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Savour the unique atmosphere of Orkney with its wild landscape, open seascapes and home to a collection of very determined gardeners

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’.

Last year for the first time the good gardeners of Orkney pooled their resources to create ‘Orkney’s Garden Trail’. It was such a success that this year there will actually be three different garden trails in Orkney. To share in this success and to see how good Orkney is at ‘gardening on the edge’ we have been asked by Scotland’s Gardens to prepare a unique inclusive holiday to visit Orkney to see a selection of Orcadian gardens along with some other gardens not easily visited in the far north.

HRH Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother put gardening on the map in Caithness when she regularly opened the walled garden at her summer home of The Castle of Mey. We include this garden and an opportunity to see round the castle, now a museum to her life, along with other private gardens that open for charity under the auspices of Scotland’s Gardens.

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

Available departure dates and prices


Savour the unique atmosphere of Orkney with its rich archaeological heritage, thrilling seascapes and top-quality local produce.

Friday 8 July 2016

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). If travelling independently please meet outside Inverness Railway Station by 12.00pm when we will continue to our first garden just over the Kessock Bridge. Opening for the first time for Scotland’s Gardens in 2015, Old Allangrange is 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 Thurso and our accommodation at the St Clair Hotel.  Dinner will be served in the evening.

Saturday 9 July 2016

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).

We return to Thurso to visit Springpark House’s walled garden, containing individually styled garden areas displaying its collection of farming and household memorabilia, and also a container vegetable garden. There will be time to have a look round Thurso before dinner at the hotel.

In the evening for those who wish there will be the opportunity to visit two small town gardens located a short walk from the hotel in the company of Judith Middlemas, the District Organiser of Scotland’s Gardens in Caithness.

Sunday 10 July 2016

After an early breakfast we make the short transfer to the port of Scrabster in time to catch the morning ferry to Stromness (0845hrs depart – 1015hrs arrive) and visit the first of our gardens here in Orkney, at 33 Hillside Road. This informal garden of around half an acre was created from a field and has developed over the last 20 years. Situated on a gentle slope its features include dry stone walls and terracing, a pond, a large variety of trees and shrubs and many cottage garden perennials.

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 Kirkwall Hotel.  Dinner is served in the evening.

Monday 11 July 2016

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.

We conclude today with a visit to 14a Victoria Street in Kirkwall, where tucked away behind the Earl’s Palace we find a small Victorian courtyard garden, with paved paths and secret garden rooms filled with interesting herbaceous perennials and annuals.

Dinner is served in the evening.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

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 three 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.

Schoolquoy at Orphir was established from an old school garden overgrown with weeds, wire grass and seed fuchsia. The garden has been landscaped with terraced lawns, pathways, flower and shrub beds that wind up hill and appear like another garden as you come down hill again.

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.

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.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

After an early breakfast we transfer to Stromness to catch the morning ferry back to Scrabster (1100hrs depart – 1230hrs arrive), 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 make our way south down the A9 stopping for refreshments (not included) as required – arriving back to our original pick up points during the evening.

Included in the price

  • 2 nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast at the St Clair Hotel, Thurso and 3 nights’ dinner bed and breakfast at the Kirkwall Hotel, Orkney
  • Entry to all gardens as stated in the itinerary
  • Guided tours of Orkney, including the Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness, the Italian Chapel and the archaeological sites at Skara Brae and Maeshowe
  • Return coach and ferry travel
  • Services of a Brightwater Holidays tour guide


Not included (per person)

  • Single room supplement         £125.00
  • Insurance                              £18.50 (under 65); £37.00 (65-74); £55.50 (75-90)



Departure points Depart Return
Glasgow (Millennium Hotel) 0715 2145
Edinburgh (Edinburgh Marriott Hotel) 0830 2030
Dunfermline (Outside Fife College, formerly Carnegie College) 0900 2000
Kinross (Moto Services, M90) 0915 1945
Perth (Bus stop on Canal Street, Tay Street end) 0930 1930
Inverness (outside the Railway Station) 1200 1630


Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.

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Pauline our Tour Manager was a wee star, her personality and knowledge make the Highlands come alive.

Mrs Wilson

The staff at our hotel on Islay were young and keen, very pleasant and helpful indeed.

Mr and Mrs Turner

Jimmy the driver was impeccable and fun - his driving skills gave us great confidence on the narrow roads through Royal Deeside.

Bob Guthrie, Broughty Ferry
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