Island Hopping – Reach for the Sky

The inter-islands air service is rightly famous in Orkney and beyond. For fifty years, these eight seater BN Islander planes have been providing an essential lifeline service for the outer islands. Operated on fixed timetable by Loganair, these busy aircraft fly in most weathers and carry farmers, teachers, residents, vets and just about everyone else (and their dog, sometimes…).

Rarely climbing above a few hundred feet, the flights are exhilarating and, while not exactly comfortable or luxurious, are a great way to see the land and seascapes of Orkney and beyond. A clear day will offer glimpses of Fair Isle and Shetland to the North and the massive Scottish mountains to the South.

Perhaps best known is the short hop between Westray and Papa Westray. This is claimed to be the shortest scheduled airline flight in the world. It is a believable claim – when the wind is right it can be done in well under two minutes.

You can experience all this for yourself. It is a great way to visit the north isles if you are short of time. If there is an empty seat, you can even do a round trip just for the ride. Generally, advanced booking for all flights is essential – this is a well used service. Flights leave from Kirkwall airport which is just a few minutes drive from Highland Park House and go to Sanday, Stronsay, Eday, North Ronaldsay, Westray and Papa Westray. Extra flights can be chartered by arrangement.

Contact details for Loganair are on the transport links page of this website.


You can view a film of the Westray flight here:



Cathedral Graffiti – better than it sounds!

Although much of the archaeological attention focuses on Orkney’s magnificent neolithic sites, that is not the whole story.

St. Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall is coming under close scrutiny with this fascinating new study and investigation.

Over its 800+ year history, many people have left their mark in this building. Sometimes officially, but often not so officially. This project aims to investigate and record the marks, scratches and scribbling that can reveal much about the people who left them.

A team of volunteers is being recruited and trained to help this project. If you would like to find out more – follow these links.

Orkneyology – A great new Orkney website!

A new website has just been launched which gives a fresh perspective on Orkney for locals and visitors alike…

The site is called Orkneyology (the link is below) and has been compiled by Rhonda and Tom Muir.

Rhonda is an American writer who has settled here, immersing herself in the existing and developing culture of the islands. She gives this site a valuable outsider’s perspective. You can’t get much more Orcadian than Tom – he is a celebrated Orkney storyteller, author, folklorist and historian.

The site is a potent combination of local insight, history, folklore and news coupled with practical information. It is both informative and informal and will no doubt grow into a very valuable resource for all with an interest in these islands.

Practical tips, such as what to do on a rainy day (we do have one or two) and where to find a public convenience/bathroom/wc (not always obvious) are also covered – the sort of detail that is essential for visitors but often missed by information sites.

Have a look for yourself and share with anyone who has an interest in Orkney…  Click here:

1918 -2018 Orkney commemorates the end of World War 1

Orkney has hosted several major events that have helped to commemorate (not celebrate, Mr Trump) the centenary of the end of the First World War.  From this comparatively small community, more than 500 men were lost in the conflict. Their names are remembered on the memorial gate close to the cathedral and on smaller memorials throughout the islands. Apart from the tragic and wasteful loss of these individuals, several incidents brought the effects of war close to home.

Scapa Flow became an important base for the Royal Navy. From here, many ships sailed to the Battle of Jutland in 1916, where a number of major vessels were lost along with thousands of crewmen. Just days later, Lord Kitchener, (he of the famous “You” recruitment posters) was lost along with over 700 crewmen when his ship struck a mine just off the west coast of Orkney. Although less well remembered, tragedy struck again when the battleship HMS Vanguard exploded at her moorings in Scapa Flow, killing more than 800. The misery continued in 1918 when two navy destroyers, HMS Opal and HMS Narborough were lost with all but one of their crews after smashing into the cliffs at South Ronaldsay. Even after the armistice, the drama continued with the internment of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. The defiant German admiral ordered the  scuttling of dozens of vessels to keep them out of allied hands. In the confusion that followed, there was further loss of life.

It was therefore fitting that Scapa beach was chosen as one of the sites for Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea event on Armistice Day. This large scale interactive event involved people creating a huge image of a lost Orkney soldier which was finally washed away by the incoming tide. Details of the project are here:


At the same time the magnificent cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall took on the role of backdrop for a moving projected animation covering the theme of World War One. The film, featuring many aspects of the war and how it impacted on Orkney life, was created by the PlayDead company and attracted sizeable crowds as it was shown over a number of nights. You can see a report and more details about this event here:

Fond memories of Summer

Like much of Europe, Orkney enjoyed a particularly good summer this year. We didn’t have the sweltering temperatures that were suffered in London, but we had many calm fine days. The summer days in Orkney are very long, with the sun barely dipping below the horizon at the end of June. Facing North West and in an elevated position, Highland Park House is ideally placed to enjoy these drawn out, spectacular sunsets.

One of our guests, Eric Bertrand from France, was kind enough to send some photographs that he took from his room window and the grounds of Highland Park House. These pictures were taken at the end of July. As well as the dramatic light, the nearby world famous Highland Park Distillery is clearly visible with its distinctive pagoda chimneys.

Eric Bertrand
Eric Bertrand
Eric Bertrand

We thank Eric for these fantastic images.

Orkney Science Festival 2018

The longest days may be past for another year and there is definitely an Autumnal feel to the place, but Orkney isn’t done with exciting events yet.

Coming up in early September, we have the Orkney International Science Festival. A series of events, displays and lectures from both local experts and international guest speakers will have something to interest everyone.

There will be the annual and ever popular displays of vintage cars and machines and a science activity day for children as well as a full programme of other events. (see the link below)

As with all events and festivals, accommodation is likely to book up fast, so we recommend making your arrangements early.

You can view the full details at:

Out and About…


Guests have reported seeing small numbers of puffins at Birsay and  Mull Head with larger numbers on Westray.  They will become hard to see soon as they return to sea after their breeding season.


Several recent sightings in Orkney waters from South Ronaldsay to Birsay and close in at Yesnaby this week.


The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar have been uncovered for the season and are open for visits. More discoveries are being made all the time as the site expands.


After an amazingly dry and sunny June and early July, there has now been a little bit of rain, but temperatures are staying warm (by Orkney standards that is…)

Direct bookings – Late offers and cancellations

Although May through to September is busy for us, it is still possible to book with us.

Inevitably, plans change and some people have to cancel their reservations and sometimes we have odd gaps get left between longer bookings.

This means that we might just have a space, so it is worth checking on the booking calendar or calling us.

We may also offer late deals which will be considerably cheaper than the listed prices, so it is worth a try – you might just grab a bargain.

Don’t forget, it is always better for us and cheaper for you to book direct rather than through the big online sites, despite what they claim.



We’ve turned the corner again. Midsummer has passed and theoretically the nights will start to get longer.

That is quite a big deal here in Orkney, as in late June it never gets properly dark. For many years this period has been marked by the St, Magnus Festival – an internationally famous arts festival. Locally the midnight sun is known as the Simmer Dim – the light dims but does not disappear.

Although the days will start to shorten, we still have three months of the busy tourist season ahead of us and along the way, we will be treated to many spectacular, long sunsets. Highland Park House faces west and being on a hill overlooking Kirkwall, we are in a grandstand position to enjoy the view.

Come and see for yourself!

Norway Constitution Day

Norway Constitution Day

The strong ties between Orkney and Norway are celebrated every year with a parade and a service in the cathedral.

At one time, Orkney actually belonged to Norway and many of the place names and the old Orkney language are from Old Norse. There is a Centre for Nordic Studies in Kirkwall and Norway always sends a tree to the city  at Christmas.

Many Norwegians visit Orkney to help mark Norway’s Constitution Day. As in previous years,  we are hosting a number of them at Highland Park House.

This morning, they started the day in style with a champagne breakfast.


Orca Pod in Scapa Flow

Pod of whales spotted in Scapa Flow

A pod of orca whales have been spotted in Scapa Flow in Orkney.

Posted by BBC Scotland News on Monday, 7 May 2018


Much excitement in Orkney this week. A pod of at least three killer whales has been in Scapa Flow for a few days. At one point they were photographed close into the shore with the Scapa Whisky distillery behind them. This is less than two miles from the front door of Highland Park House. In fact, it is visible from the top of our tower.

Seals and dolphins are a regular sight in these waters, with occasional visits from a variety of whale species. Orcas normally pass through the area several times a year.

A Day Trip to Hoy

Last weekend, I took the ferry over to Hoy. Hoy is a large, southerly Island about  20 minutes drive  and then 30 minutes by ferry  from where we are at Highland Park House .  The north end of Hoy is dominated by dramatic and sharply rising hills that are visible from much of Orkney. Our excellent guide Steve from Island Tours Hoy took us from WW2 remains, through stunning wilderness and past ancient monuments to  secluded and picturesque bays and beaches. We even saw nesting sea eagles along the way!  Because our tour was only a few hours long, we did not have time to visit the famous rock stack known as the Old Man of Hoy (this requires a couple of hours walking) and there were many places we could have spent more time exploring. However, the purpose of this tour was to get a flavour of the place and we certainly did that. I would heartily recommend Hoy as a place to visit and I would suggest that Steve’s tours are an excellent way for a visitor who has limited time (or no car) to explore the island.  I nearly wore out my camera, so here is a small selection of the pictures that I took just to give you a sense of what to expect if you visit this spectacular place.

Walrus!!! An unusual visitor to Orkney…

Orkney is, of course, famous for its wildlife. Once in a while however, we have some really unusual visitors.   This week, a walrus has arrived on Sanday (one of Orkney’s North isles) and has already become quite a celebrity. It’s five years since the last walrus was spotted in the region, so this is  an exciting event.

We can’t expect you to see a walrus when you come to Orkney, but whales, including orcas are regularly sighted. Dolphins and seals are plentiful in these waters and it’s not too hard to spot an otter if you are patient and know where to look. (I actually saw one in the centre of Kirkwall one evening).

Huge flocks of geese are preparing to leave for the Summer and oyster-catchers and curlews have appeared in large numbers. A week ago, we were in the grip of the “Beast from the East” with unusually harsh and freezing conditions. Today, the sun is shining, the short winter days are already behind us and it really feels quite Spring-like in Orkney.

Things you need to book in advance!

People are often surprised at how busy Orkney can get in the Summer – it is after all a World Heritage Site.  Fortunately, you won’t get too crowded even at the busiest times and it is easy to get away from people completely. However, there are a couple of bottlenecks to be aware of which may require forward planning.

Maeshowe  Chambered Cairn

One of the most important monuments in Orkney and a must for those of you coming to look at the islands’ archaeology.

To visit Maeshowe in the Summer, BOOKING AT LEAST TWO WEEKS AHEAD is almost essential. This is because the tours only run once an hour with a strict limit on numbers. The good side is that it means it is never too crowded, but it can be frustrating if you just turn up hoping to get in – you probably won’t.

Booking is easy if you use the link to Historic Scotland here:


Highland Park Distillery

The tours are fascinating and it is right on our doorstep. BUT it is popular and it is best to book ahead if you can.

The Visitor centre telephone number is (0)1856 874619

Alternatively, their website should tell you everything you need to know:




Car Hire

We have said this before, but another reminder won’t do any harm:

Advance booking for car hire is essential.

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre – Important News

The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre on Hoy will be closed next year (2018) while it undergoes exciting and extensive redevelopment. the newly refurbished facilities will reopen in 2019 which will be the centenary of the famous Scuttling of the German Fleet.

Many of you will know that after their surrender at the end of the First World War, most of the German Navy’s ships were kept in Scapa Flow with their crews on board. Unhappy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German commanders decided to sink their ships to stop them from being used by their former enemies. The scuttle was planned in secret and caught the Royal Navy by surprise. Many of the ships were sunk and in the confusion, some German sailors were shot by their captors.

Between the wars, a number of the wrecks were salvaged and for a time, this became an important industry for Orkney. The remaining wrecks are now popular with recreational divers, although it is strictly forbidden to harm the wrecks or remove anything from them.

The sinking of the German fleet is just one of the many fascinating and often tragic stories connected to Scapa Flow.

Full details of the proposed closure and redevelopment are set out below:

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum is currently preparing for a major redevelopment, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Orkney LEADER fund and Orkney Islands Council Capital Projects programme. All the existing buildings will be renovated, and a new building linked to the Pumphouse will provide a controlled exhibition environment and improved visitor facilities.

The museum closed, as usual, on 31 October 2017, and work to pack the collection and prepare the buildings for renovation work is now underway. It will remain closed until Spring 2019. Completion of the works is scheduled for the end of April 2019, with an official opening to coincide with the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet on 21 June 2019.

From January onwards, staff will be working on developing the new exhibition with a scriptwriter and exhibition design company Studio MB. This will involve a huge amount of input from the museum team.

Because of this, curatorial staff will be unable to accept any work or commitments over and above projects that have already been agreed and other staff may not be able to support research requests and enquiries until summer 2019.

2018 season

During the 2018 summer season we will have a ‘pop-up’ museum at Lyness, accommodated in 2 large portakabins adjacent to the ferry terminal. This will also become an office base for staff once they vacate the Pumphouse. The temporary exhibition space in The Orkney Museum will be used to display some of the wartime collection, including a 360 degree photo record of the former display.

The exhibition at Lyness will consist of information only, with no objects on show. This means that it will not necessarily be staffed at all times, although there will be a staff presence as often as possible. We hope there will be a small retail area in the office, and a local business hopes to be providing food and drink from mobile premises adjacent to the site.

Alongside the exhibition we will be delivering more frequent guided walks and we hope that this combined offer will still encourage visitors to come across to Lyness.

As work progresses, we intend to issue regular updates and please check our Facebook page and website for news of any special events. Meantime, if you have any questions or queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch and thank you for your patience and understanding.

Jude Callister
Orkney Arts, Museums and Heritage Service
Visitor Services Team Leader
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, Lyness, Orkney KW16 3NT
Tel; 01856 791300

Looking Ahead… Booking Ahead…

Just a quick reminder. Although we feature on several booking websites and OTAs, you will always get the best deal by contacting us direct. It is also a good opportunity to discuss any special requirements or general enquiries about your proposed visit to Orkney.

Orkney has become a popular visitor destination in the Summer months. Late bookers are always surprised at how little accommodation is available. To avoid disappointment, we recommend making your arrangements sooner rather than later. This also applies if you are planning to hire a car or visit a limited access site such as Maeshowe.

You can call us on 01856 876077

or email us:

We look forward to hearing from you.

Aurora time again…

Aurora Borealis… The Northern lights… The Merry Dancers…

There’s no denying it… The long summer evenings are behind us and the nights are drawing in. The weather feels colder and we have already been battered by some nasty winds and heavy rain. However, there is an up side. Now we have some decent darkness, there is a chance to see that amazing natural phenomenon – the Aurora Borealis. Known to many as the Northern Lights, but called “The Merry Dancers” locally, the aurora can be spotted easily from Orkney. Obviously it is weather dependent and needs the right sort of solar activity to trigger a display, but many local photographers and enthusiasts are eagerly watching the skies and waiting. It can be a long and frustrating business, but worth it when you eventually get to see a good show.

There are several websites that offer aurora forecasts based on solar activity. They are useful but far from foolproof. A good forecast does not always translate into a good display and one of the most memorable displays in recent years was barely predicted at all. However, the sites are worth checking – I tend to use this one:

Even in Orkney, it is best to get away from the town to avoid any kind of light pollution. Having said that, even with the street lamps of Kirkwall to the north of us, we have been able to view displays from the doorstep of Highland Park House. seeing the aurora is a treat and an unpredictable one at that. We can’t guarantee that you will see anything and we were unable to help one guest who asked “what time will the Northern lights be?” If only we knew…

Beautiful Bed and breakfast accommodation in Orkney. This Kirkwall mansion also offers a stylish, period venue for small and medium events.