The Orkney islands lie just to the north of Scottish Mainland, exposed to the full force of the Atlantic weather. This site looks at the physical landscape of the islands, the backdrop for enthralling natural, historical and cultural landscapes celebrated widely in song and verse. The geology is dominated by the Old Red Sandstone and the archipelago gives its name to Lake Orcadie, a vast former lake basin dating from around 380 million years ago. The hundreds of metres of sediment laid down on its floor point to rhythmic climate shifts, with dunes and mud cracks forming during arid phases. Mass mortality of shoals of primitive fish left superb fossil remains. The record of desert and flood, volcanoes and continental tectonics is inscribed in the stacked layers of sandstone forming the coastal cliffs.
The scenic framework certainly deserves attention. Controversy rumbles over the timing, pattern and effects of glaciation on the islands. The hill tops of Hoy display both fossil and active frost-generated features, landforms and sediments reminiscent of much more elevated Scottish mountain tops and of the Arctic lowlands. Orkney also one of the most active coastlines in the British Isles where a combination of sea level change, rapid erosion and localised deposition has created shorelines of immense variety, character and interest. The islands have been inhabited for at least 7000 years, an occupation that has brought profound changes in soils, vegetation and, increasingly, the landforms themselves.
Main photography Old man of Hoy: © Tristan Cameron-Harper