Visiting Orkney, you can’t but be impressed by the beautiful scenery, clean air and the wildlife. Incorporating nature reserves, coastal walks and plenty of opportunities for trekking and bird watching, you will never take the great outdoors for granted here.
Birds and wildlife watching
Try one of the many bird reserves such as Houton, or you may prefer to watch waders on the moors and seabirds on the cliffs. The Birsay Moors in the centre of the Western part of Mainland, Marwick Head over on the West coast and Hobbister down East of Ophir are all RSPB reserves and well worth visiting. Marwick Head is excellent for nesting seabirds in Spring and early Summer, as they crowd the cliffs – and you have the added bonus of being surrounded by a multitude of clifftop grassland flowers too.
The Loons and Loch of Banks is another marshland reserve nearby, and worth a visit. And to walk on Sanday’s shores is a real pleasure – the low sandy shorelines attract a huge array of wading birds including some rare breeds. And Sanday’s freshwater lochs are favourites with otters and seals too.
The North Hill RSPB Reserve on Papa Westray is home to a wealth of different habitats from blanket bog and maritime heath to sand dunes and machair. Owned by the people of Papa Westray, the sea cliffs accommodate thousands of nesting birds – arctic terns, arctic skua, razorbills and guillemots, puffins – and many more waders and seabirds. Interesting, this reserve’s maritime heathland is one of the very few places that Scottish primrose can be found. Blanket bog harbours a variety of different plants including the carnivorous sundew that relies on consuming insects for its nutrients.
Or why not take a trip to the Deerness peninsula, just off the South East corner of Mainland (to which it is connected via the A960 and B9030) – the views across the sea from Mull Head look out to the uninhabited island, Copinsay – owned by the RSPB who manage it as a bird reserve. The island supports huge colonies of breeding seabirds including fulmars, puffins, kittwakes, guillemots and razorbills, as well as groups of grey seals, and you can take a day trip there from Skiall. Check at the tourist office for details.
Walking is popular throughout all the Orkney Islands, and local island-specific guides are usually available in most locations from tourist offices, post offices and local shops. I can only give a small taste here, but why not try walking on the West of Mainland which sports some striking coastline excellent for clifftop walks. Try Marwick Head, or Yesnaby, where you can see some dramatic cliffs, geos and stacks as well as rare wildlife in the clifftop grassland such as the grass of Parnassus or Scottish primrose. You often see the bonxies, great skua, flying overhead. The views south are to Hoy and you can see the Old Man of Hoy on a clear day. The Atlantic crashing against the cliffs make this a dramatic walk any time of year. There are also gorgeous coastal walks around the headland from the Brough of Birsay along the Skiba Geo Footpath where there are some interesting geological features.
The Deerness Peninsula and the cliffs round Mull Head offer good walking and seabird watching opportunities, and this coastal walk from the Mull Head Local Nature Reserve car park passes The Gloup, a large collapsed cave from which eerie sounds (echoed sounds of birds and waves) rise up.
The Brough of Deerness is further round the coastal walk to the east on top of grassy cliff. This was a 10th century Norse or Pictish monastic site which is now only accessible via a narrow, steep path where a bridge once joined the mainland to the promontory.
There’s so much more
Anywhere you walk on the Orkneys you’ll find beautiful scenery and an incredible array of wildlife. It all deserves a closer look and total immersion, so book your accommodation now for one of the most naturally wonderful holidays ever.