In Summer, the Orkney Islands off the Coast of Scotland, Are a Place of Wonder, Magic, Wildlife and Folklore, SUE VADER Discovers; Standing Stones, Pufflings and Summertime in the Orkneys

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IT'S SUMMERTIME in the Orkney Islands a a[approximately]Simmer Dim' as it's known in these parts, as the sun only dims late at night.

We arrive, whacked, at 9.30 in the evening after a long day on the road (and water), having driven from Inverness to Scrabster on Scotland's far north coast, then ferrying across to Stromness on Mainland, the largest of Orkney's 70 islands.

There's a silvery-gold sunset casting dramatic shadows as we approach the Standing Stones of Stenness a a superb photographic opportunity too good to miss, given the unpredictability of Orcadian weather.

I'm here with the aptly named Back-Roads Tours a a delightfully tiny group of five, allowing us the flexibility and spontaneity you usually have only when you're freewheeling independently.

When Roddy, our guide, suggests a detour to seize the perfect synchronicity of evening sunlight and the enigmatic beauty of this prehistoric stone circle (pre-dating Stonehenge by around 300 years), we eagerly agree. An unforgettable welcome to the Neolithic heart of the Orkney Islands!

The next day we start with Orkney's two most impressive prehistoric sites (both UNESCO World Heritage listed): Maeshowe, a chambered tomb built around 2700 BC and the even more spectacular Skara Brae, northern Europe's most complete Neolithic village, inhabited before the Egyptian pyramids were built.

Incredibly well-preserved a including Stone Age furniture such as beds and dressers a the eight dwellings have been cocooned by sand for 4000 years. Today, rising sea levels threaten to undermine what was originally revealed in 1850 when a wild storm stripped away grass revealing the buildings' outlines. A substantial retaining wall has been built but there is still great concern for the future.

Over two action-packed days our little group time-travels a span of 5000 years, trying to absorb prehistory, Pict and Viking history as well as the colourful and intriguing contemporary Orcadian culture a and not forgetting the superb variety of wildlife. …


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