On a previous trip to Orkney, I had visited Hoy, but only stayed around the Lyness area and had spent most of my time on the island in the Scapa Flow Visitors Museum. I was visiting the island with my father-in-law and brother-in-law.
On this trip, I was determined to venture further afield and explore the whole island. Departing on the Houton - Lyness ferry on a clear, calm day, I was excited to see a face I was very familiar with, chatting to a gentleman near the seats on the upper deck of the Ferry. I edged closer trying to make sure it was who I thought it was. Then he spoke and there is no mistaking his lilting Scottish brogue. The person in question is Paul Murton, presenter of the truly excellent, Grand Tour of the Scottish Islands. I waited until Paul was on his own and asked politely for a photo. I had a quick chat with him and he explained that he was on his way to the Isle of Flotta, to record another episode of the programme.
Paul departed at Flotta, but I carried on to Lyness. Once we had left the slipway, we headed for the northern part of Hoy. The road north has fantastic views to the Isle of Graemsay and we were soon turning left down a single track road and on the way to Rackwick Bay. The north of the island is bleak but impressive. Rolling hills and a treeless landscape combine to produce a beautiful, but foreboding place that stimulates the senses.
On the left hand side of the road, about a mile up a craggy, shingle and occasionally wooden path, is the Dwarfie Stane. The path to it is longer than it looks and you do not get a true scale of the size of it, until you are close by. The Dwarfie Stane is a rock cut Neolithic Chamber believed to be around 5000 years old. It is possible to crawl inside it and there is what can only be described as a 'stone pillow' at one end of the tomb. There is also Victorian graffiti and information boards to explain more about this amazing structure.
We carried onto Rackwick Bay and parked in the small car park just before the road runs out. I then took some time to read the Information Boards and then headed down to the Bay. I took some nice photos of the Bay and the scattered settlement. A house was being renovated, so I spent a few minutes watching the builder and wondering if there is a more beautiful place to work. The weather was great, no wind and slight warmth in the sun.
I headed back to the car and then we made our my way back to the main road through Hoy. This time we turned right and headed back past Lyness and onto Longhope. The fertile southern end of the island is a complete contrast to the northern part of Hoy. The roads are relatively flat, but quitw windy and are a pleasure to drive. Eventually we arrived at Longhope and then carried on to the Martello Tower, which was very close to the shore of Scapa Flow.
MARTELLO TOWER AND BATTERY
As we arrived, we could not find anywhere to park, so we left the car near to a small garage just past the Tower. There we were met by an elderly gentleman, who spoke with a distinctive Orcadian tone and happily chatted with us for about 10 minutes. He explained that the Historic Scotland guide had just gone to complete an errand, but would be back in 5 minutes. True enough, 5 minutes later the Guide returned on his vintage motorcycle and politely ushered us through to the Battery section to begin the tour.
The guide showed us around the Battery and Barracks and explained in great detail about why the Battery and Martello Towers were built. The Battery was built to protect the anchorage in Longhope Sound for merchant shipping passing through the Pentland Firth or around Orkney. In 1814, two Martello Towers were added to provide all-round protection for the Battery and anchorage.
He also explained more about the gentleman we had been talking to. He was an incredibly interesting guy! The gentleman was former owner Johnny Cload who gifted it to Historic Scotland. Johnny still lives at the Battery just beyond the tower, nearer to the coast. Johnnie was a most remarkable man and is the sprightliest 90 year old I have ever seen.
Ideally, you need to spend a few days or even a week to try and see everything that this island has to offer. From the barren, hilly north to the low-lying, fertile south, Hoy is an island of extremes. In the north is probably Orkney's most famous tourist attraction - the Old man of Hoy. Also in the north is the archaelogical anamoly that is the Dwarfie Stane as well as beautiful, secluded Rackwick Bay. Maybe less famous is Betty Gorrigall's grave. A sad tale of a young girl who became preganant out of wedlock and ended up committing suicide. Local Landowners did not want her buried on their land, so she was buried by the side of the road. Her body was uncovered by accident and she was re-buried in her present location in 1976.
In the southern half of Hoy are the other main attractions on the island including the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and the Martello Tower and Battery. Also, at Longhope is the RNLI Lifeboat Museum. On 17 March, 1969, the lifeboat capsized while on service to the Liberian vessel 'Irene' and the entire crew of eight lost their lives.
The island has great views out to other smaller islands such as Graemsay, Flotta and Fara. There are many fantastic walks including the islands's highest point, Ward Hill.
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I was really looking forward to climbing into the Martello Tower. To get in, you have to climb up a metal ladder and then you enter into a small, dimly lit room. Not too difficult, but it would definitely be an issue for someone with restricted mobility. Once, I had climbed the ladder, I entered the Tower directly into the Barrack Room. This would have originally contained 7 beds, but there was only the private, wooden cubicle belonging to the NCO left.
We then descended down a stone staircase and into the Barrack and Ordnance Stores, the innermost part of which was the Magazine. Our guide told us stories of how the soldiers guarded the Magazine and why it was located in that specific part of the Tower. It would have given modern day Health and Safety specialists a heart attack!
We then made our way back to the top of the Tower, to see the Gun emplacement. The views from here are amazing and portray a stunning panorama of Scapa Flow and the surrounding area. The iron tracking is original, although at the time that I was there, the gun was being repaired. Interestingly, there was a stone urinal built on the roof, built so that there was no reason for the crew to leave their posts.
SCAPA FLOW VISITOR CENTRE
After leaving the Martello Tower, we headed back towards Lyness and into the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre. I wanted to re-visit the Museum, as there was a week long commeration taking place for the Battle of Jutland, the most pivotal naval engagement of the First World War. As we entered the Visitors Centre there was a beautifully presented display including additional material linked to the Battle of Jutland and the sinking of HMS Hampshire. I spent a rewarding half an hour reading about the Battle and its impact on the First World War.
Once we had been around the Museum, we went for a well-earned meal at the reasonably priced Pumpwell Cafe. There were several Picnic Benches dotted around the site and as time progressed, we sat on these as we awaited the ferry.
Hoy is an island of extremes and it is all the better for it. From the bleak, barren north to the green, fertile south there is something for every visitor. Just make sure you allow yourself as much time as possible to see eveything that the island has to offer. For more information on Hoy visit the Hoy island page or read about my Orkney Adventure.
Map of Hoy, Orkney Islands