age fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.
The castle rock can be seen from some way off, and great views can be seen from the twin peaks at the top.
If you are looking for an ancient castle keep, what’s here may come as an anti-climax. The most substantial buildings remaining are the King George’s battery and three-storey Governor’s House, both visible from the ground-level entrance. Like almost all the surviving structures, they were built in the 18th century. There are only two other roofed structures, both small.
The views, on the other hand, are great. The Clyde can be seen to the south, and the town of Dumbarton to the north, with distant views of hills and mountains further away.

Portcullis Arch & steps
Portcullis Arch
French Prison
French Prison
Wallace Tower base
Wallace Tower base
View to NW, River Leven
View to NW, River Leven
View to North
View to North
Powder Magazine
Powder Magazine
View to SW
View to SE

Moirlanich Longhouse, Central Scotland

National Trust for Scotland
This house and connected byre is typical of a rural 19th century or early 20th century dwelling. The roof is supported by crucks and was originally thatched, though the thatch was raked back in the 1940’s and covered with corrugated iron sheeting.
Inside, the house still has many of its original features, including a Scotch dresser, box beds and a ‘hingin lum’ or hooded fireplace. Walls were papered, and in places there are over twenty layers of wallpaper, some of which has been separated and displayed.
There is a parlour kept for entertaining the minister and the landlord, and a kitchen and bedrooms for everyday use.
Nearby is an interpretation display hut with a small exhibition.
The opening hours are restricted to two afternoons a week in the summer.
I visited the house during a tour of fine Highland scenery.

Parlour with table etc
Kitchen with fire hood
Byre with cruck beam

Menzies Castle, Scotland

Menzies_0171 Private Trust
Castle Menzies (pronounced ‘Mingis’) was built in the 16th century (exact date unknown), possibly on the site of an older castle.
In 1577 the upper storey and roof were altered, adding the series of dormer windows with their elaborate pediments. This completed the construction of a Z-plan house, representing a transition between a fortified tower-house and a mansion.
Despite the domestic features, the house was involved in conflict in 1646, 1715 and 1746.
In the early eighteenth century a new block of apartments was built against the north (rear) side of the main block and the west side of the north tower. A new entrance was made in the middle of the main block. This block was deemed unsalvable in the 1970’s (riddled with dry rot) and subsequently demolished. Marks of its former presence can be seen at the rear. Pictures of the vanished block can be seen on the Canmore website: http://canmore.org.uk/site/25670/castle-menzies and in particular
http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1461079 showing the rear in 1942.
In 1840, another wing was constructed on the west side of the main block. This block still stands today.
On approaching the castle, its striking appearance immediately marks it as a classic Scottish castle. It stands unfenced in open fields, in front of a high escarpment.
The castle was acquired by the Menzies clan in 1957 in a greatly dilapidated condition. Since then the 16th century building has been restored with, it would seem, rather limited resources, followed by the restoration of the 19th century wing.
The ground floor consists of vaulted chambers including a kitchen. On the first floor of the main block is a great hall, panelled and with a plaster ceiling, and a withdrawing room with a fine pendant plaster ceiling.
On the second floor are two more large rooms with plaster ceilings.
The third floor is now an attic-like space open to the pitched roof. There are many other smaller rooms (the total for the castle is about 70).
In the 19th century wing, the first floor hall (Dewar Room) is the only room of note open to visitors.

The castle with its many rooms, some elegantly restored, is a fascinating place to visit. Various objects are identified by handwritten labels, which gives the place a dusty charm quite different from the high-budget National Trust for Scotland or Scottish Heritage properties.

Larder with old items
1st floor hall
1st floor hall
1st floor Withdrawing room
1st floor Withdrawing
1st floor Withdrawing room
1st floor Withdrawing
South wall close-up
South wall
2nd floor hall with displays
2nd floor hall
Attic (3rd) floor with exposed beams
Attic (3rd) floor.
Top S. tower Victorian bedroom
Top S. tower room
Dewar Room, C.19 block
Dewar Room, C.19 block

Rear, from NE
Rear, from NE

Doune Castle, Scotland

Doune Castle Historic Scotland
Doune castle was built in the late 1300’s by Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, Earl of Monteith and Fife. Albany was younger brother of the ineffectual Robert III, and was ruler of Scotland in all but name from 1388 until he died in 1420.
The castle is situated in a naturally strong position on a wooded river bend.
The castle today comprises the gatehouse tower, great hall, kitchen tower and curtain walls around the central courtyard. There appear to have been at one time other buildings occupying much of the courtyard, but the nature and function of these is now conjectural.
By the 1850’s the castle seems to have become a roofless shell, but a restoration was carried out in the 1880’s.
The towers and great hall all have vaulted storage chambers at ground level. At first floor level the kitchen tower has the great kitchen, and an irregularly shaped servery. Stone-floored rooms survive above the kitchen.
The great hall was restored in the 1880s and the roof and some other features date from this period.
The first floor chamber of the gatehouse tower is known as the Duke’s Chamber. The present interior finish dates from the Victorian restoration. The room has an unusual double fireplace.
On the floors above are a small mezzanine chamber and further up another small chamber leading to the second-floor hall. This is now open to the roof, though clearly there was a third floor of wood, which has not been re-instated.
It is possible to exit onto the battlements, for a great view of the River Teith and country below.
The castle is well worth a visit. Some will be interested to know that it was used as a location for the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Great Hall, west end
Great Hall
Duke's hall, with screen
Duke’s hall, west end
Duke's Hall fireplaces
Duke’s Hall, east end
Upper Hall
Upper hall
Roof view, river, trees
Roof view

Argyll’s Lodging, Stirling

Courtyard view Historic Scotland
Argyll’s Lodging is a splendid and complete example of a 17th century townhouse. Situated on the upper approaches to Stirling Castle, its fine architecture marks it out as a property intended for a great nobleman serving the royal court.
It is entered by a courtyard. Across the courtyard a door gives access to a hall (ground floor cellar). On the first floor above are the principal rooms – the High Dining Room, the Drawing Room and other furnished rooms.
Back on the ground floor the original and extended kitchens can be seen, and there are gardens at the back.

See Stirling Castle entry for more details.

High Dining Room
High Dining Room
Drawing Room fireplace
Drawing Room
Drawing room table
Drawing room table
Small cabinet on table

Stirling Castle, Scotland

Palace at Stirling Castle
Historic Scotland
Some people prefer Stirling Castle over Edinburgh Castle, and having seen both I can appreciate why.
The first record of Stirling Castle dates from the 12th century, but most of the buildings withing the walls date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Palace was used as an army barracks until 1965. Now traces of army occupation have been removed and the original Renaissance interiors are being recreated where possible.

Surrounding the Inner Close are a series of notable buildings. The Palace, dating from the 1530s and the work of James V, is the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles. It contained separate suites of rooms for the king and the queen. The interiors were recently recreated, including the notable ceiling with carved and brightly painted heads.
The Great Hall was built by James IV from 1497 onwards. It had a hammerbeam roof and decorated crenellated parapet (now recreated in a recent restoration)
The Chapel Royal was built for James VI, in around 1594, replacing an earlier chapel.
The King’s Old Building, on the western side of the Inner Close, was built around 1497 for James IV. Sections of the building may be older. Parts of it have been altered or rebuilt since. Today the range contains exhibition rooms and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum.
There are are also various vaults and outworks to look at. Below the castle and car park is Argyll’s Lodging, a town house of historic interest. Access is free with a castle ticket.
There are fine views from the castle ramparts. Look out for the remains of formal gardens on the flat land far below.
There is so much to see at the Castle that you should plan for at least a half-day visit. This is easily expanded to a whole day if you want to walk around the old town as well. The Palace and the Great Hall interior are the highlights.
If you arrive by car, parking on the Castle esplanade is convenient but at £4, not cheap.

Great Hall, Stirling
Great Hall
King's Old Building, Stirling
King’s Old Building
King's Presence Chamber ceiling
Presence Chamber
Hall in Palace
Hall in Palace
Tapestry in bedchamber, Palace
Tapestry in bedchamber
Bed in bedchamber, Palace
Bed in bedchamber, Palace
Gilded Ceiling, Palace
Ceiling, Palace
Cupboard, Palace
Cupboard, Palace
Garden remains below Palace
Garden remains below