With spring approaching and summer on the horizon, there is no better time to get outside and experience the Orkney elements.
Across the islands there are walks, viewpoints and new locations just ready to be explored. We’ve picked nine of our favourites for extra island inspiration.
The Churchill Barriers, East Mainland
These four concrete causeways were built to protect Scapa Flow from German U-boat attacks during the Second World War; now they’ve become vital links between the Orkney mainland and the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay. They also help create an epic road trip with beautiful sea views and plenty of history en-route. One of our favourite stops is at the start of the 3rd Barrier. There you’ll find a small car park and steps down to a beautiful beach in the shadow of the nearby causeway. A rusting old blockship sits in the bright blue water in front of you, and the beach curves back along the coast to the 2nd Barrier – just the perfect place to walk, and to relax.
Brough of Birsay, West Mainland
This island off the west coast of the Orkney mainland can only be reached by a causeway at low tide, but it’s worth the wait. Explore the rockpools and the sea-life left behind by the retreating tide as you cross over, then climb up the steps onto the Brough itself to walk round the remains of a Norse village. Hike to the island’s lighthouse for stunning views of the Atlantic, and you can even see puffins between May and August! Remember to make your way back over the causeway before the tide comes in – tide times are available to view at the Visit Scotland Information Centre in Kirkwall.
Vat of Kirbister, Stronsay
Island hopping is one of Orkney’s great adventures. Jump on the ferry or grab a ticket for the eight-seater plane and explore our island communities – they’re all different but a friendly welcome is always guaranteed! Stronsay has an abundance of bays, beaches and wildlife, but the walk to the natural rock arch at the Vat of Kirbister is a real highlight. It’s a stunning stretch of coastline, and at the Vat itself you can see birds skimming into the collapsed sea-cave and wonderful wildflowers on the banks.
Stromness and Warebeth, West Mainland
If you’re feeling fit then the walk from the maritime town of Stromness along the coast to Warebeth is a must. The route takes you through the flagstone streets of Stromness, past the old piers, houses and an excellent array of shops, out to a relatively flat coastal path. Take in the stunning views across to the Hoy hills and fantastically rocky shoreline as you walk, then carry on until you reach the sandy beach at Warebeth. Depending on the weather you can soak up the sun or watch the Atlantic rollers crash ashore before making your way back to the town.
The Old Man of Hoy, Hoy
This famous site needs no introduction! The Old Man of Hoy dominates the west coast of this dramatic island. The walk from the magnificent Rackwick takes you through an RSPB reserve with plenty of birdlife to spot, then eventually on to amazing views of this 450ft high stack of red sandstone. Head north to the top of St John’s Head, the highest vertical sea cliffs in the UK, to take in one of the best vistas in Orkney.
Mull Head, East Mainland
This is one of our favourite places to blow away the cobwebs. A local nature reserve, Mull Head offers sea views, wildlife and plenty of natural and historical attractions. Walking routes in the area take in the Gloup, a huge collapsed sea-cave, and the Brough of Deerness, complete with the remains of a small Norse chapel and settlement. There is also a visitor centre which has more information on the history of the reserve and recommendations on things to see and do in the area.
Marwick Head, West Mainland
These towering cliffs on the west coast of the mainland offer incredible views and the stunning sight of swirling seabirds during the summer months. Take the walk up the coast from Marwick Bay for the full effect, climbing to the top of the 285ft headland. You’ll see the Kitchener and HMS Hampshire memorials and the largest seabird colony in the Orkney mainland. The summer months bring colourful wildflowers too.
There’s nothing quite like a stroll on a sandy beach to help you relax and enjoy the outdoors. The aptly-named island of Sanday is the ideal destination if that sounds like your idea of bliss. There are plenty of beaches here to visit, but the white sand dunes at Tresness just about trump them all. Walk across Cata Sand to this thin strip of land and its curving shoreline, with azure blue seas in the summer and a north sea breeze to clear the head.
Costa Head, West Mainland
This is a location well off the beaten track. Costa Head can be found at the north west of the Orkney mainland and features huge cliffs, dramatic coastline and one of the best sea-stacks in the islands. The Standard juts out dramatically from the sea, just one of the attractions of a walk in the area. Costa is also part of the newly launched St Magnus Way, a 51-mile walking route through Orkney’s history.
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