Although Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre are often bundled together, each island has its own distinctive character and charm.
Rousay is home to acres of moorland, steep hills and cliffs, whereas both Egilsay and Wyre offer a more traditional Orcadian landscape of green fields and fertile farmland.
Rousay is the largest of the three and is full of archaeological attractions. Indeed, it’s known as the ‘Egypt of the north’ thanks to its collection of more than 150 ancient sites. A mile-long stretch on the south west coastline showcases some incredible locations, including the Iron Age Midhowe Broch, the 5000-year-old Midhowe Chambered Cairn – housed in an imposing hangar – and the excavations at Swandro.
Rousay’s wild and relatively untouched landscape offers plenty of reasons to visit. The main road encircles the island and is perfect for a challenging cycle. Make sure you stop off at the Sourin Brae viewpoint for some spectacular views. The Rousay Lap is held every summer, with the chance to run, walk or cycle the 13-mile route around the island. There are also some excellent coastal walks at Sacquoy Head and Faraclett Head. Another path following an old peat track takes you inland to Muckle Water, the largest loch in Rousay.
Expect to see plenty of wildlife on your travels here. The RSPB reserve at Trumland features red-throated divers, hen harriers, short-eared owls and much more.
Rousay is home to a busy community of around 200 people. The Taversoe is the local pub and restaurant, and there’s a well-stocked shop at the north east corner of the island. The Rousay Crafthub is an excellent example of the close links between Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, showcasing arts and crafts from all three islands.
Thanks to a regular ferry service, the three communities are perfectly positioned for island hopping. Egilsay and Wyre are two of Orkney’s smallest populated islands and make for excellent walking destinations. There are no food or accommodation options here, so remember to bring your own supplies. Self-service teas and coffees can be found in the local community centres, though.
Egilsay is a peaceful island, home to only around 25 or so people, but it is a place that has played a central role in Orcadian history – St Magnus was martyred here more than 900 years ago and a cenotaph marks the site where he was slain. The island also hosts part of the St Magnus Way, a 55-mile route across Orkney, following the path Magnus’ body was taken after his execution.
One of the main attractions here is the beautiful 12th century Norse church, the St Magnus Kirk. Featuring a tall tower that would have originally been 70ft high, the building is one of only two of its kind in Europe. Egilsay’s other attractions focus on its natural environment. Walking here is a joy, with quiet roads and some fantastic wildlife. A large part of the island is an RSPB reserve featuring some excellent wetlands and wildflowers. The beach on the east coast is also a beautiful spot where you’ll liable to see seals, gannets and other seabirds.
Lying south west of Egilsay, Wyre is just two miles long and a mile wide. As with most locations in Orkney, it has a history stretching back thousands of years and a day trip here can be very rewarding. The island’s main attraction is the substantial Cubbie Roo’s Castle, the remains of an imposing structure built for 12th century Norse chieftain, Kolbein Hruga. Constructed with defence in mind, the castle is surrounded by ditches and would have originally featured a three-storey tower at its heart. If this was a site on the Orkney mainland, it would be well visited and much talked about.
Nearby you’ll find St Mary’s Chapel, a 12th century kirk with Romanesque flourishes. Restoration work here in the 19th century uncovered the remains of a tall, well-built man – according to some circles, this could have been Kolbein Hruga, Cubbie Roo himself.
Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre are easily accessible from the Orkney mainland with a regular ferry service operating from Tingwall.
Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are close neighbours which means the regular ferry service is perfect for island hopping.
The ro-ro route operates from Tingwall in Orkney's West Mainland, running to and from the three islands on a daily basis. Make sure you book in advance, especially during the summer months. A number of sailings to Egilsay and Wyre have to be reserved in advance too, so do double check the timetable for all the latest information.