A Hoy Day Trip from Mainland, Orkney
Ah yes. It’s Sunday morning in the islands and you’re looking to go somewhere. Regular Scottish travellers will doubtless be able to relate to my pain here. Not quite willing or able to let go of my city pace, the result is one of astonished irritation when most things including ferry booking services come to a standstill on the Sabbath. The fault is mine of course and I should know better than to rock up to an Orkney ferry port on a whim. But the sun’s come out and a Hoy day trip from Mainland suddenly sounds like an inspired idea.
While I do not recommend my spontaneous reaction on your average Orkney Sunday in peak season (and definitely not if transporting a car), I get away with it on this occasion. Ray Bans on, radio up, foot down ahead of one of Scotland’s most beautiful island road trips. So beautiful in fact that I never get more than a couple of hundred yards before I am repeatedly forced to stop for photos. Not quite the wind-in-your-hair-I’m-super-cool drive that I had in mind but no matter – the road from Lyness to Rackwick is not one I’ll be forgetting.
Stunning bays, beaches and peaks litter the route and have elements of both Harris and Mull about them as the sun continues to bless the north with its presence. With quiet roads and a plethora of stopping places, progress is slow as stunning views over the Hoy coastline, up towards the highest peak of Ward Hill and across to Mainland continue to distract. You’d think being a Scotland travel blogger I’d get used to the magnificence of the Highlands and that views like these would stop amazing me. They don’t you know.
Hiking to the Old Man of Hoy
This is the chap that has brought me here and on arrival in Rackwick I’ve clearly chosen well. It’s a gorgeous little township that has very little to it but that boasts a truly jaw-dropping location. An immaculate beach and with protective cliffs guarding a peaceful cove it’s a wonderful starting point to the walking route.
With the sun beating down (20 degrees minimum, what?!?) and the path dusty-orange in colour it feels almost like hiking in the Middle East or Africa. Naturally I’m kilted up (see what I do for branding!) and I’m shedding litres along the way. After a drooling stare at Rackwick’s beach, the route continues with the views over the North Sea a constant welcome companion as the path snakes north-west.
When the rock sea stack does come into view, I’m a very happy hiker as I make the final approach. At 450ft tall the Old Man of Hoy has become something of an island icon and is a frequent addition to any collection of superb Scottish photography. I had spotted it out of the window on my ferry crossing from the Scottish mainland but nothing equals seeing this beast of mother-nature up close. Backed by craggy and rugged cliff faces it is as dramatic as coastal landscapes come. The rock can, and frequently is, scaled by super-keen climbers. I can imagine that feeling much like getting to the summit of an Everest. Worthy of a Rocky Balboa style war cry I should think too. Fair play to all who have attempted it.
If you have time there is scope to explore the area further and continuing north towards St John’s Head (not properly pathed) shows off more great views back over the Old Man. You re-trace your steps to return.
My day finishes with a stop at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre at the port in Lyness. The waters surrounding Orkney are some of the most treacherous around and have claimed many a vessel over the centuries. Scapa Flow was also a base for the British Navy and a key hub during both the world wars. Perhaps most famously of all this was where the German Navy scuttled their own fleet at the culmination of WW1 to stop if falling into British hands. Imagine the sight of 52 mighty warships simultaneously sinking.
The museum also explores the tragic story of the HMS Hampshire, a battleship carrying Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener in 1916. He’s the guy on the “Your Country Needs YOU” posters that was early marketing at its most impactful. On a sailing to Russia it hit a German mine and was sunk with massive fatalities, including Kitchener. You can now inspect various items salvaged from the wreck.
Although I don’t have time on this occasion visitors can continue to follow the road south and skirt around North Bay for further beach spots, memorials and great views from the Cantick Head Lighthouse. Listen to more about my recent trip to Orkney on the below Radio Scotland broadcast.
Hoy is an island but is easily accessible from Mainland by ferry routes from Houton to Lyness (if taking your car) or Stromness to Moaness (where bus connections are available). Ferries run several times a day most of the year and it is advised to book in advance. Ferry offices can be found at the ports on Mainland and also in Kirkwall. If doing what I did and are travelling by car on a dry day for your Hoy day trip, I’d set aside a full day as the walk to the Old Man itself is around about 3 hours return. Hoy would also be great for cyclists and distance walkers.
Roads are single track but in good condition and the route could not be clearer with the B9047 the only real road that you’ll encounter. The minor road out to Rackwick is well signposted. Services are at a minimum on Hoy so I’d take food and drink with you. There are not many spots to match the island for picnics anyway so it’s a match made in heaven.
The walk to the Old Man of Hoy is a pretty straightforward one. Clearly pathed it is rocky and rugged throughout but with only a few steep stretches. Suitable for the majority of walkers no problem and it is rightfully very popular year-round.
My visit to Orkney on this occasion was supported by the St Magnus Festival and VisitScotland. My opinions are however based solely on my personal experiences. The Festival runs every June and is a large-scale celebration of Orkney’s heritage and culture. Running a series of events for all ages and interests there can’t be a better time to join the Orcadians to see them at their creative best. Based on my latest trip, Orkney is now also up there amongst the leaders on my list of Scottish besties. You can read more about the islands on VisitScotland’s Orkney destination page. I’ll most certainly be back.
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