Graemsay – a peedie adventure for introverts and seekers of solitude

Bryce Wilson's Mermaid Bride illustration

The island of Graemsay rests in a long, green dream between Stromness and the island of Hoy.

If you like peaceful places, a walking tour here will be a day to remember.  

Orkney island coastal walk

* Skip down the page to find "tips for visiting" here.

The island currently has 23 residents. The day we visited, we met one walker and maybe two cars. To me, that’s paradise on a busy summer day when visitors flock to the most popular sites by the hundreds.

If you mention Graemsay to a local, you'll probably hear ...

"Don't bother going to Graemsay - there’s nothing to see.” 

Hoy Sound High Lighthouse, Orkney

It's true that the island doesn't have any major archaeological sites.

But for those with eyes to see, it glimmers with historical interest and natural beauty. 

WWII battery, Orkney

Graemsay has a welcome feel, but you won't find much here that purposely caters to tourism.

It is today what it's always been ... a serene Orkney island community with an unspoiled ecosystem.

View of Hoy Hills, Orkney

It's a really good place to spend time with someone you love.

Walk around an Orkney island

An enchanted day

Our family set out to explore  Graemsay on a lovely June day. We were not disappointed.

Distant view of Hoy High lighthouse, Orkney

After a picnic lunch, we hiked along the coastal path until we came to the rocky beach below Hoy Low lighthouse. We had a bit of a bask and then ... 

Relaxing on an Orkney beach

... Tom told some stories

Storytelling on a beach in Orkney

Hear Tom tell about the nefarious press gangs below. The hollow where Dan is reclining is the location of the first story.

Find out more about the press gangs of Orkney and Shetland in our suggested reading list at the bottom of this page.

"The Hattie Man" stone, island of Graemsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland

The story of the Hattie Man o' Ree

Be careful where you step! 

We came across an oystercatcher chick on the beach, where they nest.

If you see one, don't get too close. Leave it alone. Mother bird will come back when you leave.

Oystercatcher chick hides on an Orkney beachWatch out for these little cuties! See him hiding in the stones?

Island etiquette:  Please ... never touch baby birds, seals or any other creature you may come across. They may seem to be abandoned, but they're not.

Needless deaths occur when humans meddle with nature.

These curious fellows followed us around the island the whole day.

Seals near an Orkney beach

What will I see on the island?

How about a green, flowery place of farmland and heathery heath, two beautiful lighthouses, a WWII battery, sea birds, placid cattle and sheep, seals, abandoned crofts and a variety of beaches? 

Hoy Sound Low lighthouse, Orkney

There's even a "coral beach" at Sandside.

It's actually maerl, a kind of calcified seaweed. 

Coral beach, Orkney

You won't see many people

But that suits solitude-loving adventurers just fine. 

Curious cows on an Orkney islandMoo!

We love Graemsay because it hasn't fallen victim to over-cultivation.

Because of this, you'll notice a wide variety of wildflowers. 

Yellow flag in an Orkney field

So what is there to do on an idyllic island?

For one thing, it's a great place for beach combers.

There's an increasingly rare chance that you might find bits of old lighthouse glass that occasionally turn up on the beach below Hoy High.

These come from discarded lighthouse lenses tossed over the balcony in the 60s.

But it's more likely that you'll find pottery from the shipwreck of the Albion in 1866, still washing ashore near Hoy Low.  

Pottery found on an Orkney beach

Hear about the wreck of the Albion below.

You might see tiny-tentacle-waving anemones waiting for high tide in little tidal pools.

Sea anemones in a tidal pool, Orkney

And possibly GROATIE BUCKIES … but I’m not telling where.

Find your own spot.

Groatie buckie fever knows no loyalty. 

People search for shells on an Orkney beach
Beach combing, Orkney
Cowrie shells known as groatie buckies in Orkney, Scotland

Cyclists ...

 ... can rent a bicycle in Stromness and take it over on the ferry at no extra charge.

The coastal walk

A well-marked walking path follows the island's coast. About 3.5miles in length, it can be a bit rough-going at times.

Coastal walk sign, Orkney island

 Assuming reasonable balance and stamina, you should be able to negotiate it.

Watch out for stinging nettles as you make your way through weedy areas.

Coastal walk, Orkney

Another option is to walk the road that rings the island.

There are steps to negotiate when you get off at the pier.

Coastal walk path, Orkney

Or you might want to freestyle. You can veer off the road at interesting points - say, if you feel the need to stuff as many people as you can into an old phone box.

We found we could manage four quite comfortably.

Red phone booth, Orkney island

An added bonus: you'll get amazing views if you travel inland. 

Old kirk, Orkney island

And there's history!

There's much here to interest history-buffs and lighthouse-lovers. 

Like this ...

Hoy Sound High lighthouse

Hoy Sound High (Hoy High) and Hoy Sound Low (Hoy Low) were designed in 1851.

These lighthouses serve as leading lights to guide ships through the dangerous tides and skerries of Hoy Sound and into the safety of Stromness Harbour.

Sea view of Hoy High lighthouse, Orkney

To negotiate a safe path, seamen brought their ships to a course where the two lights lined up, one over the other, and then changed course slightly to the east when the rear light disappeared.

Walking to Hoy Sound Low lighthouse, Orkney

You might notice that the keeper's houses are fancifully based on Egytian design. These beautiful lighthouses were designed by Alan Stevenson, of the renowned "Lighthouse Stevensons."

Alan was the uncle of Treasure Island writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert's signature can be seen in a lighthouse guest book in the Stromness Museum, where you can also find many stories about lighthouses and their keepers. 

Stromness Museum, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Both lighthouses are now automated. 

I know. I feel sad about that, too.

Hoy High lighthouse near Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland

The old stone pier at Sandside near Hoy High remains from the building of the two lighthouses.

This was the landing point for supplies and stone blocks.

Old pier, Orkney island

While you can’t go inside the lighthouses, you can stroll around them and poke about on the beaches below. 

Hoy Sound High lighthouse, Orkney

WWII in Gramesay

Hoy Low is near the remains of the WWII Graemsay Battery - an important part of the Scapa Flow naval defenses.

Graemsay Battery and Hoy Sound Low lighthouse

This is a topic for another page, but you should be aware as you travel around Orkney that you'll see evidence everywhere from WWI and WWII, when many thousands of soldiers were stationed on the islands.

Remains of WWII battery, Orkney

The battery was unusual both in having no roof, leaving the poor soldiers exposed to the harsh elements.

Four searchlights inside the searchlight structure pointed in slightly different directions so light was diffused through the slits into a fan shape.

Looking out from WWII battery remains, Orkney

Graemsay Battery, Ness and Links Batteries in Stromness and Skerry Battery across Burra Sound on the neighboring island of Hoy together illuminated a large area of Hoy Sound.

Both civilian and military boats had to get permission to proceed past this point.

If you're interested in wartime stories and battery tours, I recommend a tour by our friend, military historian Andy Hollinrake.

Tips for visiting

Walking around an Orkney island

* Plan ahead carefully. There aren’t any shops, restaurants or hostels in Graemsay and nowhere to wait out a sudden rainstorm except the ferry terminal. It's a good idea to check the weather and ferry tables carefully before heading out. 

* You don’t need a car. You can walk around the island at a gentle pace in four or five hours, depending on how long you like to linger. 

* If you miss the last ferry of the day you’ll find yourself sleeping rough ... unless someone takes pity on you and lets you sleep in a barn. 

* As always in unpredictable Orkney, it's wise to be prepared with extra layers and a raincoat. This is how we were dressed in June.

Picnic lunch on an Orkney island

* Picnic benches like the one above are available here and there along the coastal path, but there's nothing to stop you from picnicing on a secluded beach.

* Graemsay is a haven for seabirds of all kinds, including those that nest in fields and on beaches, so step very carefully in spring and summer months. If birds seem to be circling in distress, move away. You may unknowingly be near a nest.

And finally ... 

Fulmars nesting, Orkney

* Don't get too close to fulmars' nests that you might see in cliffy places. They look innocent enough, but they'll projectile-vomit a putrid, oily goo on you if they feel threatened.

How to get to Graemsay

You can take the little ferry, MV Graemsay, as a foot passenger from the pier opposite the Stromness Hotel or from Moaness Pier in North Hoy. Bring a bicycle free of charge.  It takes around 15 minutes to get from Stromness to Graemsay, or about 45 minutes from Hoy. 

Orkney Ferries, Orkney

It doesn't hurt to check Orkney Ferries' sailing info online before your trip, in case of changes to the schedule or other interruptions that might affect your plans.

Someone comes around to collect your fee after you set sail. You can book ahead by phone, or in one of the Orkney Ferries offices in Kirkwall, Houton or Tingwall. (Check online for varying summer and winter hours.)

See Orkney Ferries' FAQ section for details and to see if you qualify for a discount.

You don’t have to book ahead unless you have a group of 10 or more. 

Ferry terminal, Orkney

When you get off the ferry, you'll come to the small terminal, supplied with maps, pamphlets and bathrooms - the only public toilets on the island. This is the island's friendly nod to self-sufficient tourists.

When we were there, there was a display of handmade cards with an honesty box for payment. We bought one, of course.

We hope you enjoy your peedie adventure in Graemsay!

Orkney sheep

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Orkney Islands, Scotland - a tiny island near Stromness. Find out more at

Mermaid image (Rhonda's pages) and storyteller image (Tom's pages), and all other illustrations except where noted are here by the courtesy of our dear friend - Stromness author, artist and historian, Bryce Wilson MBE, who owns all copyrights. Thanks, Bryce!

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