The Old Man and St John's Head, Hoy
Key information: The Old Man and St John's Head, Hoy
- Northern Hoy is Orkney's highest and wildest landscape. It boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain, and a huge array of wildlife.
- The 140m (450+ ft) Old Man of Hoy is the country's best known sea stack.
- The walk to greet our aged friend can be a 5.5 mile there-and-back, or part of a longer, finer circuit. It can be quite popular as far as the old man.
- Always unpredictable weather. Come prepared.
- Walkopedia rating85
- Natural interest17
- Human interest6
- Negative points1
- Total rating85
- Note: Neg: likely bad weather
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: 433m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
Northern Hoy is Orkney's highest and wildest landscape, in fact more like the Highlands than the rest of the Orkneys. It boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain, and an array of wildlife that includes the elusive hen harrier as well as a multitude of seabirds in breeding season.
The Old Man of Hoy is the country's best known sea stack (Walkopedia will NOT use the word iconic), a sandstone giant of 140m (450+ ft) standing clear of Hoy's north-west coast. Chris Bonnington's televised climb of it is one of Walkopedia's early memories.
The walk to greet our aged friend can be a 5.5 mile there-and-back, or part of a 18km (11+ mile) circuit which heads on up the coast to St John's Head on its enormous (more than 1,000 ft) cliffs, then turns inland along a high ridge before dropping back south. It can be quite popular as far as the Old Man.
Start at the depopulated hamlet of Rackwick, crofts spread across the flattish ground where a most beautiful glen debouches into the sea between steep hillsides.
A track gently zigzags up the hillside to the north, then winds round the cropped heather of the lower flanks of Moor Fea, coming close to the cliffs before swinging inland on a well maintained path across boggy moorland, a waterfall tumbling into the sea in the middle distance and the Old Man's head visible above the horizon.
You will reach the Old Man in a bit over an hour. It is worth taking time to sit above the high cliffs and contemplate the drama, so this is a very opportune time for a picnic.
If you are heading on for the long walk (Walkopedia turned back, disappointed, as low cloud swamped the high ground and it would have been a joyless trek), follow the enormous cliffs up to the summit of St John's Head, set back from the sea. Then head eastish along a superb ridge and up the the high point at Cuilags (433m).
Head south downhill across reasonably easy country down to the bottom of the Glens of Kinnaird, cross the burn and join the path south to Rackwick.
On a good day, arguably the best walk in the Orkneys?
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