There’s nothing like exploring cliffs and coasts to get a real sense of history beneath your feet. It’s not just the views across the stormy sea to horizons that our ancestors gazed upon centuries ago, it’s the stark reminder of the natural elements that have carved both gentle curves and mighty crevices in rock and sand for many millennia.
Orkney is an archipelago of over 70 islands (only 20 of which are permanently inhabited) divided into three distinct regions – the North Isles, the South Isles and the Mainland (the largest single island). Lots of islands equals lots of coastline – an estimated 570 miles according to orkneyjar.com– and it’s fair to say that Mother Nature has employed every tool in her box to create extraordinary coastal playgrounds. From pebble beaches gently sloping into shallow waves to heart-stopping sheer drops into churning waters below, every coastal walk in Orkney brings its own geological magic.
In the third of our explorations of Orkney’s lesser-known spots, Kendra Towns takes us on an illustrated tour of her favourite coastal walks, starting with our own Hobbister Moor, home of Highland Park’s signature aromatic peat.
Hobbister Coastal Walk
Kendra recommends starting about 10 minutes’ drive outside of Kirkwall, looking out over Scapa Flow. There isn't a defined path but it’s great for dog walking and seeing unusual plants such as bog cotton. Of course Hobbister Moor is home to the unique heather-laden peat that gives our whisky its signature smoky sweet flavour, but it’s also part of the RSPB Hobbister Nature Reserve and a haven for all sorts of wildlife. The Hobbister Coastal Walk is approximately 3km long.
Holm Caves Walk
Starting just outside of the village of Holm, near The Inn, Kendra likes walking along the shoreline of the Bay of Ayre and Bay of Sanber until you reach an opening which leads you down to a little beach and also invites you into curious cave-like spaces in the cliffs. A new shorter walk (starting from the same spot) has been created and this is especially enjoyable if you’re walking with smaller children. Simply cross the bridge to the right and head into the copse of trees where you’ll find a greenhouse and treehouse and lots of little pathways for kids (of all ages!) to explore.
Borwick Coastal Walk
This is actually the coastal walk from Yesnaby to Skaill. While most people park and walk to the left, along the coast towards Stromness and Yesnaby Castle, taking the path less trodden in the opposite direction rewards with great views of the cliffs and access to the ruins of the Broch of Borwick.
Mull Head Walk and the Covenanters Memorial
Looking for good leg stretch? This could be the answer. The Mull Head section goes past the Gloup and the Brough of Deerness (about 7km) but can be extended to about 10 or 11km in total by walking further along the coast to the Covenanters Memorial.