Places to Visit on Orkney - 6

Yesnaby and Yesnaby Castle

Yesnaby CastleCredit: M E Park

Yesnaby is on the west coast of West Mainland Orkney.  It is only a short drive from the town of Stromness and you get there down a single track road. There is so much to see at Yesnaby that it attracts a range of visitors.

The botanists come to see the rare Primula Scotica that flowers on the cliff edges  at Yesnaby. They are a beautiful sight in the spring time. There are also Grass of Parnassus and Spring Squill to see on the road and path sides.

For the history buff there are some World War Two ruins at the point of entry to Yesnaby. These are  military buildings and what is left of some gun emplacements, and the mountings for the guns, can still be seen embedded in the tops of the cliffs. They were once used for gunnery practice.

LapwingCredit: M E Park

The ornithologists visit all year round but especially in the late spring to see the nesting birds. We have seen ducks, cormorants, divers, auks, guillemots, oyster catchers and lapwings to mention but a few. We have also watched the seals swimming around and about in the bays.

For the geologists, to the north of the car parking area there is an exposed area of fossilised blue-green algae from the Devonian period and about 350 million year old, known as Stromatolites. Please be aware the law protects all fossils.

Yesnaby CliffsCredit: M E Park

The ramblers come for the dramatic cliff top walks that undulate and weave around the coast. You can walk north to the Broch at Borwick or south to the sea stack know as Yesnaby Castle. The sea stack attracts many visitors and we have taken many of our family to see it. It is a 20 to 30 minute walk from the parking area and walking boots, or sturdy shoes, are the preferred footwear.

On the way you will pass the site of on old millstone quarry. There are some partly quarried stones, still seen, laying in the grass.  Next comes the Noust of Bigging where local fisherman pulled up their boats for generations as the Brough of Bigging shelters the bay. You can get access to the Brough up a short incline – not too steep;  it is worth the slight detour for the spectacular views and this is a fabulous place for wave watching in rough weather. The grass on the Brough is absolutely riddled with the runs of the Orkney Vole although I have never managed to catch sight of one. The number of voles attracts hunting birds including Short Eared Owls and, if you are luck, Hen Harriers. Sea birds nest in the low cliffs all around you.

Yesnaby RocksCredit: M E Park

Yesnaby Castle is not much further  from here. You can look out towards Hoy when you get to the Castle and see The Old Man of Hoy. Rock climbers have been known to practice at Yesnaby in preparation for taking on the Old Man of Hoy.

It sounds obvious but one thing you really need to be aware of is the cliffs. They are not particularly stable, and the rocks are loose and slippery. There are warning notices up about the dangers of going too close to edges. I recommend that you leash any dogs while on the cliffs, especially as there are rabbits and hares which may tempt them into a chase with disastrous consequences. 

Yesnaby is beautiful at any time but I must admit I prefer it in the sunshine. If you go in bad weather then wrap up warm and stay well back from the edges in windy weather.


Rocks at YesnabyCredit: M E Park

Yesnaby on Orkney