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Idyllically situated by a sandy bay 8 miles north of Stromness, and predating Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, extraordinary Skara Brae, one of the world's most evocative prehistoric sites, is northern Europe’s best-preserved neolithic village. Even the stone furniture – beds, boxes and dressers – has survived the 5000 years since a community lived and breathed here. It was hidden until 1850, when waves whipped up by a severe storm eroded the sand and grass above the beach, exposing the houses underneath.
There’s an excellent interactive exhibit and short video, arming visitors with facts and theory, which will enhance the impact of the site. You then enter a reconstructed house, giving the excavation (which you head to next) more meaning. The official guidebook, available from the visitor centre, includes a good self-guided tour.
In the summer months, your ticket also gets you into Skaill House, an important step-gabled Orcadian mansion built for the bishop in 1620. It may feel a bit anticlimactic catapulting straight from the neolithic to the 1950s decor, but it's an interesting sight in its own right. You can see a smart hidden compartment in the library as well as the bishop's original 17th-century four-poster bed.
At the time of research, a trial bus route (8S) was running to Skara Brae from Kirkwall and Stromness a few times weekly, but not all were useful to visit the site. It’s possible to walk along the coast from Stromness to Skara Brae (9 miles), or it's an easy taxi (£15), hitch or cycle from Stromness. Mobility scooters are available at the visitor centre to cut out the walk to the site.