The largest of Orkney’s north isles, Sanday has a land and seascape more akin to the Outer Hebrides, with beautiful beaches, sand dunes and machair, all set at the fringes of some of Orkney’s most fertile farmland.
The island is a nature enthusiast’s dream, with wonderful wildlife-spotting opportunities and a seemingly never-ending selection of walks to enjoy. But there’s a strong community here too, full of farmers and crafters, and a busy events calendar.
The beaches in Sanday are too numerous to mention, but you won’t be disappointed with visits to Whitemill Bay, the dunes at Trensess, Lopness Bay, Otterswick Bay, Backaskaill Bay or the hidden beach – complete with caves at low tide – at Doun Helzie.
There is a rich natural habitat here and the island is home to many breeds of birds and animals. Otters frequent the ferry terminal at Loth and seals are an almost permanent fixture around the beaches. Expect to see plenty of lapwings, curlews and oystercatchers too.
Sanday also has some of the finest archaeological sites in Orkney, although many are long since excavated. The island has a history stretching as far back as the Neolithic, and Quoyness Chambered Cairn is one of the best examples of its kind to be found anywhere. With an entrance passage, central chamber and side cells, its 4000-year-old interior resembles Maeshowe, but there is no need to book a ticket to visit this stunning site.
There have been excavations of Pictish and Viking sites in Sanday too, including the Scar Boat Burial which yielded incredible finds, some of which are now on display at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.
Sanday stretches for around 16 miles from end to end, meaning that the many farms, crofts and homes are well spread out, but there are two slightly larger settlements that host most of the island’s amenities. Kettletoft has two hotels, whilst the village at Lady has two excellent shops and the fantastic heritage centre, which features informative displays and information on Sanday’s history.
Nearby you’ll also find the restored Old Croft House, providing a glimpse into island life in years gone past, and the Meur Burnt Mound. This Bronze Age site was painstakingly moved from a beach in the island’s north end to save it from the sea, then reconstructed next to the heritage centre.
Orkney’s islands provide ideal inspiration for artists and makers, and Sanday is no different. Bill McArthur’s ‘Gallery in the Nortwa'’ is well worth a visit, where you can see Bill at work on his seascape paintings. Elsewhere you can visit Carolyn Dixon at her Working Landscape Studio and ceramic artist Kirstie Bruce. There’s also the Crafthub which showcases the work of a range of makers from the island.
As you head north through Sanday you’ll soon see the island’s distinctive lighthouse at Start Point. The black and white-striped building was opened in 1806 and is found on a tidal island. It’s a fascinating walk, but make sure you time it right – the best advice is to organise your trip with the team at Sanday Tours. They offer a range of Sanday experiences in the company of local residents.
The beach at Lopness also features something special. At low tide you’ll find the wreck of an old ship – it is, in fact, the remains of the B98, a WWI German destroyer. It arrived in Scapa Flow in June 1919 to be towed south for breakage, but it slipped its tow and drifted to Sanday, where it remains to this day.
It’s a perfect example of the eclectic mix of attractions in a place like Sanday. The island offers plenty of accommodation options so you can make sure you won’t miss anything. There are tours available, bike hire on offer and even a community bus to pick you up from the ferry terminal.
Find out more from the island’s official website.
Sanday is one of Orkney's most populous islands and has regular flight and ferry connections with Kirkwall.
There is a daily ferry service linking the island and the Orkney mainland, and flights operate from Kirkwall Airport every day too.