There are plenty of ways to explore Orkney.
You can book bus tours with knowledgeable local guides, or you can opt for something altogether more intimate and join a small walking group on the coastline. You can even buckle up and take an adrenaline-inducing trike tour across the archipelago.
But pedal power might just be the perfect way to experience Orkney, providing the ideal mix of exercise, fresh air, and the chance to slow down and soak up all the sights and sounds of the islands.
That’s very much Amanda Tickle’s mantra. She launched Ride Orkney, a mountain bike tour business, at the start of the year with the aim of encouraging visitors to get outside in the Orcadian air and to visit some off the beaten track locations.
“When you are in a car or tour bus you can miss a lot, but when you explore Orkney on a bike you can discover so much more,” says Amanda. “There is so much history, myth and legend here, along with some of the most amazing landscapes, coastal scenery and wildlife. By using mountain bikes, we can get you closer to it all.”
Although she has been a cycling enthusiast since the 1990s, Amanda admits she only really got the mountain biking bug around ten years ago, crewing for her son who was competing on the Scottish Enduro Series circuit. She qualified as a Mountain Bike Leader in 2017 and even put her skills to the test in a professional setting too.
“In my previous job as an RAF Officer I was responsible for taking military groups out mountain biking as part of their adventurous training,” she says. “I started taking military personnel and guests from our self-catering property out around Orkney last year, so when I retired in January it only felt natural to continue doing something I loved.”
If the thought of mountain biking with a former member of the military gives you visions of an ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’-esque experience, rest assured that is not what you can expect from a Ride Orkney tour. “I do still enjoy the thrill of riding down a mountain bike trail,” smiles Amanda. “But for me, mountain biking is not about throwing yourself down steep hills or getting from A to B as fast as you can; it’s about getting out into nature, enjoying fresh air, and escaping crowds, mobile phones and emails.”
The Ride Orkney experience begins with an informal meet and greet where you’ll be given your bike and equipment for the day. There’s a weather check and a look at the planned route and timings, as well as a health and safety discussion. Then, once everyone is ready, it’s time to set off on the bikes. During your ride, Amanda will point out historical sites and interesting features, and there will be plenty of time to stop and take in the scenery.
Each route offers something different, with a mix of on-road and off-road riding and walking built in. Optional visits to attractions are included, as well as pit stops at local tearooms and cafes to keep you fueled up.
As expected, the locations are really special. Amanda offers guided day tours in Sanday and Westray, where there are beautiful beaches and stunning landscapes to enjoy. There are also routes in Flotta and Hoy, offering military history and accessible stretches of off-road riding. And if island hopping isn’t for you, the Neolithic Orkney circuit provides the opportunity to visit all the sites in Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae.
“There are so many great options in Orkney,” says Amanda. “We wanted to offer a diverse range of routes which give riders the chance to explore history, heritage and wildlife all in one ride.”
With distances ranging from 12 miles to 33 miles, there should always be an option for all levels of fitness and experience, and Amanda can design a bespoke tour depending on your specific requirements too.
With a first full season ahead of her and a booking calendar beginning to fill up, Amanda is already looking forward to a summer spent out and about in the island elements, introducing her guests to two-wheel touring.
“The ideal cycling experience for me is one which offers the opportunity to switch off from everyday life, discover amazing landscapes, visit historical sites, see wonderful wildlife, and just to venture that little bit further.
“The beauty of Orkney is you can do all that in a single day on a bike.”