Surrounded by the North Atlantic, the island of Westray is at once blissfully peaceful and uncrowded, while at the same time home to a vibrant, distinctive and entrepreneurial population (600 in total).
Visitors to the island will discover not only bracing sea cliff walks, wildlife and white sandy beaches, but also art galleries, textile designers, artists, writers, and crafts people; a multiplicity of musical, sporting and children’s events; archaeological sites and exhibitions; learning opportunities and a thriving local food culture.
A variety of accommodation is available on the island, to suit all tastes and budgets, and there are many options for eating out.
Tours are also available, and these can introduce you to the highlights — from puffin watching to Neolithic archaeology and much else besides.
The last weekend in July sees the annual Westray Regatta, the largest sailing race in Orkney.
The Regatta weekend also includes an evening concert and dance, and an Island Picnic — a fun day out for all the family, with plentiful food and entertainment.
Over the last weekend in August, meanwhile, the biennial Westray Connections Music Festival is held in venues throughout the island.
Drawing on a 5,000-year-old farming heritage and a close association with the sea, producers in Westray are building on their natural advantages to provide range of new and outstanding foods.
Using traditional methods and smaller-scale production, local businesses maintain the link from farm (and sea) to the plate.
Many are family-run enterprises, and all are based on locally sourced ingredients; some are registered Fairtrade. Indeed, as a “Fairtrade Island,” Westray folk are keenly aware of the issues and ethics involved in food production, and have consciously worked to maintain the integrity and quality of their products.
Outdoors, Westray offers a wealth of archaeological and historical sites to visit.
Over recent years, the excavations at Links of Noltland have created considerable excitement. Archaeologists working to rescue unique, prehistoric remains from destruction (caused by natural erosion) have discovered an entire Neolithic and Bronze Age landscape, complete with houses, fields, tombs and even an underground sauna.
Westray Heritage Centre hosts exhibitions and also displays the famous Westray Wife figurine, found during the Links of Noltland excavations, together with the Westray Stone, a spectacular megalithic carving.
Sandy beaches and cliff-top walks offer excellent opportunities to view wildlife in the area, and the wide vistas and ever-changing light conditions are a delight for photographers and cloud-spotters alike.
Westray’s sister island, Papa Westray, makes a great day trip.
With a population of around 80 people, this small isle, known locally as “Papay,” offers a charming combination of wildlife and heritage.
The ancient dwelling of Knap of Howar — a Neolithic farmhouse — is in remarkable condition. Its ancient walls and doorways give a tantalising glimpse into the distant past.
History from the Dark Ages to the 20th century is wonderfully represented by Celtic chapel sites, a Norse hog’s-back grave and the beautifully preserved Holland farmstead.
St Tredwell’s Chapel sits on an isolated promontory on the island’s main loch (also a magnet for wildfowl), while St Boniface Kirk has been beautifully restored and is still used to this day.
Nearly a third of the island is the RSPB North Hill Reserve, where breeding skuas and a small puffin colony can be found.
You can fly to Papay in just 15 minutes from Kirkwall, but you might prefer to take the world’s shortest scheduled flight, from Westray, in under two minutes!
Alternatively, ferries leave for Westray from Kirkwall, twice weekly, and more often in the summer season.
You can then board the ferry in Westray, to make the short trip onwards to Papay.