Fine island views and a chance to take in some of the abundant wildlife within a 400-hectare nature reserve.
Rousay’s close proximity to the Orkney Mainland and its relatively compact shape and size makes it a popular destination for day trips.
However, the islands incredible wealth of archaeology and opportunities for great walks warrants a longer stay.
If you are pushed for time though, then this is a great route to fit between ferries, and it begins the moment you step ashore.
The small ferry takes around 20 minutes to cross from Tingwall, in the West Mainland, to Rousay. On arriving you’ll see a waiting room and toilets, which also contains an unmanned information centre. It’s well worth spending a little time here to learn a little bit about the island, its history and its wildlife before starting the walk.
From the pier follow the road uphill, bending first to the left and then gently to the right before arriving at the junction with the island’s main road, opposite the gatehouse for Trumland House (0.53km).
Turn left and follow the road. After passing an attractive burn and woodland the road begins to rise. Around 50m past the burn, look on the right for a signpost for the Taversoe Tuick. Pass through the kissing gate (1km) and follow the obvious agricultural track across the field.
Taversoe Tuick itself lies a short detour to your left, but it is well worth a visit. The Neolithic chambered tomb is on two levels, with a small, metal ladder leading down into the atmospheric lower chambers (a torch may be handy for exploring the lower level).
Carry on up the track to pass the edge of a woodland. Go through a kissing gate between the stone dyke and fence, passing Trumland Cottage. Once beyond the cottages turn right and pass through the gate (if this path is overgrown you may have to follow a parallel route, keeping left to go through the farm gates instead). Once into the open field, turn left to head northwest along the line of the fence for around 20 metres before heading diagonally across the field. As the obvious track fades out, look for a white-topped post – the first of a number which will guide you around the route.
Carry on diagonally across the field to the obvious metal gate. The terrain becomes more distinctly ‘hill ground’ from this point on, with heather replacing grass, but the route also becomes clearer – for a time. Watch for hen harriers, which often hunt in the margins between moorland and rough grazing, while merlin and short-eared owl are also found patrolling the reserve.
Head right after the gate, traversing gently uphill. Keep left at the junction, following the sign for the Long Trail.
Keep following the white-topped posts, forking right to take a zig-zagging route to the gentle saddle between the modest summits of Blotchie Fiold and Knitchen Hill. To your right is the Loch of Knitchen. Watch for the distinctive outline of red-throated divers cruising the waters of the small loch - and other hill lochans in Rousay - during the breeding season (though don’t be tempted to wander any closer).
Keep climbing gently northwest-wards following the white-topped posts until you reach the modest cairn at the summit of Blotchnie Fiold (3.5km). Enjoy the fabulous views west into the heart of the island, with the lochs of Muckle Water and Peedie Water, Eynhallow Sound and the Atlantic beyond.
From here the route heads generally eastwards, retracing your steps initially, across the broad ridge towards Knitchen Hill (4.9km) passing a number of small, sparkling ‘dubs’, or tiny lochans, enroute. The path is faint, but watch for the marker posts. The summit of Knitchen Hill is a fabulous spot to take in views eastwards across Orkney’s inner north isles. To the north the distinctive summit of Kierfea Hill stands over the township of Sourin, with Faraclett Head (another fine walk) behind.
Descend southeast, keeping one eye on the marker posts, with the other reserved for great skuas. This is their territory, and it’s one they’re quick to defend (a fully-extended walking pole rested upwards on the shoulder is usually enough to discourage any unpleasantness.)
After a time, the faint hill path joins a more distinct peat track (5.8km) which heads left, diagonally downwards in a south-easterly direction, emerging onto the island’s main road (6.3km). Turn right here to head west, back towards the pier and the start of the walk.
Visit the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website for more information and advice on how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
- Places of interest
Rousay is home to some incredible archaeology with a collection of more than 150 ancient sites. A mile-long stretch on the south west coastline showcases some of these attractions, including the Iron Age Midhowe Broch, the 5000-year-old Midhowe Chambered Cairn – housed in an imposing hangar – and the excavations at Swandro. The Knowe of Yarso and Blackhammer Cairn also provide a perfect glimpse of Orkney’s history.
The west and north coasts offer other terrific walking routes - Sacquoy Head and Faraclett Head are fantastic locations. Another path following an old peat track takes you inland to Muckle Water, the largest loch in Rousay. The 13-mile road which encircles the island is perfect for an active family cycle and is home to the annual Rousay Lap event for runners, walkers and cyclists.
The Rousay Crafthub is an excellent example of the close links between Rousay and the neighbouring islands of Egilsay and Wyre, showcasing arts and crafts from all three communities.
- Food & drink
The Taversoe is the local pub and restaurant, found close to the pier, and there’s a well-stocked shop at the north east corner of the island.
- Transport & services
Daily ferries connect Rousay and Tingwall on the Orkney Mainland. View timetables on the Orkney Ferries website. Orkney's number six bus service runs between Kirkwall and Tingwall daily. View the full timetable on the Orkney Islands Council website.
Bike hire is available from Trumland Farm - phone 01856 821 252 or email email@example.com for availability and booking.
Public toilets are available at the Rousay pier. Petrol and diesel are available from the island shop too.