Stromness Stromness

Stromness

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.

Those who arrive in Orkney on the ferry from Scrabster near Thurso are treated to the best view of the stone town with its piers, nousts, stores and terraces of houses, watched over by the hill of Brinkie’s Brae.

Like Kirkwall, Stromness has one ‘street’ that meanders through the town, changing its name along the route. From the north it runs through Ferry Road, Victoria Street, Graham Place, Dundas Street, Alfred Street, Southend and Ness Road. Look out for Khyber Pass, Hellihole and Rae’s Close, named after Arctic explorer Dr John Rae, on your way. You can also take an audio trip through the street, along with local voices from the past and present, with the Stromness Hometown project - download the files to begin your journey.

It may be a haven for the arty crowd and festival goers but Stromness is also a working town with useful and interesting shops and all the facilities needed to live, work and play. It is a busy diving destination with several companies offering dive charters. And increasingly Stromness is at the forefront of Orkney’s pioneering renewable energy industry with the not only the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), but many supply chain companies and university students all based in the town; Stromness is home to Heriot Watt's Orkney campus. Stromness is where you'll find Orkney Fishermen's Society, the UK's largest crab processor, Stockan's Oatcakes and Argo's Bakery, which produces our famous Orkney Fudge.

The town has plenty of attractions, from the superb Stromness Museum to the world renowned Pier Arts Centre, and plenty of independent shops, restaurants and pubs inbetween. Stromness also plays host to the annual Orkney Folk Festival every May, when pubs and and venues are full of music and performances all weekend long. And every July the town comes alive during Stromness Shopping Week, with music, performances, charity events and lots more attracting thousands of folk every year.

Stromness maintains its maritime heritage through being the gateway to Orkney on the ferry from Scrabster, and it also has its own marina with 72 berths.

According to George Mackay Brown, the first house in the town was a hostelry on the Cairston shore which was granted a charter in 1580. The safe harbour of Hamnavoe grew as a port and merchant town during the European wars in the 17th to 19th centuries which made the English Channel dangerous. Ships including Captain Cook’s Discovery and Resolution called in 1780 and Sir John Franklin called in before his fatal journey to the Arctic. Hudson’s Bay Company ships took on men, provisions and water at Login’s Well in the town in the 18th and 19th centuries and Arctic whalers from East Coast ports also took on men for the whale fishery in Greenland and Iceland. Famous inhabitants of Stromness included the painter Sir Stanley Cursiter, Isabel Gunn who joined the HBC disguised as a man and Eliza Fraser who was shipwrecked in Australia. Sir Walter Scott based several of his colourful fictional characters on Stromnessians.

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