Places to see
At 57 square miles, Hoy is the largest of the Orkney archipelago of 70 islands and takes its name from the Old Norse "Haey" meaning high; the island is hilly in the north and west where Upper Old Red Sandstone has been weathered into craggy uplands. Ward Hill, 1570 feet [479m] is the highest hill in the Orkney Islands and together with The Cuilags can be seen for miles.
Hoy is noted for its archaeology, botany, geology, ornithology and wildlife; its rugged sandstone cliffs and coastline include the famous sea stack The Old Man of Hoy rising from the Atlantic to 450 feet (137m) and St John's Head the second highest and most vertical sea cliff in the UK.
Overlooked by crags named the Dwarfie Hamars stands a large block of red sandstone known as the Dwarfie Stane; thought to be the UK's only example of a rock-cut chamber tomb of the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age.
The RSPB's 9,700 acre North Hoy Nature Reserve is home to many birds including Raptors, colonies of Arctic and Great Skuas as well as the only mountain hares in Orkney. Betty Corrigall's grave is reputed to be the loneliest in the British Isles and yet one of the most visited in Orkney.
The Naval Cemetery at Lyness honours and remembers those who gave their lives during two World Wars. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Naval Museum houses many artefacts from World War 1 & 11 and the massive oil tank is now an interpretation centre capturing the former Royal Navy base in action during both wars.
Martello Towers built in the early 19th Century flank the entrance to Longhope, Hackness tower is open to the public. The Longhope Lifeboat Station has a record for daring rescues and has been awarded 17 RNLI medals for gallantry; a museum now stands on the site of the original RNLI Boathouse.
A colony of seals have made their home in the bay at Longhope and can be seen basking on the shores at low tide along with a variety of sea and wading birds. Porpoises are frequent visitors to Cantick Head's waters especially when the sea is calm; Dolphins and Orcas have been sighted on several occasions since 2003. Sea angling is a common pastime from the cliffs around the Lighthouse and Trout fishing is available at Heldale Water, licenses or permits are not required.
The Northern Isles are reputed to be the best place in the UK from which to see the wondrous natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis also known as "The Northern Lights" and locally as "The Merry Dancers", a magical experience of streamers and colourful lights once seen never forgotten. The movements of the Merry Dancers are often used by fishermen to help predict the weather - quick and shooting lights denote bad weather, a slow and graceful display more favourable conditions. Clear skies in Autumn and Winter provide the best opportunities to view Auroral displays but you do have to keep watch as the lights can come and go in a couple of moments or if you are lucky they may dance across the skies all night. York University has an excellent web site, Aurora Watch, with photos and scientific information; subscribe to Aurora Alerts and the team will email or text expected sightings within the UK
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