Showing posts from July, 2015

Walk: Sacquoy Head's assault on the senses

Orkney | Rousay | Half day walk | ★★★

With screeching arctic terns, a smelly geo (appropriately named Stinkanie), and dramatic blowholes and natural arches to peer into, a visit to Sacquoy Head is a truly multi-sensory experience. During summer the territorial terns will dive at you (but shouldn't make contact), protecting their breeding grounds just inland from the coast. Come prepared with a walking pole or umbrella if you find the idea of this unsettling.

📌 Walk: Sacquoy Head's assault on the senses ★★★
Start / finish at tiny car park on minor road at Saviskaill, Rousay, G.R.: HY 401335 ///novels.lifeboats.driving

▶ 7 km / 4 mi | ▲ 110 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Features: Stinkanie Geo; Ouse Bar seals; Kilns of Brin-Novan blowholes
Terrain: Tarmac then stone track to Skatequoy Farm, then mostly pathless on short grass. Some wet spots after Skatequoy, depending on choice of route.

Route & map

Car park - Skatequoy Farm - coastline due north of farm - Stinkanie Geo - Ouse B…

Historic Rousay

Orkney | Rousay | Chambered cairns & broch | ★★★★

Visit Orkney and you're likely to hear a phrase something like, "scratch the surface of Orkney and it bleeds history". Nowhere more so than little Rousay: the road that circumnavigates the island is only 14 miles long, but the number of archaeological sites discovered so far numbers in the hundreds. Even better, all of them are free. The island's nickname, Egypt of the North, is apt. The most famous sites are clustered on the southwest side of the island with beautiful views towards Eynhallow and its ruined church, and beyond towards the Broch of Gurness on Mainland. The Taversoe Hotel is probably the best place for a meal, with other options near the ferry terminal. Finally, don't be thinking that everything interesting on Rousay is manmade. Much of the moorland interior is an SSSI for its bird and plant life, and there are plenty of interesting coastal features as well, Sacquoy Head included.

Location & i…

Bay of Tafts

Orkney | Westray | Beach | ★★★

The Bay of Tafts is an unspoiled beach on the west side of Westray, an island not otherwise known for its expanses of sand. On a sunny day (unlike in these photos), the ocean attains tropical hues - water and air temperatures aside, you could be in Barbados. A few rockpools at the southern end add another dimension, and unlike a tropical island resort you'll almost definitely have the place to yourself. Aim for low tide, as the bay is almost entirely submerged at high water.

Location & info

📌 Bay of Tafts ★★★
Off the B9066 immediately north of Rapness, Westray, G.R.: HY 498416 ///dare.curly.reserves

Anything else? Nearest (limited) parking is at Rapness Cemetery, signposted from the B9066 but only when driving southwards. It's a <5-min walk to the beach from here.

Walk: Puffins o' Castle o' Burrian

Orkney | Westray | Short walk | ★★★★

A distinctive orange-beaked, orange-footed bird on a little hand-painted sign points the way from the B9066. Understated like most things on Westray, this spot of coastline deserves a billboard-size sign with neon flashing lights. Most of the island's puffins nest on the inaccessible Castle o' Burrian sea stack, but smaller numbers also nest on the mainland in the immediate area - look out for the tell-tale burrows and white-stained vegetation. Taking care not to disturb the birds, it's still possible to get close to these cute and comical creatures, surrounded by beautiful coastal scenery and other seabirds which continue to Stanger Head and beyond.

📌 Walk: Puffins o' Castle o' Burrian ★★★★
Start / finish at Rapness Mill car park, minor road 5 mi southeast of Pierowall, G.R.: HY 502425 ///custodian.drill.safari

▶ 3 km / 2 mi | ▲ 30 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Castle o' Burrian and puffins; Bight of Stangerhead
Terrain: Nar…


Orkney | Westray | Village sights | ★★★

Pierowall is the capital of Westray, and has all the amenities you'd expect for an island of its size. Like a shop. This is Scotland though, so add a substantial ruined castle, old kirk, a reputation for crab, seals on the shore and the seabird colony at Noup Head into the mix and you have most of the ingredients for a day out. The shortest scheduled flight in the world departs for Papa Westray from near here - the entire journey takes under two minutes. Back on land, Noltland Castle is an austere, substantial 16th century tower house ruins, well defended by 71 gun holes. Contrast this with Pierowall old church: a simple 17th century ruin, containing ornately carved grave slabs housed in a glass case.

Location & info

📌 Noltland Castle★★★
By minor road, 15-min walk west of Pierowall village centre, Westray, G.R.: HY 429487 ///trailing.emulated.builder
Open daily | Free

📌 Pierowall Church
By the B9066 5-min walk north of Pierowall village …

Walk: Noup Head - Westray's seabird city

Orkney | Westray | Half day walk | ★★★★

The largest seabird colony on Orkney takes a little effort to get to - even from Kirkwall it's a 90-minute ferry crossing followed by a 20-minute drive up the spine of the island via Pierowall. In early summer though it's certainly worth the effort, as thousands of gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes and other seabirds nest here each year. Outwith the nesting season this is still a dramatic place, with interesting coastal architecture and seals often basking on rocks below the whitewashed lighthouse. The headland is accessible by a long, unsurfaced road which is a minefield of sharp stones for car tyres. Better to walk from near the end of the smooth tarmac at Backarass.

📌 Walk: Noup Head - Westray's seabird city ★★★★
Start / finish at car park at Backarass, minor road 2 mi west of Pierowall, Westray, G.R.: HY 412482 ///icebergs.lectured.path. Parking area looks unlikely - look out for the information board to check you're in the rig…

Wideford Hill

Orkney Mainland | Kirkwall | Summit & chambered cairn | ★★★

Wideford Hill is one of the highest points on Orkney Mainland, providing great views of Shapinsay, Kirkwall and much of the surrounding countryside. Unusually, the top is directly accessible by a steep, narrow road, owing to the masts that scar the summit area. Touching the trig point hardly requires getting out of the car, but visiting the impressive chambered cairn on the hill's western flanks involves a little more effort.

Location & info

📌 Wideford Hill ★★★ (225 m, sub-2000')
At minor road end 3 mi west of Kirkwall, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 412116 ///twisty.daunted.formal
Always open | Free

📌 Wideford Hill Chambered Cairn★★★
About 500 m north of Wideford Hill summit, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 419121 ///snapped.field.challenge
Always open | Free

Anything else? Access to the cairn is by roughly 15-min walk from a layby on the hairpin bend just south of Wideford Hill summit, on a steep path (downhill on the wa…


Orkney Mainland | Village sights | ★★★

Birsay is located at the northwest tip of Orkney Mainland, attracting an unusual mix of Viking enthusiasts, ornithologists and Top Gear viewers. You can't miss the Earl's Palace as you approach, dominating the village from the west; this once-opulent, now ruined residence of the tyrannical Robert Stewart dates to the late 1500s. The car park for the Brough of Birsay and walks towards Skipi Geo is at the Point of Buckquoy headland, half a mile further west. On the way you'll pass a hut called Zanzibar Cottage. This wooden house was the destination when Top Gear's James May and Richard Hammond raced Royal Mail to deliver a letter the length of the UK (and lost). Exterior view only, but worth looking out for if you watch the programme.

Location & info

>> Brough of Birsay page: Brough of Birsay (buildings) ★★★; Brough of Birsay (island) ★★★

📌 Earl's Palace★★★
By the A966, Birsay village centre, Orkney Mainland, HY 248277

Walk: Birsay noups & geos

Orkney Mainland | Birsay | Short walk | ★★

Heading east instead of west from the car park for the Brough of Birsay immediately takes you to a quieter section of coastline, but with its own charms and surprises. The coastal path follows the attractive rocky shore to Skipi Geo, originally a Viking harbour but now disused. Grassy hollows by the path here, or nousts, show where boats used to be hauled up from the shore during stormy winter months, with a reconstructed fishermen's hut completing the scene. Before turning back you can continue to a whalebone sculpture looking out to the North Atlantic. Useful for an add-on to visiting the Brough of Birsay, perhaps whilst waiting for the tide, with ever-present Orkney birdlife.

📌 Walk: Birsay noups & geos ★★
Start / finish at car park at minor road end, Point of Buckquoy, half a mile (20-min walk) northwest of Birsay, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 243284 ///feels.glorified.latitudes

▶ 2 km / 1 mi | ▲ Negligible | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy

Brough of Birsay

Orkney | Birsay | Island | ★★★

From a distance the Brough of Birsay looks like a featureless, grassy slope of an island, well under a kilometre across at its widest point. But peel away the surface, like archaeologists have already done here, and you can explore a Viking settlement and Romanesque monastery on the eastern half of the island. Head to the west side along one of the numerous coastal paths and you'll find 40-metre cliffs home to puffins and other seabirds in early summer, overlooked by a stumpy lighthouse. The path to the island from Birsay is via a tidal causeway flanked by some of the most sealife-rich rockpools anywhere in the UK.

Location & info

📌 Brough of Birsay (buildings) ★★★
Far end of tidal causeway to Brough of Birsay, 1 mi northwest of Birsay village, Orkney Mainland. Visitor centre is at G.R.: HY 239285 ///soccer.reseller.hike
Always open (visitor centre open daily, mid June to September, tides permitting) | £6 adult / £3.60 child / free for Historic En…

Walk: Seabirds & shipwrecks - Marwick Head

Orkney Mainland | Marwick | Short walk | ★★★

In 1916, the HMS Hampshire hit a mine offshore from Marwick Head, on the western side of Orkney Mainland. Only 12 of the 600 crew survived, and today the Kitchener Memorial stands in memory on the clifftop. In summer the atmospheric location is also home to thousands of seabirds, painting the black rock white with guano. May and June are probably the best months to visit, starting from the attractive Marwick Bay.

📌 Walk: Seabirds & shipwrecks - Marwick Head ★★★
Start / finish at car park at Marwick Bay, minor road end 1 mi west of Marwick village, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 229242 ///nurse.should.risky

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 90 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Marwick Bay; RSPB Marwick Head; Kitchener Memorial
Terrain: Turf paths, sometimes steep and near cliff edges; minor road from Mid Comloquoy.

Route & map

Car park - Kitchener Memorial and Marwick Head via coast path - Mid Comloquoy - north end of Marwick Bay - start

Route credit: Walkhighla…

Click Mill (Dounby)

Orkney Mainland | Dounby | Historic building | ★★

Dounby Click Mill is Orkney's only surviving horizontal water mill, tucked away in a remote corner of the hills southwest of the Broch of Gurness. The picturesque mill is in working condition (though not in use) and occupies an idyllic setting next to a tumbling burn, obviously. Curious cows will watch on from behind nearby fences as you struggle with the awkward latch on the door.

Location & info

📌 Click Mill (Dounby) ★★
Off the B9057 between Evie and Dounby, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 325228 ///
Always open | Free

Anything else? From the limited parking spot it's a few-min walk (each way) to the mill across slightly muddy fields.

Broch of Gurness

Orkney Mainland | Evie | Broch | ★★★★

If you think that having seen one broch you've seen them all, you'd be wrong. The Broch of Gurness perfectly illustrates the reason for this - the broch itself and its surroundings are overflowing with individual, unique details which give insight into how the inhabitants here lived well over two thousand years ago - from the entrance causeway to individual cupboards constructed from stone. Coupled with a small exhibition and visitor centre run by Historic Environment Scotland and a view across Eynhallow Sound to Rousay, it's definitely worth a detour from the busier sights further south.

Location & info

📌 Broch of Gurness★★★★
By minor road east of Evie village, Orkney Mainland, G.R.: HY 382268 ///blessing.stared.irrigated
Open daily, April to September | £6 adult / £3.60 child / free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Walk: Over the hills to Hoy's Old Man

Hoy | Moaness | Full day walk | ★★★★

Probably Orkney's most famous natural landmark and visible from the Scottish mainland, the Old Man of Hoy sea stack is 137 metres high, and took three days to climb on its first ascent in 1966. Getting there by the route described below involves climbing the formidably steep Cuilags - one of Orkney's higher hills - en route to the UK's highest vertical sea cliff, St John's Head. As well as the danger of falling off a cliff on this section, there's an unexpected risk on the moorland part - overhead attacks by arctic skua (the local name: bonxies) defending their nests during breeding season. The return route is much easier - along clear paths through Rackwick Glen back to the ferry terminal at Moaness. If on a day trip from Orkney Mainland, consult the sailing times beforehand to avoid being stranded!

📌 Walk: Over the hills to Hoy's Old Man ★★★★
Start / finish at Moaness ferry terminal, Hoy, G.R.: HY 246040 ///walls.grab.crys…

Laidhay Croft Museum

Highland | Dunbeath | Museum | ★★

This thatched, whitewashed longhouse is unmistakable, next to the A9 and worth a stop-off on the road to the Far North between Dunbeath and Latheronwheel. The building dates from about 200 years ago, typical of the croft dwellings or farmhouses from the period. Crammed into the interior are thousands of historical objects, ranging from farming equipment and vehicles, to kitchen appliances, to antique cameras housed in a separate carriage shed. Useful tearoom and toilets too.

Location & info

📌 Laidhay Croft Museum★★
By the A9 1 mi northeast of Dunbeath, G.R.: ND 174305 ///neat.trend.underline
Open daily, Easter to September | £2.50 adult / £1 child

Loch Awe

Argyll & Bute | Loch | ★★★

Loch Awe is Scotland's longest freshwater loch, stretching 41 km through sparsely-populated terrain. The busier northern end boasts three buildings which are each some of the most impressive in their respective fields. Tours by minibus take you deep underneath the peak of Ben Cruachan (the "Hollow Mountain") to reveal Cruachan Power Station: a cavernous turbine hall converting falling water into electricity. Meanwhile, the huge but tranquil hideaway of St Conan's Kirk is just down the road, while Kilchurn Castle guards the east end of the loch; both were built by the powerful Campbell clan. As for the rest of Loch Awe - it's an oddly elusive place. Despite having a road around almost its entire shoreline there are no large settlements and no major tourist sites except Kilchurn Castle. If you're looking to "get away from it all", you could do much worse. Easiest access to the shore is by the A85 or A819, but there are b…


Argyll & Bute | Lochawe | Underground tour | ★★★

Argyll's highest hill, Ben Cruachan, hides a big secret. Its lower slopes feature a large reservoir and are criss-crossed by power lines. These are the clues for what lies underground: a huge, hydroelectric "pumped storage" power station opened in the 1960s at a cost of £25 million. Scottish Power have christened it the Hollow Mountain and offer minibus tours deep into the rock, revealing a cavernous turbine hall where falling water is converted into electricity. Photos are prohibited once the bus enters the long access tunnel so a tour is really the only way to see what's inside.

Location & info

📌 Cruachan★★★
By the A85 3 mi west of Lochawe village, G.R.: NN 078268 ///convert.custard.shipwreck
Open weekdays | Tours cost £7.50 adult / £2.50 child, discount if you arrive by public transport (limited numbers). Visitor centre: free