Edinburgh may be crowned the ‘Athens of the North’, but Scotland’s capital isn’t the only showstopper of a destination. For a small island, Rousay is bejewelled with a surprising share of globally important archaeological sites – over 160 to be precise! Each with a tale to divulge, it’s no wonder that this Orkney island is known worldwide as the ‘Egypt of the North’.
Rousay, with its congregation of hills and freshwater lochs, lies north of Orkney’s Mainland with only the Eynhallow Sound between the two places. Thronged with colonies of wildflowers, rare birds and contoured cliffs, this tiny paradise has one lone circular road and a population of around 230.
As with every Orkney island, however, all you have to do is scratch the surface, and it will bleed history. And none deliver the archaeological goods quite like Rousay.
Midhowe Cairn is a multi-chambered burial structure dating back to around 3500 B.C. and the longest and largest cairn in all of the Orkney Islands. The well-preserved Midhowe Broch, an impressive fortified Iron Age residence occupied from about 200 B.C. to 200 A.D., is another key site that lurks nearby.
Also peppered around the historical landscapes are endless reminders of Viking and Pictish times, just as the cluster of abandoned old farms and churches speak volumes about the Highland Clearances that plagued Scotland during the 19th century.
One of the best ways to unearth Rousay’s thriving and diverse archaeological scene is through the Westness Heritage Walk, a rough coastal trail dotted with bucolic bliss and Scotland’s most important archaeological mile. Every site is completely free to visit, which only adds to the magic.
Living up to its deserved ‘Egypt of the North’ title, Rousay is well accustomed to being fawned upon by leading international archaeologists and historians, each desperately trying to grasp the wealth of knowledge that awaits.
In a bid for even more answers, a new team of archaeologists have descended upon Scotland’s miniature Egypt to conduct a major international study. Working with experts from the University of the Highlands and Islands, the renowned Berlin-based group from the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Römisch-Germanische Kommission (DAI) will implement the largest geophysics survey of the island ever to take place.
The results gained using state-of-the-art geophysics technology will help add even more substance to the ‘Boyne to Brodgar’ programme, a research project geared at unravelling age-old narratives through studying Scottish and Irish Neolithic communities along with their monuments.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that there’s no telling what the researchers will stumble upon next – new sites emerge from Rousay’s shadows more often than people expect, with the most recent being a potential Iron Age settlement looking out to the sea at Swandro.
While Orkney’s Rousay may not have pyramids, Scotland’s own ‘Egypt of the North’ just so happens to be dripping in a wealth of globally important ancient archaeological sites, each with a tale to utter if you look closely enough.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.