The world’s longest scheduled airline service, Flight 21, required 6 flight deck officers. It was suspended in fall, 2013. A Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 took off regularly from Newark Liberty National Airport and landed at Singapore Changi 18.5 hours later. The world’s shortest regularly scheduled service continues. A plane lifts off from Bow Head on the island of Westray, crosses Papa Sound, and lands on the island of Papa Westray a mere 2 minutes later. This hopscotch jump occurs in the Orkney Islands off the northeast coast of mainland Scotland. I learned this in the Kirkwall transportation center when John pointed it out to me.
The Orkneys are wonderful to visit–in the summer. That’s when 75 cruise lines stop here, making The Orkneys one of the busiest destinations in Great Britain. Stuart, our award-winning tour guide, who has lived here for more than 20 years, told us that it rains 240 days per annum. There is little snow up here at 59 degrees north but awfully high winds, especially in the winter when it’s oppressively dark. Sunrise can be at 10 am with sunset at 3 pm. The highest temperature ever recorded in the Orkneys is 78º Fahrenheit. We were there in July and wore jackets.
A visit is highly recommended because The Orkneys are hauntingly beautiful. The landscape has a neatly-laid-out-farmland sameness but you’re never far from stunning views of either fresh or salt water, undulating barley fields, hillsides dotted with sheep or cattle, commanding promontories, or wide, deserted beaches.
Until 1952 raising chickens was the largest Orkney industry. Enough eggs were regularly laid to supply the entire north of Scotland. However, a hurricane that year caused the chickens to take flight and disappear. Stuart was at his funniest describing that day.
There are over 70 islands and skerries in this archipelago but only 20 are inhabited. Stuart is one of 21,000 permanent residents. Skerry is a mostly Scottish term for a small island or rocky reef. The largest island is West Mainland, which is 25 miles across at its widest point and contains The Orkney’s 2 main towns, Stromness and Kirkwall, its capital. We explored both.
Composer Peter Maxwell Davies is probably The Orkneys most famous resident. He moved to Hoy in 1971 and then to Sanday. Davies became Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004, meaning he’s Queen Elizabeth’s official composer. His vast credits include Ken Russell film scores and 9 symphonies.
The Orkneys have at least half a dozen notable attractions including a genuine Stone Age village, the 3rd largest ring of stones in Great Britain, and a stunning, not-to-be-missed Cathedral. It was the only house of worship in Great Britain with a prison, situated near the altar so that the incarcerated were forced to listen to sermons as part of their punishment.
Orkney towns are reminiscent of Denmark and Norway, which isn’t so strange since these islands and skerries were Norwegian for 600 years before they were Scottish. Scandinavia is only 300 miles to the east.