The Brough of Birsay

The Brough of Birsay is a tidal island situated off the north west of the Orkney Mainland. It is a ‘must see’ when visiting Orkney.

Causeway to the Brough of Birsay in Orkney

There is a short walk from the headland of Birsay onto the Brough. The headland and beach is connected to the tidal island via a causeway. It is recommended that the causeway is crossed at low tide as the island gets cut off from the headland at high tide.

Viking settlement at the Brough of Birsay

The Brough of Birsay is located 20 miles (32 kms) from Kirkwall and is situated on the outskirts of Birsay village. The island is ofgreat historical interest, there are remains from a Pictish community dating back to the 7th and 8th century, and the remains from a Viking Age settlement from the 9th to the 12 century.

Lighthouse at the Brough of Birsay

Visitors are more than welcome to take a walk onto the island. A walk up a gentle slope to the far side of the Brough brings you to the solar powered lighthouse which has played a vital role in providing a safe passage for ships since 1925, and a cliff face with the most stunning view.

Puffin on the Brough of Birsay in Orkney

The cliffs on the Brough of Birsay are the best place to see puffins (between May and July each year) on Orkney’s Mainland. There may also be a chance of spotting whales off the shore.

If visitors arrive at the Brough of Birsay at high tide, the causeway itself will be submerged in water and so crossing in these conditions is not advised.

Groatie Buckies

The beach around the headland is also a popular place, it has beautiful white sand, rock pools filled with hermit crabs and is also a great place to find Groatie Buckies (cowrie shells) which are believed to be lucky. Traditionally, Orcadians collect Groatie Buckies and if you keep them in your purse, it will never be empty!

There is also a ¾ mile walk from the headland to fishermen’s huts and the Birsay whalebone which is recommended!

Birsay is a really lovely place, and a great location to see some impressive sunsets.

Aerial view of the Brough of Birsay in Orkney

Quick facts

  • The island is cut off from the Mainland at high tide. Please check tide times before crossing.
  • Take care crossing the causeway as the surface may be uneven and slippery. Appropriate footwear is highly recommended.
  • Pictish and Norse settlements remain.
  • Puffins can be seen from the Brough from May – July each year.
  • The lighthouse is powered by solar energy and built in 1925 by David A. Stevenson.
  • The beach surrounding the headland at Birsay is known for rock pools and Groatie Buckies (Cowrie shells)
  • The Brough of Birsay is (23 km) from Kirkwall.