WHAT TO DO ON SANDAY
THE ORKNEY ISLANDS
The largest of Orkney’s North Isles, the aptly named Sanday is home to some of the archipelago’s most spectacular beaches. Its low lying profile and endless seascapes make for dramatic vistas, allowing you to watch the weather roll in from the distant horizon. The island is a laid back place with a welcoming community, where visitors can while away the days strolling pristine white sand beaches, looking out for seals and birdlife, or exploring fascinating historic sites.
In this guide we’ll cover the best things to see and do on Sanday, along with practical travel tips to help you plan your own trip to the ‘Jewel of the Isles’.
WATCH OUR ORKNEY ISLANDS FILM
Watch the behind the scenes version of our Orkney trip on Instagram stories
Watch the behind the scenes
version of our Orkney trip
on Instagram stories
*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links – if you purchase a product or service via these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps offset the cost of running this blog and keeps us travelling so that we can continue to produce great content for you. We greatly appreciate your support!*
Use the map below to help lead you around Sanday to all the places mentioned in this guide. You can also download an offline version to Maps.me (iOS/Android). Tap the menu button at the top left for more details, to toggle layers on and off, and switch between satellite and terrain view.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP (ONLINE VERSION)
To save this map to use online on desktop or mobile just tap the star symbol at the top. When you open Google Maps on your phone, navigate to ‘Saved’ at the bottom, then swipe along to ‘Maps’ at the top. You’ll find this map in your list of maps. On desktop, click the three lines at the top left, select ‘Your Places’, then ‘Maps’. Click the map, then scroll down and select ‘Open in My Maps’ to access the interactive version.
Alternatively, just tap the rectangle symbol at the top right of the map in this blog post to view the My Maps version larger on desktop.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view this version of the map offline, but we’ve created a similar version for offline use as per below.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP (OFFLINE VERSION)
To use an offline map with all the same pins and routes marked, first download Maps.Me (iOS/Android), then download our Sanday Travel Guide bookmarks, and select open with Maps.Me.
You can easily navigate by tapping the bookmark for your start point and selecting ‘route from’, then tap your end point bookmark and select ‘route to’. If you want to plot a different route to the one suggested by Maps.me, just tap a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) bookmark between the start and end points and select ‘add stop’.
You can use Maps.me offline or online, but note that the attached photos and links for each bookmark will only appear when you’re online.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON SANDAY
Sanday is definitely a place for outdoor lovers, with the majority of attractions focused on nature, walks, or places outdoors in general. In fact, the only real indoor sight is the Sanday Heritage Centre and nearby Croft house museum. In this guide we start with a couple of ‘must sees’, then work our way clockwise around the island while highlighting various points of interest and scenic spots. Ideally we’d suggest 2 days or more to explore Sanday, however it is possible to visit as a day trip, taking advantage of the first and last ferry service or flights to/from Kirkwall.
Sanday has two main hubs, Lady Village and Kettletoft. The ferry arrives at Loth on the southern tip of the island, and the small airport is located in the centre of the island. Good roads connect all corners of Sanday.
Note that it’s a good idea to check low tide times in advance and plan your visits to Start Point Lighthouse and Cata Sand/Tresness around these times. Beware that there are limited public toilets, with none at the parking and picnic areas dotted at beaches around the island.
See More From Scotland
TRESNESS AND CATA SAND
Tresness is undoubtedly the most spectacular stretch of sand on Sanday (possibly the whole of Orkney), and one of our very favourite beaches in Scotland. Narrow Tresness Peninsula separates the North Sea from Cata Sand, a sheltered tidal bay. The pristine white sand stretches far along the coastline, but what makes this spot extra special are the tall machair-covered dunes backing the beach. Remote as Sanday already is, emerging onto the beach through a gap in the dunes feels like crossing over to an isolated island on the edge of the earth. It can be a wild place, with wind-whipped sand dancing along the coast and the grains stinging your eyes should you be foolish enough to face downwind.
Visit Tresness And Cata Sand
To get to Tresness, park just off the main road at the northern edge of Cata Sand (59.2579, -2.5210) and walk from there. It’s best to time your visit with low tide, enabling you to walk south along the inner side of the dunes before crossing through the natural gap to the beach on the other side. There are also some trails leading up and through the dunes themselves, allowing you to make a loop out and back.
Wandering the beach at Tresness
Wandering the beach at Tresness
QUOYNESS CHAMBERED CAIRN
Quoyness Chambered Cairn is the most significant Neolithic site on Sanday, and one of the most impressive in all of Orkney. It dates from around 2900 BC and is similar in form to Maeshowe on Orkney Mainland. Bones from at least ten adults and five children were found in its inner chambers during excavations in the 19th century.
The central chamber is about 4 metres high, with a 9 metre long entrance tunnel. Today, most of the passageway is uncovered, meaning you only have to crawl about 3 metres to enter the chambered cairn yourself. There is a skylight illuminating the central chamber, but it’s handy to have a torch to see inside the six smaller offshoot chambers (there is one to borrow at the entrance).
Visit Quoyness Chambered Cairn
The site is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland and is free to enter and open at any time. It’s accessed by crawling through a narrow tunnel, which can be wet and dirty. Park nearby at Stywick Beach (59.2358, -2.5677) and walk 1.3 km on the grassy path along the shore to reach Quoyness.
Quoyness Chambered Cairn
Quoyness Chambered Cairn
Inside the chambered cairn
West of Kettletoft, one of Sanday’s two village hubs, is picturesque Backaskaill Bay. It’s a lovely spot for a stroll, the gently sweeping beach backed by low dunes and farmland. Oystercatchers poke around the shore, along with other wading birds like sanderlings and sandpipers. A little inland lies Bea Loch.
Visit Backaskaill Bay
There is a parking area just behind the beach, near the bottom of a track leading off the main road (59.2395, -2.6243).
Windswept Backaskaill Bay
Windswept Backaskaill Bay
Dating from the early 19th century, Boloquoy Mill makes for an interesting side trip off the main road. The abandoned mill is still largely intact, with stone walls, a slate tiled roof, and a wood and iron 8-spoke water wheel on its south facing wall. Faded red doors and yellow lichen add splashes of colour. A stream runs out of a mill pond nearby, and the two-storey building sits behind a stony beach.
Visit Boloquoy Mill
Turn off the main B9069 road down a track heading west, close to Backaskaill Bay (59.2361, -2.6417). You can park near the end of the track and walk the short distance to the mill.
The picturesque Boloquoy Mill on Sanday’s southwest coast
The picturesque Boloquoy Mill
RUINED BEACHSIDE CROFT HOUSE
Attractive beaches are found all around Sanday’s coastline, but another we’d specifically recommend checking out is the curve of sand to the west of Otterswick Bay. Here you’ll find a wonderfully picturesque croft house, lying in ruin half-buried in the sand and dunes. Plantlife has taken over the shell of the house, growing around an abandoned farming machine tucked away inside.
Further north, set back a little from the coast, is the once abandoned village of Ortie. It was a model crofting township, established by the laird of Scar in the 19th century. A row of six single storey houses and accompanying steadings sit in a straight line running perpendicular to the coast, arranged in a ‘closs’ design with narrow passageways between the buildings. They likely housed around 60-70 people, the last registered death being in 1867, after which the township fell into ruin. The buildings are now privately owned and undergoing restoration, with access restricted.
Visit the Ruined Croft House and Beach
To find the ruined beachside croft house, turn off the main road and head down a track towards the coast, parking up near some buildings behind the beach (59.2837, -2.5586). Continue the short distance on foot to the grassy dunes and beach on the other side. You could continue north or south on foot along the beach for an extended walk.
The ruined croft house west of Otterswick Bay
The ruined croft house west of Otterswick Bay
A little further north is Whitemill Bay, a curve of sand on the northwest coast looking out towards North Ronaldsay and the Shetland Isles far beyond. It makes a nice spot for a quiet stroll along the beach, or you can follow the longer circular route taking in Whitemill Point (popular with seals), and the ruined farm buildings of Helliehow and Ortie.
Visit Whitemill Bay
There is a car park and picnic bench just behind the beach (59.3042, -2.5512), plus an info board with details of the local area, flora and fauna.
Looking north at Whitemill Bay
Looking north at Whitemill Bay
WRECK OF A GERMAN DESTROYER
Orkney’s wartime history is fascinating, and while many remnants of World Wars One and Two can be found on Mainland, Sanday also has a particularly interesting spot to visit – the wreck of the B98 German destroyer.
Following the Armistice on November 11th 1918, the German Fleet was interned at Scapa Flow. The B98 served as the mailboat, bringing letters, supplies and replacement personnel from Wilhelmshaven to Orkney and back. On its final trip to the isles, it arrived the day after Admiral von Reuter ordered the scuttling of the High Seas Fleet. The destroyer was seized and the crew were arrested, with the sailors being repatriated to Germany. The B98, along with the other surviving ships, was destined for Rosyth shipyard in the Firth of Forth. It never made it though, a storm causing the destroyer to break adrift from the tow boat and become stranded on the beach at Lopness on February 17th 1920. Over 100 years later, the remains of the wreck are still visible at low tide and are an incredible sight.
Visit The B98 Wreck
There is a car park, a couple of picnic benches, and info sign by the beach (59.2830, -2.4496). Time your visit with low tide and the wreck will be clearly visible next to shore.
The wreck of the B98 German destroyer on the beach at Lopness
The wreck of the B98 German destroyer
START POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Just beyond Lopness Bay and the B98 wreck is a tidal island, home to Start Point Lighthouse. Its striking black and white painted vertical stripes are unique in Scotland, a notable break from the traditional white and yellow design. Despite its unusual character, it is, like most in Scotland, a Stevenson lighthouse, first established in 1806 and rebuilt in 1870.
It featured the first revolving light in Scotland, the original being moved from the beacon on nearby North Ronaldsay. The stripes were added in 1915, and it became one of Scotland’s first automated lighthouses in 1962. Prior to this the lighthouse keepers and their families lived on the island, practicing subsistence farming. The lighthouse now operates via solar power and is controlled remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s head office in Edinburgh.
Start Point Lighthouse, an hour before sunset on a day of tempestuous weather
Start Point Lighthouse, an hour before
sunset on a day of tempestuous weather
Visit Start Point Lighthouse
Start Point island is accessible at low tide only, by walking across slippery seaweed-covered stones. Park at the end of the road (59.2808, -2.4058) and walk from here. It’s around a 3.5 km return trip, heading out and back to the lighthouse the same way. Keep left of the old farm buildings on Start Point island so as to avoid disturbing nesting terns on the eastern side of the island. Remember to check tide times in advance and plan accordingly.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK ON SANDAY
There are a few options for eating out on Sanday but all have specific days or times, so require a bit of advance planning.
Meals are served at The Kettletoft Hotel, although times vary so it’s best to check in advance (call on 01857 600217). Nearby, The Belsair Hotel also offers meals, but again the times vary so best to call on 01857 600206 and ask in advance. These are also the only pubs on the island.
Take away woodfired pizza is served 5 – 9pm Wednesday – Friday at 59 Degrees North, and an onsite cafe serves lunches weekdays between 11am – 3pm.
A tearoom serving homemade soup and baked goods is open Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday between 11-2.30pm at the Sanday Community Craft Hub. This is also a great place to pick up local art, jewellery, greeting cards, knitwear, and so on.
The cafe at the Heilsa Fjold Youth & Community Centre serves lunch on Tuesdays between 11.30am – 2pm.
For self-catering, head to Sinclair General Store (59.2491, -2.6003) which has everything you could possibly need (food related or otherwise!) under one roof.
COME JOIN US ON INSTAGRAM
WHERE TO STAY ON SANDAY
Sanday has numerous accommodation options, from budget camping to hotels, B&Bs and cottage rentals. It’s a fairly small island and accessing all of its sights is easy enough from any location.
CAMPING, GLAMPING AND HOSTEL ACCOMMODATION
Ayre’s Rock Hostel and Campsite is a great option for budget accommodation on Sanday. The owners, Paul and Julie, moved to the island from England many years ago and are super friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about all things Sanday. You can pitch a tent, park a campervan, sleep in one of three glamping pods, or stay in the hostel, static caravan or cottage. The small site overlooks the Noust of Ayre, and the hostel and cottage are white-washed, thick-walled former stable, byre and barn buildings.
Recently opened 59 Degrees North offer spots for motorhomes and campervans, with tent camping possible in a neighbouring meadow during summer.
There are two hotels on Sanday, both in Kettletoft – The Kettletoft Hotel and The Belsair Hotel.
There are a few B&Bs on Sanday. These include Braeswick B&B and West Langamay B&B.
SANDAY SELF CATERING AND COTTAGE RENTALS
A number of self catering accommodation options are available on Sanday. These include Backaskaill Farmhouse, Park Cottage, Lower Savillegreen, Cata Sand Cottage, and Marston Log Cabin.
HOW TO GET TO SANDAY
First, you need to get to Orkney Mainland, then you can take a ferry over to Sanday. We’ve outlined some different transport options for both of these stages below.
HOW TO GET TO ORKNEY MAINLAND
HOW TO GET TO ORKNEY
You can get to Orkney by car ferry from Aberdeen, Gills Bay, and Scrabster on the Scottish mainland, as well as from Lerwick in Shetland. There is also a summer passenger ferry from John O’Groats.
Its a great article but before you start posting about people’s private property to explore, please be aware Orties or as it’s know the Ness is not abandoned, is privately owned down a private track. It is NOT a tourist attraction but people’s private gardens, and I do not appreciate you giving direction to my garden and potentially dangerous buildings, who covers the insurance for any accidents whilst trespassing in someone’s buildings? Please remove this article, map and directions. David Walker