Westray and Papa Westray

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Wed 5 Jun 2013 08:17

Westray and Papa Westray

Passage planning  from Stromness to Westray was another wet towel round the head job. The idea was to leave Stromness on the west going ebb tide, sail up the west side of Orkney Mainland and enter the Westray Firth on the East going flood tide. Simples. We checked and double checked, but it seemed impossible to do this. If we left on the ebb, there was not enough time to get up to Westray Firth to pick up the flood. John finally worked out that what we had to do was leave a tide earlier – so , 6.00 a.m. and leave on the last of the flood which would allow us to enter Westray Firth on the last of the ebb.

By now there were a lot of yachts in Stromness – they had all arrived on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, and many of them were heading North. Included amongst them was Rhapsody, who we had met in Oban and had chatted to the skipper in a companionable sort of way. I was walking down the pontoon, coming back from playing in the Fiddler’s Rally, when I noticed a figure coming towards me that seemed vaguely familiar. As he got closer, I realized that it was Tony Stafford, who we had known very well when we lived in Atherstone, and who we had last seen when he sailed with us from Falmouth to Dublin eight years ago. It transpired that John, the skipper of Rhapsody was the brother of Widge,  Tony’s wife and when Tony heard that his brother-in-law had met this ‘really tall chap’, skipper of an Oyster, he  thought that it must be us. John knew that we were coming to Stromness, so they were not surprised to find us moored up when they arrived.


They too were planning to sail to Westray before returning to Kirkwall, and had worked out the necessity for a 6.00 o’clock start. As those who know John know, once he’s decided to go, we’re off, so we were first off the pontoon, followed shortly afterwards by Rhapsody, and then by two other yachts who were making their way North. The plan worked well, the wind was mercifully off-shore this time, and we sailed the whole way, with a tiny bit of motor sailing to squeeze through the narrow channel to the South of Westray.

Suilven and Rhapsody were able to moor alongside each other on the pontoon in Westray and a sociable time ensued.


Westray was charming, although it was quite a long walk into Pierowall.  Just by the pier however, was the Westray fish processing co-operative, where we were able to buy crab and lobster and the island bakery was situated just behind the doctor’s surgery, so we were able to buy the freshest bread and bread rolls. We did walk into town on the first afternoon and discovered the  fish monger and bought some cod fillets and the best scallops I’ve ever had, to cook on board for our evening meal.

The next day we booked a taxi to take us up to Noup Head, an RSPB reserve, to take a walk along the spectacular sandstone cliffs and look at the myriad nesting birds.



and admire the fabulous wild flowers.




Other things that we had not seen before in Orkney were the old flag stone roofs



The little sandy hollows to protect their small boats called ‘noosts’.


Our walk back from Noup Head took us past the substantial remains of the formidable Noltland Castle, built by the murderous Gilbert Balfour who was implicated in the murder of Mary Queen of Scot’s husband, Darnley and who was eventually executed for being implicated in a plot to kill the King of Sweden. This might explain the forbidding exterior of the castle, the walls pierced by numerous ‘shot holes’ rather than windows, with a shot hole even incorporated in the stone stair newel that overlooks the front door. P1010126.JPGP1010134.JPG


On a lighter note, we were intrigued by the sailing boats stored on the shore above the pier, according to the harbour master, some over 100 years old and raced in the summer in the bay and in a summer regatta, raced over to neighbouring Pappa Westray.


The pointy ends are the stern and they are apparently Bermudan rigged, a change in the design introduced in the 1930s.

Day 2 and we took the ferry over to Papa Westray. We had tried to visit the island 8 years ago, and had booked a flight on the shortest scheduled flight in the world, a two minute flight from Westray to Papa Westray, but had been baulked by catastrophic engine failure just north of Skye.

We spent the whole day there in the sunshine, walking almost the whole length of the island. It has birds, of course, lovely white sand beaches, neolothic village remains which in our view are almost as good as the much publicized Scarra Brae on Mainland and a beautifully restored ancient church, St Boniface, dedicated to a very early Christian missionary. It was apparently on Papa Westray that the last of the now extinct Great Auks was shot in the early 1800s.









Sadly, typical Scottish farming practices still prevail!

We also have categorical evidence that fulmars don’t need vertiginous perches on narrow cliff ledges to make their nests.


It’s lucky that there was a hole in the wall to the left of this picture, or we would have clambered over the stile and stamped on the fulmar just sitting at it’s base.