The Orkney Mainland is divided into two regions, East and West Mainland.
Kirkwall is Orkney’s capital, a vibrant town with a selection of restaurants and cafés, shops, crafts and culture. The town is home to St Magnus Cathedral, one of Orkney’s most impressive landmarks, the Earl and Bishop's Palaces, Orkney Museum and the Highland Park Distillery. Kirkwall is also the departure point for the majority of the North isles ferries and is also served by Kirkwall Airport.
The East Mainland contains the parishes of Holm, St Andrews and Deerness. St Andrews itself is divided into two districts, Tankerness and Toab, whilst Holm also includes the small island of Lamb Holm.
The area stretches 12 miles east from Kirkwall to Skaill in Deerness and 10 miles south from Rerwick Head in Tankerness to Rose Ness in Holm. The island of Copinsay can be reached by private boat from Skaill. To the west of Copinsay are Corn Holm, Black Holm and Ward Holm. This group of islands is now owned by the RSPB, the nesting sites of some 10,000 pairs of guillemots and kittiwakes on their mile long stretch of cliffs.
The tranquil beauty of nature is evident all around the East Mainland. The area is low-lying and ideal for exploring the coast with routes taking you to beautiful sandy beaches, such as Dingieshowe and Newark, and to the magnificent cliffs of Mull Head RSPB Reserve, where you will also find the Gloup and the Brough of Deerness. You can visit Sheila Fleet's workshop in Tankerness and take a tour to see displays of her beautiful jewellery.
Although Burray and South Ronaldsay are islands, they are connected to the Mainland by causeways called the Churchill Barriers, which were built during the Second World War. After the war, a road was built on top of the barriers allowing the south isles of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay to become part of the main roadway network.
Lamb Holm boasts the first Churchill Barrier and is also home to the beautiful Italian Chapel. The second barrier will take you to Glimps Holm, home to nesting Arctic terms. Follow the third barrier to reach Burray, a popular spot for divers exploring the sunken blockships and also home to the Fossil & Heritage Centre. Explore the uninhabited island of Hunda to the west, which is a haven for wildlife. The fourth barrier will take you to South Ronaldsay and the picturesque town of St Margaret’s Hope, which grew around this sheltered bay and is a ferry arrival and departure point.
South Ronaldsay has a selection of beautiful beaches to explore such as the Sands of Wright, along with a selection of visitor attractions including the Tomb of the Eagles, Hoxa Tapestry Gallery and the quaint Loft Gallery, where you will find a selection of local crafts.
With a variety of attractions, wonderful wildlife and amazing scenery, the West Mainland is difficult to rival.
Parishes include Birsay, Evie, Firth, Harray, Orphir, Rendall, Sandwick and Stenness, and there are the villages of Dounby and Finstown.
The West Mainland boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, where you can visit the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae.
Explore spectacular cliff scenery such as Marwick Head RSPB Reserve or enjoy walking along the cliffs at Yesnaby, where you can look out over sea stacks and fascinating rock formations. This contrasts with beautiful sandy beaches including Bay of Skaill, Aikerness and the Brough of Birsay, while the rich farmland and moorland provide habitats for numerous birds, plants and mammals.
While in the West Mainland, follow the Craft Trail to find a selection of talented locals, from Fursbreck Pottery in Harray to the Yellowbird Gallery in Birsay and Jane Glue in Finstown. Visit Orphir and discover the unique Round Kirk which is just one part of the extensive Viking remains. Nearby Waulkmill Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The West Mainland is a great base for fishing. Orkney’s brown trout fishing is some of the finest in Britain and you will find a selection of well stocked lochs including Stenness, Swannay and Harray.
Stromness is the second biggest town in Orkney and one of the most picturesque. The town grew up around the sheltered harbour of Hamnavoe, with a narrow winding street following the shoreline with many lanes and alleyways leading off. The Pier Arts Centre and Stromness Museum are must-see attractions. If you’re looking for something a bit more active then enjoy a round of golf at the local golf course and enjoy the spectacular views of the Hoy Sound at the same time.