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While the southernmost isles of Orkney closely straddle the northeast corner of the Scottish mainland, historically the archipelago (around 70 islands in all) and its people have had as much in common with Scandinavia as they have had with Scotland. In fact, until the 15th century, the Orkney Islands…

While the southernmost isles of Orkney closely straddle the northeast corner of the Scottish mainland, historically the archipelago (around 70 islands in all) and its people have had as much in common with Scandinavia as they have had with Scotland. In fact, until the 15th century, the Orkney Islands were politically part of Norway.

Today the Orcadians are a fairly tight-knit and cooperative group of Scots—a rich community of artists and crofters (small-holding farmers), fisherfolk and those in the trades. A key attraction for tourists is the wealth of prehistoric sites on Orkney, including standing stones, burial chambers and even Stone Age settlements, such as Skara Brae, inhabited sometime around 3000 B.C.E. More recently, because of its isolation, Orkney was chosen as the place to keep Italian prisoners of war during WWII; a chapel built by them is a popular site to visit.

The island capital is Kirkwall (originally Kirkjuvagr meaning Church Bay). Here you'll find the Cathedral of St. Magnus—one of only two pre–Reformation cathedrals still largely intact in Scotland (the other is Glasgow's St. Mungo). Nearby, the historic town district includes the Earl's Palace, built for the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart, whose father was a bastard son of King James V and who was executed in 1615 for treason.

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