Since the announcement of travel restrictions being eased in Scotland, there is one question I have been asked more than any other - should I travel to Orkney or should I wait?
My answer? Orkney is ready to warmly welcome responsible visitors just as it has always done, there is just a bit more emphasis on the responsible part. If you take some sensible precautions and follow guidance there is no reason for you to stay away, in fact, Orkney businesses would really appreciate your support after a difficult year so here are my tips on being a top tourist that islanders will love.
Let's first address the elephant in the room - how to minimise the risk of spreading Coronavirus.
Before you travel to the Scottish islands, it is recommended you carry out two lateral flow tests – one three days before you leave and another on your day of departure. They can be ordered for free from the Government website, I already have mine and it was a super easy process. Needless to say, if you have symptoms or test positive, please postpone your trip, the islands will still be here in the future. Don't forget to bring your face mask, always follow guidance on social distancing and although hand sanitiser is readily available around Orkney, I like to carry my own for emergencies.
Space is something we have in abundance so finding somewhere for a quiet walk is easy. I recommend a stroll along one of the many beaches - Dingieshowe, Skaill and Waulkmill Bay are some of my favourites. If you're feeling more active, take a hike along the coastline. For drama, head to Yesnaby, or find a comfortable spot to scan for orca and dolphins at Hoxa Head.
The islands are famed for their natural beauty and we are lucky in Scotland to have great freedom to roam the landscape, but that also comes with responsibility. If you're not aware of the Scottish Outdoors Access Code please read up on the dos and don'ts, especially with regards to access and wild camping. It is worth noting that these rights do not extend to campervans. If you are travelling by motorhome or campervan, stick to designated campsites or overnight parking places and never take your vehicle off-road unless you have the landowner's permission.
Many indoor attractions are open to visitors but limited to small numbers at any one time for safety. This means you might need to book a time-slot, so check websites in advance to make sure you don't miss out on anything you really want to see. Open-air sites like the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness have free access all the time, just remember to socially distance even though they are outdoors.
As a frequent traveller myself, I believe you can never go wrong by giving more than you take when you visit somewhere.
Top of my list is spending my pennies with local businesses. In Orkney, there are plenty of ways to safely do that, including shopping at independent retailers for local produce and gifts, eating out in the many cafes and restaurants and using local facilities such as campsites. Keep some change for the local honesty boxes selling cakes, eggs, vegetables, and even dog biscuits! The Creative Orkney Trail is another fantastic way to support the many makers living in the islands and pick up a unique memento of your trip.
You can also give back by doing a mini beach clean or just sharing a cheery wave.
If you embrace this advice and follow the latest Scottish Government guidelines, there is no reason that you can't come and have an amazing time exploring Orkney, while still keeping everyone, including yourself, safe.
Find out more about visiting Orkney this year with our COVID-19 section.