The Orkney Nature Experience
– with Raymond Besant
Join native Orcadian and wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant as he explores the wild and wonderful Orkney Islands. With his expertise and local knowledge this unique holiday showcases the very best of the archipelago’s spectacular wildlife and rich cultural heritage.
70 islands make up this stunning group, each with their own identity but we will base ourselves in the capital Kirkwall from where we will explore Orkney’s rich mosaic of wildlife rich habitats. Conveniently situated in the middle of Orkney’s biggest island, Mainland, we will never be more than a 30 minute drive from any of our sites.
Rich in history the ‘Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With neolithic tribes and later Viking settlement it is no wonder Orkney has more ancient sites than anywhere else in Europe however our main emphasis will be on Orkney’s natural heritage, spectacular and noisy seabird cities, rare birds of prey, the beautiful sounds of plentiful waders as well as one or two local specialities.
Day one – arrival, meet and greet
Once guests and guides all introduced and acquainted in the Ayre Hotel, over dinner we look forward to the exciting week ahead.
Day two – Wild Atlantic coast
We start by showing you something truly spectacular, a breathtaking view that will set the tone for the week. Orkney’s rugged west coastline is battered by Atlantic breakers and we’ll see Fulmars skim over these turquoise waves as we take the short walk up through carpets of Spring Squill to the view point at Marwick Head.
Rising to 285ft high this RSPB Marwick reserves boasts one of Orkney’s best ‘seabird cities’. With a bustling colony of Guillemots it’s the perfect place to get a feel for this wild Atlantic coast. We will pick out Puffins and Razorbills amongst the commotion of the noisy Guillemots and watch for patrolling Arctic Skuas as they chase Kittiwakes returning to their nests. This is a great place to see another Summer visitor as Wheatears flit in and out amongst the Sea Campion.
Further down the coast lies a jewel within Orkney’s archaeological crown. Skara Brae is the best preserved Neolithic village in Europe and was inhabited before the Egyptian Pyramids were built. Lying next to the beautiful beach at Skaill we will hear the soft cooing calls of Eider ducks as they creche their ducklings along the shore.
On our way back to Kirkwall we will stop off at the RSPB Loons hide, a fantastic wetland where we’ll see Shoveler and Gadwall along the reed bed edge.
Day three – Hen Harriers
This day will be devoted to a real Orkney speciality and a favourite of Raymond’s – the Hen Harrier. Orkney can boast to be the best place in the UK to see this spectacular bird of prey and we will sit in the beautiful surroundings of Cottascarth in the moorland hills of the West Mainland to observe them. Several pairs make their nests here and if we are lucky we could be treated to one of the most spectacular pieces of behaviour in the bird world – the food pass. As the silver blue male flies overhead we might even hear the female call to him before rising from the heather to meet him.
As he drops his prey mid air she flips on her back, talons outstretched grabbing it before returning to feed her chicks.
This is a raptor hot spot and we are likely to see Buzzards on the ridge as well as Merlin, Kestrel, and Short Eared Owls hunting for Orkney Voles in the surrounding fields. Orkney’s rich seas support internationally important numbers of Grey Seals and the inquisitive ‘selkies’ will follow our every move along the nearby beach at Aikerness where Arctic Terns dance and float above the turbulent waters.
Day four – Hoy the ‘High Island’
We break up our Mainland adventure with a trip to the atmospheric island of Hoy. A short ferry ride across the historic Scapa Flow will take us to ‘the High Island’ where its hills and valleys were sculpted by glaciers, folklore abounds with giants and trolls still said to live here! From the ferry we can see Great Northern Divers and Black Guillemots in their summer finery.
A drive up through the moorland hills will pass through Hen Harrier territories and we will hear the evocative calls of the Red-throated Diver and see them on their peaty lochan pools. The end of the road opens out into what many Orcadians claim to be their favourite beach and it’s easy to see why. The spectacular but peaceful beach of Rackwick rises like an amphitheatre of red sandstone on either side and we will climb above it as we walk up the path towards the tallest sea stack in the UK. The Old Man of Hoy rises 450ft out of the Atlantic Ocean dwarfing the Fulmars that circle it, truly one of Orkney’s iconic scenes.
On our way back down the hill we will be accompanied by scolding Stonechats eager to move us further along the path and the less subtle attention of Great Skuas or ‘Bonxies’ who will certainly let us know they are around! Waders live up here too and we’ll keep our ears open for the thin whistle of Golden Plovers and the trilling of Dunlin.
Mountain Hare thrive here but they will be more concerned at paying attention to Hoy’s newest arrivals, a pair of White-tailed Eagle (Sea Eagle) which have made Hoy their home. With a bit of luck we will see one of these ‘flying barn doors’ cruising effortlessly amongst the hills.
Day five – Curlews and Cairns
Back on Mainland and we will experience a unique blend of wildlife and archaeology. After we have visited the chambered cairn of Maeshowe and its Viking runes we will walk around the nature reserve of Brodgar. Positioned between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray and right in the Heart of neolithic Orkney bordering the iconic Ring of Brodgar this is a haven for waders and wildfowl with Teal, Shoveler and Wigeon all breeding here. Twite, Meadow Pipit and hunting Short Eared Owls are common sights here too.
It’s as much a feast for the ears as the eyes as Snipe ‘drum’ above our heads and Curlew ‘bubble’ around us. Lapwings fall and tumble through the sky whilst Redshank and Dunlin also call this home. This is one of the best places to see Brown Hare whilst Common Seals bask in the shallow brackish waters of Stenness Loch close to the road and far inland from the sea!
This also our best chance of seeing one of Orkney’s more elusive residents – the Otter. Plentiful Eels and Brown Trout in the lochs sustain a good number of these beautiful animals and are often seen feeding in the surrounds of the lochs. Finally with so much landscape exposed to the sea we will look for maritime heath specialists but will need to look hard! The Scottish Primrose is a tiny but wonderful little magenta coloured flower that inhabits a spectacular section of coastline.
Day six – Westray
We head north to the ‘Queen of the Isles’ – Westray. This long island is home to Orkney’s most accessible Gannet colony, these large noisy seabirds make for a wonderful spectacle. A host of other seabirds nest here too and the Guillemots and Kittiwake are under the constant attention of Great and Arctic Skuas on the lookout for an easy meal. We will keep a look out towards the dark water of the Atlantic Ocean where we might spot a Minke whale or a pod of Risso’s dolphins.
Harbour seals loaf in the shallow waters around Pierowall village and on our way back to the ferry we will visit Orkney’s best Puffin colony at the Castle of Burrian, a wonderful little sea stack where these pint size characters can gather in their thousands.
We will slow down the pace a little on our last day and this is reflected in the gentler landscapes of the East Mainland and the southern isles of Burray and South Ronaldsay.
The most northerly breeding Little Terns in the UK makes their nests amongst the sand dunes on South Ronaldsay and this beautiful little beach is a great place to sit and compare the different Tern species as Little, Arctic and Sandwich Terns feed along the same coast. Common Seals haul out on the rocks here and Sand Martins nest along the banks. The beach here is rich in fauna too and we’ll look for the scarce Oysterplant amongst the dunes.
South Ronaldsay is the best place to look for a spectacular summer visitor and if the sea is calm we will look for the characteristic black sailboard of the Orca as it makes its way through Scapa Flow and the Pentland Firth.
Over breakfast we look back on the wonderful week we have had and the many sights, spectacles and laughs along the way before we bid you farewell and you are transferred to onward travel and or departure.
Booking – Holiday Dates
|Saturday 1st June to Saturday 8th June, 2024||Available|
|Max 6 guests|
Private Tour Options: This holiday can also be arranged exclusively for private booing for couples, families or small groups.
Additional holiday information:
- All meals, accommodation, guiding fee’s and excursions as well as ferry fares and transport are included in package cost.
- All boat trips are subject to weather availability.
- Not included in cost are items of a personal nature or hotel bar tabs nor is travel to and from Shetland included.
- No single supplement charged.
- On booking please advise of any special requirements medical or dietary.
- Throughout the holiday some of the activities will potentially involve walks of up to three or four miles (maximum in a day) and at times over uneven terrain. A reasonable level of fitness is advised however this is run at a leisurely pace. We can also provide holidays at an even more leisurely pace; please contact us for details.