The Holms, Stromness

Bryce Wilson's mermaid illustration from Tom Muir's The Mermaid Bride and Other Orkney Folk Tales. See Tom's books at Orkneyology.com

Wandering about for an hour or so on the Inner and Outer Holms of Stromness is a mild, beach-combing sort of peedie adventure. 

Time is of the essence here, however, since the Holms are tidal islands. You can walk across at low tide, but if you're careless you'll get stranded when the tide comes in again.

That's what makes it an adventure!

View of Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, from a tidal island.


The Holms ... what's a holm?

According to Tom, the Orcadian definition of a holm is an island just big enough to fatten one sheep, to feed two or to starve three.

To everyone else, a holm is a tiny island. There are two of them in Stromness, just the right size for a short stroll.

The Holms, Stromness, Orkney as seen from Brinkie's Brae. Orkneyology.com


Is that the same as the parish of Holm?

No, it isn't. And while the islands are pronounced "home," the parish of Holm is pronounced "ham."

I don't have a clue.

View of Stromness, Orkney, Scotland from a tidal island outside of Stromness.


The Holms - a historic home

On the Inner Holm, you'll pass a wonderful house called The Holms - for obvious reasons.

This fine house was completed in the late 1800s by Capt. Henry Linklater, who came from the neighboring island of Graemsay.

Captain Linklater added on to the small, original croft house, incorporating it into his new home.

Historic house called The Holms - Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK

You'll see Hoy High lighthouse shining from Graemsay.

To find out more about Graemsay, read Stromness historian Bryce Wilson's lovely book about the island where his parents were born, and where he's spent many happy days.

Tap the book cover to find out more.

Graemsay, a History by Bryce Wilson, Stromness Orkney historian - Orkneyology.com


Captain Linklater

Henry Linklater was captain of the Harmony, a Moravian Mission barque sailing between London and Labrador.

Etching of the fourth Harmony, commanded by Capt. Henry Linklater from the Orkney island of Graemsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland  - Orkneyology.com

The Moravian Mission stations were trading posts, with the purpose of converting to Christianity and westernizing the local Inuit and First Nation peoples.

Inuit people at Ashe Inlet, Canada

Capt. Linklater died on Inner Holm in 1896.

You can find his grave in the Warbeth Cemetery, covered by the iridescent labradorite stones that he used in his ship for ballast.

Hudson's Bay Company photo of a churchArchive Hudson's Bay Company photo courtesy of Orkney Library and Archive

The Holms is a private residence, so just enjoy it from afar and then move along to the beach, or walk across to the Outer Holm.


View of the Hoy hills from Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland. Orkneyology.com


Watch your step!

Always take care as you walk across the rocky sea bed. It can be slippery, and there are tripping hazards.

Take your time and you should be fine.

Causeway leading from Inner Holm to Outer Holm at low tide, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK.

Beach combing

This beach is a great place to do a little beach combing. You never know what might turn up. Just remember to keep an eye on the tide. 

These two beautiful books are by our dear friend, the late Keith Allardyce. Keith's "Found" books are full of stories and photos of Orkney folk and the curious things we find on our beaches.

Tom and I highly recommend both books. 

Click on the titles for ordering info.

Found, by Keith Allardyce - photos and stories of beach combing in the Orkney Islands, Scotland - Orkneyology.com
Found 2, Keith Allardyce, photos and stories of beach combing in Scotland's Orkney Islands - Orkneyology.com

Pay your respects at the unknown grave

You can walk from the Inner Holm to the Outer Holm at low tide.

There's an old, unmarked grave on Outer Holm. Nobody knows who it belongs to.

Tom's best guess is that the grave was dug for a drowned sailor who washed up on the shore.

Unmarked grave on a tidal island in Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK

Island etiquette:

  • You may find sheep grazing on the Outer Holm, so please be a good visitor, and keep dogs leashed.
  •  Shut any gate that you open.
  • Leave nothing but footprints.
  • Give the house and its occupants a wide, respectful berth.
Remains of a fish curing house on a tidal island, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK. Orkneyology.comRemains of a fish-curing house on Outer Holm with Hoy High lighthouse in the distance


Enjoy a walk nearby if you miss low tide

If you miss low tide and can't get out to the Holms, there's a walking path you can enjoy that runs parallel to the Inner Holm. It bears the unromantic name of WM28 on the Orkney Core Paths Map.

Let's call it "Holmsview." That's better, isn't it?

Tidal island: the Inner Holm, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK


The Holmsview walk

Walk out of Stromness toward the co-op. Turn right on the walking path just before you reach the Stromness Primary School.

Take a rest on the handy benches and enjoy the view for a few minutes, if you like.

A bench in Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, UK

Then simply follow the path around the harbor, keeping to the one nearest the water when there's a choice.


Walking path in Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK - Orkneyology.com

The path becomes a meander through the grass as you get closer to Copland's Dock.

Cross over the dock road and follow the path along the shore.

It's a bit rough at points, and can be slippery on wet days, so watch your step. The walk is of moderate difficulty, only because of tripping and slipping hazards.

A winding path on the beach in Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK - Orkneyology.com


You'll come to a bit of a headland, eventually. That's the end of the safe path.

Enjoy the views of Hoy and Scapa Flow.


View of the hills of Hoy from Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK
Rainbow on a rugged beach, Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK


If you try to walk farther along the shore, you'll run into an erosion problem where the sea has eaten the path.


Eroded beach path in Orkney, Scotland


Turn back and take a leisurely stroll home to pretty Stromness.


Walking path leading to Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK Orkneyology.com

Or meander along some of the branching paths and roads around the residential area before heading back.


Evening view of Stromness, Orkney Islands, and the hills of Hoy, Scotland, UK


Have a lovely walk!


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You won't regret it.

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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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