The Yesnaby cliffs are a popular tourist spot on Orkney, probably because there’s a road that leads up to it and a decent sized car park that is the firing point of the World War II anti-aircraft firing range.
The circular mounting points for the AA guns can clearly be seen in the concrete and crews from ships moored in Scapa Flow would come here to practice firing at targets towed by aircraft (including Defiants, Skuas, Martinets and Cheaspeaks) based at H.M.S. Tern (R.N.A.S. Twatt).
Near the carpark is the Brough of Bigging which is a promontory which has views from Hoy to Marwick Head.
Further on there is the Castle of Qui Ayre, an arch that is still – just – attached to the cliffs.
On the other side of this is the stack known as Yesnaby Castle.
Waking further round this back the path heads up hill along the edge of Inga Ness and becomes significantly less trafficked, it’s obvious that the vast majority of visitors don’t venture much past Yesnaby Castle.
Further along the cliffs past Inga Ness is Harra Ebb where the cliff tops slope down more gently to the sea. There were a number of seals round the rocks here.
Next is the point of Lyregeo which features an impressive cave. This coast line is a great example of a school geography lesson with the tag line “cracks, caves, arches, stacks and stumps” which are the stages of erosion on this kind of coast.
At the furthest point we walked to (and had our lunch before turning back) is North Gaulton Castle which was used for a Rover advert.
The Head of Faraclett is on the north east corner of the island of Rousay which lies across the narrow Einhallow sound from the north coast of Mainland.
The first half of the walk crosses farmland round the back and side of the headland.
Coming round the headland there is a view out to the Atlantic via Wastray Firth which lies between Rousay and Westray to the north.
Further round is the tip of the headland with spectacular 270° views round from Saviskaill Head round the bay on Rousey; past the northern islands of Westray, Eaday, Sanday, Stronsay; with Fair Isle a dark line on the horizon. Close to Rousay are Egilsay and Wire, with Shapinsay and Girsay slightly further out on the approaches to Kirkwall bay and a direct line of sight to Kirkwall itself.
Mentioned in the 1136 Orkneyinga saga the Orphir circular Kirk is the last remaining circular church in Scotland. The plan is said to be inspired by the rotunda of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem which was increasingly visited by pilgrims following the capture of the Holy Land in the first Crusade. One of these was Earl Hakon who traveled there to atone for ordering the death of St. Magnus on Egilsay in about 1116. The Orphir Kirk may have been built after his return and before his death in about 1123.
The St Magnus trail follows the coast round the north shore of Scapa Flow.
The wall round the edge of the field has a heavy covering of lichen.
Further along the headland are a pair of fishermans’ cottages.
The tip of the headland looks out onto the stretch of water where on 5th August 1917 Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning became the first person to land a plane on a moving ship. Taking off from Smoogro in a Sopwith Pup he landed on the flying off deck of HMS Furious dodging the funnels and the turbulence they produced. Well before the invention of arrester wires a grappling party of the ship’s deck hands grabbed hold of ropes that had been attached to the plane in order to restrain it. Unfortunately five days later he died attempting to repeat the feat when, despite the best efforts of the grappling party, his aircraft fell off the side of the deck and he drowned.
Continuing along the path the coast line flattens out and there is now a fish farm close to the shore.
Returning to the fishermens’ cottages and heading inland near Gyre farm there is a small area of woodland, very unusual for Orkney.
The first set of standing stones were the Stones of Stenness. The name comes from the Norse Stein Ness meaning stone point which suggests they have been the dominant feature of this area for most of human history as this is one of the oldest henges in the British Isles.
Behind the stones is a settlement. This features a large building surrounded by circular borders and the entrance to the Standing Stones faced in this direction suggesting it had some form of ceremonial significance.
Next to this is a building with two hearths that is constructed in a similar way to burial cairns which suggests this was also a significant, non-residential, building. Behind this is a residential building, similar to those found at Skara Brae.
Following the path towards the Ring of Brodgar past the Loch of Stenness the peaks of Hoy are visible in the distance.
The Ring of Brodgar is a much larger stone circle that is 500-1000 years newer than the Stones of Stenness and is the third largest in the British Isles.
The path returns to the Stones of Stenness and on the other side of the cuaseway that links them lies Loch Harray.
We start at Marwick Choin, a bay that has a lagoon when the tide goes out.
On the beach is the remains of the boiler from the tramp steamer Monomoy which was wrecked in 1896. As boilers were built to withstand enormous pressures even 124 years later there is still a significant amount of metal remaining.
Some of the internal structures are still visible.
Further out there is a large sheet still mostly intact. From here you can see across the lagoon to the Kitchener memorial on the headland to the north.
Continuing around the southern coast line there are some fishermens’ huts at Sand Geo. These were built after the Monomoy ran aground and blocked access to the beach meaning the fishermen had to relocate their boats. The fishermen were local farmers who would fish using hand lines for cod and haddock that they would consume themselves rather than sell. The huts were restored in 1984.
At the top of the inlet is the winch they would have used to haul in their boats. It is said to have been salvaged from the wreck of the Monomoy.
Returning past the Choin and continuing up the path along the cliff tops we come to the Kitchener memorial. Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener was on the HMS Hampshire with a delegation to Russia on 5 June 1916 when at 8:45 it hit a mine laid by U-75 and sank off Marwick Head in a force 9 gale with the loss of 737 souls – there were only 12 survivors. The memorial was built by public subscription and unveiled in 1926.
In 2016, again by public subscription, a memorial wall was added listing the names of the other 736 people who lost their lives.
There now follows a brief interlude for lunch on the cliff tops.
The path continues around the cliff tops with some fine views of the Atlantic.
Coming out of Gilsland there is a section of Hadrian’s Wall that was built as “narrow wall” (eight Roman feet wide) on top of “broad wall” (ten Roman feet wide). As the narrow wall is later in date, this indicates that the foundations were built first and the main wall was built afterwards.
Further on there is a milecastle.
The wings of the milecastle that join into the wall are also built as broad wall and are stepped in to meet the inner face of the narrow wall. This indicates that the mile castles were built independently and before the main wall.
Further down there is the remains of a bridge abutment. This was significantly modified twice throughout its life as it was presumably damaged by by the river. To relieve pressure on the structure sluices were put into the wall on the first rebuilding.
As these seemingly didn’t prove sufficient they were widened when it was modified for the second time.