A Visit to one of Orkney’s iconic localities

Submitted by Eric Meek

This is a coastal cliff walk in the parish of Birsay in the north-west of Orkney’s West Mainland.  Begin your walk in the car park behind the bay at Mar Wick at grid reference HY 229241.

Walk north from the car park and soon the path takes you through a kissing gate so that you are walking behind the storm beach.  The supporting wall and beach act as a good hide for watching birds on the shore of the bay.  There are often several species of gulls as well as Turnstones and Redshanks feeding there while in the bay itself there are usually Eiders and, in summer, Shelducks.

Also in summer, look out for the rare Great Yellow Bumblebee.  Two nests were found here in the summer of 2006, only the fifth and sixth nests ever found in Britain!

At the northern corner of the bay, continue on the path as it leads you west then north along the cliff edge.  From late May to July the flowers here are superb with carpets of Thrift and Spring Squill together with Sea Campion, Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Kidney Vetch.

The climb becomes somewhat steeper as you go further north but it’s worth it!  At grid reference HY 224251, you reach the cliff edge with a panoramic view along Marwick Head itself.  If you’re there in May, June or July, the sight that greets you is astounding with over 10,000 Guillemots, 1,500 pairs of Kittiwakes, 300 Razorbills and 350 pairs of Fulmars all nesting there.  As well as the sight there is the sound too and, of course, the delicate aroma of guano!

A little further on is that stark monument, the Kitchener Memorial erected by public subscription to honour Lord Kitchener who was killed when his ship, HMS Hampshire struck a German mine in April 1916.

A little way past the memorial (at HY 227255) there is another good viewpoint for looking back southwards along the spectacular cliffline before, at HY 228256, you can take the path that leads inland and down to another car park at Mid Cumlaquoy.  From there you can follow the minor road back to the bay and complete your walk by once again taking the path behind the storm beach back to your car.




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