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Home » Holiday programme » Walking Tours » Orkney Islands

Walking Level 2Orkney Islands

 

This walking tour will give you the chance to fully experience the Orkney Islands. Our walks take us to Birsay, Rousay, Yesnaby, Hoy, Deerness and Stromness, and we will also visit many of the numerous historic and ancient monuments including Skara Brae, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and we will visit the Ness of Brodgar excavations during the tour in July.

Highlights
  • Walking on the Isle of Rousay nicknamed the ‘Egypt of the North’
  • Hiking the west coast of Mainland along impressive cliffs, past sea stacks, geos
  • Visiting the the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Tour of Maeshowe Chambered Cairn
  • Hiking to the Old Man of Hoy sea stack

Introduction to your walking tour on the Orkney Islands

Orkney is a place of big open skies, rounded hills, beautiful beaches and well kept farms. Only on Hoy does the landscape take on a wilder feel, with rolling hills and towering cliffs.

Orkney is also notoriously rich in archaeological remains. It is said that if you scratch the soil it bleeds archaeology. Above all, in visiting Orkney you get a feeling of continuity, the sense that for thousands of years people have worked the land and left their mark.

The low-lying Orkney Isles have been favoured by farmers for over 5000 years. Its fertile soil and an abundance of good sandstone first attracted Stone Age farmers from the south. They settled the land, cultivated it and established villages. They also worked together to build tombs, temples and other sacred sites.

The number and quality of ancient monuments that remain from this period, testify to Orkney’s pre-eminent position at the centre of Neolithic Britain. Later the Vikings came, first visiting in the summers to fatten their livestock and later, colonizing the islands, occupying and reusing farmsteads that had stood for millennia. And today, farming continues. Beneath many of today’s modern farms are the remains of Viking farms and, beneath that, layers of occupation stretching even further back in time.

Curlew on Orkney
Curlew

The flora and fauna on Orkney is a big attraction too and our tour offers lots of opportunities to see many different species of birds, seals and wildflowers.

We start the tour in Glasgow, travelling by train to Aberdeen where we catch the ferry to Orkney. The tour takes in Birsay, Rousay, Yesneby, Hoy, Deerness and Stromness and we visit the many historic and ancient monuments on Orkney too: the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site: Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stennes and Maeshowe, plus Midhowe Broch and Chambered Cairn, the Dwarfie Stane, the Italian Chapel, St Magnus Cathedral and the Earl’s Palace.

Our base is Orkney’s capital and main town, Kirkwall.


Day-by-day Programme

The programme will be subject to variables such as weather and the abilities of the group and changes may also be made to take account of lambing, deer stalking, etc. Any such alterations will always take into account the need to maintain the overall character of the holiday.

Hiking tour Orkney, Scotland

 

 

  1. Saturday: Glasgow - Aberdeen - Kirkwall
  2. Sunday: Brough of Birsay
  3. Monday: Isle of Rousay
  4. Tuesday: Skara Brae to Yesnaby, Stromness
  5. Wednesday: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney
  6. Thursday: Isle of Hoy
  7. Friday: Deerness, Italian Chapel, Kirkwall

 

Saturday: Glasgow - Aberdeen - Kirkwall
The tour begins from Queen Street Station in Glasgow. We take a train to Aberdeen and catch the evening ferry, arriving in Kirkwall at 11pm. We can enjoy an evening meal on board the ferry and the long hours of summer allow us to stay up late watching the coastline of Aberdeenshire, Caithness and southern Orkney go by.

Sunday: Brough of Birsay
Subject to the tides, our first day on Orkney begins with a visit to a small uninhabited tidal island called the Brough of Birsay, meaning ‘fort island’. Although only 600m long by 400m across, this little island offers pleasant walking and a chance to explore some important ancient and historic monuments.

Fifth century Christian missionaries are thought to have been the first to establish a settlement on the isle. After that the Picts established a settlement and built a fort. The Norse, in turn, displaced them in the 9th century. The most extensive remains on the isle are from this Norse period, including the remains of a small Romanesque church.

After exploring the monuments we’ll walk around the island visiting the lighthouse and sea cliffs at the western end. Back on Mainland we continue our walk along the northern shore of Mainland, by low cliffs, to Skippi Geo, a natural harbour used by Norse fishermen.

We then continue to the village of Birsay where we visit the remains of Earl Robert Stewart’s 16th century palace and the site of Orkney’s first Cathedral, where St Magnus was laid to rest in 1116.

4 miles/6.5km, 165ft/50m of ascent.

Midhowe Broch, Rousay, Orkney
Midhowe broch, Rousay

Monday: Isle of Rousay
To the north of the mainland, across the Eynhallow Sound, lies Rousay (meaning Rolf’s island). This hilly island has been nicknamed the ‘Egypt of the North’ due to the richness of its archaeological sites, particularly its chambered tombs.

After a short ferry crossing to Rousay, our day begins with the Westerness Heritage walk, a 2.5 hour walk along Eynhallow Sound. This walk takes us to Midhowe broch, the 5,500 year old Midhowe chambered cairn, Norse farmsteads and the remains of St Mary’s church.

We'll spend the afternoon at the eastern end of the island and walk around Faraclett head with its dramatic cliff scenery and views across to the islands of Westray, Eday and Egilsay.

4 miles/6.5km, 330ft/100m of ascent.

Tuesday: Skara Brae to Yesnaby, Stromness
Today we head for the western part of Mainland where we will visit the most complete Neolithic village in Europe, Skara Brae. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids, this stone build settlement is comprised of eight houses.

Our walk takes us from Skara Brae along impressive cliffs, past sea stacks, geos and the remains of the Broch of Borwick to Yesnaby.

Afterwards we visit the characterful and historic town of Stromness to take a walk through its winding main street all the way to the ness, or headland, of Stromness, where we get good views of Hoy. Stromness was the home Orkney’s most notable poet and writer, George Mackay Brown. It was also where ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company took on water, stores and recruited local men before heading out to the Canadian Arctic.

Up to 5 miles/8km, 245ft/75m of ascent along undulating coastline.

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands
Ring of Brodgar, Mainland Orkney

Wednesday: The Heart of Neolithic Orkney
The narrow isthmus of land between Loch of Harray and Loch of Stennes has a special significance. Many now agree the site, with its standing stones, temple complex, chambered tombs and villages, is the most important Neolithic site in Britain, the ritual centre for a 5000 years old Stone Age farming culture.

Together with Skara Brae these monuments on the isthmus have been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Today we will explore all of these important sites, walking west to east from the Ring of Brodger, to the newly discovered temple complex and then on to the Stones of Stenness.

Afterwards we visit the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn. Orientated exactly with the hills of Hoy this amazing structure remained intact until it was looted by Vikings in the 12th century. The runes left by these Vikings represent the largest collection of such carvings in the world.

About 2 miles/3.2km, flat.

Thursday: Isle of Hoy
Our trip today is to the island of Hoy, meaning ‘high island’. After taking the car ferry to Lyness on Hoy we travel to the northern end of the island.

Our first stop is a short walk to the Dwarfie Stane, a 5,000 year old Neolithic stone cut tomb carved from a huge sandstone erratic boulder. It is quite unique in Britain and is most akin to the rock cut tombs found in the Mediterranean.

We then travel to the spectacular Rackwick Bay. With steep hillsides on both sides and a beach of smooth sandstone pebbles and fine sand, the bay is a great place to walk and absorb the atmosphere. In the afternoon we walk to the old Man of Hoy, an awesome 450ft/137m sea stack. With good weather there are fine views across the Pentland Firth to the Scottish mainland.

The walk is on a good path and takes a bit more than an hour one way. We return to Rackwick Bay by the same route.

6 miles/9.5km, 550ft/170m of ascent.

Deerness, Orkney
Deerness

Friday: Deerness, Italian Chapel, Kirkwall
Our last day on Orkney begins with a visit to Deerness in the east Mainland. Deerness is almost an island, separated from the rest of Mainland by a narrow isthmus.

In the north eastern extremity of Deerness the good farmland gives way to heather moorland and cliffs eroded and sculpted by the North Sea. We do a circular walk along this coastline visiting the Brough of Deerness, a remote headland that was once home to a community of Vikings. Only the remains of a chapel and hut shaped mounds survive today.

Afterwards we travel south to Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barriers. Constructed during World War II the causeways linking Mainland to South Ronaldsay were intended to make secure the important anchorage of Scapa Flow for Allied ships.

On one of the small islands forming part of the barrier is the Italian Chapel. Build by Italian prisoners of war during World War II, the Chapel is made from two simple Nissan huts, with an ornate façade and decorated interior.

Later in the day we return to Kirkwall to visit St Magnus Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace and the Earl’s Palace. Built by Earl Patrick Stewart in the late sixteenth century the Earl’s Palace is regarded as the finest example of Renaissance architecture in Scotland.

After an evening meal in Kirkwall we board the overnight ferry bound for Aberdeen.

Saturday: Aberdeen - Glasgow
After having breakfast on the ferry we disembark and go to Aberdeen train station. Our train arrives back in Glasgow around midday.


Orkney Islands walking tour photos

Click on the picture to enlarge.

  • Ring of Brodgar  » Click to zoom ->
    Ring of Brodgar
  • Midhowe Cairn  » Click to zoom ->
    Midhowe Cairn
  • Skara Brae  » Click to zoom ->
    Skara Brae
  • Yesnaby, west Mainland  » Click to zoom ->
    Yesnaby, west Mainland
  • Stones of Stenness  » Click to zoom ->
    Stones of Stenness
  • Dwarfie Stane, Hoy  » Click to zoom ->
    Dwarfie Stane, Hoy
  • Old Man, Hoy  » Click to zoom ->
    Old Man, Hoy
  • Isle of Hoy  » Click to zoom ->
    Isle of Hoy


Am I fit enough?

This walking tour is an excellent introduction to hiking in Scotland for people with good basic fitness. The holiday combines walking with visits to places of interest. Daily distances won't exceed 6 miles/10km plus varying amounts of ascent, and we don't expect to hike for longer than 4 hours (plus stops). Most of the hiking will be on paths, tracks or quiet roads, although the surfaces can be wet and rough. There will be some steep sections along the way, but no climbs greater than 1200 feet/365m, even in total.

If you're still not sure whether or not you can cope after you've read this along with the details of the week's programme, please get in touch to discuss it further.


Clothing and Equipment

You will need to bring boots with a good tread that provide adequate ankle support, warm clothing, waterproofs (top and over-trousers) and a rucksack big enough for your spare clothes, a packed lunch and whatever else you normally like to have with you (binoculars, a camera, etc.).

Boots are especially important. They don't have to be particularly heavy, but wearing ultra lightweight ones may mean your feet get wet and trainers definitely aren't adequate nor, on some of the rougher and steeper going, however short it may be, are they safe. Trekking poles can be very useful, especially for anyone with knee problems.


Accommodation

This is either in carefully selected Bed & Breakfast accommodation or Guest Houses. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the professionalism and welcoming nature of those who run it. The B&Bs and guest houses we use are more personal and the quality of the accommodation is as good or even better than of hotels in the same category. Double and twin rooms that are occupied by 2 people always have an en suite or private bathroom.
If you have particular requirements or prefer to stay in a 4-star hotel, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
Details of where you will be staying will be sent to you well in advance of your holiday.

Evening meals
Dinner is not included in the price, but your guide will take you out for supper every evening. We usually eat in a different place each evening, giving you the opportunity to try a range of Scottish dishes and ambiences.


Dates and Prices

Description 8 days (Saturday to Saturday), accommodation in Kirkwall in a carefully selected B&B (6 nights) and 1 night on the ferry.
Walking An attractive, well thought out walking programme; never more than 6 miles (10 km) in a day, and mostly on paths or tracks - though paths may be wet and/or rough in places. An equally attractive programme of visits to places of interest complement the walks.
CodeDatePriceRemarks
OT61 14-21 May 2016 £935 Single room in B&B: £60 extra
Single cabin on the ferry: £55 extra
OT62 30 July - 6 August 2016
Groups of 4 or more can book other dates, please ask.

The price includes:

and most especially

For general information and booking, please click here.

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