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If you venture north to the Orkney archipelago, you will be rewarded by the greatest concentration of prehistoric archaeological sites in Europe. Foremost among these is Skara Brae; a 5000-year-old village that was covered by sand until it was exposed by a severe storm in 1850. It is the best-preserved Neolithic village in Europe: even the stone furniture - beds, boxes and dressers - survived, offering an incredible insight into the thriving communities that existed in Stone Age Orkney. No wonder it has been classified as a World Heritage site.
Nearby is the Ring of Brodgar, a wide circle of standing stones raised some 4500 years ago. Thirty-six of the original 60 stones are still standing among the heather, and some of them are more than 16ft (5m) tall. It's an impressive sight and a powerful place. Among the natural wonders in the area is the Yesnaby Castle sea stack, a rock tower similar to the Old Man of Hoy. It is situated off the Yesnaby Coast, perhaps the most beautiful section of cliff line in Orkney. Watch out during the nesting season as seabirds will dive-bomb you to protect their nests. One of the finest stone circles anywhere, this great henge monument is superbly situated on the Ness of Brodgar, in a confluence of water and sky, surrounded by the agricultural heart of Orkney. The feeling of spaciousness is enhanced by the size of the circle which is 103.7m or 125 megalithic yards in diameter. Of the original 60 stones, 27 remain standing, varying between 2m and 4.5m in height.
John o'Groats' appeal is more metaphysical than material. Promoted as the mainland's northernmost point, it is about 874mi (1407km) as the crow flies from the extreme southwest tip at Land's End in Cornwall (England). Every year, hundreds of tourists make the long trip north to visit the famous town. Some even make the epic 'end-to-end' journey between Land's End and John o'Groats - more than 1000mi (1600km) of driving, cycling or walking. An impressive achievement, particularly for those who opt for the latter mode of transport!
However, for the purist, the honour of most northerly point actually goes to Dunnet Head, about 11mi (18km) west of the village, and marked by a lighthouse that dates from 1832. While in the area, you should also make the short trip to Duncansby Head, home to flocks of seabirds at the start of summer. A path leads to Duncansby Stacks, spectacular natural rock formations soaring over 196ft (60m) above the sea. There are a series of narrow inlets and deep coves on this wonderful stretch of coast. The village of John o'Groats, named after Dutch trader Jan de Groot, also provides a ferry link to Orkney. The Dutchman started the first ferry route from here to the islands with the blessing of King James IV in 1496. Dunnet Head is the most northerly point of mainland Britain. This superb and challenging coastal walk approaches it along the top of its fine sandstone cliffs, rich in birdlife and now a nature reserve. There are superb views, particularly across the sea to Hoy.
Rock is the overwhelming feature of the Harris landscape - there's plenty of water too, in freshwater and sea lochs - but it's the surreal, glaciated moonscapes that distinguish Harris from the other isles. Like the rest of the Western Isles (there are 550 in total, 10 of which are inhabited), Harris has an unhurried, almost old-world feel. This is largely due to the region being the Scottish stronghold of the Free Church, whose deep attachment to the Bible requires the observance of Sunday as a day of rest and devotion. Consequently, there are no public transport services, shops and petrol stations are closed, and only a handful of hotels provide meals for nonresidents. You'll see signs prohibiting sport and even the use of children's playgrounds.