Hoy and Graemsay Hoy and Graemsay

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.

The Vikings named it High Island and Orkney’s highest peak, Ward Hill reaches 1,570 feet (479 metres) and is accessible to climb. The north end of the island is the most rugged part with the cliff of St John’s Head at 1,136t feet (346 metres) the highest perpendicular cliff in Britain.

Nearby is the famous sea stack the Old Man of Hoy, an iconic landmark. A scenic path recently restored, from Rackwick, a hamlet set in a dramatic bay, takes you to the Old Man. Also in the north is the Dwarfie Stane, a chambered tomb cut into rock dating from around 3,000BC. Orkney mythology tells of a giant and his wife hollowing out the rock and another tale of an evil dwarf who lived there. The area is also welcoming new visitors now because of the arrival of a pair of juvenile sea eagles above the Stane. It's believed the pair are attempting to nest at the site.

At a lonely moorland spot is the sad grave of Betty Corrigall who in the 1770s was driven to take her own life after she became pregnant. Nearly 10,000 acres of moorland and sea cliffs form the RSPB Hoy Nature Reserve. Berriedale is a sheltered valley supporting Britain’s most northerly native woodland. The north end of Hoy is an ornithologists’ and botanists’ mecca.

This beautiful short film from local wildlife camerman Raymond Besant showcases Hoy - the high island - in all its glory.

The beach at Rackwick is a popular attraction in Hoy

Most of the island's 400-strong population live in the low-lying south around the villages of Lyness and Longhope on South Walls. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness tells the story of the vital role Hoy played in two world wars when Scapa Flow was the main Royal Navy anchorage. There are fantastic wartime remains and a tour of the site is available during the summer. You can also see a memorial to the men who served on the Arctic Convoys between Scotland and Russia, and the Lyness Naval Cemetery.

Other places to visit include Melsetter House and walled gardens (by appointment), the Napoleonic era Martello Tower and Battery at Hackness, the Longhope Lifeboat Museum and Memorial which honours eight lifeboatmen lost in 1969 and Osmondwall, a Viking anchorage where Sigurd the Stout chose Christianity, rather than death.

There are two hotels on Hoy, several B&Bs, self catering cottages, a bothy at Rackwick and the Hoy Centre hostel. A car ferry runs from Houton to Lyness and a foot ferry from Stromness via Graemsay to Moaness in the north end of Hoy.

The small island of Graemsay lies between Hoy and Stromness. It has two lighthouses, Hoy High and Hoy Low, designed by Alan Stevenson. The post office is open two hours per day. The population is in the low 20s and children travel to school by boat to Stromness.

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.

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.

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.