As Orkney’s tourism industry eagerly awaits the start of the busy summer season, one local family in particular is full of anticipation for what the coming months will bring.
Nicky and Kirsten Bichan, along with their three children, are ready to launch their brand-new accommodation and private tour package service, giving guests the chance to enjoy home comforts whilst safe in the knowledge they won’t miss out on everything the islands have to offer.
The family has been running a bed and breakfast at Shorelands, their home in Kirkwall, since 2021, but conversations with customers over the years provided perfect inspiration for the business to grow.
“We’ve been doing B&B for a while now and realised that a large number of our guests were touring Scotland or doing the North Coast 500, rather than focusing purely on Orkney for an extended period of time,” says Nicky. “Many were leaving their vehicles in Caithness and hopping across on the ferry for a night or two.”
The family quickly found that a lot of their guests had underestimated just how much there was to see and do in Orkney and had arrived relatively underprepared. With their cars across the Pentland Firth, visitors to Shorelands had to make use of local bus services to try and see some of Orkney’s attractions. Although you can tick a number of sites off your list thanks to public transport, it still leaves a lot of ground uncovered. Nicky and Kirsten quickly came up with a solution.
“We always thought that it would be great to be able to take our B&B guests around the islands for a day so that their Orkney trips, although short, would be more memorable and satisfying,” says Nicky.
That’s how the idea for Shorelands accommodation and tours came together. The set tour package includes trips to the Italian Chapel and Churchill Barriers, the Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness, Skara Brae, Skaill House, and St Magnus Cathedral. Despite being a plumber to trade, Nicky has thrown himself into becoming a B&B host, and now a tour guide. Born and bred in Orkney, he’s well placed to make sure his clients don’t miss a thing during their breaks in the islands.
“We designed the set tour to feature some of the Orkney mainland’s most popular attractions,” says Nicky. “Feedback from guests helped us pick the sites, and we feel it covers as much ground as possible over a two-night stay without making folk feel rushed at each location.”
The package offers three separate room choices and includes lunch. There’s also the chance to meet other guests at Shorelands as the set tours are often shared. Other packages on offer include bespoke tours for larger group bookings, including the possibility of puffin-spotting day trips to Westray or guided walks in Hoy. There’s even a deal for walkers and cyclists arriving in Orkney to tackle the St Magnus Way routes, which includes packed lunches by Orkney Street Food – Beiting & Brew, as well as drop offs and pick-ups to start and finish your day’s walking in style.
“All our packages include transfers, accommodation, lunches and tours, meaning one booking covers almost everything you need for an entire stay,” says Nicky. “It takes the stress out of arranging your visit to Orkney and means you don’t have to look into sorting out each individual element of your trip. We even provide recommendations for evening meals within a short walk of the B&B, but after our big breakfasts and packed lunches guests hopefully won’t be too peckish!”
This coming summer marks the culmination of nearly ten years of work for the Bichans. Their home has been completely renovated with Nicky’s plumbing skills put to the test whilst installing ensuites in the spare rooms. That major project led to the launch of the bed and breakfast, and now the accommodation and tour package element of the business.
And any fears about how the whole family would adapt have proved completely unfounded. “We all play our part,” laughs Nicky. “Our 8-year-old son has welcomed younger guests to play in the garden, and our daughters regularly speak to guests while helping set the breakfast tables. They even help with changeovers in exchange for some extra pocket money!
“We did worry about how they would react to having new folk in their house all the time, but they’ve taken it in their stride. Now it’s just normal to them.”
So, with a vehicle in place, tour guiding practice complete, and a whole family looking forward to welcoming their first guests of the season, is Nicky confident the package tour proposal will prove successful?
“In an ideal world, everyone visiting Orkney would spend a week or two here and find their perfect accommodation, activities and tours,” he says. “But we know from experience that short breaks as part of a wider holiday are becoming increasingly popular, so hopefully our model will take the pressure off booking individual elements of a holiday here and let folk see more of our beautiful islands.”