Hoy 3 - Old Man
The Orkney Classic – walking to the Old Man of Hoy
The car park at Rackwick is clearly signed and makes a good starting point for this walk which takes between two and three hours. It is not far (c.8km) and the way is clearly marked. It can get muddy in wet weather, but in general it is an easy walk, though walking boots are recommended. The first stretch is uphill but at a gentle(ish) gradient. Some of the walk runs along the top of high cliffs and care should always be taken, especially when walking with children. There is no shelter – come prepared for wind, rain and exposure to the sun!
From the car park take the signed track towards the south-west side of the bay. This zig-zags uphill between the croft houses to join the path from Moaness (a longer walk but one which does not need a vehicle). A grassy path then climbs up the side of the hill, crossing the fence at the head of the farmland through a small gate. After this the path can get boggy and a sign at the crest reminds walkers of the danger of the cliffs by the path. The path soon levels out before dropping down to cross to one side of a small valley. There are lovely views of the cliffs below, with occasional steep waterfalls down to the sea. Ahead, the top of the Old Man rises above the surrounding land – the goal is in sight.
Interestingly, for much of the way it is possible to walk along an old stone surface. This has been a popular walk for over a century and in the past a stone road was laid to assist access. Much of the stone has now slipped downhill to leave a boggy scar, but lengths of the track remain, together with brief stretches of stone stair in steeper places.
Crossing the moorland before you reach the cliffs that surround the Old Man it is impossible not to notice the great skuas or bonxies nesting here and defending their land. This is an RSPB reserve and other birds to be seen include grouse and dunlin on the moor as well as sea birds such as guillemots and fulmars along the cliffs.
The clifftop alongside the Old Man offers impressive views but beware of the wind which can be gusty at the cliff edge, and it is clear to see how the rock breaks with erosion; do not approach the edge. The stack itself is 137m high and has rarely been climbed – the first ascent was led by Chris Bonnington in 1966 and took three days.
The walk back provides great views across the Bay of Rackwick and if the weather is good the beach is well worth exploring when you get down.