Climbing in Orkney

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View the official guide to adventure activities in Scotland

  • Man overlooking the Old Man of Hoy
    Old Man of Hoy
  • St Johns Head cliffs, Hoy, Orkney
    St Johns Head cliffs, Hoy, Orkney
  • Yesnaby sea stack, west coast of Mainland Orkney
    Some climbers may wish to take the challenge of climbing the mighty Yesnaby

There are a variety of challenging climbing routes to get to grips with in Orkney. Its dramatic coastal landscape provides a haven for experienced climbers from all over the world. Coastal climbs will also allow you to experience Orkney’s nature close up, sharing the cliffs with millions of breeding seabirds in the summer months.

Orkney’s dramatic coastal landscape is the ultimate adventurer’s playground just waiting to be explored.


The imposing St John’s Head, which straddles the Orkney coastline, is the highest vertical sea cliff in the British Isles standing at 351 m. Or take on the intimidating Old Man of Hoy standing at 137 m, and Orkney’s most famous climbing challenge. It's said to be one of the toughest climbs in the world.

The ‘Old Man’ is also situated in an area that boasts large expanses of unexplored climbing territory, making Orkney an ideal spot for the pioneering adventurer.

Another climbing challenge found in the south-west of Hoy is the impressive stack The Needle. Climbers must find their way through the only known route, beginning on the landward corner on the south face. A perilous journey to a monstrous pitch at the last hurdle will take you to the summit.

Find more information about climbing the seastacks of Orkney.

Other challenging climbs

The steep cliffs and stacks of Hoy aren’t the only adventurous climbs to discover in Orkney, there's plenty other challenges to be found throughout the islands.

Set within an amphitheatre of cliffs on the west coast of Mainland, the Yesnaby Castle stack, at 115 ft, was first conquered in 1967 and has been regularly visited by climbers ever since. The next challenge is Yesnaby Castle’s much bigger brother; North Gaulton stack which is almost double the size of its sibling.

On the east tip of the island of Stronsay climbers will find The Brough, a huge, flat-topped stack. There are three climbing pitches stretching up a distance of 80 m in total and descent is by a 30 m abseil.

For those looking for something a little less adventurous, walking is a great way to explore with many heritage trails and guided walks that lead to archaeological sites. The quiet roads and rolling landscapes are also good for cyclists and you might find that you don’t make much progress as there are so many points of interest along the way.

While climbing in Orkney it is imperative that the appropriate safety procedures and precautions are followed due to the nature of the rock.