Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre

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.

Rousay has many major archaeological delights. The coast at Westness was an important power base from the Iron Age until the 19th century. The coast from Midhowe Cairn and Broch to Westness Farm is often referred to as the most important mile of history in Scotland. Midhowe Cairn is a large stalled chambered tomb, now housed in a barn and is 5000 years old. Nearby is the Iron Age broch circular tower which still stands tall. There are also remains of Viking structures and graves. Later ruins are relics of the only wholesale example of clearances in Orkney, at Quandale and Westness by landwner George William Traill. His nephew, General Sir Frederick William Traill-Burroughs, inherited much of Rousay and built the imposing Trumland House. These days you can visit the restored gardens of the mansion.

A 13-mile road circles the island. The coastal side is fertile farmland while the lofty interior is high moorland with much of the wild parts protected. There is a large bird population of 74 species and important flora. Rushes and ferns grow in the dales. Rousay has a hotel, a bar and restaurant by the pier, a shop and post office. Yachts moor in the sheltered anchorage and there is an annual regatta and raft race. The annual Rousay Lap also gives folk the chance to put their fitness to the test by running, walking or cycling around the island - but be warned, the hills can be tough!

Across the sound are two small islands which make up for their small size with big histories. Egilsay was an important pilgrimage destination as the site of the martyrdom of St Magnus. A 12th century church is a splendid Viking round-towered example. Here there is wetland habitat and otters can sometimes be seen as well as birds.

The isle of Wyre also has an interesting historical story. Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built around 1170 as a Viking stronghold and writer Edwin Muir spent part of his childhood on Wyre. The isle’s heritage centre has historical exhibitions.

All three islands are accessed by the Ro-Ro ferry from Tingwall.

Once a year there is a public visit to the uninhabited island of Eynhallow with its ruined monastery and fantastic birdlife through the Orkney Heritage Society.

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