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There are two ways to cross the Pentland Firth – three in summer. A modern catamaran run by the island company Pentland Ferries crosses from Gills Bay in Caithness in an hour. It arrives in St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay and the road onward runs over the four Churchill Barriers and past the Italian Chapel.

Alternatively there is the NorthLink service from Scrabster, to Stromness. It takes half an hour longer and passes the Old Man of Hoy and the high red sandstone cliffs of the island.


Cliffs and waves at Marwick in Orkney - image by Neil Ford www.neilford.net

"There is, indeed, a power in the land, or in the broad sky enclosing it, that may take perpetual captive those who are rash enough to open their eyes to the endlessly flowing line of its hills, their ears to the curlew's cry and the burdoun of the sea, their hearts to the northern peace. On a fine morning, when the winds are still and the lakes relume an azure sweep of sky, vacant but for a curd of cloud, a mallard and its mate, there is a hush like the drifting of the young earth, not wakened yet, in the innocence of time,”

– Eric Linklater, The Man on My Back (1941)



In each case you can take your car. For foot passengers there is the summer service from John O’Groats to Burwick in South Ronaldsay, run by John O’Groats Ferries. It’s a 40-minute crossing, running from the start of May to the end of September.

The drive north from Inverness, winding along the coast past pastures and moorland, with sometimes the sight of a sandy beach or breaking waves, through the towns of Golspie and Brora and on to Wick or Thurso. The railway runs north alongside, and a train journey is also an option.

An alternative route with a car is to go by the NorthLink ferry to Kirkwall from Aberdeen. This is an eight-hour journey but reduces the amount of driving if you’re coming from a distance.

Orkney is linked by air to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen, and through them to London and beyond. The Orkney air routes are part of the Loganair network, and you can connect with British Airways or easyjet flights elsewhere. Loganair have a close association with Orkney, and the company’s first routes were to Orkney’s North Isles, which continue today.

Cliffs and waves at Marwick in Orkney - image by Neil Ford www.neilford.net

For accommodation there is a wide range of hotels, guesthouses and self-catering. The best starting-point for accommodation is VisitOrkney, who can send you a detailed brochure, which includes a wide range of general information as well.

Food is usually a treat, with a variety of places to choose from, which take a pride in providing good food from good local ingredients. You can eat in hotels or restaurants, in café or bistro style, and sometimes with fine sea or harbour views.

The VisitOrkney site has some suggestions for options for eating out. There is further information about Orkney products and much else on the Orkney.com site.

It’s as well to pack in clothes that make you suitably versatile for the weather – something to keep out the wind or rain, just in case, and something warm to wear under it or in the evenings; and also something light, for when the sun comes gloriously out from the clouds and makes you feel like a walk along the shore.

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