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.
Papa Westray is one of the last places in the UK where you can experience being part of a small island community, whether you are on a brief visit or considering settling for longer.
Papay, as it is known locally, is one of the most northerly Orkney isles, just four miles by one and with a population of around 80. You can fly from Kirkwall to Westray and stay onboard for the world’s shortest scheduled flight – at under two minutes in the air to Papay. You’ll get a certificate afterwards. If you stay overnight your fare is vastly discounted. Papay Community Cooperative’s Beltane House offers ensuite rooms or hostel dorms in converted farm cottages with self catering in two kitchens, a large lounge and dining rooms. On Saturday nights this is magically transformed into the Saturday pub with a chance of a good chat and sometimes music. Beltane is also home to a well stocked grocery shop. Nearby is the post office and craft shop. Papay is a Fairtrade island.
Other social events in sociable Papay include the Fun Weekend on the third week of July with a BBQ, ceilidh, games and sports and a carty race doon the New Hooses Brae. There is a Wednesday coffee morning and film and dance nights. Weekly services are held in the Parish Kirk and the Gospel Hall.
The Papay Development Trust is currently working on a series of projects to increase the benefits of tourism for local businesses and crafts people, and to encourage more opportunities for people to live and work in the island. A new heritage project, supported by the Coastal Communities Fund, to develop new facilities for tourists over the next couple of years will provide a boat service to take visitors to the Holm of Papay and around the island coast, a replacement minibus for island tours and will create new craft and heritage centre.
The Trust has also recruited a new Papay Ranger to lead tours and co-ordinate a programme of activities for visitors and islanders during 2015/16. For art lovers there is also the unique Gyro Nights festival every year.
Step inside the Knap of Howar and you are in a structure dating back to 3,500BC. You can access both the two rooms and then carry on along a spectacular cliff path to St Boniface Kirk, a 12th century recently restored church with a Viking hogback grave in the kirkyard. It’s a simple but very atmospheric place. The northern third of Papay is the RSPB’s North Hill reserve with a high population of sea birds in summer and a place to spot the rare Scottish primrose, the primula scotica. The tidal race roars where the Atlantic meets the North Sea. Around to the east side are the beautiful sheltered sandy beaches of North and South Wick where seals will swim along as you walk the shore. St Tredwell’s freshwater loch has a medieval chapel on a peninsula. At Holland House, a traditional steading in the centre of the island, surrounded by cattle grazing, you can visit the Bothy Museum with a range of farmhouse implements and fittings. Papay’s calf island, Holm of Papa has sheep and prehistoric cairns.
As an alternative to flying you can take a twice weekly direct ferry from Kirkwall or a daily foot ferry from Westray in the summer. There are minibus tours and guided walks during the summer season.
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