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  • St Margaret's Hope, Orkney

Burray & South Ronaldsay

Cross the Churchill Barriers to the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay – once only accessible by boat, but now linked by the iconic causeways.
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Burray & South Ronaldsay

  • Burray and South Ronaldsay are full of history and things to see and do, especially once you head off the beaten track.

    There are four islands in total to explore on your journey here, featuring one of Orkney’s most beautiful villages, ancient sites, wartime heritage and some spectacular scenery.

    As far as road trips go, the route through Burray and South Ronaldsay, encompassing the Churchill Barriers and the small islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm, is amongst the best to be found anywhere. The barriers were built to protect the naval anchorage of Scapa Flow from U-boat attack after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak during WW2 and you can still see the remains of earlier blockships in the water nearby.

    View over the 3rd Churchill Barrier towards Glimps Holm

    After leaving the Orkney mainland and crossing the first barrier, you’ll arrive in Lamb Holm. Here you’ll find one of Orkney’s most enduring attractions, the Italian Chapel. Constructed by Italian Prisoners of War, who were taken to Orkney to build the Churchill Barriers, the chapel is a symbol of hope and peace from a dark time in history.

    Next door you’ll find the Orkney Wine Company and J. Gow Rum, two family-run businesses offering a fantastic range of wine and spirits, as well as tastings and tours.

    Further south and across another causeway, the road traverses Glimps Holm, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it isle, but one that is home to a spectacular beach with sand snaking along its east coast, ending under the shadow of the third Churchill Barrier. The blockships here are popular with recreational divers, and Kraken Diving offers ‘try-a-dives’ for all levels of experience.

    Diving at the barriers - image by VisitScotland/Iain Sarjeant

    Over the third and smallest Churchill Barrier is Burray, a small but thriving community of around 350 people. It has a well-stocked shop, hotel and bar and beautiful beaches. There’s also an excellent play park and crazy golf course, with putters available to hire from the shop. Burray is also home to the fascinating Orkney Fossil & Heritage Centre, an incredible collection of fossils up to 380 million years old, as well as items from Orcadian history throughout the 20th century. There’s an extensive display about life in the islands during the First and Second World Wars, plus an excellent tearoom and gift shop too.

    The final Churchill Barrier linking Burray with South Ronaldsay now has a huge expanse of sand on its east side, completely covering the concrete blocks that make up the causeway. The result is a fantastic beach with plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities.

    View over the 4th Barrier towards Burray

    South Ronaldsay itself is Orkney’s fourth largest island and home to St Margaret’s Hope, possibly the most picturesque village in the archipelago. Known locally as ‘the Hope’, the village is a charming place for a stroll, with local shops – including the Workshop & Loft Gallery - cafes and a hotel to enjoy. The Smiddy Museum in the heart of the village is an excellent reminder of the importance of a village blacksmith, and next door is South Ronaldsay Golf Course, offering an excellent nine-hole challenge.

    Head west of the village past the beach at the Sands o’Wright and you’ll come to the coast at Hoxa Head. A clifftop walk here gives you the chance to take in the huge expanse of Scapa Flow, as well as an opportunity to explore some of Orkney’s finest wartime buildings. The nearby Hoxa Tapestry Gallery is well worth a visit too.

    South Ronaldsay is home to some of the best walks in the islands, with a stretch of eastern coastline from the spectacular Windwick up to Eastside one of the highlights. Another route on the west coast from Burwick provides fantastic seal-spotting opportunities during the autumn months, and views over the Pentland Firth.

    Sunrise at Eastside, South Ronaldsay

    The southern tip of the island holds some other sites that are very popular amongst visitors. The Tomb of the Eagles is a fascinating Neolithic tomb perched on the cliffs, along with an excellent visitor centre. Next door is the Tomb of the Otters, another mysterious chambered tomb with a unique history.

    South Ronaldsay is also one of the gateways to Orkney, with Pentland Ferries operating to and from St Margaret’s Hope daily, and John O’Groats Ferries running to Burwick and back during the summer months.

    Other information

    Burray and South Ronaldsay are on Orkney’s main X1 bus route, with services operating as far as St Margaret’s Hope.

  • South Ronaldsay is one of the gateways to Orkney with two ferry ports at either end of the islands.

    Pentland Ferries is based in St Margaret's Hope and operates daily sailings between the village and Gills Bay in Caithness. John O'Groats Ferries sails across the Pentland Firth between John O'Groats and Burwick, at the southern end of South Ronaldsay.

    Burray and South Ronaldsay are on Orkney’s main X1 bus route, with services operating as far as St Margaret’s Hope.

    Find out more about getting around Orkney.