The west mainland of Orkney is home to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site which is one of the most important areas in Britain for archaeological remains. Here are the famous standing stones of Ring of Brodgar and Stenness and Maeshowe burial chamber. The west coast from the cliffs of Black Craig near Stromness up to the tidal historic island of the Brough of Birsay is storm-lashed and stunning with sea stacks, caves, towering cliffs, the Neolithic village of Skara Brae and a gorgeous sandy beach at Skaill Bay. A ten-mile coastal walk takes in all the sites. Sunsets viewed from here are legendary. Inland there are brown trout fishing lochs, bird reserves of moorland and marsh of international importance, Orkney’s only working watermill at Barony Mills, Birsay and several village communities with shops and tearooms. Many craftspeople have their studios in the area.
Orkney tearooms are popular and high quality, many serving lunches, home bakes and high teas. Near the village of Orphir with its Viking church and farmstead is the ferry pier at Houton for car ferries to Lyness in Hoy. Other villages with shops and community centres are Harray, Dounby, Finstown and the more scattered communities of Evie, Rendall and Twatt. The parish of Sandwick is also spread out with farms and country houses. The two farm museums of Kirbuster and Corrigall are in the west too. Birsay has a shop, tearoom, hotel nearby and the ruins of the Earl’s Palace, once the country pile of Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, a half brother to Mary, Queen of Scots. His son Patrick, known locally as Black Pat, added to the building. He was executed in 1615 for treason.
The Brough of Birsay can be accessed on foot via a causeway for two hours either side of low tide - tide times are posted at the site and in visitor information centres. It has traces of Pictish buildings, the remains of a Viking monastery and a lighthouse.