The Brough of Birsay is a small tidal island, accessible at low tide by a concrete causeway. It contains evidence of several settlements and the ruins of a Romanesque church dating from the 12th century. Most of the existing remains are Norse, and it appears that Birsay was an important site to the Vikings, although a Pictish symbol stone discovered on the island is a possible indication that the site was important to the Picts before the Vikings arrived.

Aerial view of the Brough of Birsay
Aerial view of the Brough of Birsay and Norse settlement
(C) Richard Welsby

On the Mainland side of the causeway is Birsay Village (also called Palace), containing the ruins of the Earl's Palace built in the late 16th century by the infamous Earl Robert Stewart. The nearby church of St Magnus is said to be the place where St Magnus' body was taken after being murdered by a cook on his cousin Hakon's order.

The square tower on Marwick head is a memorial to the loss of the crew of HMS Hampshire, including Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, on 5th June 1916. The best (although steep) approach to this tower is from Marwick Bay although there is a car park at the bottom of the hill which offers an easier approach.

South of Marwick bay, at Sandside Geo are some beautifully restored fishermen's huts with flag 'nousts' (places where boats were kept on land). The huts blend into the shoreline and are not always seen until close by.

Kirbuster Farm Museum is a good example of an early 19th century farmhouse and steading and is well worth a visit.

Photograph courtesy of Richard Welsby


Heimdall - bed & breakfast by the Earl's Palace
Barony Hotel - lochside family-run hotel
Copyright Orknet 1996