You will not be stuck for things to do – the problem is finding enough time to fit in the things you want to do. Thats where the extra daylight in the summer comes in handy. This section is mostly links to sites that can provide information about some of the things we would suggest as part of your visit.
First things first – you may want to know more about Stromness. The town website (Stromness Community Business Forum) is a very good place to start:
Stone circles, the oldest houses in Europe, tombs, brochs, standing stones…you can hardly move here without seeing a relic of our heritage. Amazingly accessible (you can get into and touch most sites), you might think you are not that interested in history until you walk round the Ring of Brodgar, or read the Viking graffiti in Maeshowe, or wonder what it was like sleeping in one of the houses in Skara Brae.
Favourites for us are the Ring of Brodgar, Brough of Birsay (as much for the birds, waves and causeway as the Pictish houses), Broch of Gurness, and Skara Brae with its sweeping beach complete with ‘mini houses’ built by every child who goes there. If you are visiting during July and August, you really must try to visit the dig at the Ness of Brodgar, especially when they are doing guided tours…you might even get to make stoneage paint, or drill a hole in a stone with a stick!
Loads of birds throughout the year, with many rarities for the twitcher. Its not hard to see hen harriers, short eared owls, puffins (in spring and summer), gannets, skuas, curlews…
A couple of years ago on Hoy we saw a basking shark, a hen harrier and a crossbill within a couple of minutes without moving from the spot.
Orkney trout fishing is
amongst the best in Scotland. And it’s free. So in return for being able to fish where you like when you like (in season), I would ask you to please join the Orkney Trout Fishing Association so this can be maintained. £20 – the equivalent of 4 hrs on some stocked mainland waters – will give you a year’s membership, which will also provide access the OFTA buildings and car parks at some of the lochs.
I cant say which is my favourite loch, they are all good in different ways; Stan Heddle’s book (there is a copy in the house) is definitely worth a read before you go out.
Sea fishing is also excellent – saithe, pollack and mackerel are abundant.
Rods and reels are in the shed for visitors to use; if you lose flies / lures (and you probably will at some point!) please replace them if you can, so there is something for the next person to use. Sinclairs in John street has a huge selection of fishing goods, from weights to waders and pirks to pennels. And the most valuable of all – local advice.
Places to visit
The Brough, the Bishops Palace and and the mill at Birsay.
This area is a ‘must visit’. Time it so you can walk across the causeway to the Brough (the island) itself. The official safe time to cross is 2 hours either side of low tide, but the reality is that you have quite a bit more time than that unless there are strong winds. You can get a daily tide forecast at Skail house or at the Tourist office. Here is a link to the Admiralty Tide Predictor. Its for Stromness rather than Birsay, but the high and low tides vary by only 15-20 mins between the 2 places so its pretty close. Watch out though- the default for the site is GMT so you need to add 1 hour during British Summer Time. If you want to double check, here is a link to www.surf-forecast.com.
The Brough is managed by Historic Scotland, so there is a charge to visit. The office is situated inside the Pictish/ Viking settlement, and has some artefacts on display. The walk round the Brough is moderate, on a grassy path; some places are a bit boggy, and there are no fences at the cliff edges… You will have great views, and plenty opportunity to see puffins (and all the other regular nesting seabirds) in the summer. The beach at the causeway is a good place to find groatie buckies, and the rockpools are brilliant – but please remember to carefully replace any rocks you lift, as some of the creatures can be damaged if they are left exposed! Hermit crabs, shore crabs and small fish are pretty easy, but its not difficult finding starfish, urchins and even seaslugs (bonnier than they sound!).
The car park is a good place to fly a kite, and to have a picnic in one of the stone shelters/seats. Walk east from the carpark to find the famous whalebone ‘sculpture’. The bay at Birsay is full of birds at any time of year, and you would be very unlucky not to see a seal (or 20). We have seen basking sharks on both sides of the causeway, so keep your eyes peeled.
And when you are finished being outside, have something to eat and drink at the wonderful Birsay Tearoom where you can continue to enjoy the views – they even provide binoculars!
The Barony Mill at Birsay is open to the public, and well worth a visit; but it is also a working mill and you can buy the produce, including bere meal (an ancient form of barley) in several Orkney shops.
Dont leave the area without visiting Lesley and Jon at Yellowbird gallery; Lesley’s painting in the Heart of Stromness livingroom was the starting point for our internal decoration.
A different, special place. Take a day and go.
Best to book the car ferry that leaves from nearby Houton. The museum in Lyness gives a great insight into the importance of Orkney in wartime activities. Go north and take the single track road to Rackwick, and the most memorable beach in the world. Try balancing stones. If you feel energetic, walk round to the Old Man of Hoy. And visit the Dwarfie Stane on the way back.
If you are feeling really energetic, then take the passenger ferry from Stromness and climb Cuilag and/or Ward Hill (it’s steep – use walking poles) from where you can see every Orkney Island except the one closest! It is not that high (480m) but the top is reminiscent of the Cairngorm Plateau, complete with arctic hares. Watch out for the skuas!
This site has some good images and a route
Churchill Barriers and Italian Chapel
Ferries leave from Kirkwall for the Northern Islands. So do airplanes!
Warebeth, St Peters Pool, Inganess, Scapa, Birsay, Skara, Widewall, Rackwick. Take the kites from the shed; Orkney beaches are great for kites!
Great range of shops
St Magnus cathedral
Highland Park distillery
The craft trail is very well organised and the brochure has all the details including opening times. There is a wealth of talent in Orkney, but top of the list for us are
Yellow Bird Gallery, Birsay.
Hoxa tapestry, South Ronaldsay
Food and drink
Bere meal – or the finished articles such as bannocks or biscuits (especially bere shortbread).
Orkney Fisherman’s Association – very fresh fish.
Orkney Brewery – Have lunch in the converted school and sample some excellent beer.
Fletts butcher in Stromness – the best of Orkney meat.
The Bay Leaf Delicatessen. So many good things…
Hamnavoe Restaurant. Book early, its not big but the seafood is brilliant.
Shearers, Victoria street in Kirkwall – Amazing range of food and household items
Flakey Biscuits – Argos is OK but the best are from Westray.