Northern Isles

NorðreyjarNorthernOrkneyjarldom of OrkneynorthNorthern Isles of Orkney and ShetlandOrkney & ShetlandOrkney and ShetlandOrkney and Shetland IslandsThe Isles
The Northern Isles (Northren Isles; Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; ) are a pair of archipelagos off the north coast of mainland Scotland, comprising Orkney and Shetland.wikipedia
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Orkney IslandsOrkneysOrkney Isles
The Northern Isles (Northren Isles; Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; ) are a pair of archipelagos off the north coast of mainland Scotland, comprising Orkney and Shetland.
Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of the island of Great Britain.


The Northern Isles (Northren Isles; Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; ) are a pair of archipelagos off the north coast of mainland Scotland, comprising Orkney and Shetland.
It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.


Shetland IslandsShetland IslesShetlands
The Northern Isles (Northren Isles; Na h-Eileanan a Tuath; ) are a pair of archipelagos off the north coast of mainland Scotland, comprising Orkney and Shetland.
Shetland (Shetland, Sealtainn), also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated in the Northern Atlantic, between Great Britain, the Faroe Islands and Norway.

Kingdom of Scotland

Both island groups were absorbed into the Kingdom of Scotland in the 15th century and remained part of the country following the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, and later the United Kingdom after 1801.
Following the annexation of the Northern Isles from the Kingdom of Norway in 1472 and final capture of the Royal Burgh of Berwick by the Kingdom of England in 1482, the territory of the Kingdom of Scotland corresponded to that of modern-day Scotland, bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the southwest.

List of outlying islands of Scotland

Outlierislands that lie off the north coastOutlying islands
However, the other small islands that lie off the north coast of Scotland are in Highland and thus not usually considered to be part of the Northern Isles.
The outlying islands of Scotland incorporate those that are not part of the larger archipelagos and island groups of Scotland and are thus not listed as being part of the Hebrides, the Northern Isles or the Islands of the Forth and Clyde estuaries.

List of islands of Scotland

Scottish islandislandsScottish islands
The largest island, known as the "Mainland" has an area of 523.25 km2, making it the sixth largest Scottish island.
Most of the Hebrides have names with Scots Gaelic derivations, whilst those of the Northern Isles tend to be derived from the Viking names.


Kirkwall, ScotlandGrain Earth HouseKirkjuvagr
The total population in 2001 was 19,245 and the largest town is Kirkwall.
This is the form of earth house or souterrain characteristic of the Northern Isles (although Grain is unusually deep below ground).


firthsFirths of Scotlandvoes
Geological evidence shows that at around 6100 BC a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slides hit the Northern Isles, (as well as much of the east coast of Scotland), and may have created a wave of up to 25 m high in the voes of Shetland where modern populations are highest.
In the Northern Isles, it more usually refers to a smaller inlet.

Orkneyinga saga

OrkneyingaOrkneyinga þáttrOrkneying saga
According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Vikings then made the islands the headquarters of pirate expeditions carried out against Norway and the coasts of mainland Scotland.
The main focus of the work is the line of jarls who ruled the Earldom of Orkney, which constituted the Norðreyjar or Northern Isles of both Orkney and Shetland and there are frequent references to both archipelagoes throughout.

Funzie Girt

Funzie Girt dyke
Funzie Girt is a remarkable Neolithic dividing wall that ran for 4 km across the island of Fetlar, although the Iron Age has provided the most outstanding archaeology on Shetland.
(The later Iron Age inhabitants of the Northern Isles were actually Pictish, although the historical record is fairly sparse.) The variation between Finn and Funzie is due to widespread confusion of the letter ȝ (yogh) with the cursive form of the letter z. An earlier name for the dyke was simply "Finnigord" and Finnigirt dyke is thus tautologous as gord already means "dyke".

Magnus Barefoot

Magnus III of NorwayMagnus BarelegsMagnús Óláfsson, King of Norway
(Some scholars believe that this story is apocryphal and based on the later voyages of Magnus Barelegs.)
He raided through Orkney, the Hebrides and Mann (the Northern and Southern Isles), and ensured Norwegian control by a treaty with the Scottish king.

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

Henry SinclairHenry Sinclair, Earl of OrkneyHenry Sinclair, 1st Earl of Orkney
Jon Haraldsson, who was murdered in Thurso in 1231, was the last of an unbroken line of Norse jarls, and thereafter the earls were Scots noblemen of the houses of Angus and St. Clair.
Sinclair held the title Earl of Orkney (which refers to Norðreyjar rather than just the islands of Orkney) under the King of Norway.

Pictish stone

Pictish stonesPictish symbol stonePictish symbol stones
The main archaeological relics from these times are symbol stones.
The symbols are also sometimes found on other movable objects like small stone discs and bones mostly from the Northern Isles.


brochsRound Towerbroch village
Numerous brochs were erected at that time of which the Broch of Mousa is the finest preserved example of these round towers.
Caithness, Sutherland and the Northern Isles have the densest concentrations, but there are a great many examples in the west of Scotland and the Hebrides.


The 8th century was also the time the Viking invasions of the Scottish seaboard commenced and with them came the arrival of a new culture and language for the Northern Isles, the fate of the existing indigenous population being uncertain.
In the Northern Isles of Shetland and Orkney, Old Norse completely replaced the local languages and over time evolved into the now extinct Norn language.

Faroe Islands

FaroeseFaroesFaeroe Islands
Due to their history, the islands have a Norse, rather than a Gaelic flavour, and have historic links with the Faroes, Iceland, and Norway.
The Norse and Norse–Gael settlers probably did not come directly from Scandinavia, but rather from Norse communities surrounding the Irish Sea, Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides of Scotland, including the Shetland and Orkney islands.

Scottish Gaelic

GaelicScots GaelicGaelic language
Due to their history, the islands have a Norse, rather than a Gaelic flavour, and have historic links with the Faroes, Iceland, and Norway.
An exception might be made for the Northern Isles, however, where Pictish was more likely supplanted by Norse rather than by Gaelic.

NorthLink Ferries

NorthLinkNorthLink ferryNorthern Isles ferry services
Ferry services link Orkney and Shetland to the rest of Scotland, the main routes being Scrabster harbour, Thurso to Stromness and Aberdeen to Lerwick, both operated by NorthLink Ferries.
NorthLink Ferries (also referred to as Serco NorthLink Ferries ) is an operator of passenger and vehicle ferries, as well as ferry services, between mainland Scotland and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland.

Rognvald Eysteinsson

Ragnvald Eysteinssona prominent earlRagnall
In response, Norwegian king Harald Hårfagre ("Harald Fair Hair") annexed the Northern Isles in 875 and Rognvald Eysteinsson received Orkney and Shetland from Harald as an earldom as reparation for the death of his son in battle in Scotland.
Rognvald thereafter returned to Norway, giving the northern isles to his brother Sigurd Eysteinsson.


Isle of UnstUnst, Shetland
The most distinctive feature is the ultrabasic ophiolite, peridotite and gabbro on Unst and Fetlar, which are remnants of the Iapetus Ocean floor.
Dating from 1775, Belmont has been described as "possibly the most ambitious, least-altered classical mansion in the Northern Isles."


county of CaithnessCaithness-shireCaithness (county of Scotland)
Island of Stroma, which lies between mainland Scotland and Orkney, is part of Caithness, and so falls under Highland council area for local government purposes, not Orkney.
Norn continued to be spoken in Caithness until perhaps the fifteenth century and lingered until the late 18th century in the Northern Isles.

St Ninian's Isle

St Ninian's Isle TreasureSt. Ninian's IsleSt. Ninian's tombolo
The St Ninian's Isle Treasure was discovered in 1958.
As its name suggests, the island has ecclesiastical connections, which may like others in the Northern Isles, Hebrides and Faroes have connections to the Culdees or papar.

Highlands and Islands Airports

Highlands and Islands Airports LimitedHighland and Islands AirportsHighlands and Islands Airports Ltd
The main airport in Orkney is at Kirkwall, operated by Highland and Islands Airports.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is the company that owns and operates 11 airports in the Scottish Highlands, the Northern Isles and the Western Isles.

Norn language

NornOld NornNorse
The Norn language formerly spoken in the islands, a descendant of Old Norse, a language of the Norse people, brought in by the Vikings, became extinct in the 18th or 19th century.
Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken in the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) off the north coast of mainland Scotland and in Caithness in the far north of the Scottish mainland.

Sigurd the Stout

Sigurd HlodvirssonEarl SigurdEarl Sigurd of Orkney
The King summoned the jarl Sigurd the Stout and said, "I order you and all your subjects to be baptised. If you refuse, I'll have you killed on the spot and I swear I will ravage every island with fire and steel."
According to the Orkneyinga saga, the Northern Isles were Christianised by King Olaf Tryggvasson in 995 when he stopped at South Walls on his way back to Norway from Dublin.