The Old Man and St John's Head, Hoy

  • The Old Man - © William Mackesy
  • St John"s head and cloudline - © William Mackesy
  • Old Man above mist ridge - © William Mackesy
  • Predator eyeing up picnic - © William Mackesy
  • Waterfall through mist - © William Mackesy
  • St John"s Head  - © Flickr user: John W. Schulze
  • St John"s Head  - © Flickr user: Neil Wilkie
  • St John"s Head and the Old Man of Hoy - © Flickr user: pgchamberlin
  • St John"s Head  - © Flickr user: Simaron

Key information: The Old Man and St John's Head, Hoy

  • Northern Hoy is Orkney's highest and wildest landscape. It boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain, and a huge array of wildlife.
  • The 140m (450+ ft) Old Man of Hoy is the country's best known sea stack. 
  • The walk to greet our aged friend can be a 5.5 mile there-and-back, or part of a longer, finer circuit. It can be quite popular as far as the old man.
  • Always unpredictable weather. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating85
  • Beauty32
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest6
  • Charisma31
  • Negative points1
  • Total rating85
  • Note: Neg: likely bad weather

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: 433m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
Top
St John's Head  - © Flickr user: Neil Wilkie

WALK SUMMARY

Northern Hoy is Orkney's highest and wildest landscape, in fact more like the Highlands than the rest of the Orkneys. It boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain, and an array of wildlife that includes the elusive hen harrier as well as a multitude of seabirds in breeding season.

The Old Man of Hoy is the country's best known sea stack (Walkopedia will NOT use the word iconic), a sandstone giant of ‎140m (450+ ft) standing clear of Hoy's north-west coast. Chris Bonnington's televised climb of it is one of Walkopedia's early memories.

The walk to greet our aged friend can be a 5.5 mile there-and-back, or part of a 18km (11+ mile) circuit which heads on up the coast to St John's Head on its enormous (more than 1,000 ft) cliffs, then turns inland along a high ridge before dropping back south. It can be quite popular as far as the Old Man.

Start at the depopulated hamlet of Rackwick, crofts spread across the flattish ground where a most beautiful glen debouches into the sea between steep hillsides.

A track gently zigzags up the hillside to the north‎, then winds round the cropped heather of the lower flanks of Moor Fea, coming close to the cliffs before swinging inland on a well maintained path across boggy moorland, a waterfall tumbling into the sea in the middle distance and the Old Man's head visible above the horizon.

You will reach the Old Man in a bit over an hour. ‎It is worth taking time to sit above the high cliffs and contemplate the drama, so this is a very opportune time for a picnic.

If you are heading on for the long walk (Walkopedia turned back, disappointed, as low cloud swamped the high ground and it would have been a joyless trek), follow the enormous cliffs up to the summit of St John's Head, set back from the sea. Then head eastish along a superb ridge and up the the high point at Cuilags (433m).

Head south downhill across reasonably easy country down to the bottom of the Glens of Kinnaird, cross the burn and join the path south to Rackwick.

On a good day, arguably the best walk in the Orkneys?

Find relevant books by using our Amazon search function:

ALL IDEAS AND PHOTOS WELCOME!

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

Other accounts: share your experiences

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

St John's head and cloudline - © 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.

Top
Predator eyeing up picnic - © William Mackesy...
Top

Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more

All material on this website is © Walkopedia Ltd 2008 - 2015, unless specified otherwise.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED