The central situation of Kirkwall makes it an ideal touring centre with easy access to all parts of Mainland. In the summer season bus tours take in all the major sites. Bicycle hire is also popular for those with more time.
The founder, Earl Rognvald, started to build his new cathedral in 1137 with the intention of dedicating it to his murdered kinsman, Earl Magnus. Building operations supervised by the earl's father Kol were terminated rapidly in 1152. Two years later Orkney became part of the Norwegian diocese centred on Trond- Heim,
The cathedral is Norman in character and contemporary with two other masterpieces of this style, Durham and the nave of Dunfermline Abbey. The exterior, severe and quite plain, is dominated by the tower and steeple, the three west front doorways added later, are very beautiful, although much weathered, and show originality in the alternate use of red and yellow sandstone, the initial impression is one of vastness although the dimensions of this cruciform church are relatively small.
Allthough massive and somewhat severe, the admirable proportions, strong sense of unity, and warm tones of the red stone make for a most pleasing result.
The view is best from the west end, the design of the nave elevation moves eastwards in seven bays as slowly as its moves upwards through the triforium and clerestory, where there is no quickening of the rhythm. Ornamental detail is confined to decorative mouldings on the recessed arches of the main nave arcade, the interlaced wall arcading of the nave aisles and transepts and the grotesque heads of the choir consoles.
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The square pillars on either side of the organ screen enshrine the relics of St Magnus slain in 1115, and his nephew Earl Rognvald, The palace, built between 1600-7, is an early example of the Renaissance style, details of interest on the exterior include the corbelling - ornate and varied - of the windows, chimney breast and corbel course, the sculptured panel above the main entrance and the oriel windows. Inside a splendidly spacious staircase with straight flights rises to the Great Hall and the other principal apartments.
The vaulted chambers on the ground floor have exhibits on Orkney's other notable historic monuments and prehistoric sites.
A new episcopal palace was built in the 12C alongside the new cathedral, the original seat having been at Birsay. It was in the original palace that the Norwegian King Haakon died in December 1263 after the Battle of Largs. His death and the palace are described in one of the Sagas. Two re-buildings followed in the 16 and 17C, the latter by Earl Patrick as part of his scheme to create a vast lordly residence incorporating his new palace across the road, the round tower on the corner is part of Bishop Held's 16C remodelling, the yellow sandstone figure of a bishop in a red niche is 13C.
Tankerness House Museum
This rather fine 16C town mansion houses a well-presented museum portraying life in Orkney from its prehistoric beginnings to the present day.
The island's many outstanding prehistoric sites are described chronologically and accompanied by arti-facts. This makes an ideal introduction prior to exploring the islands.
Do not miss the St Magnus Reliquary, a simple wooden casket, upstairs the exhibits portraying domestic life include an example of the straw backed Orkney chairs, excellent draught excluders.
A stroll along the town's main thorough fare, a narrow stone flagged way which incorporates,
Albert and Bridge Streets, and ends at the harbour.
The town houses of country lairds, now occupied by shops today still provide the main points of interest, along with the pends leading to attractive paved courtyards.
23 miles to Burwick, this excursion is an excellent opportunity to visit some of the Orkney Islands (Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay) without taking a boat or plane.
The road passes through some of Orkney's finest agricultural land, take the airport road out of Kirkwall then fork right to the A961, South Ronaldsay road.
The early stretch has a good view of Scapa Flow, the naval base where on 21 June 1919 the entrapped German Grand Fleet was scuttled, activity has returned with the Island of Flotta being used as a pipeline landfall and tanker terminal for gas and oil from the Piper and Claymore Fields.
Lyness on Hoy serves as a supply base, after St Mary's follow signposts to St Margaret's Hope, beyond is the first of the Churchill Barriers linking Mainland to three outlying islands.
These concrete causeways were built during World War 2 after the battle ship HMS Royal Oak was sent to protect the eastern entrances to Scapa Flow, the work was undertaken by Italian prisoners who completed the four sections totalling one and a half miles in length.
Turn left immediately after crossing the first causeway, to the Italian Chapel Lamb Holm were two nissan huts were converted into a chapel with the materials to hand by the prisoners working on the construction of the causeways between 1943-5 with its rood screen and fresco paintings, it stands 40 years later as a testimony of faith in adversity.
On either side of the following two causeways there are rusting hulks esteemed as scallop breeding grounds.
On the island of South Ronaldsay a roadside viewpoint with indicator offers views* across the Pentland Firth of Dunnet Head and John o'Groats on the Scottish mainland. Burwick, in the summer a passenger ferry operates between Burwick and John O Groats.
53 miles, Allow a day for this tour which combines important prehistoric sites with the tranquil agricultural landscape of the interior and the more dramatic coastal scenery, the tour may be taken in either direction and started from either Kirkwall or Stromness.
Leave Kirkwall by the Stromness road, the A965, Rennibister Earth House,
Leave the car on the road up to the farm, the site is behind the farmhouse, access by a trap door and ladder down into the chamber, this earth-house or souterrain consists of an oval chamber with five wall recesses and an entrance passage, human bones were found in the chamber, but its original purpose is uncertain.
Souterrains are Iron Age in date some belong to the period of the brochs, but both earlier and later examples are known. They are usually found under or by round houses of stone or timber.
Turn left twice following the HBM signposts to Wide ford Cairn.
One mile on foot from the road, the site is on the flank of the hill follow the path with another access by a trap door and ladder dating from between 3500 and 2500 BC this is a chambered tomb, within its cairn, it has a main chamber with side cells.
From the hillside there is a lovely view northwards over the Bay of Firth. Return to the main road, and at Finstown turn right onto in the direction of Georth (Evie).
Gumess Broch, a carworthy is a sandy track which continues beyond the first car park round the shore to the beach, the Sands of Evie.
At the point of Akerness you will find the remains of a broch altered by subsequent phases of occupation the result being a cluttered complex of later settlements inside and beyond the broch.
The A966 has good views across the Eynhallow Sound of Rousay and the smaller island of Eynhallow, Continue round the north coast to the village of Birsay, turn right.
There are good views of Marwick Head Brough of Birsay· Earl's Palace in the village of Birsay are the ruins of a residence built, around three sides of a courtyard, by the late 16C earls of Orkney, this once sumptuous building is another example of the outstanding architectural heritage
Take the A967 then turn right onto the 89056 to the bay of Skal The prominent headland pinpointed by the Kitchener Memorial is Marwick Head, known for its sea bird colony.