Orkney and Shetland are very different. They have been part of the Norse world as well as the Scottish for centuries, and they share the same patron saint, St Magnus. However the geology, geography and ecology differ widely. Consequently we will treat Orkney and Shetland differently, journeying through different landscapes and experiences. Nonetheless both island groupings offer three powerful persuasions to pilgrimage- centuries of evolving religious heritage, a vivid sense of the natural elements, and compact journeys.
The life of Magnus also reminds us that Orkney and Shetland are integral to wider northern seaways. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland are all in the flow. These also became the searoads for Christianity. One of first Norse rulers to adopt Christianity was Queen Aud, the ‘deep-minded’, who set sail from Caithness and then Orkney after her son Thorstein’s death in Scotland. Aud finally settled in Iceland at Hvamm, building a church at Krossholar, ‘for she had been baptised and held stongly to the Christian faith’. When it eventully came, the marriage between Norse culture and the new faith was a fruitful and creative one, as Orkney and Shetland show.