East Mainland East Mainland

East Mainland

The area east and south east of Kirkwall is cattle country, with low lying and fertile farmland. Although the East Mainland doesn't have a World Heritage Site, it does have its own nature reserve, sea caves, beaches, historical sites and attractive villages to explore.

When heading east out of Kirkwall, you'll pass Orkney's airport before arriving in the parish of St Andrews. It has a well-used community hall and a vibrant school.

The area of Tankerness has good beaches for seeing seals and birds such as Arctic terns, and the Loch of Tankerness where oystercatchers, lapwings and curlews breed. The discovery of a charred hazelnut shell in 2007 in a Bronze Age mound in Tankerness was exciting evidence of Mesolithic activity in Orkney and was dated to 6820-6660 BC. You can also visit one of Orkney's most popular jewellery manufacturers in Tankerness - Sheila Fleet opened her first workshop in 1993 and now employs more than fifty people locally.

On the road to the peninsula of Deerness is Dingieshowe, a sandy isthmus where a mound is the site of a Viking parliament, known as a ting. Deerness has a shop and scattered dwellings. Newark has a fine sandy beach and small boat slipway, which can be used by non-members for a small launching fee.

Drive on to the car park at the Gloup and you can see this blowhole and walk on to the Brough of Deerness if you can brave the narrow cliff track to the site of an early monastery and chapel ruins. Carry on the spectacular cliff path and you reach Mull Head, a scenic headland crowded with seabirds in summer with its World War One gunnery range. Further on again is the Covenanters’ Memorial tower erected to the memory of 200 religious prisoners who were being transported to the American colonies and lost their lives when they were shipwrecked in 1679. More tracks can be followed for a circular route back to the car park.

If you head south east from Kirkwall, you'll head towards the small harbour village of St Mary’s in Holm. It has a shop and restuarant, and was once a prosperous fishing centre for the herring industry. It is now cut off from the North Sea by the Churchill Barriers, built to protect Scapa Flow during the Second World War. Across the first Barrier you can visit the iconic Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war during the conflict.

Inside Explore Orkney

Tankerness House Gardens at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall


Orkney's capital dates back to Norse times, in the 11th century, when it was called Kirkjuvagr (Church of the bay).

A view of Stromness from Brinkies Brae - image by Fionn McArthur


Stromness poet and author George Mackay Brown once wrote that the town's 'streets uncoiled like a sailor's rope from North to South'. Quaint closes and narrow old streets huddled between stone buildings of historical interest is the delight that is Stromness. Orkney’s second largest town is an architectural gem that inspires artists and writers and is a favourite with visitors.

Sunrise over a west mainland loch in Orkney

West Mainland

Orkney's West Mainland hosts a collection of some of the finest archaeological sites to be found anywhere in Europe. It's home to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

This wind turbine was one of the first installed in the east mainland


Burray is a small island linked to the east mainland of Orkney and South Ronaldsay by the Churchill Barriers. Once only accessible by boat, the farming and fishing community is now linked forever by the causeways.

Hoxa in South Ronaldsay has spectacular views over Scapa Flow

South Ronaldsay

After you cross the fourth and final Churchill Barrier, you'll arrive in the largest settlement outside Kirkwall in the east, the attractive harbour village of St Margaret’s Hope in South Ronaldsay.

A view of Red Head and the Calf of Eday


Eday is at the centre of Orkney’s North Isles and has a rich heritage and history to explore, as well as being at the forefront of research for the modern renewable energy industry.

Wartime defences at Stanger Head in Flotta


Flotta is an island that has changed much over the years. From its role at the very heart of Orkney's military history to the building of the Flotta Oil Terminal in the 1970s, it has always played an important part in our economy and heritage.

Looking across to the Kame in Hoy

Hoy and Graemsay

Hoy is Orkney’s second largest island and dramatically rises from the sea with mountainous moorland and glacial valleys, appearing more like a highland landscape than a typical Orkney low-lying island.

North Ronaldsay's new lighthouse at Dennis Head

North Ronaldsay

The island's unique seaweed eating sheep, an Old Beacon featured on prime time television and the flight path for thousands of migratory birds have all helped put North Ronaldsay on the map.

At the pier in Papa Westray

Papa Westray

Take the world’s shortest scheduled flight and see northern Europe’s oldest house on one of Orkney’s smallest inhabited islands with a big community heart.

Rousay boasts a spectacular coastline - image by Max Fletcher

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre host some of Orkney's most magical archaeological and historical sites - with ancient brochs, cairns and tales of Vikings.

An aerial view of the Holms of Ayre in Sanday


Sanday by name and sandy by nature, the largest island of Orkney’s North Isles has beautiful sandy bays and dunes, turquoise seas and a gentle, fertile landscape.

A view of Balfour Castle in Shapinsay


Shapinsay is only a 25-minute ferry ride from Kirkwall but the atmosphere of this small Orkney island can be soaked up even before you step ashore.

A view across to Whitehall pier in Stronsay


Stronsay is a beautiful island to visit and to live on with magical sandy beaches backed by dunes, a stunning coastline and a main settlement with grand houses dating back to the herring fishery days.

A view of the Rapness ferry terminal at the south end of Westray


Westray is known as the Queen o’ the Isles and is a vibrant place to live, work and visit.