Graham Maben is the owner and tour guide for Westraak tours on the isle of Westray, in the Orkney islands. Westray is a beautiful island and it should be a must on any Orkney island itinerary. The best way to see Westray is through a guided tour and this is where Graham comes in. Not only does Graham run Westraak, but his wife Kathy runs the Haff Yok cafe in Pierowall, the main settlement on Westray. I managed to catch Graham between tours and ask him 10 questions about Westraak tours and the isle of Westray.
1 – What brought you to Westray?
My father, who had qualified as a Baptist Minister, was appointed Minister to Westray Baptist Church and the family moved here.
2 – What attractions are visited in the Westraak tour?
- Aikerness: View the seaweed-eating sheep, known locally as ‘Holmies’, on the Holm of Aikerness and visit The Scaun – a breathtaking natural cliff arch.
- Kelp Green: – see a kelp pit and tangle steethes, in the area known as the Kelp Green, which supported the massive seaweed harvesting business from early 18th Century.
- Quoygrew: site of the beautifully preserved 10th Century Viking settlement, described by Dr. James Barrett as probably the most significant Viking site in Orkney.
- Pierowall Lady Kirk: – 13th Century church built during Viking rule
- Noup Head RSPB Reserve: – Summer home to tens of thousands of nesting seabirds and the Stevenson Lighthouse.
- Noltland Links: Neolithic Archaeological dig site
- Noltland Castle: – 16th Century home of Sir Gilbert Balfour
3 – What wildlife can be seen on the tour?
During the Spring/Summer nesting period – Gannets, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffins, Kittewake, Black Guillemot, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Oyster Catcher, Ring Plover, Dunlin, Shell Duck, Eider Duck, Raven, Hooded Crow, Great Black Backed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Black Headed Gull, Lapwing.
4 – What is your favourite place on Westray and why?
The Scaun Natural Arch and surrounding cliffs/shoreline. The reason is, that I was introduced to this site as a young boy, by the Wife of the Farmer I eventually went to work for. For this reason, it is of sentimental significance and also because of its sheer beauty whatever time of year. I visit this place many times throughout the year.
5 – What are the best things about living on a remote island?
Relative isolation. We are not isolated, of course, as there are excellent links to the mainland by both Ferry and Plane. However, the sense of remoteness is always present and this is a great feeling. It also encourages a kind of cohesion of the people and, as a result, there is a great community spirit. You don’t get that in too many places these days!
6 – Have you visited any other islands around Orkney or Scotland? If so, which was your favourite and why?
I have visited almost all of the Orkney Islands at one time or another and have visited the Western Isles, too. This is a really difficult question to answer because all the Islands I have visited are special in one way or another. My honest answer would have to be that Westray is my favourite. This is for all sorts of reasons. When I left Westray at the age of 17 years, it broke my heart. I had planned to go, because of a work opportunity, but the harsh reality only sunk in as I was leaving. That gave me a lifelong yearning to return permanently, which I eventually did in 2004. All the beautiful things about Westray, which I had taken for granted as a youngster, suddenly hit me and I have never taken this lightly since my return. I consider myself to be privileged to live and work on Westray.
7 – How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves on the island?
Exactly as I am now. Conducting Guided Tours, meeting wonderful people and enjoying each day as it comes, rain, wind or sun.
8 – When is the best time to visit Westray?
I would say that the Summer months are best, as all Summer breeding birds are here, plant life is abundant and the Summer light is fantastic. That said, there are terrific scenes in the Autumn, Winter and early Spring months, with mountainous seas, Northern Lights and amazing sky colours. There are also Winter bird visitors.
9 – Has there been an increase in tourism as a result of recent TV programmes about Scottish Islands?
I can only speak for Westraak, which has seen growth every year, consistently, since we started our business in 2004.
10 – Where can I find out more information about Westraak?
There is more information on my website – www.westraak.co.uk We also advertise locally, in Orkney, with flyers and we are to be found in Orkney publications.