The mystic Stones of Stenness
Sail on an MSC cruise to the unique and fiercely independent archipelago of Orkney! For an Orcadian, the Mainland means the largest island in Orkney rather than the rest of Scotland, and their history is inextricably linked with Scandinavia.
Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, has one great redeeming feature – its sandstone cathedral, without doubt the finest medieval building in the north of Scotland. Nowadays, the town is divided into two main focal points: the old harbour, at the north end of the town, where inter-island ferries come and go all year round, and the flagstoned main street, which changes its name four times as it twists its way south from the harbour past the cathedral.
Standing at the very heart of Kirkwall, St Magnus Cathedral is the town’s most compelling sight. This beautiful red sandstone building was begun in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald, who built the cathedral in honour of his uncle Magnus, killed on the orders of his cousin Håkon in 1117.
To the south of the cathedral are the ruined remains of the Bishop’s Palace, residence of the Bishop of Orkney since the twelfth century. Most of what you see now, however, dates from the time of Bishop Robert Reid, sixteenth-century founder of Edinburgh University.
A narrow spiral staircase takes you to the top for a good view over the cathedral and Kirkwall’s rooftops. MSC Northern Europe cruises also offer excursions to the heart of Orkney’s most important Neolithic ceremonial complex. The most visible part is the Stones of Stenness, originally a circle of twelve rock slabs, now just four, the tallest of which is more than 16ft high and remarkable for its incredible thinness.