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.

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