A fabulous walk, taking in history, hill ground and headlands, with some of the finest views of Orkney’s outer north isles.
Eday lies at the heart of our outer north isles.
Often overlooked in favour of its larger neighbours, the island has a huge amount to offer – particularly for keen walkers, who’ll find a range of routes to suit all abilities.
The community-run hostel makes the perfect base for an active break.
Start at the car-park at the island’s co-operative shop (HY569366). If leaving a vehicle, park in front of the old shop building, keeping the new entrance and fuel pumps clear. Head northwest along the road past the Mill Loch. After around 400m you’ll arrive at the bird hide – it’s well-placed to view one of the most important sites in the UK for breeding red-throated divers.
Carry on along the road until you reach a wooden gate (0.76km) on the right, leading to the Stone of Setter. The megalith itself is magnificent, and at over 15 feet high it’s one of Orkney’s tallest standing stones. Take a moment to admire it, and its surroundings, before heading north, diagonally across the field, to the gate in the northwest corner (1km).
From here the route crosses short heathery heathland – with duckboards negating the wettest sections – before reaching an area of rough grazing. Just beyond a small agricultural building lie the remains of the Braeside Chambered Cairn (1.4km). While most of the stone from the Neolithic site has been robbed (presumably re-used for dykes and buildings), much of the interior layout can still be appreciated, with a pair of upright slabs particularly prominent.
A little further to the northwest lies Huntersquoy Chambered Cairn. Like Taversoe Tuick in Rousay, it was a burial cairn built on two levels. Only the lower level remains. The narrow entranceway is fairly uninviting, and the chamber is generally full of water – entry is not advised!
Carry on northwest, following wooden waymarker posts to the southern summit of Vinquoy Hill (2km). Seventy-four metres may not sound like a particularly impressive peak, but Vinquoy Chambered Cairn surely enjoys one of the finest views of any of Orkney’s burial cairns - against some stiff competition. A short crawl takes you into the central chamber. It’s well-lit through a Perspex skylight above, though a torch is handy for exploring the side chambers.
From the cairn carry on northeast with fine views over the Calf of Eday and Calf Sound to the east, and the larger neighbour of Sanday behind. To the west is the small island of Faray, and to the northwest is Westray. Pass over the true summit of Vinquoy Hill, before crossing the obvious gap in a stone dyke. Drop briefly to the right on the faintest of tracks until you reach a line of stones running north. The route follows the footings of this old stone dyke until it reaches the low point between Vinquoy Hill and Noup Hill (3.3km). At this point look for the obvious peat track branching to the left to head northwest around the back of Noup Hill.
When the well-defined track runs out carry on across former peat beds to reach the coast. Turn right at this point to head northeast along the coast. It’s best to keep inside the fence, as the grass on the outside is tussocky with some old fence wire lurking in places. The cliffs here are also extremely unstable.
After around 1km you’ll reach the Red Head. The views here are superb. Looking across to the east you’ll see the Grey Head on the Calf of Eday, one of Orkney’s important seabird colonies, and home to puffin, kittiwake, guillemot and razorbill.
Head south southwest, keeping to the left of the broad ridge in order to get the best views across Calf Sound.
After dropping back down to the low point between Noup Hill and Vinquoy Hill (6.3km) pass through the muddy gate to take the path heading southeast, keeping left to head downhill towards the next waymarker. The small lighthouse on the shore is an aluminium replica of the original light, built to guide shipping through this sheltered shortcut.
Pass through the kissing gate in the stone wall and behind the back of Carrick House. This is where Orkney’s infamous Pirate Gow was captured and held captive, before being sent to London and hanged in 1725. Gow was immortalised in the writing of Daniel Defoe and in Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘The Pirate’.
Don’t go through the gate leading into the grounds of Carrick House. Stay in the field, passing discreetly around the back of the buildings, and head through the small gate to pick up the public road. Turn right onto the road, following it to the left before turning right at the T-junction to return to the start of the route.
While not a particularly long walk, it does involve some stiff going over mixed terrain, and a reasonable level of fitness is required. The section between Vinquoy and Noup Hills can be particularly wet underfoot. Suitable waterproofs, footwear, and extra layers are recommended, along with snacks and refreshments.
Visit the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website for more information and advice on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
- Places of interest
Eday is almost an ‘Orkney in miniature’, offering sweeping sandy beaches, beautiful coastline, ancient history, wonderful wildlife attractions and the gentle pace of island life. It's also home to some fascinating historical sites, many of which you'll see on this route.
The island also has an excellent Heritage Centre, packed full of information, artefacts and images from the past. Housed in a renovated Baptist Kirk, the centre has exhibitions over two floors and is the perfect place to explore family connections, as well as Eday’s historical and natural heritage.
There’s an incredible array of wildlife to enjoy in Eday, including one of the UK’s densest populations of red-throated divers at Mill Loch. Elsewhere, expect to see oystercatchers, hen-harriers, waxwings, guillemots and everything in-between. The island is also ideal for spotting both grey and harbour seals, and you might even catch a glimpse of an orca or otter too. A trip to Eday wouldn’t be complete without a walk on one of the wonderful beaches either – try the sands at Mussetter or the neighbouring Doomy.
For an island with such a rich past, Eday is also part of Orkney’s energy future. It’s home to the European Marine Energy Centre’s Fall of Warness tidal test site, and is also at the centre of hydrogen production.
- Food & drink
Eday has an excellent community shop, found at the start of this route. It's extremely well-stocked (though opening hours may be limited), and anything you spend here will help support the island economy.
- Transport & services
Daily ferries connect Eday and Kirkwall for passengers and vehicles. View timetables on the Orkney Ferries website.
You can also fly to the island with Loganair's inter-isles service. Visit the Loganair website to view the current timetable.
Public toilets are available at the Eday pier. Petrol and diesel are available from the island shop too.