Hoy is the second largest of the Orkney Islands, but with a population of only 419 in 2011. The name means "high" and it's hilly and sparsely populated; its hills draw the clouds, drizzle and midges, and Hoy feels much more like the bleak Hebrides than the green, pastoral Orkneys. Its northern part is an important breeding ground for birds, and RSPB reserve. Together with nearby Mainland, Hoy encloses Scapa Flow, a wartime naval anchorage. Hoy is joined by a causeway to South Walls, so for practical purposes these constitute a single island.
There is no air service to Hoy. There are two ferry routes from Mainland Orkney, both operated by Orkney Ferries. The ferry from Stromness to 1 Moaness, in the north of Hoy, is for foot passengers & bicycles only. May-Sep it runs 4 or 5 times a day M-F, twice on Saturday and Sunsay, taking 20 min. This ferry also calls at Graemsay.
To take a car to Hoy, use the ro-ro ferry from Houton to 2 Lyness near the south end of the island. It runs 5-6 times a day M-F, 2-3 times on Saturday and Sunday, taking 35-65 min. The ferry passes by the uninhabited little islands of Holm of Houton, Cava and Fara. Some trips call at Sailing before coming into Lyness. The first and last ferry of the day serves 3 Longhope on South Walls, which is connected to Hoy by a roadway. The one-way fare from Houton to Lyness is ₤2.80 for an adult, and ₤9 for a car (2022).
You need your own wheels, cycling is good (until the rain comes on). There's a community bus along the B-road, hourly M-F between Lyness and Longhope. Between Lyness and Moaness it only runs twice a day, to connect islanders to the Stromness ferry.
- 1 Scapa Flow Exhibition, Hoy Hotel, Lyness. Mar Apr Oct: M-Sa 10:00-16:00; May-Sep: daily 10:00-16:00. Museum of First and Second World War Naval History. Scapa Flow was a major British naval anchorage in both wars and the German fleet was scuttled there after World War I. The museum and visitor centre are being re-built, and might re-open in 2023. Meanwhile there's a temporary exhibition within the Hoy Hotel, free. The hotel is likewise closed for re-building so there are no toilets; use the ferry terminal a mile away. Free.
- Longhope Lifeboat Station: a lifeboat has been stationed here since 1874. You can visit M-F 10:00-13:00. In March 1969 tragedy befell this village when the lifeboat put out in a raging sea to help a drifting freighter. It was lost with all eight men aboard, a quarter of the village population, while the freighter drifted onto rocks at South Ronaldsay and the crew scrambled to safety. Free, donations welcome.
- Hackness Martello Tower stands on the coast a mile east of Lyness ferry pier. It's open Apr-Sep: daily 09:30-17:30, adult £6.
- Betty Corrigan's Grave is midway up the island road by the Water of Hoy. In the 1770s a sailor done her wrong. She took her own life and so wasn't allowed a church burial, so here in this lonely spot she lies.
- 1 Ward Hill. The highest point in Orkney Islands at 1570 feet, from which all but one of the islands can be seen.
- 2 Old Man of Hoy. Enjoy this spectacular 137-m sea stack while you can. It was created late 18th-century by erosion of the sea cliffs, and its crumbly sandstone is under continual attack by the sea and by rock-climbers' pickaxes. A painting of 1817 shows it as much wider, with a flat head and two stout legs straddling an arch, like Frankenstein's monster. (Dramatic scenes in Mary Shelley's original novel are set in the Orkneys.) A few years later, the Old Man suffered a stroke so only one slender half of him survives. You get a good view if you come to Orkney on the Scrabster-Stromness ferry, otherwise it's a stiff hike. First, cycle or drive to Rackwick along the little lane that branches off the B-road just south of Moaness. (On the way, note the Neolithic Dwarfie Stane.) It's then a clear and signposted but eventually steep path, 6 miles or 3 hr round trip, to view the Old Man. The walk can be extended to the cliffs of St John's Head, allow an extra two hours.
- Cycle or walk around 3 Graemsay, the little farm island midway between Stromness and north Hoy. No visitor amenities or sights here, just make a quiet leisurely circuit of the island lane. Keep orbiting until the next ferry hoves into view.
- You can likewise cycle across 4 Flotta, the little island east of Longhope, served by the ferry from Houton. The north end around the pier is industrial with a big oil terminal. Follow the lane south to escape into pleasant farmland.
- Wild Heather Crafts is open in the summer M-Sa 09:30-16:30. Emily's ice-cream parlour is next door. They're half a mile north of Lyness.
- Beneth'ill Cafe near Moaness ferry pier is open in summer, daily 10:00-18:00.
- Royal Hotel is next to the ferry pier at Longhope. There's a bar with decent pub grub; they may have accommodation.
- 1 Hoy Hostel, Hoy Outdoor Centre, KW16 3NJ (near Moaness ferry pier). 32-bed hostel, run by Orkney Council, affiliated to the SYHA. Adult £20.60, under 18 £15.70.
- 2 Rackwick Youth Hostel, Rackwick Outdoor Centre (take lane from Moaness). 8-bed hostel, run by Orkney Council], affiliated to the SYHA. Adult £16.40, under 18 £14.35.
- A few self-catering cottages on Longhope, including Cantick Head Lighthouse. The 19th-century lighthouse is still active and you can't normally go in. The keeper's cottage sleeps 4 or 5, minimum stay 3 nights, Oct-Mar £120 per night and Apr-Sept £150.
- The Hoy Hotel is closed for building work. It may re-open in 2022.
As of Oct 2021, there is patchy mobile cover on Hoy from O2 and Three, best around Lyness ferry terminal, but no signal from EE or Vodafone. There is no signal from any carrier on South Walls, Flotta or Graemsay. So it might come to sending a postcard from the Post Office north end of the island, near the Hoy Hostel.
Back to Orkney Mainland either to Stromness or Houton.