Hoy, Orkney’s second-largest island, rises sharply out of the sea to the southwest of the Mainland. Its dramatic landscape is made up of great glacial valleys and mountainous moorland rising to more than 1500ft, dropping into the sea off the red sandstone cliffs of St John’s Head. The passenger ferry from Stromness arrives at Moaness Pier, near the tiny village of Hoy.
RACKWICK, four miles west of Hoy village, is an old crofting and fishing settlement squeezed between towering sandstone cliffs on the west coast. A small farm building beside the hostel serves as a tiny museum, with a few old photos and a brief rundown of Rackwick’s rough history. Despite its isolation, Rackwick has a steady stream of walkers and climbers passing through en route to the Old Man of Hoy, a great sandstone column some 450ft high, perched on an old lava flow which protects it from the erosive power of the sea. The well-trodden footpath from Rackwick is an easy three-mile walk (3hr return). Halfway along the road between Hoy village and Rackwick, duckboards head across the heather to the Dwarfie Stane, Orkney’s most unusual chambered tomb, cut from a solid block of sandstone and dating back to 3000 BC.
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum
Hoy played a major role for the Royal Navy during both world wars and the harbour and hills around Lyness are still scarred with the scattered remains of concrete structures that once served as hangars and storehouses during World War II. The old oil pump house has been turned into the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum, a fascinating insight into wartime Orkney. The pump house itself retains much of its old equipment – you can ask for a working demo of one of the oil-fired boilers – used to pump oil off tankers moored at Lyness into sixteen tanks, and from there into underground reservoirs cut into the neighbouring hillside. Even the café has an old NAAFI feel about it.