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.

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.

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.

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.