A self organised unconference for anyone with an interest in services in islands, wherever they may be (including the big one with Cardiff, Edinburgh, and London on it); and for anyone with connections to islands, however tenuous. Also (in May 2012 and May 2015), an opportunity for visitors to Orkney to see puffins!

IslandGovCamp #IsleGC15 : Saturday and Sunday 30-31 May 2015
Kirkwall Grammar School, Orkney (and online)

(There will also be an island visit, and/or bus tour in Orkney on Friday 29 May 2015, for govcampers travelling to Orkney who can arrive a day or 2 early.)

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A visitor’s practical guide to travelling to Orkney

In this guest post, John Fox (based in Hampshire, and a regular visitor to Orkney, the Western Isles and the Scottish Highlands) shares his experience of various travel and accommodation options in attending IslandGovCamp 2012 in Orkney

If you’re reading this then the chances are that you’re more than just a little bit interested in making the trip to IslandGovCamp at the end of May 2012. Well done for getting this far.

The purpose of this post is to summarise the various options for travelling to Orkney. It is a visitor’s perspective, based on the personal experience of the author over a number of years.

IslandGovCamp sessions will start in Kirkwall at noon on Saturday, running throughout Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning; however, do consider arriving as early as possible, ideally on Friday or even Thursday, for IslandGovCamp. This will give you an opportunity to orientate yourself and get to know Orkney properly. The organisers will be available from Thursday evening until Monday morning (and at other times, by arrangement) to help you make the most of your time. If you’re coming all this way, why not make the most of your visit?

Short on time, just need to get there and back?

Whenever you plan to arrive, if available time is a prime consideration for you, such that you just want to get there and home again, and in the least possible time, then in practical terms your only option is to fly to Kirkwall (KOI) with regional connections across the UK

When arriving by plane you’ll get a great aerial view of the various islands that make up the archipelago that the rest of the world incorrectly refers to as “the Orkneys” . Locally the islands are are known by their individual names such as Hoy, Flotta and Lamb Holm, and ironically there isn’t actually an island named Orkney! It’s quite a sight to behold, but before you make a booking ask yourself if you might perhaps allow some extra time for this trip, either in one direction alone or perhaps both

For example you could elect to fly to Inverness and then continue by train and then ferry as described below.

Could you spare an extra day or two for your journey?

Making more time to travel to/from Orkney will allow you a more relaxed, high-interest journey, one that you’ll probably never forget (for all the right reasons) whilst avoiding the less than glamorous aspects of 21st century air travel.

In short, why not make IslandGovCamp the excuse to book that couple of days leave you’ve been promising yourself for ages? Allow this article to sow the seeds of inspiration for a journey-of-a-lifetime to a work-related event! The only limitation, as you explore the many interesting places on the way to Orkney, will be the time available to you before you have to get back to the office.

There is, quite simply, no denying that the venue makes a refreshing change from the rather more usual London, Edinburgh or Manchester destinations and more besides, but there’s no escaping the fact that it ‘s a bit of trek which requires additional planning and time.

Yet Orkney really IS surprisingly easy to get to from just about every corner of the UK thanks to superb air services and excellent road connections to no less than four different ferry departure points from mainland Scotland.

If travel north of Edinburgh is entirely new territory for you, you could be excused for thinking the natives will be unfriendly and the roads are dirt track. You couldn’t be more wrong! You’re assured of a warm Highland welcome and it is perfectly feasible to anticipate a two-day rail or road journey from London to Kirkwall with excellent ferry connections from either Caithness or Aberdeen . You can even travel overnight using the ScotRrail Caledonian Sleeper service from London and intermediate pickup points.

Locally, Orkney’s road network is excellent and well maintained, and car hire is readily available at ferry terminals and Kirkwall airport if you’d prefer to leave your car at home. Like anywhere else in the UK, getting around Orkney by public transport needs a bit of planning yet for a population of less than 22,000 residents you’ll be pretty impressed by the island bus network and timetable particularly in the summer months (May-September) which is fully integrated with internal inter-island ferry services operated by Orkney Islands Council.

So hopefully you’re now thinking differently about getting to IslandGovCamp, so let’s turn to the practical steps involved in attending, starting with accommodation which will be the easiest to finalise and book. And once you know where you’ll be staying then you can plan how you’re actually going to get there.

Getting to Orkney links

Where to stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Orkney but do book early. May and June are a great time to visit the Northern Isles so prospective IslandGovCampers may have some competition from touring holidaymakers seeking local accommodation. The excellent Visit Orkney website has an online accommodation guide which explains all the different guest accommodation options available.

When selecting accommodation be sure to check its geographical location is suitable for your likely mode of travel to Orkney (and for travel to and from Orkney College UHI in Kirkwall, the venue for principal IslandGovCamp gatherings), particularly if you do not intend taking your own car or hiring one on arrival. Public transport services are good, but it would be folly to anticipate the service frequency of, say, London buses!

Accommodation providers may offer a pickup service for your flight or ferry arrival so it is worth checking their listing for this.

My recommendation: If you’re taking your own car or intend hiring a car upon arrival in Orkney, try to book guest accommodation away from Kirkwall itself.

Flying to Kirkwall (KOI)

Loganair/Flybe – from most regional airports in the UK, with connections to Orkney via Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness.
If Flybe does not serve your local airport, then British Airways and EasyJet fly to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness, where you can transfer to a direct Orkney flight.

Travelling by train or road then ferry

If you elect to travel by road or train, your journey will involve a sea crossing from either Caithness in the far north of Scotland, or from Aberdeen on the east coast.

Travelling via Inverness and the Far North Coast

Travelling via Aberdeen

At first examination taking the Aberdeen ferry to Orkney may seem the obvious choice but with only limited sailings calling at Kirkwall (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings only) this may not be a viable travel route for the time you have available.

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