Walks Orkney – Author: Felicity Martin
Re walked by Richard & Maggie Legate, Rob & Becky Coope and Richard Hallewell
The rewalk of our Orkney guide provided a bit of a logistical challenge. It took the original author, Felicty Martin, 6 weeks to research the book, which includes 40 walks on the 16 islands which can be reached by road (across the Churchill Barriers) or public transport.
A team of 5 of us set out in early May with a carefully planned itinery, boots and bikes. Our base was perfect – the large Riff farmhouse in Rendall on the Mainland, which was centrally situated for all walks. The weather too proved perfect, and after the sleet and wind on the first day we had fantastic clear sunny days for the rest of the week.
Some of us had never visited Orkney before, and so didn’t really know what to expect. With the exception of north Hoy, much of the walking is generally easy in nature, due to the low-lying character of the islands, and much of it tends to be along coastline, from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs. But that does not mean that there was a lack of variety or challenge. Days – especially if visiting the islands – can be long, but extremely rewarding.
The Orkney Ferries were a superb feature, and journeys even to the outer islands seemed to pass quickly. Bikes can travel free and they were necessary to reach walks on many of the islands we visited. Many of the islands also had shops, cafes and museums, and where there were no facilities the locals were always very friendly, with offers of cups of tea quite frequent!
It is hard to pick out highlights as there were so many, but the ancient historic sites – Ring of Brodgar, the cairn and broch at Midhowe – are particularly impressive. Kirkwall (including the splendid St Magnus Cathedral) provides a handsome centre, while the more recent relics – such as the wartime buildings around Scapa Flow and the museum and Royal Naval Cemetery on Hoy – are often poignant. There are many dramatic coastal features – notably the Old Man of Hoy, which is visited on a walk as well as passed close by on the ferry from Scrabster (see top left) – including geos and arches, such as the Vat of Kirbuster (see centre left) on Stronsay.
The wildlife experience was also outstanding, with amazing views of seabirds in flight close by as you walk along the coast. Luckily, nesting season hadn’t quite got underway – in later May through to July some species, such as the Great skua (Bonxie), can be intimidating to walkers who get too close to their nest sites.
Two of our groups were lucky enough to be able to fly out to Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay. The small Islander plane flies from Kirkwall, where there is a busy modern airport. This was another memorable experience – the tiny, 8-seater plane, reminiscent of a small sports car, flying over blue seas and the fertile green islands below. Our featured walks include full circuits of both these islands – just possible in between flights! Having often seen the rare seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay on television, it was fantastic to see them in real life, from the rugged walk around the coast of the island. The arrival of a sea haar (mist) almost prolonged our visit to the island, but it cleared just enough to allow our return flight to land. If you wish to fly to any of the islands, be sure to book in advance – the planes soon fill up, with many local people using them as a means of getting to work.
Creativity also seems to be very strong on Orkney, with many artists and craftspeople chosing to settle on the islands. Many of the walks pass by galleries and craft shops, such as the wonderful Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, and smaller craft shops on Rousay and Shapinsay.
All in all, a wonderful week’s walking. If you haven’t been to Orkney before then we can certainly recommend it as a walking destination. Our advice would be to do plenty of planning in advance if you wish to get out to the smaller islands – oh, and hope for good weather!
High sky above St Magnus Church on Egilsay (left).
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