Flotta 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.

If you want to see Stromness and Kirkwall at the same time you need to head for Flotta in the South Isles. There are fantastic panoramic views around Scapa Flow from the island.

Flotta was at the centre of the Royal Naval anchorage during two world wars and thousands of people swamped the small island. But Flotta’s history goes back much further; the 8th century Flotta Stone is in the National Museum of Scotland. In 1725 the laird of Flotta Sir James Stewart murdered Captain James Moodie of Melsetter, in Kirkwall. A Flotta man, Forbie Sutherland, was a crew member of Captain Cook’s Endeavour expedition and the first European man to be buried in Australia. During World War One 10,000 troops watched a boxing match on Flotta. The battleship HMS Vanguard accidently exploded with the loss of more than 1,000 lives a mile from Flotta in July 1917. In 1915 King George V visited Flotta to inspect the troops and during World War Two, and his son George VI watched a film in the wartime cinema. Popular pipe band tune Flett of Flotta dates from shortly after this time.

All was quiet again until 1976 when the oil terminal became operational. The terminal was opened by energy minister Tony Benn. Other visitors have included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the late Queen Mother. The flare atop its 223-ft stack is a landmark in Orkney. Flotta also has woodland planted first in the last world war and much added to by the terminal.

There are plenty of fascinating wartime ruins to be seen in Flotta. You can follow the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership's Flotta Trail to see both WW1 and WW2 sites. The Peerie Museum, housed in a WW1 hydrophone hut, has artefacts of wartime and the oil industry. The island is also in the process of completing a brand new heritage centre. Wildlife includes seals and seabirds. There is self catering and a hostel and a post office. The community centre holds social events. There is also the annual Flotta 10k run, which attracts both serious and more relaxed runners to its relatively flat route.

Flotta is served by the ferry from Houton and Lyness. Oil workers mainly commute on special shuttle boats.

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 Mull Head in Orkney - image by Rick Fleet

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.

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.

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 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.