Mainland, Orkney

The Mainland is the main island of Orkney , Scotland . Both of Orkney’s burghs , Kirkwall and Stromness , lie on the island, which is also the heart of Orkney’s ferry and air connections.

Seventy-five percent of Orkney’s population live on the island, which is more densely populated than the other islands of the archipelago. The lengthy history of the island has many important archaeological sites and the sandstone bedrock provides a platform for fertile farmland. There is an abundance of wildlife, especially seabirds.


The name Mainland is a corruption of the Old Norse Meginland . Formerly the island was also known as Hrossey meaning “Horse Island”. The island is Sometimes Referred to as “Pomona” (or “Pomonia”), a Name That stems from a sixteenth-century mis-translation by George Buchanan and qui HAS Rarely-been used locally, [6] [7] ALTHOUGH it is Retained in the name of the Pomona Inn at Finstown in the parish of Firth, as well as a local cafe in the capital of Kirkwall also known as the Pomona. [8]


The island is relatively densely populated and has much fertile farmland . The bulk of the Mainland is west of Kirkwall and is low-lying, with coastal cliffs to the north and west and two sizeable bodies of freshwater, the lochs of Stenness and Harray .

The eastern part of the Mainland is shaped like the letter “W”, the easternmost peninsula being known as Deerness . To the south, causeways called Churchill Barriers connect the island to Burray and South Ronaldsay via Lamb Holm and Glims Holm .

Mainland effectively provides the core of the Orkney Islands, linking the northern members of the archipelago with the southern ones. At the east, and west ends, the islands proceed to the north and south, somewhat in the shape of an “X”. The western part of the island is part of the Hoy and West Mainland National Scenic Area , one of 40 in Scotland. [9]

The population in 2011 was recorded as 17,162, [3] an increase of just over 12% on the 2001 population of 15,315. [10]


There are 13 parishes on the island. [11] Sandwick , Birsay and Stromness lie on the west coast, Rendall and Evie to the north west. Holm , Deerness and St Andrews are located in the east of Central St Ola , which contains Kirkwall town. Firth , Orphir , Stenness and Harraywest of Kirkwall and east of the westernmost parishes. Harray has the unique distinction of being a landmark in the Loch of Harray, a freshwater one.

Main settlements

The three main settlements on Mainland, in order of magnitude are Kirkwall and Stromness , both of which are burghs, and Finstown .


Kirkwall, the capital of the islands, is on the east side of mainland and east mainland, which has historically been highly active in two directions for the southern and eastern Orkney Islands; the southern one, Scapa Flow , is a large, calm and immediately accessible ocean-natural harbor. Kirkwall has the seat of the Bishop of Orkney , and St. Magnus Cathedral is to be found there. It is also one of the island’s ferry ports.


A long-established seaport that grew with the expansion of whaling , Stromness has a population of approximately 2,200 residents. The old town is clustered along the main street, flanked with houses and shops built from local stone, with narrow lanes and alleys branching off it. There is a ferry to Scrabster in Caithness on the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Hoy .


Finstown is the third largest settlement, and used to be known as “Toon o ‘Firth”. David Phin who came to the area in 1811. It is on the direct Stromness to Kirkwall road. [8]


In common with most of the Orkney isles, Mainland rests almost entirely on a bedrock of Old Red Sandstone , which is about 400 million years old and was laid down in the Devonianperiod. These thick deposits accumulated as earlier Silurian rocks, expanded by the formation of Pangea , eroded and then deposited into river deltas. The freshwater Lake OrcadieExisted on the edges of These eroding mountains, stretching from Shetland to the southern Moray Firth . [12] As in nearby Caithness, these rocks rest upon the metamorphic rocks of the eastern schists, and in Mainland where they are represented by Stromness and Inganess , they are represented by gray gneiss and granite .

The Lower Old Sandstone is represented by well-bedded flagstones over most of the islands; in the south of Mainland these are defeated against an overlying series of massive red sandstones.

Many indications of glacial action exist in the form of striated surfaces in Kirkwall Bay, with many shells, and many boulders of rocks made of chalk , oolitic limestone , flint , & c. Local moraines are found in some of the valleys.

The soil is a sandy loam or a strong but friable clay, and very fertile. Large quantities of seaweed as well as lime and marl are available for manure.

Surrounding islands

There are more smaller orkney islands surrounding the mainland, where they are only at higher stages of the tide, or skerries which are only exposed at lower stages of the tide. These include Barrel of Butter , Bo Skerry, Bow Skerries, Braga, Brough of Bigging, Damsay , Holm of Houton , Holm of Grimbister , Holm of Rendall, Iceland Skerry, Inner Holm, Kirk Rocks, Little Skerry, Mirkady Point, Nevi Skerry, Outer Holm, Oyster Skerries, Skerry Skerries, Skerry Skerries, Scer Gun Skerries, Sker Skerries, Skerries of Skerries, Skerries of Skerries, Skerries of Coubister, Skerries of Skryries, Skerry of Yinstay, Smoogro Skerry, Thieves Holm , Why Skate Yesnaby Castle. [5]

The other islands in the Orkney Islands are classified as north or south of the Mainland. The exceptions are the remote islets of Sule Skerry and Sule Stack , which is 37 miles (60 km) west of the archipelago, but forms part of Orkney for local government purposes.

History and notable sites

Most of the best known Neoloitic ancient monuments are located in West Mainland, which includes the ” Heart of Neolithic Orkney “, a UNESCO World Heritage Site . This includes the large chambered tomb of Maes Howe , the ceremonial stone circles of the Stones of Stones and the Ring of Brodgar and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae , together with a number of unexcavated burials, ceremonial and settlement sites. The group constitutes a major prehistoric cultural landscape which gives a graphic depiction of life in the north of Scotland some 5,000 years ago. Nearby is the Barnhouse Settlement , a smaller cluster of prehistoric buildings.

Other attractions include St. Magnus Cathedral and the ruin of the Bishop’s Palace in Kirkwall, the Earl’s Palace , a ruined 16th-century castle in Birsay Parish, and Skaill House , a manor house and museum near Skara Brae.

Viking settlers comprehensively occupied Orkney, and Mainland became a possession of Norway during the 15th century as part of a dowry settlement. Evidence of the Viking presence is Widespread, and includes the website of a settlement at the Brough of Birsay , the vast majorité of place names , and runic at Maeshowe registrations and other ancient sites.

Stromness is of relatively recent origin, being first recorded in the 16th century, from the name of Norse origin. Stromness became important during the late 17th century, when England was at war and was forced to avoid the English Channel . Ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company were regular visitors, as were whaling fleets.

The Churchill Barriers are a series of four causeways with a total length of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). They link south of Mainland to South Ronaldsay via Burray and the two smaller islands of Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm. On 14 October 1939, the Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk at her moorings within the natural harbor of Scapa Flow, by the German U-boat U-47 under the command of Günther Prien . U-47 had entered Scapa Flow through Holm Sound, one of several eastern entrances to Scapa Flow. To prevent further attacks, Winston Churchillordered the construction of permanent barriers. They now serve as road links, carrying the A961. Work began in May 1940 and was completed in September 1944, but was not officially opened until May 12, 1945, four days after the end of World War II in Europe.


The climate is remarkably temperate and steady for such a northerly latitude. The average temperature for the year is 8 ° C (46 ° F), for winter 4 ° C (39 ° F) and for summer 12 ° C (54 ° F).

The average annual rainfall varies from 850 to 940 mm (33 to 37 in). Fogs occur during summer and early autumn, and furious gales may be expected in the year.

To tourists, one of the fascinations of the islands is their nightless summers. On the longest day , the sun rises at 03:00 and sets at 21:29 GMT and darkness is unknown . It is possible to read at midnight and very few stars can be seen in the night sky. Winter, however, is long. On the beach at 09:05 and sets at 15:16. [13]

Transportation and infrastructure


Mainland contains the vast majority of the island’s roads, and is also connected to those, South Ronaldsay and Burray thanks to the Churchill Barriers.

There are ideas being white Discussed to build the Orkney Tunnel , an undersea tunnel entre Orkney and the Scottish mainland, at a length of about 9-10 miles (14-16 km) gold (more Likely) one connecting Orkney Mainland to Shapinsay . [14] [15] The Orkney-Caithness road would be connected to Mainland, via the Churchill Barriers, but would make landfall on South Ronaldsay, if constructed.


The main airport in Orkney is Kirkwall Airport , operated by Highland and Islands Airports . Loganair , a franchise of Flybe provides services to the Scottish Mainland ( Aberdeen , Edinburgh , Glasgow and Inverness ), and Sumburgh Airport in Shetland. Most of the scheduled flights within Orkney depart / arrive at Kirkwall from one of the other islands.


Ferries serve both to link Orkney to the rest of Scotland, and also to link together the various islands of the Orkney archipelago. Ferry services operate between Orkney and the Scottish Mainland and Shetland on the following routes:

  • Lerwick to Kirkwall (operated by NorthLink Ferries )
  • Aberdeen to Kirkwall (operated by NorthLink Ferries)
  • Scrabster to Stromness (operated by NorthLink Ferries)
  • Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope (operated by Pentland Ferries )

Two services also connect Caithness, with South Ronaldsay, which is in turn connected to Mainland by road.

Inter-island ferry services connect all of the islands to Orkney Mainland, and are operated by Orkney Ferries , a company owned by Orkney Islands Council .

Flora and fauna

Mainland has a great deal of marine life surrounding it, especially seabirds. Corncrakes can also be found in some parts. [4] The Loch of Harray can host up to 10,000 wintering duck and is important for pochard . [4]

There are few wild mammals, but there is an endemic sub-species of the common fly , the Orkney flies or cuttick, ( Microtus arvalis orcadensis ) found only in the Orkney archipelago. It may have been introduced by early settlers about 4,000 years ago. [16] Brown hares and rabbits can be found and there are frogs, but no toads. [4]

There are six hundred recorded species of plant on the Orkney Mainland. Two rarities to the oyster plant ( Mertensia maritima ) and the Scottish primrose ( Primula scotica ). The latter is endemic to the north coast of Scotland, including Orkney and nearby Caithness. [4] It is closely related to the Arctic species Primula stricta and Primula scandinavica[17] [18]

Notable people from Mainland

  • William Balfour Baikie , explorer, naturalist and philologist (Kirkwall)
  • Thomas Clouston , psychiatrist (Birsay)
  • Stanley Cursiter , painter (Kirkwall)
  • Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney
  • John Firth , author of Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish
  • Rögnvald Kali Kolsson , who initiated the building of St. Magnus Cathedral
  • George Mackay Brown , writer, (Stromness)
  • Ernest Marwick , antiquarian, (Evie)
  • Edwin Muir , writer and translator, (Deerness)
  • John Rae , Arctic explorer (Orphir)
  • Cameron Stout , TV personality (Stromness)
  • Thomas Stewart Traill , Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh (Kirkwall)
  • William Walls , lawyer, industrialist and Dean of Guild of Glasgow (Kirkwall)

See also

  • List of places in Orkney
  • Geology of Orkney


  1. ^ Jump up to:b Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 334
  2. ^ Jump up to:b Area and population ranks: there are c.  300 islands over 20 hectares and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census .
  3. ^ Jump up to:c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland – Release 1C (Part Two) . “Appendix 2: Population and Households on Scotland’s Uninhabited Islands”. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  4. ^ Jump up to:e Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands . Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN  978-1-84195-454-7 .
  5. ^ Jump up to:b Landranger Maps (2002). “Sheet No.6” (map). . Ordnance Survey.
  6. Jump up^ Buchanan, George (1582) Rerum Scoticarum Historia: The First BookThe University of California, Irvine. Revised March 8, 2003. Retrieved October 4, 2007.
  7. Jump up^ “Pomona or Mainland?” Retrieved 4 October 2007.
  8. ^ Jump up to:b “Orkney Guide Book – Firth” . BuyOrkney . Retrieved 2007-08-03 .
  9. Jump up^ “National Scenic Areas”. SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
  10. Jump up^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland’s Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No. 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands . Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  11. Jump up^ “Parishes” . The Orcadian . Retrieved 2008-04-19 .
  12. Jump up^ McKirdy, Alan Gordon, John & Crofts, Roger (2007)Land of Mountain and Flood: The Geology and Landforms of Scotland. Edinburgh. Birlinn.
  13. Jump up^ “Orkney Sunrise and Sunset Times” . The Orcadian . Retrieved 2008-03-08 .
  14. Jump up^ David Lister (September 5, 2005). “Islanders will see future brighter with tunnel vision” . The Times . Retrieved 2007-07-12 .
  15. Jump up^ John Ross (10 March 2005). “£ 100m tunnel to Orkney ‘feasible ‘ ” . The Scotsman . Retrieved 2007-07-13 .
  16. Jump up^ “Orkney flies” (PDF) . Scottish Natural Heritage . Retrieved 2007-01-01.
  17. Jump up^ “Caithness seedlings: Primula scotica “ Retrieved 5 April 2008.
  18. Jump up^ “Where to see Primula scotica ” . Orkney Islands Council. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28 . Retrieved 2008-04-05 .

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