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Europe > Britain and Ireland > United Kingdom > Scotland > Orkney Islands > Rousay


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Rousay is one of the Orkney Islands, north of the Scottish mainland. It's small and hilly, only 5 miles by 3, yet it has a remarkable collection of prehistoric sites. It's also a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its geology, wildflowers and bird life.

Get in[edit]

Orkney Ferries [1] sail five or six times a day in summer from Tingwall on Mainland, taking 30 min. The ferry is a small ro-ro for vehicles and foot passengers, landing at Trumland Pier on the south of the island. It continues to nearby Wyre and Egilsay, then returns to Rousay, before going back to Tingwall.

Bus 6 runs every couple of hours from Kirkwall via Finstown to meet the ferries at Tingwall, 20 min. In summer the first and last buses of the day continue round the Mainland coast to Birsay and Stromness.

Get around[edit]

A single road, B9064, makes a 13-mile (20-km) circuit of the island. The ferry landing is south-side while the best of the prehistoric sites, Midhowe Cairn and Broch, are a five mile hike north-west. Cycling is a good way to get around. Bikes can be hired from the Rousay Hostel, see "Sleep" listing.

A public bus service operates on the island, every Thursday, 7AM-7PM. This on-request service must be booked in advance.

Rousay Tours is Patrick Macguire in his spare time, using an 8-seater Renault Trafic to give guided tours of the island. Phone +44 1856 821234.


The prehistoric ruins detailed here are all located on the south-west coast of Rousay next to the road. They are described in the order you meet them as you go away from the ferry port.

  • Taversoe Tuick (Just past Trumland Farm). An unusual two-storey neolithic cairn. The upper level is covered by a concrete dome and you climb down to the lower level.
  • 1 Blackhammer Chambered Cairn (600 m west of Taversoe Tuick). A long stalled neolithic chambered cairn with seven compartments, spoiled slightly by the concrete roof. Blackhammer Chambered Cairn (Q880846) on Wikidata Blackhammer Chambered Cairn on Wikipedia
  • Knowe of Yarso (On hill above Taversoe Hotel). Another long 4-stalled cairn with a less intrusive roof.
  • 2 Midhowe Cairn (5 miles from pier, facing Eynhallow island). This is a huge stalled tomb, lying parallel to the shore on the west coast. Known by archaeologists as The Great Ship of Death it is perhaps one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Orkney. The cairn's outer wall-face was carefully arranged in a herringbone pattern. The tomb is now protected under a shed and its sophisticated structure can be viewed also from an overhead walkway. The rectangular burial chamber, 23.4m long, is divided by pairs of upright slabs into 12 compartments. Along the eastern wall of the compartments the remains of 25 people were found. Some of them had been exposed prior to burial to remove the flesh. Several compartments are provided with stone benches. Pottery recovered from the chamber is of the "Unstan" type. Midhowe Chambered Cairn (Q568592) on Wikidata Midhowe Chambered Cairn on Wikipedia
  • 3 Midhowe Broch (100 m west of Midhowe Cairn). The best example of a broch in Orkney. It was excavated in the early 1930s by W.Grant; its remains are over 4 metres high and it might have been 13 metres high when first built. The broch was built in close association with a small village, the remains of which can still be seen outside the walls of the defensive structure.It differs from most brochs in having two large "rooms" protected within its large fortified walls, each with their own hearth, beds and other signs of domesticity. There is a communal well beneath the floor of the more westerly room. Midhowe Broch (Q923344) on Wikidata Midhowe Broch on Wikipedia

Nearby islands[edit]

  • 4 Wyre. is the small inhabited island 500 m south of Rousay, and served by the same ferry. Here are the remains of Cubbie Roo's Castle, built around 1150 AD, and of St Mary's Chapel of similar date. The poet Edwin Muir (1887-1959) spent much of his childhood on Wyre. Wyre (Q537285) on Wikidata Wyre, Orkney on Wikipedia
  • 5 Egilsay. The small inhabited island 1 km east of Rousay. It is served by the same ferry. It's the site of the murder of St Magnus; the church dedicated to him is ruined but retains a prominent round bell-tower. Egilsay (Q1297992) on Wikidata Egilsay on Wikipedia
  • 6 Eynhallow. The tiny uninhabited island just west of Rousay. It has the ruins of a 12th-century church: no ferries call here, but there are occasional sight-seeing trips. Eynhallow (Q1385851) on Wikidata Eynhallow on Wikipedia
  • 7 Gairsay. South of Wyre is a sheep-farm, with no ferry. Gairsay (Q745668) on Wikidata Gairsay on Wikipedia



  • Rousay Stores, House Bay, Essaquoy KW17 2PR (east side of island), +44 1856 821365. M W-F 11:00-17:30, Sa 11:00-14:00, closed Su & Tu. Well-stocked convenience store with fresh, frozen and dry/tinned goods.

Eat and drink[edit]

The Taversoe has a public bar and restaurant, see "Sleep".


  • Rousay Hostel, Trumland Organic Farm KW17 2PU (just west of ferry pier), +44 1856 821 252. Three-star hostel with 11 beds and camping facilities. Open all year. Dorm £14 ppn, room £15, camping £6.
  • Cedarlee, Brinian KW17 2PU (next to ferry pier), +44 1856 821243. Self-catering lodge, sleeps 4-6, normally let Saturday to Saturday, but may be available for stays of 4 nights or more. No pets. High season £400/week.
  • The Taversoe, Gripps KW17 2PT (just west of ferry pier), +44 1856 821325. Small hotel with one twin, two doubles, one twin-double. All en suite with views over the Eynhallow Sound towards Mainland. With lounge, public bar and restaurant.

Go next[edit]

Back to Orkney Mainland it must be.

This travel guide to Rousay is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!