The Northern Isles
Orkney is the nearer of the two groups to the rest of Scotland.The main ferries run into
Stromness, on the largest island, called Mainland, and there is a summer passenger-only
service from near John o'Groats to Burwick on South Ronaldsay.
All of Orkney's islands are rich in historical
remains, with numerous prehistoric sites and the mysterious fortified dwellings known as
brochs (towers). Some of Britain's finest cliff scenery is here, the sheer drop at St
John's Head on the island of Hoy reaching to over 310m/1,000ft. Hoy also boasts Ward Hill,
Orkney's highest point at 479m/1,571ft, a fine walk and naturally a splendid viewpoint.
The main town, Kirkwall, is on Mainland, and
further north is an excellent coastal walk passing the monument erected in memory of
Field-Marshall Lord Kitchener, who was drowned in these waters in 1916, and the
extraordinary Stone Age village of Skara Brae.
The smaller islands of Rousay, Shapinsay, Stronsay, Eday, Sanday, North Ronaldsay
and the two Westrays all have much to offer, and Orkney addicts return year and year to
explore the islands. Island-hopping by ferry - or by plane - is a special part of any
Still further north is Shetland. The largest
island, also called Mainland, holds the main town of Lerwick. Shetland is generally
flatter than Orkney and trees are rare, but the coastal scenery is again excellent and the
history and archaeology every bit as interesting. The small island of Mousa, off Mainland,
has one of the finest brochs to be seen anywhere in Scotland.
North and east of Mainland are the islands of
Yell, Fetlar and Unst, all with good coastal walking and, as might be expected, an
excellent range of birdlife including an important reserve at Hermaness, right at the
northern end of Unst.
From here you look out across the sea to the
lighthouse on the isolated stack of Muckle Flugga, the most northerly point of the British
Isles. In June or July a midnight walk along the cliffs can be enjoyed, watching the sun
dip very briefly below the northern horizon before rising again.
The Western Isles
The long chain of beautiful islands stretching down from the Butt of Lewis in the
north to Barra and Eriskay in the south is collectively known as the Western Isles. This
long archipelago, rich in history and archaeology, is a treasure of delights.
The islands are characterised by rugged
interiors, studded with numerous lochs and lochans, in contrast to the superb beaches of
the west coast with the dune vegetation known as machair, which becomes a glorious carpet
of multicoloured flowers in the spring and early summer. This contrast is reflected in the
walking on offer, which will satisfy almost every taste.
The highest hills are on Harris, topped by
Clisham, attaining Corbett status at 799m. Close by is the fine ridge Uisgnaval Mor, and
further west another ridge containing Oreval and Ullaval, typically Norse names - runs out
to the vast cliff of Sron Ulladale, a prize for rock climbers.
Lewis, the other part of the 'Long Island'
containing Harris, has one fine horseshoe holding the summits of Mealisval and Cracaval at
over 500m. South Uist also has fine hills, the highest of them being Beinn Mhor at 620m.
The other islands have lower hills, but all are worth climbing. They offer extraordinary
panoramas over expanses of moorland where there seems to be more water than land - and of
course long vistas out to sea.
There are many excellent short walks and a
series of descriptive walk leaflets is available from Tourist Information Centres. There
are pleasant walks around the islands only sizeable town, Stornaway.
Summer in the Western Isles offers light of
unparalleled clarity, and landscapes of great beauty and variety. The greatest delight is
perhaps to walk one of the machair beaches in the late evening, watching the sun set
across he ocean. For the discerning walker, the Western Isles call you back to visit time
and time again.
Orkney Tourist Board: [email protected] | http://www.orkneyislands.com
Shetland Islands Tourism: http://www.shetland-tourism.co.uk
Western Isles Tourist Board: [email protected] | http://www.witb.co.uk