Self Catering Scotland Walking the West Coast of Mainland Orkney
And other exciting explorations
Skara Brae to Stromness
Difficulty – moderate
Time to complete 8 hours Distance 11 miles
Starting point Skara Brae Visitor Centre
Skara Brae is situated on the west coast of mainland Orkney and this walk follows the coast down to Stromness. This route is not for the faint hearted as it can be dangerous in places, so may be best for experienced walkers. The terrain consists of grass and dirt paths. Strong footwear recommended.
The area is steeped in history as Skara Brae is an ancient site that was discovered following a storm in 1850. A 4000 year old settlement was revealed as sand peeled back to reveal this fantastic time travel jewel. Archaeologists have uncovered ten houses complete with stone furniture. Enjoy the visitor’s centre and roam through the replica houses which allow you to truly experience the life of Neolithic settlers.
Head south through the gate from the Skara Brae visitor centre and follow the coastline. Pursuits along the way are taking in the spectacular views, marvelling at the curious rock formations at Yesnaby.
There is an iron age Broch (dry stone construction) called Broch of Borwick. This is a more modern landmark for Orkney dating to 500 BC originally and thought to have been modified around 400 AD. It was much higher than it stands today as its quarried stone was taken for use in housebuilding after it lay in ruins.
Given the sea stacks along the way including North Gaulton Castle, a favourite for climbers, there is plenty of birdlife to observe at leisure. Black Craig is another feature of interest which is an old coastguard post which are now stations for the European Energy Centre
Marwick Head to the Brough of Birsay
Start off at the Marwick Head car park KW17 2NB
Short walk approximately 1 mile
Marwick Head is an RSPB Nature Reserve that not only has breathtaking views but also boasts the biggest cliff-nesting seabird colony on Orkney Mainland. Stride across sandstone cliffs and challenge yourself to spot as many different types of seabirds as you can. There are plenty to choose from, including great skuas, kittiwakes, fulmars and guillemots from the population that averages around 25000 each year at nesting peak.
Another key landmark of the walk is the Kitchener Memorial which commemorates Lord Kitchener and the crew of HMS Hampshire, which struck a mine and sank nearby on 5 June 1916. It stands proud on the horizon as you near the Brough of Birsay, but take care to watch where you walk as you take in the view.
As you pass the memorial, you will be greeted by the majestic lighthouse of Brough of Birsay ahead, take the gate on the right and follow the path to reach the car park at Cumlaquoy via a kissing gate. If you wish to continue or circle back, there is an information board to assist with your route. To get to the Brough itself is only possible during low tide, where the remains of Pictish and Norse settlements can be seen. Be careful to check tides if you venture out to the island.
Stromness to Warbeth
Short circular walk with lovely views – 1.6 miles
Start at Stromness car park near the ferry terminal follow the marked paths to Warbeth beach taking in stunning scenery
Other Explorations across Orkney Mainland
Rackwick – Hoy Day Trip
Rackwick is described by the Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown as Orkney’s last enchantment. It is an old community nestled in a wonderful valley of glens and hills. The terrain is diverse and is like a mini country in itself. With dramatic cliffs a rocky beach ripe for exploring and sand dunes together with sweeping glens, there is something for everyone. Rackwick is reached by a ferry from Stromness. Take the five-mile walk to the top of the valley to take in the famous Old Man of Hoy.
Waulkmill Bay is a beautiful vista of a sandy beach on the West Mainland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There is a small car park, toilet and steps down to the sand. They bay looks out towards Scapa Flow with saltmarshes attracting spectacular bird life at the RSPB Kirbister reserve.
Mullhead Nature Reserve and the Gloup Deerness
The Gloup – meaning chasm, is a sea cave that is separated from the sea by a land. There is a small car park and toilets but tread carefully.
Mull Head Nature Reserve – An area abundant with wildlife and history was established as a nature reserve for its geological importance. The high cliffs and heathlands provide wonderful habitats for many wild species of birds and animals. There are good networks of paths from the Gloup providing numerous circular walks and reaching all the way to the North to Covenanters Memorial.
There are many sights to behold including ancient settlements, sea cliffs and birds.
Wideford Hill Walk
Wideford Hill is a wonderful viewpoint to survey the West Coast of the mainland and Scapa Flow, towering over the capital Kirkwall. Whilst on your ascent be sure to visit the Wideford Cairn, a 5000 year old Neolithic chamber which has been engineered to have three metre high walls and a roof. There are ancient drawings etched into the walls which provide a fascinating glimpse into ancient civilizations.