Alex and I happened on Skara Brae when we went to Ireland and Scotland in the 80ies. We were traveling on a shoestring and decided on Orkney as cheaper to get to from Edinburgh than the Western Isles. We went by bus up Northern Scotland to Thurso where we stayed in the B&B of an elderly man who was keeping up the place after his wife died. He was glad of the company. It was July but very cold (by my standards). I remember walking along the bay for miles and miles on a walk way fairly high up. Reminds one of Scandinavia. Then we took a ferry from Scabster to Stromness, the second largest town in Orkney at the western end of Scapa Flow (harbor you've probably heard of in connection with wartime naval battles. There's a museum there with stuff from a German submarine sunk inside the harbor—after subs did a lot of damage by getting in. It's fascinating now for the huge number of scuttled ships you—rusted out hulks still).
Our introduction to Neolithic Orkney was a sight of the Old Man of Hoy from the ferry. We stayed in a B&B right on the Stromness docks—in the business district. Very small town—the people all spoke English like my grandparents who were born in Sweden, with an upward lilt at the end of key sentences and phrases. It was the first time I thought much about the Scandinavian influence in the UK.
We visited lots of stone age burial sites and standing stones. One at Maeshowe had been pillaged by the Vikings who left graffiti (runes) on the walls with comments like "Ingeborg is the most beautiful woman in the world".
I took a trip alone around the Island of Rousay and visited the most complete burial site in Orkney as well as an active excavation where archeologists on the beach were digging up a Viking buried in his boat. Saw seals and whales. (The website shows a big modern ferry as the way to get to Rousay. When I went it was a little wooden boat with an enclosed cabin that held maybe 8 to 10 people, on wooden benches. The crossing was short but very rough.)
The day we rented a car, we went to the Brough of Birsay and Earle's Palace on the
I'd stocked up on Orkney history books and even read the Orkneyinga Saga , a Viking history of the Earls of Orkney (one of the heroes was Thorkill Skullsplitter and the Birsay ruins were the site of much of the Saga’s action). It was after touring the ruins—and seeing puffins (pictured above)—that we happened upon Scara Brae accidentally and were totally fascinated. We've never heard the story of how a storm broke open this ancient village where you could still identify the rooms where people slept and see rocks carved to make storage containers—for example, they lined stone with leather to keep their water.