Enjoy rugged coastline, panoramic views of the Northern Isles and the magical Maeshowe as you cycle through the west mainland of Orkney.....
About 500 brochs are known to exist, over a fifth of these are in Orkney. The exact purpose of these fortified towers is uncertain but they are all near the sea and they were all built around 100BC or later. One theory is that they were a defence against Roman slave ships. At that time England was occupied by the Roman Empire but they did not succeed in conquering the Picts further north. Brochs are only found in Scotland, invariably near the sea. The Broch of Gurness is one of the best preserved, there are also extensive remains of the contemporary surrounding village.
Maeshowe is possibly the finest surviving achievement of neolithic Europe. Despite dating from 2750BC it is intact.
Maeshowe is a burial chamber although no bodies were found in it, possibly the Vikings cleared it out during the 12th century. The interior chamber bears Viking grafitii - pictures of a serpent and a walrus - plus a number of runes. The Vikings removed treasure, the runes say but did no damage to the tomb itself. After they left the tomb remained undisturbed until 1861. The chamber is 4.5 metres square. On the shortest day of the year the chamber is briefly illuminated by the setting sun.
The route described here is part of the multi-country North Sea Cycle Route and the National Cycle Network and are being signed as Route 1 with blue cycle signs.
From Birsay head east through Swanney and Costa towards Evie (A966). This is quite a hilly section around the coast past Burgar Hill with the wind turbines on your right. The cyclist is rewarded with spectacular views of the island of Eynhallow, which is uninhabited, and across to the Isle of Rousay, the west coast of which has many remarkable ancient sites.
In the village of Evie follow signs to the Broch of Gurness, a partially intact Iron Age broch, and beautiful Aikerness beach. Return back up to the main road, turn left and follow on about 2 miles down the road to Woodwick.
Following the main road heading south through Rendall, take the right turn in the Norseman village to the Lyde Road. This short steep hill takes you into Harray with beautiful views from the top over much of the Mainland.
At the junction with the main road turn left (A986) and head down hill past the local potter's workshop. About half a mile further along the main road turn off right - marked Stoneyhill. This is a quite rolling ride which includes a viewpoint across the Harray and Stenness Lochs to the hills of Hoy and a picnic area. At the end of this road, turn right onto the main road, again marked Stromness (A965), as far as Tormiston Mill, almost immediately on your left. From here you can walk across the road to Maeshowe. This a magnificent 5000 year-old burial chamber with Viking runic graffitti can be seen if you book a guided tour in advance. From Maeshowe, Kirkwall lies 10 miles to the East, and Stromness 5 miles to the West.