Orkney’s stunning coastline has a rich variety of habitats from the high red sandstone cliffs of Hoy to the sheltered beaches of Sanday and the gentle shoreline of Scapa Flow to the storm-battered, rugged coast of West Mainland. Maritime heathland and salt marsh are home to many species of maritime plants. The fantastic variety of habitat supports world renowned fauna and flora, offering prime locations to see rare seabirds, hunt for lucky cowrie shells (groatie buckies in Orcadian) or spot the Scottish primrose (Primula scotica).
Geological features include sea stacks, such as the Castle o’ Burrian, Westray or the world-famous Old Man of Hoy standing 140 metres high, which are popular with climbers. Chris Bonnington climbed the Old Man in 1966. Geos, such as Sand Geo, Marwick Bay and Skipi Geo, Birsay, are narrow long slots carved along fault lines by the sea. And gloups or blowholes such as The Gloup in Deerness are spectacular in a storm as the sea cascades up like a fountain. Yesnaby in Sandwick parish is a dramatic place to view inlets, sea stacks, gloups and geos. On the isle of Stronsay you can see the natural arch called the Vat of Kirbister. There are fossils in the cliffs at Yesnaby too but to guarantee seeing those head for the Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray. Natural flagstone, used for roofs, occurs in Westray. There is a permanent exhibition about flagstone at Westray Heritage Centre which also has a model geo. The tidal island of the Brough of Birsay can be visited at low tide when you can explore the rock pools as you cross the causeway and find crabs and anemones.
Manmade features on the coast include the extensive wartime lookouts and batteries around Scapa Flow, fishermen’s huts at Marwick Bay and nousts at Birsay where boats were hauled up into hollows above the storm beach. Remains of Iron Age brochs can be found near the coast including on Rousay, Hoy and the Broch of Gurness at Aikerness.
Family beaches for fun days out building sandcastles or taking a swim can be found at Scapa Beach, near Kirkwall, Dingieshowe Beach, Deerness; Sands O Wright, South Ronaldsay; Waulkmill Beach, Orphir; the Sands of Evie; Skaill Beach; Cata Sand with its spectacular dunes, Sanday; Mill Bay, Stronsay; Grobust, Westray and North and South Wick, Papa Westray.