(Orkney Islands)


Principal Town: Kirkwall
Population (1991):
Area (hectares): 102498
Entry Updated: 02-JUL-2018
Local Authority Contact Information

Address: Orkney Council
Council Offices
School Place
KW15 1NY
Six miles (10 km) north of the mainland of Scotland, beyond the Pentland Firth, lie the 70 islands of the Orkney archipelago. Twenty of these islands are inhabited and most are formed by the rock of the Middle Old Red Sandstone period, except for the hills of Hoy which consist of rocks from Upper Old Red Sandstone. The geology gives rise to sandstones and flagstones which split easily along bedding planes and are therefore ideal for building purposes. A fertile land of well-cultivated, gently rolling hills rising to spectacular sheer cliffs along the west and north coasts, the Orkney Islands lie at the meeting point of the Atlantic and North Sea where fresh coastal waters are rich in plankton and fish. Sea Cliffs, moors and marshland are home to over a million seabirds during the summer, making the islands a mecca for ornithologists. The Orkney Islands have a total population of 19,245 (2001) and 21,349 (2011). Some 85 per cent of the people live on the Mainland, with the remainder of the population occupying 16 smaller islands ranging from South Ronaldsay with a population of over 900 to Gairsay, with a single family. Kirkwall is the main administrative and shopping centre of the Orkney Islands and the focus of the annual St Magnus Festival. There are airlinks from mainland Scotland to Kirkwall Airport as well as daily roll-on/roll-off ferries connections between Scrabster and Stromness and passenger ferry links connecting John O' Groats and Burwick in South Ronaldsay. There are ferries to most of the inhabited islands and airfields servicing local flights on Flotta, South Walls, Westray, Papa Westray, Eday, North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Stronsay.

Orkney still actively uses parishes as administrative and cultural divisions.

Thought to derive its name from the Icelandic for the 'seal islands' Orkney has been settled since prehistoric times when its fertile soils and rich coastal waters attracted early man. A wealth of exceptional archaeological sites survive indicating that small communities began to settle in Orkney during the middle of the fourth millennium BC. During the late first millennium AD the Norse came to dominate the Orkneys, an influence that lasted until 1468 when the islands were pledged to King James III of Scotland as security for the dowry of Margaret of Norway, his queen. The Old Norse language was subsequently replaced by English, Gaelic never having been spoken in the Orkneys.
Employing over 2,000 workers, the main industry in Orkney today is farming, in particular beef farming. Of a total area of 1025 sq. km (395.7 sq. miles), 48 sq. km (18.5 sq. miles) is under crops, 468 sq. km (180.7 sq. miles) under grass and 278 sq. km (107.3 sq. miles) given over to rough grazing. Other major employers are Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Health Board and the oil terminal at Flotta. The European Marine Energy Centre was established in 2003 with its headquarters in Stromness and test facilities scattered around the islands. Manufacturing as an industry in Orkney is relatively small, depending on food products, distilling and craft goods such as textiles, jewellery and the famous Orkney chair. Orkney Beef and Lamb were awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the European Union in 1996, and these products were joined by Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar which was awarded Protected Geographical Indication status in 2013.
References and Further Reading
Barry, G. (1805) The History of the Orkney Islands. Edinburgh
Black, George F. (1946) The Surnames of Scotland. New York Public Library, New York.
Burgher, Leslie (1991) Orkney: An Illustrated Architectural Guide. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Edinburgh
Clouston, J.S. (1923) The People and Surnames of Orkney, Proceedings of the Orkney Antiquarian Society, II:31-36.
Fenton, Alexander (1978) The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. John Donald Publishers Ltd., Edinburgh
Palsson, Hermann and Paul Edwards (eds.) (1978) Orkneyinga Saga, The History of the Earls of Orkney. Penguin Classics
Ritchie, Anna and Graham Ritchie (1978) The Ancient Monuments of Orkney. HMSO, Edinburgh
Ritchie, Anna (1996) Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Orkney. Second Edition, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and The Stationery Office, Edinburgh
Tait, Charles (1999) The Orkney Guide Book. Charles Tait Photographic, Orkney

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