Westray Explorer Route

A fine day out in the Queen o’ the Isles taking in beautiful beaches, a vibrant village and some stunning coastal scenery.

This route begins at the island’s ferry terminal and is designed for those with a decent level of fitness who want to cover a respectable percentage of Westray’s roads.

Grading: 4
Options to shorten Yes
Options to extend Yes
OS Landranger 5

There are lots of options to add in some extra detours if that 32km isn’t far enough for you.

Starting at the ferry terminal, turn right to head northwest along the B9066, the main road that runs up the centre of the island. Once any ferry traffic has dispersed this will usually be a fairly quiet route. After around 2km you’ll pass a sign on the right for the Castle of Burrian. Undoubtedly the best place to see puffins in Orkney from late spring into early summer, it will involve a return walk of around 1.5km along the coast to reach the Castle itself, if you decide to take this detour.

Carrying on along the main road for a further 3km, look out for a side road on the right, signposted ‘Bay of Swartmill’. This takes you along a short section of the island’s east coast, heading first past the rocky inlet of Skelwick (there’s a small shop here) before arriving at the small, sandy Bay of Swartmill. Follow the road as it takes a sharp left before passing the Loch of Swartmill and returning to a T-junction with the main road.

Turn right here to carry on towards the village of Pierowall, with fine views out to the right of Westray’s smaller neighbour, Papa Westray.

After around 5km you’ll arrive in the village, which is well-served with two shops, cafes, a hotel and a fish and chip shop, as well as being home to one of Orkney’s best known textile producers, Hume Sweet Hume. The island’s superb Heritage Centre is also here in the village and is well worth a visit.

As you head north through the village look for a road to your left immediately before the school. Follow this road as it first turns right then left for a little over 1km to arrive at Noltland Castle. This island stronghold was built in the 16th century by Gilbert Balfour from Fife, a man deeply implicated in the intrigue and tragedy surrounding the life of Mary Queen of Scots. A fine spiral staircase leads to the upper levels.

There is an option to carry on the road beyond Noltland Castle to reach Noup Head and its precariously-perched lighthouse. This variation to the route involves an additional 5km of road cycling and 5km cycling/walking on rough stone track, there and back, with a fair bit of ascent/descent. The views are worth it though, if you have the energy!

Return to the bikes and head back towards the village. After 400m look for a sandy track on the left-hand side (those on skinny tyres will want to leave their bikes here, taking care not to block access). This takes you to the fabulous beach of Grobust, backed onto by the Links of Noltland. You can learn more in the heritage centre about the extraordinary archaeological finds to have been unearthed here over the years. Our Pierowall Circular walking route covers much of this part of this cycle, including the village, Noltland Castle and Grobust.

Return along the track and back to the village. Turn right at the junction at the school and as you leave the village follow the road as it takes a sharp right after rounding the head of the bay.

After just over 100m take the road leading off to the right, signposted Westside. Passing Loch Saintear on the right-hand side, head steadily uphill for 2km to pass over Gallowhill. After a further 2km take the road on your left-hand side, opposite the red phone box, now home to an emergency defibrillator. This takes you around the head of the Bay of Tuquoy, a good place to spot wading birds, with many wetland species also to be found in the adjoining reed-shrouded lochan.

Carry on this road as it rises gently uphill to a T junction back with the B9066. Turn right to cycle the last 7km back to the ferry terminal at Rapness.

If you have time before the ferry then, just after the sign for the Castle of Burrian, look out for a sign on the right for the Rapness Cemetery. This takes you down to a lovely beach at the Bay of Tafts. On a fine day it’s a nice alternative to the ferry waiting room, though do leave yourself plenty time to cover the final 2km.

  • Plan your trip to Westray

    Daily ferries connect Westray and Kirkwall. View timetables and book online via the Orkney Ferries website. Booking in advance is recommended, and bikes can be carried for free.

    You can also fly to the island with Loganair's inter-isles service. The route can sometimes stop off in Papa Westray, giving you the chance to experience the world's shortest scheduled flight. Visit the Loganair website to view the current timetable.

    There is a local bus service which meets every ferry arrival and operates on request throughout the island, and Rendall's Shop offers a taxi service.

    Public toilets are available at Rapness Ferry Terminal, in Pierowall village and at Gill Pier.

    Find out more about Westray on the island's Explore page, or visit the official island website.

  • Food & drink

    There are three well-stocked local shops offering a wide selection of food and drink, W. I. Rendall's and J. C. Tulloch's in Pierowall, and Peter Miller Merchants on the east coast of the island. W. I. Rendall's also has the Groatiebuckies Café, while the Wheeling Steen Gallery, a short drive north of the village, offers teas, coffees and snacks.

    JACKS Chippy at the southern end of Pierowall does excellent takeaways. The Pierowall Hotel also offers a bar, meals and refreshments. Saintear is a bistro just outside the village offering meals and light bites, as well as regular specials. Richan's Retreat, close to Rapness Pier, also offers teas and coffees. The best advice is to check all opening times before you travel to Westray.

This cycle route information was funded through the North Isles Landscape Partnership Scheme by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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