Orkney Part 2

In Part 1 of our Orkney recap we shared what we learned during our visit to Orkney’s  prehistoric sites.  In Part 2 we’ll share some of the other great experiences we had on the island.

Barony Mills

Barony Mill is a working mill in Birsay that dates from 1873.  The grain here is called bere, which is an ancient strain of barley adapted to the local climate.

Before our tour we were able to sample some of the baked goods that were made using flour from the mill.


Next the miller took us on a tour of the building, going through every step of the process.  Before the grain can be milled it is dried on the drying floor.  The heat for drying the grain comes from a kiln below.

The mill is powered by a water wheel and the boys were allowed to start the mill by opening a sluice gate.  Once the water wheel started turning the mill rumbled to life.  The wheel powers several different machines in the mill including conveyor belts that lift the grain from the bottom floor and three sets of grinding stones that turn the grain into flour in stages.

The video below shows the mill while it is in operation; it is quite noisy with all of the machines running!

It was a great educational experience for the kids to see how flour is made and how the power of water is harnessed to run the machines in the mill. Admission to the mill is free and donations are appreciated.

Brough of Birsay

The Brough of Birsay is an island that is accessible by foot for a few hours a day near low tide.

We mistimed our first visit, arriving too late to cross and get back; the water was just below the top of the walkway and rising.  This proved to be a good opportunity to teach the kids about the tides as they watched the water continue to rise and cover the path within a few minutes time.

We returned a few days later to check out the ruins and to see if we could spot some of the puffins that nest on the cliffs during the summer months.

Our efforts paid off and we were treated to a puffin sighting!


Orkney Fossil and Heritage Museum

The Orkney Fossil and Heritage Museum is located on the island of Burray, which is one of the islands connected to the Orkney mainland by the Churchill Barriers.  As the name suggests, the museum has a collection of fossils from around the world as well as some wonderful exhibits on the history of life on the islands.


It was interesting to read about the construction of the Churchill Barriers in the 1940s and how these causeways changed life on the smaller islands once they had a road connection to the main island. The kids were able to build their own Churchill Barriers using blocks.

Upstairs we found a collection of early 20th century furniture and clothing and a small genealogy section.  We later discovered that some of Annette’s ancestors lived on the island of Burray in the 1800s!

Attached to the museum is a small cafe where we had some delicious baked treats.

Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces

This duo of palaces is located right in the middle of Kirkwall, adjacent to the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral.  The Bishop’s palace dates from the 12th century (when Orkney was still part of Norway), while Earl’s Palace was constructed in the early 17th century.

Today the palaces lay in ruin but we enjoyed exploring them and imaging their past splendor.

Climbing to the top of the Bishop’s Palace, we were rewarded with a wonderful view of Kirkwall and the St. Magnus Cathedral.



Yesnaby Coastal Walk

The rugged west coast of Orkney is lined with sheer rocky cliffs, formed by the relentless battering of the Atlantic Ocean.  There are miles of coastal walking trails that allow visitors to explore this beautiful landscape.

One afternoon we started at Yesnaby and took a short hike. We were rewarded with some amazing views.

After we had walked for a while we came to the Yesnaby sea stack.  We couldn’t help but linger for a while to watch the seabirds and the crashing waves.

Highland Park

Most of this site focuses on family friendly activities but this one is for grown-ups only! One afternoon Annette took the kids to see a movie at the local theater and I took advantage of the opportunity to take a tour of the Highland Park Distillery.

On the tour I was struck by how much of the whisky making process is done by hand, from turning the sprouted barley to digging up peat to smoke the grain.  The process uses local ingredients as well as barrels made in Spain using American and European Oak.  The barrels are used to age Sherry in Spain before being shipped to Orkney to be filled with whisky.  There, the casks sit for at least 12 years before being blended and bottled.

Learning about all of the work and care that goes into making whisky makes one appreciate the final product all the more.

Tours start at 10GBP and include two small tastings of the entry-level whiskies.

Wrapping Up

We had a wonderful week on Orkney and found plenty to see and do during our stay.  Given more time we would have explored some of the outlying islands that can only be reached by ferry.  If you are looking for a destination packed with natural beauty and historical sites we highly recommend a visit to Orkney!



2 thoughts on “Orkney Part 2”

  1. I enjoyed reading about your adventures. How neat for the kids (and everyone) to learn so much about the mill and grinding flour, etc. And I LOVE that you guys got to see puffins :-).

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