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Orkney’s Garden Trail

From £1195.00
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Old Man of Hoy
Departing by Coach
Duration 6 Days
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You may be forgiven for thinking that the far north of Scotland and the Orkney Isles in particular are more about mountains and moorlands, crashing waves with booming surf and high seaside cliffs than a picture of manicured gardens.

Well of course it is all about wild landscape and open seascapes, however it is also home to a collection of very determined gardeners who have created, in some cases over generations, a collection of excellent gardens, set amidst a beautiful landscape of long summer days and evenings when it hardly gets dark – a twilight that is known as the ‘simmer dim’.

We begin in Caithness and Sutherland with visits to the Castle of Mey and other gardens before crossing the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Here we follow Orkney’s Garden Trail with visits to a selection of private gardens who have kindly allowed us special access. Of course, we could not visit Orkney without calling in at some of its archaeological and historical wonders, such as the standing stones at Stenness and Brodgar and the remarkable chambered cairn of Maeshowe, all the while enjoying those endless Orcadian summer days.

This tour will be escorted throughout by Sue Pomeroy, horticulturalist, highland gardener and propagator.

NC500: Please note that this itinerary features part of the North Coast 500, the highly scenic coastal route which begins and ends in Inverness.

What You’ll Love

  • Visit to the Castle of Mey
  • The garden at Kierfiold, Sandwick
  • The Community Garden, Finstown
  • Stenwood, Finstown
  • Mythical Standing Stones at Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe
  • Free time in Kirkwall
  • Gardens at The Quoy of Houton, Westrow Lodge, Marengo Garden, Cromart Square, Fiddler’s Lodge, Langwell
  • The Italian ChapelAccommodation
  • Services of a professional tour manager
  • Comfortable coach travel throughout
  • Meals – as per the itinerary
  • Ferry crossings


Day 1

We depart from our designated pick-up points and head north, stopping en route for refreshments and having an early lunchtime stop in Inverness (not included). We will continue to our first garden just over the Kessock Bridge, Old Allangrange, a lovely old property with surrounding garden set in the heart of the Black Isle.

Following our visit we will continue north by the scenic coastal road to Wick and our accommodation at Mackays Hotel. Dinner will be served in the evening.

Day 2

After breakfast we will head out to Duncansby Head to see the huge sea-stacks and pose for photographs at John O’Groats before visiting The Castle of Mey, the former holiday home of the late Queen Mother. Originally Barrogill Castle, it was first seen by the Queen Mother in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband King George VI.

Falling for its faded, isolated charm she declared she would save the castle from ruin. Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated and lovingly restored it and for over half a century she spent her summers here and created the beautiful gardens you see today. The castle is now a wonderful museum to her life, and there is a good cafeteria for lunch (not included).

This afternoon we visit the privately-owned garden at the Auld Post Office south of Thurso. Surrounded by eight acres of Alaskan Lodgepole pine trees, this secluded garden has a variety of beds and borders containing evergreen plants, shrubs, grasses and perennials. The fish share their pond with grass and lillies and the garden walk continues behind mature pine trees, under planted with shade loving perennials.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 3

After an early breakfast we make the short transfer to the port of Scrabster in time to catch the morning ferry to Stromness.

We will then head north for a visit to Skara Brae, with its new visitor centre depicting the history of this world famous monument, and make use of the café facilities for lunch (not included).

Early afternoon we will visit the garden at Kierfold in the village of Sandwick. Kierfold is a Victorian garden whose layout has remained largely unchanged for 100 years, although the planting has changed with each owner’s taste. The garden is packed with geraniums, grasses, euphorbia and irises. The protection of the wall and tree shelter belt has created a calm and warm environment in which many unusual and rare plants are found.

We will then continue to Kirkwall where accommodation has been arranged at the comfortable Orkney Hotel in the heart of Kirkwall. Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 4

This morning we will go to the district of Finstown where we will see two quite different garden projects.

The Community Garden has a stunning variety of features from miniature shrub and primula lined valleys and beautiful perennial flower borders. There are large herbaceous borders around lawned areas.

Stenwood is a garden of about one acre on a north facing slope. Starting at the bottom, visitors can wander through a number of interlinked areas featuring a wide range of perennial plants, primulas, roses, shrubs and rhododendrons.

We will also visit the many archaeological sites including the Standing Stones of Stenness, lying to the north side of the Orphir Hills and the Ring of Brodgar. To this day the monument’s age remains uncertain, however it is generally thought to have been erected between 2500BC & 2000BC. We continue to Maeshowe, the finest chambered tomb in Western Europe. Built before 2700 B.C. Maeshowe was raided by Vikings in the 12th Century leaving the largest collection of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Day 5

There will be free some free time to explore Kirkwall at leisure where there are many craft and woollen shops, and of course the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral is well worth a visit.

In the afternoon we will visit five small gardens on Orkney’s Garden Trail. The Quoy of Houton is a historic walled garden just a stone’s throw away from the sea, which was completely restored in 2008. The garden is planted to withstand winds in excess of 100 mph and boasts dry stone walling features, raised beds and a 60 foot water rill. The planting reflects its costal location and is planted in cottage garden style encouraging bees and butterflies.

We continue to the private garden of Westrow Lodge, which enjoys glorious views over Scapa Flow and the surrounding hills.

In the afternoon we will travel across the Churchill Barriers, which were built after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in October 1939, to the island of South Ronaldsay, where we visit the Marengo Garden, Orkney’s first community garden.

It was created in 1997 with the help of national lottery funding and Tern Television who held a Community Corner Competition featured on The Beechgrove Garden programme. This beautiful mature cottage garden which had been abandoned for many years was re-created using many of the original trees and shrubs. The garden’s unique sheltered position gives scope for interesting and unusual planting. The maintenance of the garden is continued today by volunteers within the Burray and South Ronaldsay communities. We will then enjoy brief visits to private gardens at Cromarty Square and Fiddler’s Cottage.

On the way back to Kirkwall we will stop off at the beautiful Italian Chapel, built on the site of a former prisoner of war camp. Several hundred Italians, captured during the North African campaign of World War II were sent here to work on the Causeways and converted two huts into a chapel. The marvellous paintings in the interior were done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the prisoners who returned several times to restore and repaint parts of the building.

Dinner is served at hotel in the evening.

Day 6

After an early breakfast we transfer to Stromness to catch the morning ferry back to Scrabster, from where we head south breaking our journey at the remarkable herbaceous garden just inland from Berriedale on the Caithness coast. The private garden of Langwell is a beautiful old walled garden with spectacular borders situated in the secluded Langwell Strath. A high wall surrounds the garden to keep the wild lands at bay and the deer out.

We will snake our way south down the A9 stopping for refreshments (not included) as required, arriving back to our original pick up points during the evening.

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