Marwick Head and Birsay

Marwick Bay
Marwick Bay

On a beautiful sunny morning, we set off on a circular walk from Marwick Bay up to the cliff tops of Marwick Head.

In the background of one of the pictures above you can see an island – that’s the Brough of Birsay, our afternoon destination. However, on this walk we were heading for the Kitchener Memorial. Minister of War Lord Kitchener died with more than 600 others when HMS Hampshire struck a mine and sank just off Marwick Head in 1916. (Click the image below to enlarge if you want to read more.)

Kitchener Memorial
Kitchener Memorial

The monument was under restoration and surrounded by scaffolding, so we didn’t see it at its best – but it’s good to know it’s being looked after. One of the guns from the ship sits, incongruously, at the bottom of the farm track on the way back to the carpark.

After lunch, we set off for Birsay. We stopped first at the Earl’s Palace, built by Earl Robert Stewart in the late 16th century. Now we’ve met Robert’s son, Patrick, before – he built Scalloway Castle and the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall.  He was a nasty piece of work, and obviously a chip off the old block. Both Earls used the islanders as forced labour to create their sumptuous dwellings.

As we looked round the castle in the brilliant sunshine, several coaches and mini-buses drew up to the church across the road and disgorged their passengers – men in kilts and women in bright dresses for a lovely summer wedding. We didn’t see the bride, but as we set off on our walk we surmised that she and her new husband would be using the palace as a backdrop to their photographs.

Remember the island in the first gallery? It’s tidal, and we had carefully timed our walk so that we could cross the causeway on foot. You can see the Brough of Birsay, its lighthouse, the causeway and a view back to Marwick Head (with the Kitchener Memorial just visible) in the pictures below.

However, it had started to rain just as we arrived – and it rained, and rained, and rained. We did our best to enjoy looking at the small Pictish settlement, and even walked all round the island, but in the end we gave up and went back to the car. This was the wettest (and coldest) we got all holiday and I just kept thinking of that poor wedding party! As we got back to the car, the coaches were pulling away, no doubt to find somewhere drier for the photos.

And that’s the end of my Orkney Saga – but not quite the end of the holiday. Once back on the mainland we spent a few days in the Highlands. More on that soon. In the meantime, Jo has very kindly included this post in her Monday Walks series – a visit to RestlessJo is highly recommended.


  1. I keep thinking what would have happened if the tide had come in and anyone got trapped on that island! Are their boats that can be taken back across?


    • I didn’t see any boats! But the tide tables are well posted and there is a custodian on the island so I think he would make sure everyone left in good time. Otherwise – sleep with the sheep till low-tide the next day! 😉

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