Among Orkney’s archipelago of 70 windswept islands, nine kilometres (six miles) north of the Scottish mainland, a rich tapestry of archaeology, history and wildlife awaits. We follow the passage of time – from 5,000-year-old World Heritage Neolithic sites, past relics from wandering Vikings and reminders of World War II occupation – to present-day crofting communities. Imposing sea cliffs teem with seabirds, and clifftop paths and bleak moors beckon the keen hikers among us, while our kayakers use paddle-power to explore sections of Orkney’s fascinating coastline.
Midway between Orkney and Shetland is Fair Isle, home to quaint croft houses and famous for its knitwear and historical shipwrecks. The 70 or so islanders mostly live in traditional crofts on the more fertile low-lying southern part of the island.
A bird watcher’s paradise and boasting a major European bird observatory, Fair Isle lies on the intersection of major bird flight paths from Scandinavia, Iceland and Faroe. It attracts common species and also eastern rarities such as the lanceolated warbler. In summer, the cliffs teem with breeding fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots, gannets, shags and puffins. Fair Isle is an excellent place to view seabirds at close range – especially puffins. The island also has more than 250 species of flowering plants, including rare orchids, alpine and wetland species and common wildflowers. We will be welcomed by the hospitable villagers, and may take a hike or visit the museum.