An Instagrammer’s Guide to Orkney
Hi everyone, Georgina here – the photographer behind the Instagram account @gisforgeorgina. I recently spent a few glorious days exploring Orkney and fell completely in love with these beautiful islands. The wild and wonderful scenery, towering cliffs, swooping seabirds, and turquoise seas completely stole my heart.
My advice to anyone visiting Orkney would be to jump in the car (ideally with a camera and a flask of tea) and set off on an adventure wherever the wind – and your fancy – takes you. The whole archipelago is steeped in magic and myth, and every twist of the road seems to unveil new marvels to explore.
Orkney’s shifting light and ever-changing skies are a photographer’s dream and I could’ve spent weeks happily wandering with my camera, never capturing the same vista twice. George Mackay Brown, an Orkney-born author, said it best when he wrote: “The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and a deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”
Though similar in many ways to mainland Scotland, Orkney has a magic all of its own – particularly in the summer when the sea sparkles and the puffin population (tammie nories as they’re known in Orkney!) return home to roost on the cliffs. Touring around, you can’t help but get swept up in Orkney’s sense of community – the collective pride in the islands’ history, heritage, produce, and people. It’s a lovely experience and part of what makes Orkney so special.
My advice to anyone visiting Orkney would be to jump in the car (ideally with a camera and a flask of tea) and set off on an adventure wherever the wind – and your fancy – takes you. There are some gorgeous places that are not to be missed (read on below for some of my favourite spots to visit!) but you never really know what you might find. The whole archipelago is steeped in magic and myth, and every twist of the road seems to unveil new marvels to explore.
The Ring of Brodgar
“…like an assemblage of ancient druids, mysteriously stern and invincibly silent and shaggy.” – Hugh Miller
Orkney is steeped in history, myth and legend, and nowhere is that more apparent than at the ancient Ring of Brodgar. The stone circle is an enormous ceremonial site dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Walking among the stones is a beautiful and humbling experience – the sense of history is extraordinary.
I loved it so much that I decided to return at sunset, something I would urge everyone to do.
The site is located to the west of the archipelago (so it’s an ideal place for sunset photography) and watching the sun sink low behind the stones is breathtaking.
It’s quiet, peaceful and you get a real sense of the significance and spirituality of the stone – as well as some gorgeous shots.
The Italian Chapel
“The chapel is yours – for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality … I thank … all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart”. – Domenico Chiocchetti
Overlooking the Churchill Barriers is one of Orkney’s most loved and recognisable landmarks, the Italian Chapel. Built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II, this little chapel is utterly remarkable – both for its beauty and for the story behind its construction.
The POWs were allowed to use two Nissen huts to create the chapel and scavenged and salvaged all the materials they needed. One of the men, Domenico Chiochetti, was an artist and the walls are lovingly painted by his hand.
The artwork inside is stunning (a photographer’s dream) and the striking facade is so unique – a real joy to photograph.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Kirkwall is full of photogenic spots but my particular favourite was St Magnus Cathedral, the most northerly cathedral in the UK.
A Viking marvel, the Light of the North (as the cathedral is known) is stunning inside and out.
The red and yellow sandstone photographs beautifully at golden hour and the inside is fully of lofty vistas and stunning stained glass.
The Old Man of Hoy
“Sea, old sculptor, carves from the western ramparts
Stack and cave and skerry,
Sweet harpist, with sagas of salt and stone.” – George Mackay Brown
The Old Man of Hoy is one of the tallest sea stacks in the UK and is surrounded by the stunning red sandstone sea cliffs of St John’s Head.
Best photographed from the sea, the easiest way to capture the Old Man in all his glory is from the deck of NorthLink’s MV Hamnavoe as it sails past on its way to and from Stromness.
Skara Brae & Skaill House
“On the far curving shore of the bay lies Skara Brae, hazy through the sea-haar.” – George Mackay Brown
No visit to Orkney would be complete without a trip to Skara Brae, a Neolithic village hidden in the dunes beside the Bay of Skaill.
Skara Brae is far older than Stonehenge and is one of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. It’s incredibly scenic and the sandy bay just below the village is one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline anywhere in Orkney.
Your ticket to Skara Brae also gives you access to Skaill House, Orkney’s finest stately mansion.
It is also the former home of William Graham Watt, 7th Laird of Breckness, who first unearthed Skara Brae in 1850.
It’s a lovely old house with an interesting history. Though there aren’t many rooms to see, it’s well worth popping in after visiting Skara Brae.
“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and a deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.” – George Mackay Brown
There are so many incredible cliff walks in Orkney but the stretch of coastline at Yesnaby stole my heart.
On a calm sunny day, the turquoise sea sparkles and the cliffs are covered in sea pinks. If the weather is wilder, the waves crash into the cliffs and the sea birds swoop overhead.
The views are spectacular and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some of Orkney’s puffin population.
If you’re looking for beautiful beaches, Orkney has you covered. The islands have miles and miles of unspoiled coast to choose from. Every beach I visited was more stunning than the last, but I fell head over heels for the beautiful bay at Waulkmill.
Secluded and pristine, it’s a perfect wild swimming spot and well worth the short-but-steep climb.
It’s also one of the most photogenic beaches I’ve ever seen. On a sunny day the sand is white and the sea is sparkling. Just be sure to visit at low tide!
When the Vikings landed on Stromness they named it Hamnavoe – or “save haven”.
With winding streets, cute cottages, independent shops, and a gorgeous harbour, Stromness is easily one of Orkney’s most picturesque and photogenic towns.
Georgina is the Edinburgh-based photographer behind G is for Georgina, a travel and lifestyle Instagram account and blog dedicated to showcasing the beauty of Scotland, the UK and beyond. Find her on Instagram at @gisforgeorgina or read more at www.gisforgeorgina.com