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Tourism Scotland - Walking in Scotland
Outer Islands

The Stones of Stenness, Orkney

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.

Island Hopping
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 visit.

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: |
Shetland Islands Tourism:
Western Isles Tourist Board: |

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