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South Ronaldsay is the most southerly of the Orkney Islands, with its main settlement being St Margaret's Hope, and a population in 2011 of 909. South Ronaldsay has always been joined by a sandy spit to the island just north, Burray. But during the Second World War a chain of road causeways, the "Churchill Barriers", was built by Italian POWs to protect Scapa Flow from seaborne attack; so South Ronaldsay, Burray and the two little islands of Lamb Holm and Glims Holm effectively became part of Orkney Mainland.

Mostly these islands are farmland raising cattle and sheep. But such strategic sheep! Churchill knew it was illegal to use POW labour for military construction, even if purely defensive. So the official line was that the causeways were just to help farmers move their sheep around, nothing military. And, since they were only completed by the end of the war, and have only served as peacetime roadways, the great man was vindicated.

Like North Ronaldsay, South Ronaldsay is named for Rögnvald Kali Kolsson (1100-1158) the Earl of Orkney, canonised as St Ronald.

Get in[edit]

Vér hǫfum vaðnar leirur vikur fimm megingrimmar; saurs vasa vant, es vârum, viðr, í Grímsbœ miðjum.
"Muck, slime, mud. We waded for five mired weeks, reeking, silt-fouled bilge-boards souring in Grimsby bay."
- poetry by Earl Rognvald, who travelled as far as Jerusalem.

A961 is the good road along the causeways to Mainland, which has the main town of Kirkwall, the airport, and the ferry port for Aberdeen and Shetland. Bus X1 runs down this road every couple of hours from Stromness and Kirkwall, as far as St Margaret's Hope; it doesn't reach Burwick. Two ferries from the Scottish mainland arrive in South Ronaldsay.

  • The car ferry from Gill's Bay lands at 1 St Margaret's Hope. It's operated by Pentland Ferries, runs three times every day, and takes an hour. St Margaret's Hope is 30 min by car or bus X1 to Kirkwall.
  • The ferry from John O'Groats lands at 2 Burwick on the south tip of the island. This service, for foot passengers and cyclists only, is operated by Jogferry. It takes only 40 min and runs May-Sep, three times a day June-Aug and twice daily in May and Sept; no winter service. A connecting coach runs between Inverness and John O'Groats, then another coach runs on between Burwick and Kirkwall.

The other ferries from mainland Scotland are Scrabster-Stromness and Aberdeen-Kirkwall-Shetland, see Orkney Islands#Get in.

Get around[edit]

Map of South Ronaldsay

You need your own wheels. Cycling is ideal. The main road is busy and mostly lacks a sidewalk so walking it is no fun.


  • 1 Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre, on the A961 road on Burray Island (take the X1 bus (ask the driver to let you off here) from Kirkwall heading for St Margaret’s Hope), +44 1856 731255. May-Sep. It has a surprisingly extensive collection of fossils from Orkney and around the world, an exhibition on the Churchill Barriers, and on Orkney history. Only some of the galleries are wheelchair accessible. Adult $5.50.
Tomb of the Eagles
  • The Tomb of the Eagles, a Chambered Cairn at Isbister, closed permanently in 2022.
  • Blockships are the wrecks seen from the causeway. They were placed to protect Scapa Flow from U-boat attack and sufficed for World War I, but proved inadequate at the outset of World War II when HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed by U47 with the loss of 835 lives. It was Britain's Belgrano, an elderly ship barely suitable for front-line service, but a hammer blow to morale at the outset of war. Royal Oak is a war grave and may not be dived, but the blockships are popular especially for rookie divers as they're shallow and scenic.
  • The Blacksmith's Museum in St Margaret's Hope remains closed.
  • Sorquoy Standing Stone is next to Wheems Organic Farm, see Sleep.
  • Tomb of the Otters or "Banks Chambered Cairn" lies just south. It's also from circa 3000 BC, and so far is only partially explored. It wasn't sealed, so over the centuries many otters lived and died within, to mingle with the human remains. Open May-Sept 11:00-17:00, adult £6. As of May 2023 this is closed with no indication of when it may reopen.
  • 2 Swona is the island seen west of the tip of South Ronaldsay. It's about a mile long by half a mile wide, with similar low terrain overlying red sandstone. The last inhabitants left in 1974 and their herd of cattle went feral, now forming a separate breed. Swona is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its rare plants and teeming bird-life, and has prehistoric and Norse remains. There is no ferry service, and fierce currents surround it so only experienced knowledgeable sailors should approach, but you can see the abandoned farmsteads from the ferry towards St Margaret's Hope. Another hazard to sailors can be seen at the landing cove to the northeast: a beached boat has been holed by the feral cattle using it as a rubbing post.
  • Stroma the island southwest and Muckle Skerry the islet directly south are considered part of Caithness on the Scottish mainland. No-one there, just sheep, and no plans to build a causeway even if the helpful Italians volunteer.


  • Walk Hoxa Head, the headland 3 miles west of St Margaret's Hope. Follow School Road (B9043) west out of the village to Sands of Wright. A long walk starts here, up along the quiet lane, or drive or cycle to the lane end for a shorter walk. This follows the cliff-top, past the ruins of a World War II gun battery. It used to be possible to short-cut back across the fields, but this path is now closed off.
  • You can try fossil-hunting along Burray Island's red sandstone shoreline.
  • Golf: South Ronaldsay GC is a nine-hole course in St Margaret's Hope. Twice around off white tees is 5004 yards, par 68.


  • The Old Trading Post is a small store and Post Office in St Margaret's Hope open M-Sa 08:00-20:00, Su 10:00-18:00.


Best bet is the two hotels in St Margaret's Hope, see "Sleep". There's nothing in Burray or Burwick.



St Margaret's Hope
Most accommodation on South Ronaldsay is in and around St Margaret's Hope, where there's a collection of small B&Bs.
  • 1 The Murray Arms Hotel, Back Rd, St Margaret's Hope KW17 2SP, +44 1856 831205. 3-star handy for Gill's Bay ferry.
  • The Creel, Front Rd, St. Margaret's Hope KW17 2SL, +44 1856 831311. B&B and restaurant on sea-front.
  • 2 Wheems Organic Farm, East Side KW17 2TJ, +44 1856 831556. Open Apr-Oct, this farm has a campsite, campervan pitches, glamping pods, and the inevitable yurt (Kyrgyzstani style, if you're a connoisseur of these). Also a self-catering loft and cottage. Dogs allowed in some areas. Tent £15.


As of Oct 2021, South Ronaldsay has 4G from O2 and Three, which extends along the highway north onto Mainland. There is no signal from EE or Vodafone.

Go next[edit]

It's either back along the causeway towards Kirkwall and other parts of Orkney, or take a ferry south to the Scottish mainland.

This city travel guide to South Ronaldsay is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.