It might lack the archaeological attractions of its western counterpart, but the East Mainland does offer some excellent elemental options.
Head east past Kirkwall Airport and you’ll soon be surrounded by fields and farms. In the heart of this open landscape, you’ll find the home of Sheila Fleet Jewellery, one of Orkney’s largest jewellery makers. The business is based in a converted kirk which includes the excellent Kirk Café and Gallery, offering delicious local food and home bakes and a special shopping experience. You can also visit the nearby workshop to see some of Sheila’s designs being brought to life by her talented team.
Elsewhere in the area is Rerwick Head, with its jagged coastline pockmarked by former wartime defences, including ammunition stores, gun batteries and searchlight positions. It’s an eerie yet fascinating place to explore.
One of the area’s main draws is found at the eastern edge of the mainland in the parish of Deerness. Mull Head Nature Reserve is a beautiful part of the islands with more than 200 acres of coastal grassland, heath and sea cliffs to enjoy. In the area you’ll find the spectacular Gloup, a collapsed sea cave, and one of Orkney’s hidden gems, the Brough of Deerness. Brave the rock-cut steps and narrow cliff track to visit the remains of a chapel on top of the Brough itself.
This whole corner of the East Mainland is well worth devoting some time to with a network of walks available, including a coastline trek to the Covenanters Memorial – a poignant monument to lives lost here in the 17th century.
Deerness is linked to the rest of the East Mainland by a tiny isthmus. On its south side you’ll find the silver sand of Dingieshowe, one of the best places to experience the elements in Orkney. Visit when the sun is shining and it can feel like you’re closer to the equator than the Arctic. But return during a southerly storm and there’s nowhere else quite like it, with rolling waves crashing ashore and angry clouds looming over the nearby island of Copinsay.
Newark is another beach just along the coast that’s perfect for seal-spotting. There’s also a community slipway here and more walks taking in some stunning scenery.
After all the fresh air you’ll probably be looking for a refreshment. Tucked away past the excellent local shop you’ll find the Deerness Distillery, a family-run spirits distillery producing some award-winning gins, vodka and liqueurs. Tours and tastings are available.
Further south, the parish of Holm overlooks Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barriers. Just outside the village of St Mary’s is Celina Rupp Jewellery, another talented member of Orkney’s creative community.
Orkney's bus services can help you explore the East Mainland. The number 3 route operates between Kirkwall and Deerness, with the X1 travelling through Holm and St Mary's village.