Friday, 14 August 2015

Caves, Arches and Cliffs - Orkney, Scotland.

When originally thinking about a journey on Orkney I had immediately thought of crossing to Fair Isle and on to Shetland.  When I started really planning, it was about 100 NM and the ferry back only went 3 days a week!  The reality was we would need more time and a settled spell.  Based on how the weather was behaving so far this year, a settled spell was unlikely!!

How about crossing the Pentland Firth, a paddle around the Island of Hoy and paddling beneath some to the steepest cliffs in Europe or something else ... After the festival the weather was F5/6 and it looked like we had 3 may be 4 days of fair weather.  The plan was to set out from Stromness and paddle up the West cost of mainland Orkney and hopefully take in the island of Rousay too.  This meant we could pretty much paddle straight from the Stromness campsite and keep things simple as long as we didn't leave to late, as the tide would be against us in the sound and at maximum of 8 knots, our chance of moving against this would be slim to nothing!!

Above looking across to Hoy and the ferry left of Olly ... and below as we left the protection of Hoy a significant swell made our journey exciting and atmospheric ...

Its a truly stunning section of coast which i will be back for one day, when there's less swell running ... There was an amazing knife blade of rock ...

and then on to Yesnaby cove and sea stack ...

The bay below was the Brough of Bigging, and time for a brew and lunch.  A super protected little bay that could work well as a camp ...

More stunning riddled cliffs continued and then a coffee at Skara Bray (well preserved Neolithic  settlement, which was revealed after a big storm and very high tide, which blew away the dune system. It had been buried for over 4000 years!!)  ... and then on to camp .... a great location perched up on the cliff top, with a super view, flat grass and a good fence between us and our neighbour!!

The following morning was not inspiring.  After a good F5/6 overnight, we had no rush to exit.  A relaxed and steady start was the plan and then on to Birsay, to find a cafe  ;)

Birsay cafe was in a super little shot, great coffee and good food, allowed us to drip dry and warm up.  Forecast was for the sun to appear ...  ;)

Around Brough head and the swell eased and allowed us to get closer into the Geo's and caves.  This one was really special and had a load of limestone features in the back ...

Oyce, as the guidebook mentioned provided us with another useful leg stretch and marginal egress.  Great for lunch and a break before heading off to cross to Rousay.

As we left the mainland of Orkney, the sun came out ... we headed North of Scabra Head were we had paddled 6 days before (well worth paddling in this area) and keen to get to Sacquay and Saviskail head before they started to ebb ...

Rousay's coastline had felt less committing, with more places to get out, despite picking up the swell, with the many reefs and low rocky shelves.  Another perfect place to explore again with less swell running!

We landed at Nousty Sand, with 5/6 seals hauled out on one of the sea weed covered areas.  Watching us as we watched them.  A couple disappeared and watched from further out ... what a magic spot  ;)

It was super nice to sit out, cook up and soak in the evening ... The following morning was bright and dry with a f4 SW, hat would help us across the bay, but would eventually become a headwind.  I told Olly about another cafe that I had read about on Egilsay, an island to the west of Rousay.  After all we were on our holidays  ... well  .. opps, wrong island it turned out!

With wind again tide we just got on with what we had to do, taking the rough with the smooth  ... but with the end insight ...

It had been a super trip and it had really opened my eyes to the potential of Orkney and its many surrounding islands.  I'm sure I will be back and next time with a Coastal Spirit sea kayak holiday ... watch this space  ;)

Nice one Olly ...



roger chandler


  1. that looks brilliant. one to add to the list. That knife rock is incredible!

  2. Hi Mike,
    Yeah, for sure, totally amazing coastline and well worn by the wind and waves ...