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A small settlement on Mainland, Orkney south west of Kirkwall, just off the A964.

On the southern shores of West Mainland, overlooking Scapa Flow, is the scattered community of Orphir, which has a few sights worth visiting, especially if you're heading across to Hoy from the ferry terminal at Houton, a little further west.

The main point of interest in Orphir is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre, where a small exhibition and video introduces the saga, written circa 1200, possibly by an Icelander, which tells the history of the Viking Earls of Orkney from around 900 AD to 1200 AD, when the islands became a part of Scotland rather than Norway. As you would expect, there's plenty of gore and Machiavellian goings-on, including an assassination attempt that went disastrously wrong, when a poisoned shirt meant for Earl Harold was unwittingly and fatally worn by his brother Paul instead. The centre closed for a while but reopened again in 2013.
Info - All year daily 0900-1700. Free.

Behind the centre is The Earl's Bu, looking out across Orphir Bay south to Cava Island. These are the 12th-century foundations of the home of the Norse Earls of Orkney written about in the saga. Inside the cemetery gates is a section of the circular church built by Haakon and modelled on the rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.



Nearby Ancient Monuments

  • Barnhouse Settlement

    ONly discovered in 1984, this is another fascinating neolithic monument that makes this area absolutely remarkable. 15 houses that date back to 3000BC. Walk from the Standing Stones of Stenness.

  • Maeshowe or Maes Howe

    Maeshowe is a Neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave situated on Mainland. It was probably built in around 2800 BC. It gives its name to the Maeshowe type of chambered cairn, which is only found in Orkney.

  • Ness of Brodgar

    The most recent Neolithic site in the area and to some accounts the most important. Dates back to 3500BC and was occupied for 1500 years. In the summer months, archeologists are hard at work. 

  • Standing Stones of Stenness & Ring of Brodgar

    Two Henges (or sets of standing stones) in walking distance of each. Catch them at sunset or early evening when you will virtually have them to yourself. Amazing and so much more exciting than Stonehenge!