Set sail for your own desert island

Tick another island off your list with a special boat trip to the Holm of Papay in Orkney

Have you ever wanted to explore a desert island?

How about one with its own underground Neolithic cairn?

You can take island hopping to new extremes in Orkney, thanks to the community in Papa Westray.

The residents of this beautiful place, one of our north isles, have invested in a modern boat to take visitors on a cruise to the uninhabited Holm of Papay. This tiny island off Papay’s east coast has always been a much sought-after destination for visitors, keen to explore its wildlife and archaeology, but only in recent years has it become possible to reach it on a regular basis.

The Papay Development Trust began operating regular summer trips to the Holm in 2017 after taking delivery of its fully-insured and MCA coded boat, ‘The Dunter’. Trained skippers take you across to the island, steaming over clean and clear blue seas and up onto the shore.

The Holm of Papay measures in at just 1km long but features one of the most intriguing historical sites in the islands. The sixty-seven-foot subterranean South Cairn dates back to the Neolithic and features carved decorations and 14 separate chambers. It really is a fascinating place to explore – and you’re guaranteed to have the place to yourself too (well, along with your fellow passengers on ‘The Dunter’).

That’s not the only attraction of the Holm though. It’s an island teeming with wildlife. You’ll see seals and seabirds en-route and your guide will help point out different species and the perfect places to spot them.

Passengers will also get the chance to see the Papa Westray coastline and its natural features, and who knows, passing whales and porpoises might get in on the act too.

The boat trips are a really special addition to a stay in Papa Westray, which has been doing a lot in recent years to attract visitors. Combine your visit with a ‘Papay Peedie Tour’ when the local island ranger, Jonathan Ford, will take you on a guided tour of the island’s archaeological and natural heritage – including a walk to the 6,000-year-old Knap of Howar, the oldest standing stone houses in northern Europe.

You can also enjoy a delicious lunch at the Kelp Store Craft & Heritage Centre before working it all off with a trek to the RSPB North Hill reserve, where you’ll see Primula scotica and puffins during the summer months. Bikes can also be hired to help you explore the island further and excellent accommodation is available at the Beltane House Hostel if you want to spend longer in Papa Westray.

Do remember to check with the ranger to confirm tour times, which could be subject to change due to COVID-19 regulations.

Boat trips to the Holm of Papay are weather dependant. To book or to find out more, phone 07931 235 213, contact the Papay Ranger on Facebook or email

Find out more about Papa Westray and visit the official island website.

Follow the Papay Ranger on Facebook and Instagram for updates on activities and events in the island.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme. Newsletter

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