You may have noticed from our glorious social media posts that we’re just back from a five day expedition to Orkney. All I can say is it’s a great destination for families: really easy to get around, stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, history of UK (if not world) significance, and there were lots of indoor options for rainy days too. The sun shone for us to the point we were whipping out the suncream (very unexpected), and have I mentioned getting there? The ferry is entertainment on water, I do love a boat trip.
Here’s a round up of the activities we tried and rated, plus any hiccups we faced along the way. I’ll be writing more in-depth accounts about many of these destinations should you wish to find out more.
1 Skate Rumple Alpaca Farm – Our favourite activity was heading to meet the alpacas at Skate Rumple in Deerness. It was a hugely hands on experience, feeding practically all the animals on site, rounded off with a spot of afternoon tea in the barn.
2 The Tomb of the Eagles – A reader recommended this to me and it’s the most family friendly historical site I’ve visited in Scotland due to the attitude of the staff and a large box of toys in every room of the visitor centre. The tomb itself was a huge adventure as it involved a trolley and rope system for little visitors.
3 Hit the Beach – You must have been born under a rock if you didn’t know that Orkney has amazing beaches, but here’s a reminder! Our kids kept pointing at beaches, wanting to pull in and play, which is a bit of a repetitive problem in Orkney! FREE
4 Sail on the Ferry – Getting to Orkney can be an adventure in itself. We sailed with Northlink from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, then returned from Stromness to Scrabster where it’s possible to overnight whilst at harbour to make the early sailing so much more civilised. It was clearly popular with other families too. The kids loved eating on the ferry, playing in the playrooms on the ferry, sleeping in the cabin, arguing over beds in the cabin, you get the picture.
5 Hit the Playpark in Stromness – Another reader recommendation here. Our sailing from Stromness departed at 9.30pm, so after dinner we visited this great wee playpark, with a fab trampoline and lots of slides. Despite being pretty central I would never have found it without the tip off. FREE
6 The Ring of Brodgar – This remarkable stone circle, dating back 5000 years, is interesting and jaw-droppingly picturesque for adults, and a great place to run around for kids. With a wee mound behind it we ran round the ring, up the mound, down the mound, and round the ring again. FREE
7 Eat – We’re talking Orkney cheddar, Orkney Buffalo burgers, Orkney Fudge, Orkney Icecream – you get the idea. The local larder here is excellent, with lots of things that kids actually like to eat. I’d definitely recommend Lucano Italian in central Kirkwall for remarkably family friendly dining. My kids even made their own ice-cream bears involving chocolate chip eyes, button ears and a malteser nose. The manageress/owner clearly loves kids. We got excellent food at the Ferry Inn in Stromness, and the Judith Glue cafe in Kirkwall is also worth recommending for excellent local fare, though at both locations my eldest kept nicking my gorgeous crab meat. Lastly we tried the Lynnfield Hotel which didn’t have a children’s menu. They kindly rustled us up some sausages, mash and beans for the boys (aged 3 and 2), but then duly charged us £10 per plate, with nothing else included i.e. no drink. Whilst they were accommodating, and it’s my own fault for not checking the price, they did take our booking and nobody with a heart should charge £20 for four sausages, two scoops of potato and a tin of beans. Just saying.
8 Skara Brae and its Beach – Another epic destination. Visit this 5000 year old settlement which predates the pyramids and Stonehenge. I can’t begin to get my head round how people were living in established communities and farming the land so long ago. Skaill House, the home of the family who discovered Skara Brae, is a gorgeous stately house, and it’s included in the ticket price. The modern visitor centre has a good cafe and facilities. The beach onsite was fantastic for wee tots, but it definitely distracted them from uncovering the social history and archaeology of Neolithic Orkney, there’s a shock.
9 Barony Mill – Orkney’s only operating water mill is also the site where they mill Orkney’s ancient grain ‘bere’. During the tour little ones are invited to start the mill – leading to loud clunking, banging and whirring, and then, at a later stage, to dramatically turn it off again. I picked up a bag of bere to experiment with in the kitchen for £2.40. FREE
10 Corrigall Farm Museum and/or Kirbuster Farm Musem – Mainland Orkney has, not one but, two farming museums revealing life in bygone days. We’re talking peat fires, Orkney chairs, box beds, sculleries, ploughs and quernstones. Mr Tot Snr loved milling his own flour and Mr Husband kept getting homesick for Ireland with the smell of peat wafting in the air. FREE
11 Orkney Brewery – Many breweries and distilleries simply don’t allow under 18s on site, other parents may feel a brewery isn’t an appropriate destination for children, but we thought we’d give it a try. We had lunch when we arrived, the food is notably good, with a Vegan option too, then embarked on the tour. Children are given a school jotter (as the building used to be a school) with activities within it. Whilst the language of the tour wasn’t aimed at children – it was about wort, yeast, grist, the distillation process, history and development of the brewery etc. – the sampling session caught their attention. As mummy was given three beers to taste (and was empathetically served first as the tour guide noticed I’d carried a toddler around for the entire duration), the kids got three colours of squash to ‘sample’ and played with a box of toys in the tasting hall. Daddy got nothing as he was on chauffeur duty for the day.
12 St Magnus Cathedral – I always find that churches and cathedrals awe my children into silence (at least temporarily). They also like wandering around the cemetery and asking difficult questions. St Magnus Cathedral is beautiful and grand, both inside and out, so it’s definitely worth a stop whilst you’re in Kirkwall. FREE
13 Visit the Italian Chapel – This chapel is exquisite and rich in WW2 history. Many of you will know it was created by Italian POWs as a place of worship during their time in Orkney. Created out of two Nissen huts, plaster, cement, wood, and a rood screen that is a master final flourish, this chapel is a thing of beauty. It shows what man can create even in dire circumstances. Whilst there’s not a great deal to keep young children occupied inside, it is free for Under 12s, and it was something I really wanted to see.
OUR STORY – We sailed direct from Aberdeen to Orkney on the 1700 sailing, arriving at 2300. We didn’t want a long transfer at that time of night so we checked in at the Ayre Hotel which has newly refurbished self catering apartments. Our two bedroom apartment suited our family needs very well and was also well situated for walking into central Kirkwall. We also spent one night at Wheems Organic Farm on South Ronaldsay which offers self-catering, glamping and camping with remarkable sea views. We boarded the return ferry at 2130 in Stromness on a B&B rate, sleeping in our cabin before the ferry departed at 0900 on the Sunday morning. Arriving in Scrabster on the mainland around 1100, we then drove south to Aberdeen. A good pit stop (where I ate more crab) was the Storeroom in Evanton. It can be extremely busy but the queues move relatively quickly.
If you like what you read then don’t miss a post, enter your email address in the ‘Follow’ box then click ‘Follow’ or join the conversation on Facebook, twitter, pinterest and instagram at Tots2Travel. For any queries or opportunities please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We ventured to Orkney courtesy of Northlink Ferries. We stayed at Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall courtesy of the Digital Media Orkney project. We spent one night at Wheems Organic Farm for review purposes. Discover more at orkney.com. All images copyright of Tots2Travel.