Shapinsay, Orkney

One of the closest North isles to the Orkney Mainland, Shapinsay is an island dominated by farmland.

The Douche in Shapinsay, viewed from the sea

One of the first sights of Shapinsay seen from the regular ferry from Kirkwall is the impressive Victorian Balfour Castle.

Shapinsay is also worth visiting for its sandy beaches, Mill Dam RSPB reserve and archaeological sites of interest.

Balfour Village in Shapinsay, Orkney

Sites worth a visit include:

  1. Balfour Castle – the 17th Century Castle which stands close to the shore is an impessive sight. The house (the interior of which stands almost the same as it did 150 years ago) and garden make an interesting visit, by arrangement.
  2. Balfour Village – where the regular ferry from Kirkwall docks and where the visitor can find a pub, museum and shop.
  3. Mill Dam RSPB Reserve – the artificial loch behind the disused Elwick Mill is now the Mill Dam RSPB reserve, and is a great place to view waterfowl.
  4. The Brough of Burroughston – a well preserved Iron Age broch – almost 3m high inside.
  5. Mor Stane – a 3m high standing stone, covered with lichen.
Mor Stein - a lichen encrusted standing stone in Shapinsay, Orkney

Top tips

  • William Irving was born in Quholm, found in the north of Shapinsay, in 1740 – and was the father of Washington Irving, the author of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
  • Shapinsay has several ayres (spits of sand cutting water off from the sea, thus forming lochs, such as Vasa Loch and Lairo Water, right next to the beach. These can be particularly picturesque.