We all like the idea of the independent holiday - the kind when you decide what you want to do on the day you’re going to do it. No itineraries, no set plan, no ‘must sees’ – just the open road and maybe a map to guide you on your way.
But sometimes you need a helping hand to fill in the blanks, to point out things you might not notice and to bring an attraction, a building or a special story to life.
In Orkney, that’s where our World Heritage Site Rangers come in. Historic Environment Scotland’s Elaine Clarke and Sandra Miller have been guiding visitors through the Heart of Neolithic Orkney since 2005, showcasing 5000 years of history on their way.
All year round, the Rangers host walks at three locations in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. During June, July and August, you can join them at the Ring of Brodgar every day at 1pm, come rain or shine (be prepared for all three during an Orkney summer!). Just head to the car park at Brodgar and you’ll see either Sandra or Elaine in their distinctive yellow jackets. Wander up and you’ll receive a warm welcome before the group grows and you set off on your free one-hour tour of the stone circle – the largest in Scotland.
They’ll talk about the Ring of Brodgar itself but they’ll also discuss the surrounding landscape, its place in the context of Neolithic Orkney, the wildlife, wildflowers and spectacular scenery of the area - all the things you might not find in that guide book you studied as you were planning your trip to the islands.
And don't despair if you're visiting outwith the summer season - there is a weekly walk at the Ring of Brodgar, every Thursday at 1pm, too.
If that tour leaves you wanting more then you should pencil in another Ranger rendezvous at the Standing Stones of Stenness. Again, free of charge, walks are held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10am during June, July and August - just meet at the gate for the site. You’ll spend an hour being taken around the oldest stone circle in the UK before heading to the lesser-known nearby Neolithic village at Barnhouse. During the rest of the year you can join the Rangers at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am.
It’s estimated around 40,000 people have taken advantage of the excellent service the Rangers offer in Orkney and it's hoped that number will continue to grow as the summer approaches.
Aside from the walks and tours, part of the job of the Rangers is to help bring Orkney’s cultural and natural heritage to life. They can regularly be seen hosting talks and special activities across the islands, working with school pupils and taking part in family events, including the open days held at the Ness of Brodgar excavations.
So, if you’re heading to Orkney this summer and you want to hear the secrets of some of our most spectacular sites, keep an eye open for that yellow jacket or the Historic Environment Scotland fleece – our World Heritage Site Rangers will make sure you won’t miss a thing.
Find out more about the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the rest of Orkney’s rich heritage.
There are also a number of excavation projects ongoing throughout the summer in Orkney that welcome visitors – all the details are in our blog.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.