The gentle scent of salt sea air permeates the atmosphere on Orkney. The classic harbour sounds of seagulls, yachts, and fishing boats unloading all create a sense of the surrounding sea that remains with you when you walk amongst evidence of human habitation since the beginning of time. Roam the margins between sea and land, along deserted cliffs or welcoming villages, across treeless landscapes dotted with monuments to man’s interaction with these remote places. Orkney is a unique and mystical place.
We stay in the village of Stromness to take advantage of the stunning coastal walking opportunities. Our programme offers both the naturalist and historian a full and exciting week filled with visual delights.
We walk to the Kitchener Memorial, Wideford Hill burial chamber, and (subject to ferries) the Old Man of Hoy. We plan to include walking tours of Kirkwall, Stromness and Birsay, and visits to the Ring of Brodgar, RSPB sites and the Islands of Hoy, Burray and South Ronaldsay.
Orkney has more RSPB reserves than anywhere else in Britain and a wide variety of habitats and birds to observe. May is a great month to visit. Breeding birds have arrived and migrant birds are passing through. Huge colonies of seabirds are nesting on the cliffs and moors, wetlands and crofts. During our numerous walks hopefully you’ll see puffin, gannet, guillemot, razorbills and tysties on the cliffs, waders on the mudflats, Eider ducks and other divers in the wetlands and Great Arctic Skua, Short-eared owl and Hen Harrier on the moorlands.
The departures on 28 April and 05 May will allow you to discover the best of the island's birds and other wildlife.
We fly to Kirkwall Airport and transfer about 35 mins to Stromness and the Stromness Hotel.
Today starts with a short orientation walk to the hill, Brinkies Brae, just above Stromness to enjoy views across the town, harbour and on to the Island of Hoy we will be later visiting. After a walk through Stromness we continue across fields to the west coast where we take a coastal trail to Warebeth beach and on to Breck Ness. Along the trail we should be able to watch one of the many local seal colonies. The walk is about 6.5 miles. Later we return to Stromness. Those who choose may visit the intriguing Victorian local museum. Here the Orkney relationship with the Hudson Bay Company in Northern Canada is recorded along with involvement with the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow and local artefacts.
Birsay to Skara Brae –Subject to tide levels there could be an opportunity to visit the ‘Pictish’ island of Brough Head. According to the season a chance of seeing Killer, Minke and Pilot whales. At Birsay there is the shell of the Earl’s Palace – built in the 1500s by a notorious Earl Robert Stewart (learn about the intrigue during the visit). This is followed by the most splendid of coastal walks with cliff views and a variety of bird species. The trail passes a grand memorial to Lord Kitchener and turf-roofed fishermen’s huts. A tour highlight comes at the end of the walk with a visit to Skara Brae (a World Heritage site) village that is Northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic Village. Next to Skara Brae is Skaill House, a 1620 family home, now open to the public. The walk is about 8.5 miles.
Wideford Hill and Kirkwall – Now for a hill walk – taking us up Wideford Hill (225m). On the way we visit a chambered cairn and then a heathland walk and tracks descending to the Orkney capital of Kirkwall. The walk is about 4.5 miles. The St Magnus Cathedral, dating from 1137, is a must to visit. The structure is unlike that of many cathedrals and was built of red sandstone by Durham masons. Opposite the Cathedral is the Kirkwall museum where local artefacts are displayed to include the famous ‘Orkney chair’. For the radio enthusiasts there is a specialist Wireless Museum and for those wanting to experience a local dram a visit to the Highland Park Distillery for a tour is well worthwhile. Highland Park is the most northerly distillery in Scotland.
A short ferry boat trip to Rousay Island where a large part of the island is managed by the RSPB. We will be met by the island mini-bus and taken to Midhowe Cairn. The Cairn comprises chambers that are over 32m in length and dating from 3000BC, now preserved under a protective cover. From here we walk along the shore and past Westness – an ancient farm complex including the remains of St Mary’s 16th Century church. The next part of the day is taken with a walk over a moorland area called Trumland (managed by the RSPB) and to Knitchen Hill. From the hill top there can be fine views across to other islands in the Orkney group. About 5 miles.
Just a short ferry boat trip from Stromness to Moaness on Hoy to visit the 2nd largest island in the archipelago. We will be met by a mini bus and taken to view the Dwarfie Stane – cut from rock in about 3000BC. This is followed by commencing a trail from Rackwick to the most famous of sites – ‘The Old Man of Hoy’. The island of Hoy is the largest RSPB reserve and apart from puffins there could be fulmars, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and shags to be seen in season. About 5 miles with a possible extension.
A day of visits to include some of the world famous Neolithic sites of: The Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and on the banks of Loch Harray the foundations of the “Barnhouse Village”. Maes Howe, another World Heritage site, is the finest chambered cairn in Northern Europe and covers a diameter of 35m and 7m in height. Moving on to more recent times the ‘Italian Chapel’ will be visited. The chapel is a master craftsman’s structure having being made during the Second World War by Italian prisoners of war that were camped on the island. Travelling to the chapel the ‘Churchill lines’ will be passed. These are remarkable structures that along with block ships (some of which can still be seen) were designed to protect the Scapa Flow naval base. Along the route the islands of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm,Burray and South Ronaldsay will be passed with many opportunities to view coastal birds.
We return to the airport for our flight back to Scotland.
Includes return flights from Edinburgh and transfers between Kirkwall airport and our hotel. Kirkwall airport is 16 miles from Stromness.
Flights: Edinburgh – Kirkwall (about 1hr 15mins) with Flybe.
UK add on flights are available from £130 return with British Airways.
Please note that flights to and from Kirkwall can on rare occasions be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions, in which case it may be necessary to travel by ferry.
Nearest ferry harbours: Stromness or Kirkwall.
See where this holiday travels to.
We stay at the very comfortable three-star Stromness Hotel in the heart of the village, overlooking the picturesque fishing harbour and Scapa Flow. The hotel has a cosy bar and lounge with views over the harbour and over 100 malt whiskies to choose from. The restaurant uses a variety of locally produced high quality food and drink. Breakfast includes a full Scottish option! Accommodation is half board with breakfasts and dinners taken at the hotel. Please note that lunches are not included on this holiday. Bedrooms have tea and coffee making facilities, TVs and are en-suite with some rooms have baths instead of showers. Complementary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.