Much like its near-neighbour Eday, Westray offers many quintessential Orcadian elements within the confines of its often-awe-inspiring coastline.
It's a bustling, vibrant place, but it doesn’t lose any of that sense of island charm found across our archipelago. Known as the ‘Queen o’ the Isles’, you can find stunning sea cliffs, sandy beaches, some of Orkney’s most talented food producers and a rich history to explore.
That history stretches as far back as the Neolithic, and Westray has yielded one of the most fascinating finds uncovered in Orkney in recent memory. A tiny carved sandstone figurine was found at the Links of Noltand excavation in 2009 and immediately named ‘the Orkney Venus’ (known locally as ‘the Westray Wife’). It’s the earliest representation of a human found in Scotland and is on display at the island’s excellent Heritage Centre in Pierowall.
Orkney’s Norse history is evident throughout Westray. The island was an important place during the Viking era and the 10th century excavated and conserved site at Quoygrew is a perfect example of a Viking farming and fishing settlement. The 12th century Cross Kirk at Tuquoy is also well worth a visit. Another must-see historical site is the imposing Noltland Castle, a fortress built during the 16th century and full of menacing character – including musket holes in the walls!
Westray is a haven for wildlife watchers too. The west side of the island is an incredible stretch of coastline featuring huge cliffs, spectacular views and plenty of seabirds for company. It culminates in a visit to Noup Head and its beautiful lighthouse, perched over the Atlantic Ocean. The cliffs here are an RSPB reserve and home to breeding seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and gannets. It’s an incredibly elemental place. Don’t miss a visit to Westray’s finest stretch of sand at Grobust too.
At the opposite end of the island, the Castle o’Burrian is arguably the finest place in Orkney to spot puffins during their brief stay onshore between late-April and early-August. The short, stumpy sea stack can be covered in these colourful characters during the summer, and the surrounding coastline offers plenty of opportunities to sit and watch them at your leisure.
Westray is an incredibly active community, with regular events and activities available for visitors to enjoy. It’s home to some excellent food producers, including the Westray Bakehouse, Wilsons of Westray, Pierowall Fish – which also offers excellent fish & chips – and Westray Chutney. There are three well-stocked local shops and a popular 9-hole golf course too.
It’s an island that has also inspired many artists and makers. Hume Sweet Hume is a local knitwear and design business based in Pierowall, with a shop in Kirkwall too. Two galleries – the Westray Art Gallery and the Wheeling Steen Gallery – also offer the chance to visit local artists and see some of their work.
Excellent local tour guides, Westraak and Westray Wildlife, are both on hand to showcase the island to visitors. Westray is served by a regular ferry service, and you can fly to the island with Loganair’s Inter-Isles service too. This route includes the shortest scheduled flight in the world, between Westray and Papa Westray, which can only add to your island experience. Sailors are well catered for too, with an excellent marina on offer for visiting yachts.
Find out more via the official Westray and Papa Westray website.
Westray's busy and bustling community is well served by regular transport links with the Orkney mainland.
Daily ferries keep the island connected with Kirkwall, and there are flights from Kirkwall Airport every day too. The route can sometimes stop off in Papa Westray first, giving you the chance to experience the world's shortest scheduled flight.