Shapinsay may be just a short ferry ride from Kirkwall and the Mainland, but it has an unmistakable island atmosphere. The lighthouse on Helliar Holm guides shipping to its destination, with the baronial splendour of Balfour Castle visible in the distance.
The charming village of Balfour and its castle await visitors as they step off the ferry. A picturesque street leads to the Heritage Centre where locally designed crafts and artwork can be bought, including textiles, stained glass, jewellery and ceramics. These and other home industries still thrive in Shapinsay. Visitors can also learn about local history, notably the island's role in the herring boom.
Balfour Castle is visible from all directions and is now an exclusive members-only hotel. It is surrounded by extensive woodland and was built for Colonel David Balfour, the fourth laird whose innovative farming improvements in the 1840s developed agricultural land across the island. The village was the brainchild of his grandfather Thomas Balfour who originally named it Shoreside.
The island's maritime heathland, cliffs and beaches provide the perfect natural habitat for seabirds including large gull and tern colonies - rarer species including Hen Harriers can also be spotted. There is a RSPB reserve, which is home for breeding ducks, waders, geese and swans. It's no surprise that Shapinsay is a particular favourite with the bird watching fraternity.
Shapinsay is a short ferry ride from Kirkwall on the Mainland.