Where is Orkney?
where the endless ocean opens, lies Orkney."
Orosius, fifth century AD
Orkney Islands lie off the northern tip of Scotland, where the North
Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.
Orkney is made up of 70, or so, islands — of which,
only 16 are inhabited. Exact agreement as to the total number of islands is difficult as many are
little more than skerries - small uninhabited islets.
Lying on latitude 59 degrees north
- which is only 50 miles south of Greenland - Orkney is, at its
widest, 30 miles from east to west and 53 miles north to south.
With a total coastline of approximately
570 miles, the islands cover an area of 974 square kilometres (376
square miles), more than half of which is taken up by the Mainland,
the group's largest island.
Orkney can be divided into three
distinct regions - the North Isles, the South Isles and the Mainland.
Of the islands, less than one-third
are inhabited, the islands having a total population of
19, 245 (2001 census). The majority of people live on
the Mainland, with the greatest population concentrations being
the main towns of Kirkwall and
The principal island is now simply
referred to as "the Mainland" -
a corruption of the Old Norse "Meginland". The Norse originally referred to the island as "Hrossey", meaning "Horse Island" in Old Norse. The
erroneous name "Pomona" can still sometimes be seen on the occasional
modern map, but this stems from a Latin mistranslation and has never been used by Orcadians. Click
here for full details on the meaning of the name "Orkney".
The Mainland can be divided into
two "sectors" by an invisible line that runs roughly between
Kirkwall and Scapa. These are known locally as the East Mainland
and West Mainland. The usual way to refer to a location within these
areas is to refer to their parish.
The Mainland is sub-divided into
13 parishes, these being:
The final parish, St
Ola, surrounds the town of Kirkwall.