North-west Coast, Westray

  • South from near Backarass - © William Mackesy
  • Sea cave near Noup Head - © William Mackesy
  • Colony near Noup Head - © William Mackesy
  • South from near Backarass - © William Mackesy
  • Crustacean carnage, Noup Head in distance - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Sandsone-slated croft - © William Mackesy

Key information: North-west Coast, Westray

  • Walk along the fine coast from Inga Ness to the RSPB reserve and Stephenson lighthouse at Noup Head, in 17km.
  • This is wild, remote landscape where you won't meet a track the whole way and will only see the odd farm in the distance.
  • Superb scenery throughout, and the biggest off all Orkney's bird colonies.
  • These are often solitary walks, with always unpredictable weather. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating88
  • Beauty32
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest8
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points1
  • Total rating88
  • Note: Neg: likely bad weather

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 17km or less
  • Maximum Altitude: N/A
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Sea cave near Noup Head - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

Walk along the fine coast from Inga Ness to the RSPB reserve and Stephenson lighthouse at Noup Head, in 17km.

This is wild, remote landscape where you won't meet a track the whole way and will only see the odd farm in the distance.

The scenery is superb throughout: cliffs, stacks, geos, arches, caves, sandstone shelves and pavements, with long views up the coast and back, with Rousay in the distance. Seabirds galore, of course, as Noup Head is the biggest of all Orkney's colonies: as well as puffins, skua, guillemots and kittiwakes in season, you should see gannets in action and terns (our specialist believed arctic) which hovered over us squawking when we strayed too near their nests. You are very likely to see seals near the head, and might see dolphins and porpoise.

Once in the reserve, you are walking on delightfully cropped grass and short clifftop growth. Near Noup Head there is an extraordinary milky way sweep of scattered fragments of dismembered crab shells, some way inland.

Getting back to your car can require ingenuity. See the Cicerone guide for details.

An alternative, which Walkopedia did, is a circuit starting at Backarass Farm near the start of the RSPB reserve, dropping the 1/2 km to the coastal path, walking up to Noup head and then back on a track on the north flank of the promontory. 7km ish, and it took us 2.5 hours. We thought we would be improvising the drop-down at the start, but this has been turned into a formal footpath, and you can park easily near the farm.

These walks deserve to be ranked with Britain's famous coastal paths.

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For more information and photos, including detailed practical information and some warnings, see our Orkneys walk page.

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Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

South from near Backarass - © William Mackesy

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Crustacean carnage, Noup Head in distance - © William Mackesy...
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