Scotland

Is Orkney the best place to live in the UK?

The Ring of Brogar in Orkney for the Winter Solstice Image copyright Isabel Addison
Image caption The Ring of Brodgar stone circle in Orkney at the winter solstice

Orkney has taken the top spot in an annual survey ranking the best place to live in the UK - but is it really?

The archipelago which lies 10 miles (16km) off Scotland's north coast, is famed for its spectacular landscapes and archaeological treasures but it is home to just 22,000 people, spread over 20 inhabitable islands.

The Halifax Bank of Scotland Quality of Life survey ranked it above all other areas of the UK, with Richmondshire in North Yorkshire in second place, followed by Rutland in the East Midlands, Hambleton in North Yorkshire and Eden in Cumbria in fifth place.

Orkney got the top spot based on its high employment levels, low crime rate, strong exam results, smaller primary class sizes and good health and happiness scores.

But is it really possible to say that these factors outweigh the difficulties of living on an island, with the problems that brings.

By Huw Williams, BBC Scotland reporter in Orkney

Image copyright Colin Keldie
Image caption Hoy is one of the 70 islands that make up the archipelago

This survey, like many others before it, takes into account factors like residents' health and life expectancy, employment and crime rates.

And, like many other similar surveys, it gives top place to Orkney.

Organisations which promote the islands will seize on that fact.

And many local people will undoubtedly be proud that Orkney regularly scores well in such league tables.

But there may also be some scepticism - based largely on what reports like this don't ask about.

They never seem to include things like the cost of living, reliability of transport links, robustness of digital connectivity and levels of fuel poverty.

Even Orkney's biggest fans would have to concede the results might look rather different if those factors were included.

Image copyright Andy Macdonald
Image caption Peppa the chocolate labrador on Skaill Beach in Orkney

Why Orkney?

All the top five are relatively sparsely populated, with Orkney averaging just 22 people per kilometre.

Image copyright Amanda Ruddick
Image caption Orkney is one of the best places in the UK to see the aurora borealis
Image copyright Peter Starling
Image caption Reflections of Scapa Pier, near Kirkwall, Orkney's main town.

Other factors that were judged to be in Orkney's favour were the affordability of housing (an average house price of £173,349) and the high employment rate, with almost nine in ten (88%) 16-64 year-olds in work.

The weekly average earnings in Orkney (£671) were well below some other parts of Scotland and the UK but are slightly above the average.

Image copyright Catherine Mackinnon
Image caption Skara Brae is a Unesco world heritage site, which is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid
Image copyright Dr Sarah Christie
Image caption The Italian Chapel was built by prisoners of war during World War Two

People in Orkney also enjoy one of the lowest crime rates in Scotland, with 5.9 crimes per 10,000 population, compared to a national average of 44.1.

Maybe this is why figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate adults living in Orkney are among the most happy, satisfied and content in the UK, with low anxiety rates.