Island group and unitary authority off the northeast coast of Scotland.
Area 1,014 sq km/391 sq mi
TownsKirkwall (administrative headquarters), Stromness, both on Mainland (Pomona)
Physical there are 90 islands and inlets in the group. The surface of the islands is irregular and indented by many inlets. Next to Mainland, the most important of the islands are North and South Ronaldsay, Hoy, Rousay, Stronsay, Flotta, Shapinsay, Eday, Sanday, and Westray. The highest peak is Ward Hill in Hoy, which has an elevation of 479 m/1,572 ft. The Old Man of Hoy is an isolated stack of red sandstone 137 m/450 ft high, off Hoy's northwest coast
Features Skara Brae Neolithic village, Stones of Steness, and Maes Howe burial chamber; Scapa Flow; oil terminal on Flotta
Industries offshore oil, woollen weaving, wind-powered electricity generation, distilling, boat-building, fish curing
Agriculture fishing, beef cattle, dairy products
Population (2001) 19,250
Famous people Edwin Muir, John Rae
History population of Scandinavian descent; Harald I (Fairhair) of Norway conquered the islands in 876; pledged to James III of Scotland in 1468 for the dowry of Margaret of Denmark; Scapa Flow, between Mainland and Hoy, was a naval base in both world wars, the German fleet scuttled itself here on 21 June 1919
Demography The population, long falling, has in recent years risen as the islands' remoteness from the rest of the world attracts new settlers.
Energy Burgar Hill has the world's most productive wind-powered generator; a 300 kW wind turbine with blades 60 m/197 ft in diameter, capable of producing 20% of the islands' energy needs.
Archaeology Many brochs, chambered cairns, and burial mounds remain as evidence of prehistoric and Norse settlements. The Neolithic dwellings of Skara Brae are important examples.
Early history The Orkneys, under the name ‘Orcades’, are mentioned by ancient geographical writers, including Pliny and Ptolemy. In 876 Harold I (Harald Haarfager) conquered the Orkneys and the Hebrides. During most of the 10th century the Orkney Islands were ruled by independent Scandinavian jarls (earls), but in 1098 became subject to the Norwegian crown and remained Scandinavian until 1468, when they were given to James III as security for his wife's dowry. In 1590, on the marriage of James VI with the Danish Princess Anne, Denmark formally resigned all pretensions to the sovereignty of the Orkneys. However, during their long connection with Norway and Denmark, all traces of the primitive Celtic population disappeared, and the present inhabitants are of Scandinavian stock.
Later history In the mid-19th century there was a big influx of farmers from Aberdeenshire and other parts of northeast Scotland, and two world wars also brought many others to reside permanently in Orkney. Scapa Flow, between Mainland and Hoy, was a naval base in both world wars, and the German fleet scuttled itself here on 21 June 1919.
Climate The climate of the Orkney Islands is mild, owing to the Gulf Stream. At the season of the longest day, there is almost no darkness for about six weeks, and during the summer solstice photographs can be taken at midnight.
Economy The area has a buoyant mixed economy. While the predominant industry is agriculture and other ‘community’ industries, such as fishing, crafts, and knitwear, are important, the economic vitality of the islands is largely attributable to the development of the oil industry in the 1980s.
Environment There are 34 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, five Special Protection Areas, and one National Scenic Area.
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