Interested in an EV road trip? With the best photo spots? During my 5 months EV road trip through Europe I worked out some itineraries which could also work for you. This time I am going to introduce THE ORKNEY ISLANDS!
To see the exact position of a photo spot, you can click on the travel blog entry which is linked to every spot. This will open the travel journal which is combined with an interactive map.
The whole 5 month trip you can find here (it is in real time with live tracking):
We spent 12 of 143 days during the Fiat 500e EV road trip in Orkney.
Get background information, be inspiration for your own trip and find all spots on a map.
After watching the video you can't wait for your own trip to Orkney! And you will be well prepared not to miss the best sights with this overview of the islands.
If you are taking an electric vehicle, I would recommend staying on Orkney's mainland as there are no charging stations on the smaller islands (yet). But that could change soon.
Saying that - we took a day trip to Westray with a fully charged battery, this was not a problem thanks to the short distances on this island. I suppose one you can do the same with the island of Hoy.
If you don't like reading or want to get inspired before reading - you can watch here the video with the highlights:
Charging places in ORKNEY
My verdict on the charging situation on the Orkney Islands: mediocre.
Especially when you compare it to the situation in Shetland where charging is much easier and more rapid chargers are well distributed.
In the Orkney Islands, however, you are better off taking the electric vehicle only on the Orkney mainland.
Stromness, Kirkwall, Finstown, St Margarets Hope and Dounby have some rapid chargers (and they work!). And a couple of 22kW chargers on the mainland.
However, the other islands have no chargers at all! Not even a slow charger...
Saying that, we took a day trip to Westray with a fully charged battery, which was not a problem thanks to the short distances on this island. I suppose you can do the same with the Isle of Hoy.
After all, we never had charging problems, never range anxiety, never an almost empty battery. So on the mainland it wasn't too bad if you get yourself organised and don't wait until the last minute/percentage to recharge.
Vegan Food in ORKNEY
Orkney is not a vegan dining-out paradise. But here and there you will get some options.
In Kirkwall there is Tesco with a wide range of plant-based foods. Also at Lidl next door there is hummus and the obligatory vegan burger.
We also had some Indian take away dishes. The Indian in Kirwall called Dil Se (https://goo.gl/maps/8BwSKitocNzDEz2f9) is happy to prepare vegetarian curries vegan (without ghee) if you tell them you are a vegan.
We also found a burger van (very convenient - right next to an electric vehicle rapid charger!) that offers vegan burgers. But be warned - sometimes they run out of vegan patties, so don't count on it.
Unfortunately, the best option for vegans is to rent self-catering accommodation or cook your dinner in your camper van.
Best Photo Spots in orkney
1. WINDWICK BAY
Very easy to reach - there is a small car park on top of the cliffs. Climb down and you can find a rugged shore and beach with some nice sea stacks in the background. Best time is mid tide or high tide with some water around the stones for nice long exposures.
This spot is definitely off the beaten track and it might be that you have the whole place for yourself.
2. ST MARGARETS HOPE
St Margarets Hope is a sleepy fishing village, although it is the third largest settlement in Orkney!
During low tide you get some nice reflections of the old cottages from the slip way (slip way = VERY slippery, please pay attention!).
A bit further in direction ferry there is a small lighthouse replica which makes a fine foreground with the village in the backdrop.
3. VIKING TOTEM
Just south of Burray you can find a small car park (next to public toilets). If you walk from there a few steps into the dunes, you can find something you would have not expected at this location - a Viking totem pole!
But it is not a historic relict from Viking times, but a more recent art project. The sculpture was made from a huge log of driftwood found floating off a nearby beach. It was put in place, near the northern end of the fourth Churchill Barrier.
4. BLOCKSHIP SS REGINALD
Especially around the Churchill Barriers in Orkney you can feel that history of two world wars are still very present in Orkney.
The most impressive witness is the visible blockship SS Reginald.
A British iron steamship was purchased by the Admiralty in 1914 and sunk as a blockship on the 15th September 1915.
You can see the remains very clearly form the Third Churchill Barrier. She is the most striking of the blockship at the Churchill Barriers .
5. ITALIAN CHAPEL
Another story from the war can tell the Italian Chapel.
The Italian Chapel consists of two Nissen huts transformed into a beautiful chapel by Domenico Chiocchetti and his colleagues, Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa and transported to the Island of Lamb Holm in Orkney.
In October 1939 a German submarine entered Scapa Flow and sank the British battleship 'HMS Royal Oak' with the loss of 834 lives. Winston Churchill, at that time First Sea Lord, visited Orkney and the decision was taken to construct barriers to close off four of the entrances to Scapa Flow to make the base for the home fleet more secure.
A shortage of manpower to construct the barriers coincided with the capture of thousands of Italian soldiers fighting in North Africa, so a decision was taken to transport 550 men to Camp 60 on Lamb Holm and a similar number to Camp 34 in Burray.
Following a request from the camp priest, it was agreed that two Nissen huts would be joined together to provide a chapel. Among the Italians in Camp 60 was an artist, Domenico Chiocchetti, and he was given the task of transforming the two Nissen huts into a chapel.
Now, decades after the completion of the Chapel, it is one of Orkney's most loved attractions.
Kirkwall is the biggest town in Orkney. It features a nice, little historic centre. Photo-wise there is the historic harbour (if you are lucky enough, you can see some reflections of the old buildings) and of course the cathedral and the Earl's Palace. Best to come early morning when the first light illuminates the cathedral (seen from the graveyard behind the church).
If you are lucky enough to visit Orkney between May and August, I would recommend a trip to Westray to see the puffins. Especially at the sea stack Castle o'Burrian and the surroundings cliffs you can find hundreds of them. If you take your time and sit quietly, they may come very close to you!
It is a 1,5 hours ferry trip to Westray (booking in advance recommended at orkneyferries.co.uk). To the sea stack it is a short and easy walk (car park -> puffins spot approximately 10 - 15 mins). And don't forget your long lens!
When you have finished taking photos of the puffins, you might want to spend the rest of the day, while waiting for the return trip of the ferry in the early evening, to explore the island of
Westray a bit more.
Pierowall is a short 10 mins drive up North. It has an old, ruined church (unfortunately in scaffolding while I was visiting) and lovely little cottages and fishing houses along a prestine sandy beach.
9. NOLTLAND CASTLE
Another great spot on Westray is the ruined castle Noltland.
It is open for visitors and you can freely discover the ruins, walk up the tower and conquer with a torch (there are some for visitors) the dark and spooky hall. A real adventure!
But be warned - this castle is haunted by a ghost hound which is regularly seen and heard...
10. NOUP HEAD
Noup Head and its lighthouse is the best I have seen in Orkney!
Also located on Westray, this spot is even worth to stay a night on the small island before heading back to the mainland.
To reach the lighthouse you can drive - but maybe that is not the best of all ideas since the road is really very challenging, pot holes is not the right word anymore, I'd call it pot craters... Most people hike from a small car park in Backarass along the coast to the lighthouse. It takes approx. 2,5 - 3 hours (4,5 miles circuit walk), at times steep, plus the hours you need to take photos. We decided to take our 500e and drive, because we had heavy camera equipment to carry - but this was our decision and I won't recommend doing this because the danger of having a flat tyre or worse is given.
11. CLICK MILL
Just a wee stop for an interesting photo of the historical Click Watermill.
There is space for 2 cars along the road. Park there and walk for 10 mins to the mill, which is located at a small burn nestled in the moorlands.
In the North West of Orkney you can find Birsay which is a fantastic stop to discover plenty of things.
First of all there is of course the tidal islands. You can cross the causeway only during low tide plus/minus 2 hours.
On the island there is a lighthouse, puffins if you are lucky, and you can explore Pictish, Norse and medieval remains.
Walk around the bay and see the turfed boathouse and get some fantastic views over the tidal island.
And in the village you may visit the remains of the Earl's Palace. To speak with Cromwell's troops - nothing left but mukk and filth left... Still interesting!
12. MARWICK BAY
Marwick Bay is a wonderful photolocation.
You can park your car down at the beach and wonderful a bit to the South to find the turfed boat houses.
The beach itself offers some great views towards Marwick Head. You can take plenty of rockpools or remains of a sunken steamer as your foreground.
If you walk approximately 40 mins to the North, up the steep cliff, you will be rewarded with the most magnificient views of the the Kitchener Memorial.
Below you are thousands of sea birds, often also some puffins.
13. SKARA BRAE
A trip back in time, more than 5000 years ago, offers the historical site of Skara Brae.
In summer and on weekends they are often sold out and may send you away, it is better to book your ticket online in advance: ONLINE TICKETS SKARA BRAE
The site itself is really interesting. You can visit a replica of a neolithic house and walk through the remains of the old settlement. In the background the fantastic Skaill Beach with endless white sand and deep blue water.
Included in the ticket is also a visit of the Skailll House, home to the Laird who found Skara Brae after a severe storm when the sand was blown away.
The Yesnaby Cliffs are among the most dramatic in the Orkneys.
There is a parking lot at the old battery. From there it's a short and easy walk south along the coastal path to reach Yesnaby Castle, a two-legged sea stack. Along the way you will see many more beautiful views, all of which are photo-worthy.
But please be careful, the Yesnaby Cliffs are known to be dangerous. There have already been several fatal accidents, even an experienced tour guide lost his footing. Especially when it's wet and windy, it's not an easy place. And the cliffs are unstable. Don't get too close to the edges, no photo is worth your life.
15. RING OF BRODGAR
The Ring of Brodgar is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
Of the original 60 stones, 36 survive, ranging between 2.1m to 4.7m tall. The stone circle has a diameter of 104m, and is encircled by a rock-cut ditch, or henge, measuring 136m across, making it one of the largest and finest stone circles in the British isles.
There is a car park and a short walk to the stones. Different to Stonehenge, it is always open and I recommend to visit the ring very early in the morning. It becomes extremely crowded during the day, many coaches and cruise ship groups stop there.
16. STANDING STONES OF STENNES
Again a very nice place to visit, free to enter and always open for you to admire, be it very early or very late. Just be respectful and don't use it for parties or other non relevant events.
The standing stones are massive and very old.
The Stones of Stenness may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles, built about 5,400 years ago.
Excavated pottery and animal bones show that Neolithic visitors cooked and ate food at the site.
Two nearby stones, called the Watch Stone and the Barnhouse Stone, are likely to have some connection with the henge.
If you walk a little further, behind the stones, you can find an excavated Neolithic settlement, almost like Skara Brae, just free to enter which makes it even nicer.
17. UNSTAN CHAMBERED CAIRN
Unstan Chambered Cairn was probably built about 5,000 years ago as a communal burial place.
There are quite a few cairn on Orkney, best known probable Maeshowe.
But unlike Maeshowe, where you need to book a ticket in advance (often sold out) and are needing a guided tour, this cairn can be visited whenever you want for free. You can crawl inside and admire the atmosphere (it is well ventilated, no worries).
You can park your car next to the farm. The farmer has designated part of his land as a small parking lot, so he's fine with that.
18. HALL OF CLESTRAIN
Birthplace of the famous Arctic explorer, John Rae, who discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage and uncovered the harrowing fate of the 1845 Franklin Expedition which destroyed his popularity since nobody wanted to hear about the horrifying fate of Franklin.
After the Rae family, the Hall of Clestrain changed hands a number of times and in 1952 a storm blew the roof off the building and they were forced to abandon the house and move to a house nearby.
In 2016, the John Rae Society purchased the Hall of Clestrain and are currently working on restoring it to its original state during John Rae's life.
The exterior of the Hall of Clestrain is free to walk around. Tours of the interior are also free of charge but need to be made in advance by contacting the John Rae Society.
You can drive all the way to the Hall and park your car at a small layby in front of the gate. It is situated behind the farm buildings.
The town of Stromness takes its name is from the Old Norse, meaning the headland in the tidal stream.
Old Stone houses huddled around a sheltered harbour, narrow alleys and historical buildings, this old maritime town is a real Orkney highlight.
Once a whaling and herring fishing port and now a base for divers and a ferry gateway to Scotland's mainland.
Stromness is a tumbling network of flagstone streets, lanes, piers and slipways. There’s a timeless feel to the town but still vibrant with small cafès and restaurants.
If you are on the road with an EV - you can charge your car close to the harbour and have a stroll in the lanes while you top up the battery.
20. OLD MAN OF HOY
Rising out of the Atlantic Ocean to a height of 450 feet (137m), The Old Man of Hoy is the UK’s tallest sea stack.
Separated from land by the erosive powers of sea and wind the stack was originally an arch with two “legs”, hence its name, however a severe storm literally washed away one of the legs leaving the single pillar.
There is already a large crack running down from the top of the stack and many Geologists believe that one day the Old Man will collapse into the sea. So better grab your camera soon!
The best views of the Old Man you have definitely, if you are doing a trip to the Isle of Hoy and embrace the effort of a long and challenging walk (6 miles with 220m ascent...).
The weather was not on our side when we would have had time to do this walk.
But there is a second chance to see the stack: if you take the ferry between Stromness and Scrabster, you will sail very close to it and have a chance to take some photos.
Orkney is sure to be a photo-worthy trip.
It has a very special flair, combining rugged coastlines and excellent landscape photography opportunities with some exceptional historical sites.
In a way that makes it a perfect trip for a photographer with a partner or friend who isn't into photography. There is plenty to do and see for all interests.
Vegan wise there is still room for improvement!
The same applies to the situation for EV charging stations.
Whilst everything is super easy on the mainland - the small islands definitely need improvement - at least one 22kW charger on each island (as it is the case in Shetlands) should be achieved.
Currently, EV drivers can only visit the mainland, at least if they want to stay overnight.
We stayed in Kirkwall and had no problems at all. Vegan Indian Takeaway, Tesco, and multiple charging stations made life easy for us. Distances on the mainland are very short, Kirkwall is always within reach/range.
The weather isn't as bad as its reputation. In fact, thanks to the Gulf Stream, it's quite mild. It is much milder than other areas at the same latitude and the difference between average summer and winter temperatures is less than 10 degrees Celsius.
In other words, it's a 4 season destination!
But it can often rain...
I would recommend spending at least a week in Orkney if you want to see most of it and get a good feel for the atmosphere.
A lot of people just go to the mainland for a long weekend, but I don't think that does the Orkney Islands justice. There is more to discover and see.
I hope you liked my summary of the (for me) best photo spots.
Thank you for reading!
More of my vegan EV adventures you can read here: