I am going to sum up the whole holiday, because my blog may give a false impression. Certainly, some recent comments lead me to believe so.
Aside from one small glitch, the accommodation on the trip was wonderful. Even the cabins on Northlink Ferries were pristine. Our host on Orkney was accommodating and jolly providing generous breakfasts, and our hostess on Shetland was just as helpful.
I don’t know what it is, but once I arrived in Lancashire, food portions started to get larger. By the time we crossed into Scotland, they were very big indeed. At every port of call on the trip, we found light, healthy options as well as more comforting food, all at very reasonable prices given portion sizes. Honestly, I could have stayed longer for the food alone. The only difficulty relating to food appeared to be the dyes used in the Indian food that the group ate in Lerwick. It aggravated some asthmatic conditions, but as I don’t know the name of the restaurant, I can provide no further details.
And I would just like to put my vote in for a full Scottish breakfast over a full English.
I think some people in the south-east of England, especially in retail, could learn from our Scottish cousins who are able to provide excellent and friendly service. Every tourist centre, every shop, every restaurant, even locals were all able to talk-up their product or local area, provide valuable information and did so with beaming smiles and a “can do” attitude. The ladies at the Orkney Fossil & Vintage Centre even going to far as to make us all fresh sandwiches for lunch, when their prepackaged had been sold.
Not one person got in a flap, was sour faced, or unwilling to help. What’s more no-one stood over us employing pressurised selling techniques. It was all gentle, polite and extraordinary to this tourist who is used to London service.
What can I say? I got to see what I wanted and then some.
I had visited Orkney back in 2004 with another tour company, Wild in Scotland, on their 9 Day Island Hopper tour. I had been fortunate with my tour companions on that trip, too, but it was an introduction to the areas and the visit to Skara Brae, Ring o’Brodgar and the Tomb of the Eagles (although I never made it to the tomb itself in 2004) whetted my appetite for the other historic sites there. Ever since, I have been trying to find a tour company that would specialise in trips of the kind to Orkney and, hopefully, Shetland which I had not visited previously. So, it was with joy that I found an advertisement for Megalithic Tours in Northern Earth magazine; a tour company that specialise in visiting megalithic sites in the British Isles and Europe. So, I booked my tour with Neil and hoped to see what I’d previously missed. I was not to be dissappointed.
Neil ensured we all had enough time to meander about the various places. If there was no official tour guide specific to a site, Neil hung around in case we had questions. At no time did we feel rushed or pressured to move on. Last time I was in Orkney, I didn’t get certain photographs I wanted, but this time I managed to get them all. Sure, the sun wasn’t always out, but I still got what I’d missed. I also had plenty of time to browse the visitor centre bookshops, and purchase those I didn’t get on my last trip and mark others for future purchases.
It was a joy to actually spend time absorbing the feel of the various places. I was so impressed with the Shetland Isles that I want to return and spend more time there exploring more recent archaeology and I would love to see the pieces they have in their museum.
Some of the highlights for me were:
- Finally exploring the Tomb of the Eagles;
- Puffins (they really do look like wind-up birds at times);
- Sandvoe; and
- Midmar Kirk.
However, the absolute highlight had to be the landscape of the Shetlands and its people. Stunning scenery; amazing archaeology; very, very friendly locals and, it would appear, a very happy place to live.
The Vehicle & Driver
I have travelled on a mini-bus before through the highland and islands, back in 2004. That particular bus did not have windows that opened, and I spent the entire trip in the front seat to avoid travel sickness. Not so, this time. Neil’s bus is a real gem. It seats 12 people with all their luggage and zips along roads (and single tracks) like the dickens. The seats were comfortable, we had windows to let in fresh air and everyone got a view from their seat and has easy access in and out of the vehicle.
As for Neil, the owner, driver and tour guide for Megalithic Tours, he was great. Realising that some of us were not 100%, he tailored the trip to accommodate us. At the beginning, he issued us with a list of the sites we might visit, but no fixed itinerary; the itinerary being determined on the day by the weather, the physical condition of the tour members and time constraints. He was with us at every turn and always willing to answer any questions we had. Apart from Northlink Ferries seeming to have mislaid Simon’s details on every trip, every aspect of the tour ran smoothly. Though, I think someone should have had a word with the thunder gods on the last day when we visited Rosslyn Chapel. 😉
So, if anyone reading this journal of my trip has any questions about anything else on the tour, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll endeavour to answer.