Britain has thousands of miles of fascinating coastline, varying dramatically in character north to south and east to west. The actual length, believe it or not, is very much an open question. For it depends whether the coastline around some of the larger of the more than 1,000 islands making up the British Isles are also included in the calculation. According to Ordnance Survey figures, the length of coastline around the British mainland is just over 11,000 miles. If the major islands are added, the total length jumps to nearly 19,500 miles. So take your pick!
It soon becomes abundantly clear the great variety of coastline awaiting the visitor, from bays and headlands to peninsulas and islands. Each has an endless array of vistas and panoramas that will linger long in the memory. While the range of habitats on show is breathtaking, so is the amazing variety of communities hugging the coastline, whether on the mainland or on one of the estimated 290 inhabited islands around the British coast.
From the Channel Islands in the south to the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the far north of Scotland, the contrast between such distant communities couldn't be clearer. The French influence still dominates the Channel Islands but it also comfortably incorporates all that is British. French street names and red post boxes make for a truly unique combination and an unforgettable atmosphere.
If the visitor to Orkney or Shetland knew little about the history of these remote and beautiful islands, a quick look at the place names would surely indicate their links to a Nordic past. Indeed, the famous Shetland fire festival of Up Helly Aa, held annually in the middle of winter to mark the end of Yuletide, culminates with the burning of a replica Viking longship or galley.
The islands are literally bursting with archaeology, traces of which go back thousands of years. Rings of spectacular standing stones sit alongside burial mounds, cairns and chambered tombs. The mysterious and almost magical prehistoric village of Skara Brae on Orkney is a 'must see' for any visitor to this area of northern Britain.
Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, Skara Brae lay buried for some 5,000 years, until a severe storm in 1850 uncovered part of the village. However, no serious archaeological work was carried out and it remained more of a curiosity for the next 75 years. Only when another storm damaged part of one of the houses did the authorities finally act to preserve the village and to carry out a serious archaeological investigation.
Now regarded as the best preserved example of a neolithic village in all of Western Europe, Skara Brae, along with Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Standing Stones of Stenness form part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO world heritage site.