Obliquely opposite St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall is Tankerness House, Orkney’s finest town house which dates from 1574. Historic Orkney Island town has two museums: Tankerness House Museum, which is contained within one of Scotland’s best-preserved sixteenth century town-houses, contains items of local historical interest. The prehistoric, Pictish and Viking collections are of international importance. The other museum is the Orkney Wireless Museum.
Tankerness House is an extensive, mostly two story, house which sprawls around a rectangular courtyard. Behind it is a large and beautifully kept walled garden. The house evolved over a three hundred year period. Today it is home to the Orkney Museum.
The Orkney Museum tells the story of Orkney from its first settlers in the Stone Age to AD1800. Major collections of archaeology and social history vividly introduce the life and culture of Orkney over more than 5,000 years. They include rare Neolithic and Pictish carvings and the grave goods from a Viking boat burial, contained in an A-listed town house and garden dating from the 16th century. Many artefacts are kept in perspex boxes with strict temperature and humidity controls. Bronze and Iron Age displays tell the story of a changing environment, and how the ancient Orcadians defended themselves by building brochs.
A series of rooms including stones carved with runic inscriptions tells the story of the Picts and Vikings. Upstairs the exhibits date from more recent times with paintings, family heirlooms and documents relating to local customs. A room is devoted to the Arctic explorer, John Rae. There is a large collection of old photographs and activities to amuse younger visitors. The Tankerness House Gardens behind the museum are a peaceful place to sit on a nice day.
The North and South wings of the house were originally manses for the Cathedral clergy. After the reformation they were bought by Gilbert Foulzie, the first Protestant minister, who in 1574 built the arched gateway that bears his coat of arms. Also don’t miss Orkney Crafts Exhibition, Orkney Gallery.
1st May to 30th Sept – Mon-Sat, from 10:30 – 17:00
1st Oct – 30th Apr – Mon-Sat, from 10:30–12:30 & 13:30–17:00 (Museum is closed for lunch – 12:30 – 13:30)
Tel: 01856 873535
Fax: 01856 874615
The Orkney Museum – Tankerness House
Broad Street Kirkwall
Orkney KW15 1DH