Orkney isn't just the Mainland. The familiar tourist tracks to Kirkwall, Stromness, Skara Brae and Maeshowe are often packed with coaches, but it's possible to leave the hubbub behind by visiting the different isles of the county - each with its own heritage and culture.
Dominating the Mainland, the hills of Hoy - Ward Hill on the left and Cuilags on the right - are the highest peaks in Orkney. The name 'Hoy' comes from the Norse Haey, meaning 'high island'. Visitors come to Hoy to see the beautiful Bay of Rackwick, the rock-cut Dwarfie Stane cairn, and the Old Man of Hoy, a lofty red sandstone sea stack. All of these, as well as the RSPB reserve, are situated in the north of the isle, around the hills. However, the southern end of the isle has a proud naval history, as does South Walls - a neighbouring isle joined to Hoy by a causeway. Ferries can take you from Houton on the Mainland to Lyness in the south, and from Stromness to Moaness in the north.
Near Hoy, the Scapa Flow contains a few more isles - Fara, Rysa Little and Cava, all of which are uninhabited. Flotta and Graemsay, however, aren't. The green isle of Graemsay is a peaceful place, altogether quite separate from the extremes that north Hoy presents. The population is low and there is virtually no traffic, so you can walk around the place and explore the shoreline. Flotta is more famous for its oil terminal, but it is the 'forgotten isle' - historically the gateway to Scapa Flow, and a British Base during WW1. There are excellent views from Flotta - it's thought to be the only place where you can see both Stromness and Kirkwall simultaneously - and a heritage centre. The Stromness ferry calls in at Graemsay, whereas the ferry from Houton serves Flotta.
Burray and South Ronaldsay are linked to the Mainland by the Churchill Barriers. At the southern tip of South Ronaldsay lie the Tombs of the Eagles and of the Otters. On Burray, there is a museum dedicated to fossils. You can reach Burray and St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay by bus from Kirkwall and Stromness on route X1.
North of the Mainland, the calm isle of Shapinsay is home to an RSPB reserve and the Broch o' Burroughston. You can try to spot Shelducks in the west or seals in the east.
Will finish later...