An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Distance: 20.1 km
Difficulty: Easy
Method: Walking
Wow Factor: 10 out of 10

Key Facts

  • Location: Orkney
  • Size: 18 hectares
  • Terrain: A mix of easy rock and grassy paths
  • Access: Ferry
  • Height gain: 176 metres
  • Map: OS Explorer 464
  • Starting point: Knapp of Howar near the airport and hostel. Lat/Long 59.349483, -2.910883. GR HY 48298 51815. Or start at the ferry jetty in Moclet if arriving by boat.
  • Accommodation/food:

    A fabulous community coffee morning is held every Wednesday from 10.30-11.45am in St Ann’s Community Room. The hostel at Beltane House is host to the weekly ‘pub’ on Saturday nights from 8pm; it’s also the site for the well stocked community run shop. Toilets are located at the ferry pier, hostel and the Kelp Store. Range of accommodation on the island.

  • Island Summary:

    This full day walk explores the best of this special island. Along the west coast the earliest north European homes still standing can be found at the Knap of Howar; the flowering machair around the Bay of Moclett and the white beach at Bothican are sublime; and the low cliffs at the Head of Moclett are an excellent spot to see puffins. Along the east coast, St Tredwell’s loch holds the medieval remains of a chapel, once a renowned pilgrimage centre, said to offer miraculous cures for eye ailments and, further north along the east coast is South Wick’s old stone pier with 18th-century buildings, once the old kelp and coal stores, now home to a heritage and craft centre. At North Wick, the large, white-sand bay is perfect for a secluded dip before reaching the wild and windswept northern third of Papay, which is an RSPB reserve full of ‘bonxies’ (great skuas), Arctic skuas, Arctic terns, curlew, and dunlin in season. The low-cliffs of Fowl Craig, undercut by sea caves and natural arches, are the summer residence for all four of Britain’s auks – guillemot, razorbill, puffin, and black guillemot. Rounding the north end of the island and heading south down the west coast, the large rock flags that jut into the sea form huge rock pools that are fun to explore and the 12th-century St Boniface’s Church, one of the oldest Christian sites in north Scotland, was among few to survive the reformation.

  • Look out for:
    • Arrive on the world’s shortest scheduled flight
    • Experience two oceans meeting in the northern tip of the island
    • Community coffee morning for the best homebakes and chats
    • Secret swims in rock-pools of the west coast or beaches of the east
    • Rare Scottish primrose and spectacular seabirds
  • Route description:

    This is a straightforward anti-clockwise coastal route that passes near to everything the island has to offer. Nothing is too far away on Papa. The route is unmarked but easy to follow. Download the detailed route for more information.

  • Getting there:

    By air: two Loganair flights every weekday and one flight on Sunday from Kirkwall or take the world’s shortest scheduled flight from Westray. You get a certificate to prove it. Loganair (+44) 01856 872494
    By sea: two direct ferry sailings from Kirkwall per week. During the summer months passengers on foot can also take the daily ferries to Westray and connect by minibus to a short sea crossing to Papay onboard the ‘Golden Mariana’. Orkney Ferries (+44) 01856 872044.

    Island routes nearby:

    Walk the coastal circuit of North Ronaldsay

    Walk the coastal circuit of Flotta

    Walk the coastal circuit of South Walls

    Walk or cycle the coastal circuit of Rousay

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Welcome new readers

Take a look around the site. Learn about islands you may never have heard of. Take up the islandeering challenge and find a pioneering route, or simply see what each island has to offer for a more chilled out visit. Go to ‘islands’ and find something that inspires you.


Take the world's shortest scheduled flight

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Wild swimming in Orkney

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Visit the Knap of Howar

Visit an amazing Neolithic settlement

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Visit St Boniface Church

Visit one of the oldest Christian sites in north Scotland

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