The islands have been in the news like rarely before. But still a lot of commentators, in the mainstream and online, keep getting some basic things about Orkney wrong.

Let us start with the name. It is Orkney singular. There is no such place as "the Orkneys” - or “the Shetlands” for that matter. 

Sure, you say “Orkney Islands” if you want to give the place its formal Sunday name. People do forget we are talking about an archipelago. So don’t call Orkney an island or refer to things happening “on Orkney”.

There is confusion too about exactly where Orkney is. Even a prestigious London news magazine suggested it was off the north-east of Scotland. Well, that is where Scottish islands used to be kept in a box on maps. But Orkney is actually situated off the north coast.

Another common trope is that Orkney is very close to Norway, or that it is easier to get to Bergen than Edinburgh. This has never been true - the Norwegian port is half as far away again as the Scottish capital across rough seas. There have never been regular or reliable modern ferries between Orkney to Norway. 

There is an old joke attributed to legendary former Orkney and Shetland MP and Liberal leader Jo Grimond that his nearest railway station was Bergen. Well, no. Thurso in Caithness was 10 times closer to his house west of Kirkwall.

Chat about the islands’ history is not much better than geography. The worst myth came from TV presenter Neil Oliver who hosted an entire show describing a neolithic village discovered in Orkney as the ancient capital of Britain. Nope, there was no Britain in the stone age and it had no political centre.

It is Orkney’s 15th century history that has got the most attention in recent weeks. 

Read more: Orkney 101: Answering the question of Orcadian independence

The islands had been settled by the Norse half a millennium earlier and were ruled by earls or “jarls” until 1472 when it was formally annexed by Scotland. 

These local bosses were initially what most people would call Vikings. But from 1236 they were Scots.

This was a time before modern nation states, when power and influence worked very differently to now. Orkney was something of a trading and cultural cross-roads.

The rulers of Orkney often had lands on both sides of the Pentland Firth and loyalties to the Crowns of both Scotland and Norway. 

Take Henry Sinclair, who legend has it re-discovered America before Christopher Columbus. He was earl of Orkney until his death around 1400 and paid official allegiance to the king of Norway. But he was also lord high admiral of Scotland. 

Read more: Shetland proposes inter-island tunnels and new funding as answer to aging ferry fleet

Orkney may have officially belonged to Norway and then then the Danish-led Kalmar Union. But it had links to the Scottish mainland too. So much so that the English periodically attacked the islands as they fought their Scottish enemies. 

Much of the coverage Orkney has received in recent weeks has focused on the islands’ Viking heritage.  And this is absolutely real - though it is a history shared with other parts of Scotland, Britain and Europe. 

The old Viking connections have led some people outside the islanders to suggest Orcadians feel Norwegian or even speak a Norse dialect. They do not. Figures for Scottish identity are the same in Orkney as the national average. Almost all island residents speak English and around two out of five also speak Scots, usually its distinctive local dialect.