The small harbour town of Stromness sits on the west shore of the nordic-sounding Hamnavoe. The town had strong links with the Hudson's Bay Trading Company, formed in the 17th century, which used to recruit local men from the town, and in 1791 appointed a local agent in Stromness, in fact by this time at least three-quarters of the Company's workforce were Orcadians. The Company was said to have preferred the good men of Orkney because they were cheaper than the English and more sober than the Irish. Login's Well, in the main street, has a stone next to it with an inscription claiming that the well supplied water for Captain Cook's Discovery, Sir John Franklin's arctic exploration vessels and for the Hudson Bay ships. Stromness Museum has displays telling the story of those times. The Pier Arts Centre has a collection of 20th-century British art.
One of the oldest events in the Orkney calendar is the Stromness Shopping Week, which dates back to 1949 and takes place each July. Its creation was a post-war attempt to attract traders and shoppers to the area to counteract the austerity of the times. However, contrary to what the name suggests, there is far more to the week than just shopping: the jollities on offer include the Yard of Ale, a Beer Race and sporting events for all ages.
The ancient village of Skara Brae, which is administered by Historic Scotland, was buried underneath dunes for 4,000 years, but came to light during a storm in 1850. The sand in the dunes had done a good job of preserving the walls of the houses, and even some of the domestic furniture, which included clay-lined food boxes used for refrigeration. There was even a sophisticated drainage system and possibly toilets, making these Neolithic homes more civilized than some of the 19th-century crofts!
Map of the area.