Scotland’s Orkney Islands are rugged, scenic and desperately beautiful. Situated 6 miles from the north-east tip of the mainland, they are made up of around 70 islands and skerries. Most of the 20,000 inhabitants live on the largest island known as ‘the mainland’ while around 20 of the other islands are home to smaller communities.
While every island has its charms, Papa Westray exudes a certain magical appeal. Known affectionately by the locals as Papay, it is one of Orkney’s smallest isles measuring just 4 miles long by 1 mile wide and has a tiny but lively population of 75 hardy souls. Today the main industry on the island is farming which comes as no surprise when you witness just how green and fertile the land is, with the production of Papay’s beef cattle famous throughout Scotland. Lobster and crab fishing, art, writing, crafts and tourism also feature prominently on the island.
As one of the most northerly lying islands, just getting to Papay can be an adventure all on its own. First of all you must travel to Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland, you can book a flight from either Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh through Loganair or take one of the two car ferry services across the Pentland Firth from the north of Scotland. Great you’ve arrived in Kirkwall, now all you have to do is island hop to Papay.
This can be achieved in one of two ways, well you could swim but I wouldn’t recommend it. The most common method is to catch one of the twice weekly ferry sailings from Kirkwall which operate on Tuesdays and Fridays. Or alternatively you could take the shortest scheduled flight in the world that takes just 96 seconds to fly the one mile journey from Westray to Papa Westray, an achievement that sits proudly in the Guiness Book of Records.
When you do arrive on Papay, you’ll be amazed to find the white sandy beaches of Bothican or North and South Wick, view the seals and witness a wide array of sea birds including some stunning examples of Boat Nausts. The more sporty visitor can enjoy the islands 9 hole golf course near the new pier at Moclett, visit the Cyclogym and challenge yourself on the bike course or take the kids to the adventure playground and let them burn off some energy.
A large percentage of the people who visit Papay do so for the ancient neolithic sites that have been unearthed here. Excavated in the 1930s, the Knap of Howar is undoubtedly the most famous and important discovery on the island. These 2 oblong stone houses, preserved by sand blown in by the wind are the earliest North European dwellings known to man. They are thought to be a neolithic farmstead that date back to around 4,000 BC, a millennium before the Eyptian pyramids.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little different to visit this year then I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Papa Westray, one of Scotland’s most breathtaking and magical islands.
Images are supplied under the creative commons license with attribution below.
Ryan Morrison lives in the beautiful city of Edinburgh and can be found blogging at www.scotlandhereandnow.com