THERE’S no better time to plan a family trip to Orkney, which according to users of TripAdvisor is the fourth best island in Europe. Book now and you can enjoy the annual St Magnus International Arts Festival which runs from 20-26 June.
Part of the island’s charm is that it’s not full of chain hotels and big name hostelries, and that means there’s a great selection of smaller scale hotels, B&Bs and self-catering cottages from which to choose. With a young family in tow, we decided on a self-catering house, giving us our own space and the freedom to come and go as we please. Oakhurst is a family-owned, family-friendly self-catering property in a quiet location with plenty of parking, but just a five-minute walk from the centre of Kirkwall. It has been recently refurbished and provided us with loads of space, both inside and out, to satisfy our three noisy boys.
WINING AND DINING
Oakhurst cottage is self-catering, but the owners can arrange hampers of food from a basic starter pack to locally produced goodies. Just let them know what you want about a week before you arrive, and they’ll get it arranged where possible. Kirkwall has lots of exciting cafés, bistros and restaurants, including The Reel, where renowned musicians the Wrigley Sisters run a café with great coffee and an emphasis on folk music, and live sessions.
Gerri’s Ice Cream Parlour, in Stenness, is a quirky vintage-tinged ice-cream shop and cafe. It only opens in the summer months, but includes delicious retro flavours, like lemon curd and rum’n’raisin. They even offer a Man V Food-type cone, the Stenness Monster, which includes seven scoops of Orkney’s finest ice-cream, with a roll of honour for those who have completed it. It is the perfect stop-off after a visit to the nearby prehistoric Standing Stones.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
Oakhurst has been lovingly refurbished by the new owners. It has two cosy bedrooms upstairs – one king-size and one with bunk beds, and downstairs there’s a comfy living-room and great kitchen/dining room that overlooks the beautiful walled garden. It is an ideal place for relaxing family holidays – the fully enclosed garden means that you can let your little ones out to play while you sit in the kitchen enjoying a quiet cup of coffee (at least that was the plan). There’s an HD TV, Blu-ray and DVD player, wi-fi and a selection of DVDs and books to keep all members of the family occupied. A cot can be provided too.
The kitchen is fully stocked with all the utensils you’ll need for cooking, but if you fancy a night (or even a week) off, then Oakhurst is handily located close to a bakery and a Chinese takeaway. The smell of fresh bread in the morning may be too much for you to resist.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Orkney is beautiful and historic, with lots of fantastic open space for the kids to run around in. It is home to a Unesco World Heritage Site, called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, which takes in the popular and stunning historic sites at Scara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness. The Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm is a Roman Catholic church, built by Italian Prisoners of War during the Second World War and made of two Nissen Huts. It is a haunting reminder of the island’s key roles during the war.
Orkney is a vibrant place, and there are events on through the year to suit all types of interests. Over the festive season, there’s the infamous Ba, played on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, an unfathomable game in which men and boys from opposite sides of town (Uppies and Doonies) chase a ball through the streets of Kirkwall until one of them scores a “goal” by getting the ball into their respective territory. Hatches are battened down and the young and elderly advised to steer well out of the way of the scrum, which is generally lighthearted, but very enthusiastic.
Other Orkney events include a science festival in September, a folk festival in May and, of course, the St Magnus International Arts Festival in June. There are also lots of great little food and drink producers, as well as crafters and makers, inspired by the landscape and their natural surroundings.
Oakhurst Cottage, Willow Road, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1NJ. www.cottageguide.co.uk/oakhurstorkney, 0131-463 0030.
June-September, £550 per week