A six day tour of Orkney, starting and ending in Inverness, with bikes and transport provided by Ticket to Ride Highlands, the Highlands leading bike hire and logistics specialists.
Orkney, the remote islands just off the north coast of the Scottish mainland, are a fascinating place to visit. There’s loads to see; beautiful beaches, atmospheric chambered burial cairns and even a whole, beautifully preserved Neolithic village, and wonderful towns like Kirkwall and Stromness to explore.
The islands themselves are not big, distances between places to visit are small, and, on the whole, the land itself is pretty flat (although those of you visiting Hoy will find a hill or two). It is easy to find quiet roads accessing all corners of the islands. And its really easy to hop on one of the small ferries from Orkney mainland to the 12 or so surrounding islands. Bikes go free on those ferries, no need to book, just turn up and get on board with the foot passengers.
You can use Ticket to Ride’s bike hire and bike transport service to easily get to and from your Orkney cycling adventure. Here is our suggested itinerary, but we are as flexible as you, so just let us know if would like something different.
Time of year - we recommend cycling this tour from March to October inclusive.
N.B Ferries and accommodation - although, as a foot passenger with a bike, you will be able to turn up and book onto ferries, please do check all ferry times before you go, and we suggest you book you accommodation in advance too.
Day 1 - Arrive Inverness and make your way to the Ticket to Ride bike hire centre in Bellfield Park, Inverness. We can also collect you from Inverness airport or train or bus stations. At TTR we will sort out your hire bikes, if you are hiring, and any other equipment you need. Our minibus and bike trailer leave from the park at 10.30 to meet the 13.30 ferry from Gills bay to St Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay (joined by causeway to the rest of Orkney). We recommend you book your place on the ferry beforehand. The crossing with a bike costs around £25. The ferry gets into St Margaret’s Hope just over an hour later, before 15:00, giving you plenty of time to get to your accommodation. St Margaret’s Hope is a lovely village with plenty of places to stay.
Day 2 - Cycle down to the Tomb of the Eagles one of Orkney’s top archeological sites, at the south end of South Ronaldsay, then back up to St Margaret’s Hope for lunch (14 miles round trip). In the afternoon, cycle north, across the islands or Burray and Lamb Holm, to Orkney mainland. These islands are all connected by causeways called the Churchill Barriers, built during the second world war to protect the huge anchorage of Scapa Flow where the British naval fleet were based. On Lamb Holm, a more moving memorial of the war can be found at the Italian Chapel, built out of Nissen huts by Italian prisoners brought to Orkney to construct the barriers. Their workmanship and dedication is amazing and inspiring (7 miles from St Margaret’s Hope).
Then cycle to Kirkwall, visiting Mine Howe, ‘the mystery of the 29 steps’, on the way. Mine Howe, east of Kirkwall, in Tankerness, is a mysterious, Iron Age, underground chamber that the experts haven’t been able to decipher, maybe you’ll discover its secret? (Lamb Holm to Kirkwall via Mine Holm is 10 miles). Total miles for the day, 31. Plenty of places to stay and eat in Kirkwall.
Day 3 - Kirkwall is full of delights, and we’re sure you will want a day off from cycling to explore St Magnus’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces and the Highland Park distillery. A second night in Kirkwall gives you a chance to track down more of the great pubs and restaurants in the town.
Day 4 - An early start, this is a full day, with some great cycling and loads of interesting places to visit. Head west out of Kirkwall to Finstown and turn right at the Pomona Inn taking the quiet road north towards Tingwall. Visit the Broch of Gurness, built in 200BC to see off marauders. (Kirkwall to the Broch of Gurness is 16 miles). From the Broch of Gurness, head north west to the Brough of Birsay, which you can walk across a short causeway to, if the tide is out. (From the Broch of Gurness to the Brough of Birsay is about 10 miles). Cycle south to Skara Brae taking the quiet coast road. Skara Brae, a beautifully preserved Neolithic village dating from around 3000BC, is one of most important historic sites in Europe. Take your time and enjoy it, there’s fine cafe here too.
From Skara Brae you head south to Stromness for the night. (From the Brough of Birsay to Stromness is about 14 miles.) Total miles for the day, 40.
Day 5 - Spend the morning resting your legs and exploring Stromness, full of maritime heritage and beautiful buildings. The Pier Arts Centre houses one of the most remarkable collections of 20 century British art anywhere in the UK, and Julia’s Cafe down on the waterfront serves the best breakfast I’ve ever had. In the afternoon, cycle east avoiding the main road by going through Cairston, to get to the incredible Maeshowe, the huge Neolithic chambered cairn at Stenness. Built in 2700 BC, its so old even the graffiti is Viking. From Maeshowe, cycle past the huge standing stones of Stenness, to the Ring of Brodgar, over 100 meters wide and containing 27 giant standing stones, it really is one of the wonders of Britain, if not Europe. Cycle north to join the A967 back to Stromness for a round trip of 15 miles on the road, but 4000 years in history.
Day 6 - Ferry to Thurso, past the west coast of Hoy and the wonderful sea stack, the 450 feet high Old Man of Hoy. Leaving Stromness at 11:00, the ferry gets into Scrabster (Thurso) about 13.15. We recommend you book your ferry crossing in advance. A foot passenger pays about £15, bikes go free. The Ticket to Ride bike bus will pick you at the ferry terminal and have you and your bikes back in Inverness before 16:00.
Q. What kind of cycling tour is this?
A. This is a self-guided tour, ideal for reasonably fit riders with some cycle touring experience. It is all on-road but in areas where traffic volumes are low.
Q. How far will we be riding each day?
A. The distances covered each day are between 15 and 40 miles (25km - 65km).
Q. How easy is it to follow the route?
A. There are few roads in this area so there are reduced opportunities to take a wrong turn. Signposting is good and we provide a map. You can also download GPX files compatible with most GPS devices and smartphones.
Q. What should I take with me?
A. If you are staying in accommodation along the way, you’ll just need your cycling clothes (including good waterproofs), clothes to change into in the evening and food and drink for each day on the trail. There are plenty of shops in Kirkwall where you can stock up. If you are camping, you’ll clearly need your camping gear too. We can hire you panniers to carry all your gear.
Q. What will the weather be like?
A. The weather in this part of the country is famously unpredictable. Between April and September it is unlikely to be frosty and in July and August the mean daily maximum temperature is 19°C. Around Inverness between June and August there are normally fewer than 30 days with rainfall of more than 1mm but it is wetter in the west. For all the facts see: www.metoffice.gov.uk
Q. Do I need to book in advance?
A. Yes, we recommend you book your bike hire and all accommodation in advance.
Q. Is this tour suitable for children?
A. Fit children aged 12 and over with experience of cycle touring should enjoy this trip. Customers have completed this trip with younger children in trailers but you might consider spreading the trip over more days if you're towing!
Q. Will my mobile phone work?
A. There is a good signal in most villages but in the more remote parts of the route you may lose signal for some time. You should not rely solely on phone mapping for navigation. Mobile Phone Coverage Maps
Q. Can I camp?
A. Yes. There are lots of camp sites along the route and we've listed some in the accommodation section. For information about wild camping see: Scottish Outdoor Access Code