Exploring Westray in Orkney by campervan
After a few days of exploring the Orkney mainland, I decided to venture further and set my sights on the Isle of Westray. This island, located just a 90-minute ferry ride away from Kirkwall, seemed like a great campervan destination with a campsite, various attractions, and a laid-back atmosphere.
My first stop was Castle O’Burrian, a bulky sea stack known as one of the best places in Orkney for spotting puffins at close range. The puffin season typically spans from April to August.
Without much ado, I secured a ticket for both myself and my campervan, excited to embark on this adventure the next day.
On the morning of departure, I made my way to the Kirkwall inter-island ferry terminal. Vehicles were organised into lines, each heading to a different destination. I noticed that vehicles were also bound for Sanday and Eday, and the efficient ferry staff directed cars to the appropriate lanes.
The inter-island ferries in Orkney are convenient and affordable for the distances they cover. My return ferry to Wetsray cost £36.90 for one van and one passenger. The inter-island ferries also provide an opportunity to soak in the picturesque views of the surrounding islands as you sail to your destination.
Boarding the Westray-bound ferry was a straightforward process. Unlike some other Orkney ferries where you have to reverse onto the vessel, this one allowed for easy drive-on. The ferry had outdoor seating to enjoy the views and an indoor area serving refreshments.
After a pleasant 90-minute journey, I arrived on the Isle of Westray, passing a line of vehicles waiting to board the return journey. The island’s main roads are campervan-friendly and when roads do turn single-track, there are ample passing opportunities.
My first stop was Castle O’Burrian, a bulky sea stack known as one of the best places in Orkney for spotting puffins at close range. I had just missed the puffin season, which typically spans from April to August. However, the short 15-minute walk to Castle O’Burrian was still worth it for the amazing views. While I was walking, I witnessed the world’s shortest flight in the distance, taking off from Westray to Papa Westray, a Guinness World Record holder for its one-and-a-half-minute duration.
Nearby, a local shop beckoned. I can’t resist exploring island stores. These shops often offer a unique array of items and locally-produced goods. This particular shop, Peter Miller Merchants, sold various items including Westray cheese and biscuits.
I decided to purchase some smoked cannonball cheese, produced on a farm on the north side of Westray. A few minutes down the road, I found a beautiful beach with a picnic bench and enjoyed a lunch of Orkney oatcakes paired with the delicious Westray cheese I’d just purchased.
Continuing my journey, I headed to Pierowall, Westray’s main town where the majority of islanders reside. It offers essential amenities, including a school, hotel, shop, fuel station, ATM, post office, and a popular fish and chip shop. Pierowall is also where you can catch a ferry to the nearby island of Papa Westray, visible in the distance.
My next destination was Noltland Castle, a well-preserved 16th-century fortress with thick walls and gun holes. Inside, visitors can explore various rooms, including the kitchen. Some parts of the castle were dimly lit, but torches were available for use, and informative displays provided insights into the room’s functions. It’s a wonderful castle to explore and there is a small car park nearby which made parking my campervan convenient.
Continuing my exploration, I headed to the Links of Noltland, a beach I hadn’t found much information about online. I was greeted with one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Scotland. Despite the September chill, I couldn’t resist taking a quick dip. The road to the beach was a bit bumpy and may not be suitable for all vehicles, especially large motorhomes.
Next on my itinerary was Noup Head Lighthouse, perched dramatically on steep cliffs teeming with nesting seabirds. The road leading to the lighthouse was rough and might pose challenges for larger vehicles. There was also a cattle grid that required some caution. I recommend parking at the car park before the rough section and enjoying a circular walk along the cliffs. This way, you can fully experience the seabirds’ sights and sounds, and the salty breeze before reaching the lighthouse.
After my time at the lighthouse, I decided to visit Westray Airport, known for the world’s shortest flight to Papa Westray. This flight, always combined with a flight to Kirkwall forming a triangular route, has gained popularity in recent years with tourists. Those who complete the journey can pick up a certificate at Kirkwall Airport.
Nearby the airport, I explored the ruins of Quoygrew, an intriguing Norse farming and fishing settlement beside a beach. Access to the ruins required a short 10-minute walk from the main road.
As the day drew to a close, I made my way to Chalmersquoy Campsite in Pierowall for the night. This campsite is well-equipped with all the necessary facilities, including black and grey water disposal, fresh water, showers, laundry, and a kitchen. For a single night without electric hookup for one person, it costs £18. Surprisingly, I was the only campervan on the site that night, a welcome contrast to the bustling campsite I had encountered in Kirkwall just the night before.
I enjoyed a peaceful evening chatting with fellow campers at the campsite and spotted many seals lounging on the rocks during a walk along the seafront near the campsite. If you’d like to eat out instead of cooking in your campervan, the Peirewall Hotel or Pierowall Fish Ltd serving their famous fish and chips are options for dinner. I had a quiet and restful night of sleep at the campsite.
Exploring the Isle of Westray in my campervan was a fantastic experience. Its beautiful beaches, abundant seabird colonies, friendly locals and peaceful atmosphere provided the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. What I love most about travelling in my campervan is the opportunity to discover hidden gems, and the Isle of Westray delivered just that.
Ruth Aisling is a Scottish content creator with a passion for adventure, campervan travel, and the great outdoors. You’ll often find her showcasing unique off-the-beaten-path destinations and inspiring others to explore. Discover more at www.instagram.com/ruthaisling