Sunday 9 June 2013


Sanday is the largest of the islands to the north of Orkney mainland, but unlike bustling Westray it feels quiet and remote (though perhaps Westray was particularly bustling as our only visit was during the inter-isles sports day). From our home in Scotland's Central Belt, Cornwall is quicker to reach than Sanday. But it is a trip worth taking, and spending a good few days on the island reaps rewards.

Backaskaill Bay:

There's not really a population centre to Sanday: the school, stores, church, ferry terminal, post office and pub are scattered across the island, the nearest to urban excitement being Lady, or Kettletoft, site of the old harbour, seals sunning themselves on the rocks at low tide. Birdsong fills the air everywhere, daisies, buttercups and dandelions bright against the green, wind tousled fields in sunshine, and when the sun goes, greyness everywhere, from the sky to the sea to the colour of the houses.


Everywhere, the sight of ruined or abandoned crofts, homes now to nesting birds.

Lots of islands have beaches, but there is only one Sanday*, the Sand Island, composed almost completely of machair, with a glorious beach for every wind direction. Perhaps you want the northerly facing Whitemill Bay, seals watching offshore and North Ronaldsay tantalisingly close?


The east-facing desert-island sands of Scuthvie, perhaps?


What about the long south-facing stretch of Lopness with its ruined German destroyer, remains of which visible at low tide?


It is hard to pick a favourite beach on Sanday, there are so many fine ones, but my personal favourites were Cata Sand and Doun Helzie - worth future posts of their own!

As a sand-based island, Sanday is vulnerable to erosion, and some of Orkney's most vulnerable archaeological sites are on this island. At Scar, a Viking boat burial was found, and quickly excavated in 1991 as the whole site disintegrated in winter storms. The artefacts are displayed at Kirkwall's museum, including the amazing whalebone plaque, thought to be an ironing board. Vikings doing the ironing?? They were a more complicated people than the simple image of pillagers suggests.

Scar plaque, from Wikipedia:

Whilst there is nothing left to see at Scar, another site, Quoyness, has an impressive chambered cairn that you can wander inside. Not quite as fine as Maes Howe, but in the same league; and not being on the international world heritage tourism circuit of mainland Orkney but a quiet, undisturbed island, with ground nesting birds yards away, you will have Quoyness all to yourself...

*Not counting the Sanday attached to Canna, or the Sandø in Faroe...


blueskyscotland said...

Place I've always fancied going but the distance and cost meant a trip to the alpine regions of Europe for similar outlay always won when holidays approached.
Some nice photographs that do it justice.

Robert Craig said...

It's a lovely place, two ferries to reach but worth it once you get there!