We will have some private groups that will walk on the Orkney Islands in 2021 and 2022. They had requests for specific hikes on the islands, so we travelled up to Orkney in October to explore some of them. This was an islands hopping trip, visiting Mainland Orkney, Egilsay, Wyre and Westray.
We stayed on Mainland Orkney the first day, starting at the Broch of Gurness, my favourite broch in Scotland. We drove on to Birsay, but with the tide in we could not walk to the Broch of Birsay.
We then walked to Earl's Palace and St Magnus Kirk. It is thought that this church stands on the site of Christchurch built here by Earl Thorfinn in 1064. St Magnus' corpse was laid to rest here after it was moved to the Mainland. The current church on the site is of a much more recent date.
We finished the day at Mar Wick for a blowy walk to Marwick Head and the fishermen's huts.
Broch of Gurness, Mainland Orkney
Earl's Palace, Birsay
Fishermans huts, Mar Wick
Egilsay and Wyre are two small islands just off Rousay. One ferry serves the three islands and the ferry sails via Rousay. We started on Egilsay where in 1116 Hakon, Magnus Erlendsson - Orkney's Saint Magnus - cousin, betrayed Magnus and ordered a servant to kill him. We'll start here with a private group next year that will walk sections of the St Magnus way. We visited the ruined St Magnus Kirk a 12th Century round towered Viking church. We then walked across the island stopping at a cairn commemorating the spot where Earl Magnus was slain and finished on a nice beach at the other side of the island before walking back to the ferry terminal.
We sailed to Wyre in the early afternoon. Apart from it's wildlife Wyre is best known for Cubbie Roo's Castle, the old stronghold of a Norse chieftain, built around 1145. Its present-day name comes from Orkney folklore tales about a giant passed down through the generations.
St Magnus Kirk, Egilsay, Orkney Islands
Mae Banks beach, Egilsay
Cubbie Roo's Castle, Wyre, Orkney
We drove across the Churchill Barriers to Windwick, South Ronaldsay where we arranged a taxi to take us to Burwick for a linear walk along the south and east coast of South Ronaldsay. This is another great coastal walk with beaches, cliffs and sea views. The walk goes past the Tomb of the Eagles, which was closed as so many other places of interest due to Covid-19.
Back to the minibus, we drove back across the Churchill Barriers and stopped at the Italian Chapel consisting of two Nissen huts transformed into a beautiful chapel by Italian prisoners of war who were captured in North Africa and transported to the Island of Lamb Holm in Orkney to help with the building of the Churchill Barriers. They turned the huts into something extremely beautiful.
Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney
Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay
Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm
An early start for the ferry to Westray. Our first walk was at Noup Head, which teems with sea birds in the summer. They were gone now, except from some gannets and fulmars. It has a spectacular coast line with caves, arches sea stacks and geos, so there was still lots to enjoy.
After a quick stop at Noltland Castle, we went for another walk at Grobust. This is a beautiful beach and with a good surf from the Atlantic. This is also the location of the Links of Noltland, one of Scotland's most important prehistoric landscapes. The earliest remains date to the Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago. People continued to live in the area for at least a thousand years, well into the Bronze Age. The best known find during excavations is the Orkney Venus, also called the Westray Wifie. It measures just 41mm tall, 31mm wide and 12mm thick and is thought to be Scotland’s earliest representation of a human. The links of Noltland is under severe threat from coastal erosion. Due to lack of funds there has not been any excavations at this site since 2010 and it is now in a very said state with fences down and the membrane covering the excavation sites torn in many places.
After checking the start point of a linear coastal walk, we'll do with bush walkers from Australia in 2022, we sailed back to the Mainland enjoying a nice sunset from the ferry.
Cliff walk at Noup Head, Westray
Atlantic hitting the coast at Grobust, Westray
Links of Noltland, Grobust, Westray
We spent our last day on Orkney in the south of Mainland, visiting Ophir which in the early period of Norse rule, was a centre of power. The round church at Ophir is Scotland's only surviving circular medieval church. There are also foundations of a Bu, a Norse drinking hall, just outside the graveyard.
We then started our circuit up Ward Hill. The route we had chosen turned out to be quite challenging: part of the track was no longer there, further uphill the track turned in to a bog and the route off path and track we choose meant that we had to walk through high grass and heather and cross a barbed wire fence, ending on a very muddy track. During the walk we were treated on sunshine, showers and rainbows with most of the showers above Scapa Flow. It was a good day, but we will use another route when we'll do this walk with the Australian bush walkers.
Round Church, Ophir, Mainland Orkney
Showers above Hoy and Scapa Flow from Ward Hill
Rainbow from Ward Hill, Mainland
We left Orkney the following day on the early morning ferry from Stromness. We can look back on a very productive and enjoyable week on Orkney in spite of the Covid-19restrictions. We are confident that we'll be able to offer our client the best experience when they are here.