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Friday, December 16, 2011

Year of Active Scotland - Northern Islands

The Shetland Isles and the Orkney Isles are Scotland’s forgotten lands are remarkable escapes offer myriad possibilities for adventurous business tourism groups looking for something different and truly special as I discovered when I headed to the Northern Isles and found myself closer to Bergen in Norway than Aberdeen in Scotland.

First things first. The Northern Isles are not just two islands. They are in fact vast archipelagos, with Shetland boasting around 100 isles and Orkney over 70. Each has a bustling ‘mainland’ with an airport, ferry hub and a relatively bustling capital town, with plenty of hotels and restaurants. They also boast some of the finest scenery I have ever seen in over a decade of travelling to almost 100 countries.


Orkney is that bit closer to the Scottish mainland with a choice of ferry connections from Aberdeen or the northern ports. It is also an archipelago of global significance with a string of historic sites around the mainland that are recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage list. There is the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, which predates the Egyptian Pyramids and for me is far more jaw dropping than Stonehenge. Then there is the windswept moorland stone circle at Brodgar and the voluminous standing stones of Stenness.



Orkney Cruise Services ( can put together corporate packages that combine the natural delights of the isles, their world class seafood and a visit to Orkney’s two whisky distilleries. Award winning Highland Park is the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. They can even stage an evening event at Skaill House, the finest mansion in the islands, which is home to a real life laird, who is a direct descendent of the man who famously uncovered nearby Skara Brae. The house is also home to a dinner set donated by Captain Cook’s ship when it cruised by Orkney!



Orkney may have a strong Viking history, but Shetland’s culture, appearance and people are for me often as Scandinavian as they are Scottish. This is an otherworldly destination that most visitors fall in love with instantly. I did and go back as often as I can to dream over its sullen voes (fjords), brooding hills and deserted century of sandy beaches.



Shetland, accessible by ferry from Aberdeen and by plane, finally seems to be garnering some of the recognition it so richly deserves. This year a National Geographic Magazine survey rated Shetland the ‘Fourth Most Desirable Island in the World’ and it is easy to see why. And for active groups the Atlantic Ocean or the North Sea are never more than four miles away, making any walk, cycle or boat trip spectacular.


Most Shetlanders hold their Viking roots dear. None more so than Allen Fraser. He is the man behind Shetland Geotours ( who offer myriad group tours that suit business tourism. The one I took opened up the north of the mainland, home to some of the finest coastal scenery anywhere in the UK. The highlight were the mighty cliffs at Eshaness, which I viewed from the Braewick Café ( accompanied by Shetland beef and local hot smoked salmon.

Next up I headed out fishing from the charming old capital of Scalloway with Cy Charters ( Shetland is famous for its seafood and on my first cast I landed a ‘full house’ of four gleaming striped mackerel. A half day fishing cruise is ideal for small incentive groups and this is also a great way to appreciate the scale and beauty of the myriad islands. Orkney and Shetland may get left off the map sometimes, but they both offer adventurous meeting and incentive planners that all too rare commodity these days, a beguiling taste of somewhere genuinely different.


For more information on this area of Scotland please contact



Moira Unwin
Business Tourism Manager
Cowan House
Inverness Retail and Business Park
Tel: +44 (0) 1463 244 115



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