A short way from John O’Groats, Orkney is a unique and fiercely independent archipelago. For an Orcadian, the Mainland means the largest island in Orkney rather than the rest of Scotland, and their history is inextricably linked with Scandinavia. Orkney Mainland has two chief settlements: the old port of Stromness, an attractive old fishing town on the far southwestern shore, and the central capital of Kirkwall.
Mainland is relatively heavily populated and farmed throughout, and is joined by causeways to a string of southern islands, the largest of which is South Ronaldsay. Hoy, the second largest island in the archipelago, south of Mainland, presents a superbly dramatic landscape, with some of the highest sea cliffs in the country. Hoy, however, is atypical: Orkney’s smaller, much quieter northern islands are low-lying, elemental but fertile outcrops of rock and sand, scattered across the ocean.