How to Visit the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney

Updated July 26, 2017

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d travelled to the highlands when you step off the ferry in Hoy, the second largest of the Orkney Islands. Its composition is unique in Orkney, with dramatic cliffs, moorlands and glacial valleys. In the north of Hoy, you’ll discover more mountainous terrain and bleak scenery compared to the green pastures of the south. As such, most of Hoy’s population of 400 people live in the south.

Except for the Old Man of Hoy, who can be found in the northwest…

When I was visiting Orkney this year, I just knew I wanted to go there. So early one morning, my Dad and I set off from mainland Orkney to the island of Hoy to go and see him!

What is the Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy is probably the most famous landmark of Hoy, and what this Orkney Island is known for. He is an almost 450ft tall sea stack made of red sandstone, standing on basalt. It’s one of the tallest sea stacks in Britain, although because it is not completely surrounded by the sea, it is not always classified as such.

Separated from the mainland of Hoy by a 60ft chasm, the Old Man of Hoy may only be around 250 years old, and so could be vulnerable to the elements. A map from 1600 shows a headland where the Old Man is now, and a drawing from 1817 shows the sea stack with a wider base and an archway at the bottom, making it appear as though it has two legs.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Why is it called the Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy likely got his name because of his previous formation, where it appeared that the stack had two legs supporting a wider body. However, from several angles the tall sea stack still looks like a man, gazing out to the ocean away from Hoy.

How to get to the Old Man of Hoy

How you get to the Old Man of Hoy and the island, in general, depends on your mode of transport.

If you’re visiting Orkney with a car then you can take a ferry from Houton on mainland Orkney, which is a 25 minute drive from Kirkwall, to Lyness on Hoy. From there you drive 30 minutes north Rackwick, where the walk to the Old Man of Hoy begins.

Check Orkney Ferries for the timetable, and ferries can be booked by calling +44 (0)1856 872044 or by going to the ferry terminal in Kirkwall. There’s no online reservation system. Make sure you book early if you’re travelling to Hoy with a car in summer because the ferries do get full. It’s important to book your trip there and back, so you don’t get stranded, and to give you enough time to drive to the start of the walk to the Old Man of Hoy, complete the walk and return again.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Getting to the Old Man of Hoy without a car

It is possible to walk to see the Old Man of Hoy without a car. One way to do this is to hire bicycles in Stromness, take the passenger only ferry to Moaness (book as above) and then cycle the approximate 30 minutes to the start of the walk. Make sure to calculate enough time for cycling, walking, and cycling back again!

You can also walk from Moaness to the Old Man of Hoy, by taking the Rackwick Glen walk from Moaness to Rackwick, and then completing the Old Man of Hoy walk. It takes two hours to walk from Moaness to Rackwick one way (7.25km)

If you really want to get to the start of the Old Man of Hoy walk and you don’t fancy cycling or walking there as well, you can look at taking a taxi or minibus. You’ll need to book it well in advance. Check out some options here.

I did find mention of a summer mini bus from Moaness to Rackwick when I was looking at all the options for getting to the Old Man of Hoy walk, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find any recent information to indicate it’s still running.

There are some tour companies who offer tours of Hoy, but none of them include the walk to the Old Man of Hoy unless you ask for a private tour.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Directions for the walk to the Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy walk starts in Rackwick, what would have once been a bustling little community but is now a small collection of houses, and of empty old crofts. Be aware that when you read about the “township” of Rackwick, you shouldn’t expect to find any amenities!

The walk to the Old Man of Hoy is 9.25km (5.65 miles) return and will take approximately 2.5-3 hours, depending on your speed and how long you spend there.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

The visitors centre in Kirkwall advised us that the walk to the Old Man of Hoy starts with a steep descent, and we should be prepared for that. There is an entrance to the walk that starts further up the hill if you’re driving, but the parking is only for guests who are staying at the Rackwick Hostel, unless you choose to park on the roadside further down.

You can also start the walk from the parking lot near the campsite. Personally, I would walk back up the road towards the hostel and go that way, rather than along the flat towards the sea and then up, as this is much steeper. It depends if you want a more gradual ascent or a steeper, shorter one!

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Once you get further up the hill the views across the bay are beautiful, and the track begins to even out a little to curve around the hill. When you’re further around the incline will reduce and eventually you’ll reach a point where you can spot the top of the Old Man of Hoy in the distance. Don’t get too excited, it’s still a little way to go yet! It’s just that the Old Man of Hoy is higher than the cliff face opposite, so you can see it above the cliffs.

This part of the path is relatively flat with a rocky mountain on one side and grass on the other. It becomes even more grassy and then you’ve reached the Old Man of Hoy!

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

You can continue to walk further around the coast for different views, but you’ll still need to return the same way.

Either on the way there or back if you choose to walk via the youth hostel route you can stop at the museum buildings there, made from old croft houses with grass roofs. Inside you can see examples of what living life on a croft in Rackwick would have been like, and information about the family that lived there for generations, as well as the see the old school house.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

All indications were that the walk to the Old Man of Hoy would take three hours return, but we found it only took an hour or just over each way, including taking photos and making stops. However, this is entirely dependent on your level of fitness, and I would allow at least 3 hours so that you can spend ample time there, and enjoy it without rushing.

Seeing the Old Man of Hoy without walking

The ferry from Scrabster on mainland Scotland to Stromness, which passes along the coast of Hoy, gives you beautiful views of the cliffs, including the Old Man of Hoy. The ferry is much more expensive than the John O’Groats to St Margarets Hope ferry to get to Orkney, and it takes a lot longer, but if you really want to see the Old Man of Hoy and you either don’t want to walk, don’t have transport, or you’re short on time, this is how to do it. It is possible to take a boat to see the Old Man of Hoy by sea. However, I couldn’t find any regular tours offered, only one-off charters willing to take you there from locations like Stromness.

It is possible to take a boat to see the Old Man of Hoy by sea. However, I couldn’t find any regular tours offered, only one-off charters willing to take you there from locations like Stromness so you would need to ask around there.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Climbing the Old Man of Hoy

In 1966 Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey became the first people to climb the Old Man of Hoy over 3 days. The following year they climbed the Old Man of Hoy again for a live TV broadcast which attracted 23 million viewers.

Although rumour has it there was an earlier ascent by an elderly local man, who made the climb on a bet, and then did it again when he realised he left his favourite pipe on the top of the Old Man of Hoy!

Many climbers walk to the Old Man of Hoy, descend the cliffs across from it, walk over the remains of where it would have once joined the mainland, to then climb the sea stack.

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Best time to visit Orkney and walk to the Old Man of Hoy

Visiting Orkney in summer doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have fine sunny days, but it will mean the temperatures are a little warmer. We travelled to Orkney in July and it rained on and off for most of the trip, but it was warm and often changing so we didn’t worry if the day started with a little rain.

The day we walked to the Old Man of Hoy it was overcast with low cloud, and we felt a few spits of rain about halfway there. The sky began to clear after we reached the Old Man of Hoy and by the time we were returning to the ferry the sun was out. You just never know with the weather in Orkney!

We took the first ferry from Houton to Hoy at around 8am in the morning and drove straight to the start of the walk. Although we passed one couple on their way there, they were taking it very slowly and so we reached the Old Man of Hoy before anyone else and had the views all to ourselves for at least half an hour before anyone else arrived.

As we returned we passed a lot more people on the path, including some with huge camera gear and other large groups. I’d highly recommend leaving early to walk to the Old Man of Hoy to avoid crowds!

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

What to Pack

  • Good walking shoes or hiking boots. The trail is clear but stony and uneven in parts.
  • Water
  • Snacks if you want to stop and enjoy something when you’re there
  • A raincoat or windbreaker
  • Camera gear!

Visit Orkney Old Man of Hoy Walk

Old Man of Hoy Walk, Visiting Hoy, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Other things to see in Hoy

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum, Lyness

Just across the road from the Lyness Ferry Terminal is the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum. Admission is free and it’s open from March to October from 10-4.30pm Monday to Saturday and also on Sunday between May and September.

It contains displays about the role that Hoy, Scapa Flow, and Orkney, in general, played through two world wars, as well as the Pumphouse Cafe which is open from Easter to October and is another great spot to eat before you head back.

Visit Hoy Orkney Islands Scotland

Dwarfie Stane

On the road through the glacial valley to Rackwick, you may notice a bay for cars to park opposite a path that leads over to what looks like a large rock. This is the Dwarfie Stane, the only Neolithic rock-cut tomb in Britain dating from 3000BC.

Emily’s Ice Cream Parlour

On the road between Lyness and Rackwick, you’ll see a turquoise wooden building. This is Emily’s Ice Cream Parlour, and it makes a fantastic stop for a refreshment if you’re heading back to the ferry. She offers proper coffee, a selection of savoury foods and delicious homemade ice cream.

Visit Hoy Orkney Islands Scotland

Visit Hoy Orkney Islands Scotland

Martello Tower & Battery

Located in the greener south of the island, and worth a drive to see the change in scenery from the north of Hoy. The Battery was built to protect Longhope Sound for merchant ships passing through. In 1814 two Martello towers were added to provide further protection for the battery and the anchorage. You can climb the tower if you like, to see beautiful views over Hoy and Orkney.

The Martello Towers are part of the Orkney Explorer Pass, which is worth getting if you plan on visiting more than 3 of the included attractions on Orkney. It also includes Jarlshof in Shetland.

Grave of Betty Corrigall

If you drive from Lyness north to the start of the walk to the Old Man of Hoy, keep an eye out for the solitary Betty Corrigall’s Grave. The story of Betty Corrigall is rather bleak, to say the least. In the late 1770s, at the age of 27, an unmarried Betty fell for a passing soldier and became pregnant. The shame was too much for her and she hung herself, but this resulted in the two Lairds of the island refusing to have her buried within their parish borders. Instead, she was buried in the unconsecrated ground between the two.

Her tragic story doesn’t end there, however, as in 1933 two men cutting peat discovered her wooden coffin. They opened it thinking it may contain treasure, and instead found the body of Betty Corrigall perfectly preserved by being in the peat. They reburied her and she was once again forgotten…

Until 1941 when thousands of British soldiers descended on Orkney, and soldiers digging peat once again found her grave. Morbid curiosity led to her being exhumed multiple times to be viewed by different groups of soldiers. Finally, a concrete slab was placed over her grave, but it wasn’t until 1949 when American that a wooden cross was placed as a marker for her grave, and then it would be another 30 years before a special fiberglass headstone was erected.

Visit Orkney Islands Hoy Betty Corrigall's Grave

Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre, Moaness

A free museum, open all year with exhibitions, archive, and films relating to the people and places of Hoy.

Location of the Old Man of Hoy + Other Attractions

Where to stay on Hoy

It’s easy to see much of Hoy in a day if you can get the first and last ferries from mainland Orkney, but if you want to stay on Hoy there are a few accommodation options.

The closest accommodation to the Old Man of Hoy is the Rackwick Hostel, which sleeps 8 and has cooking facilities. There is also a free Bothy at Rackwick Bay, and a camping ground as well.

For other accommodation options around Hoy, check here.

Here’s a video of the journey to the Old Man of Hoy!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos on Scotland and beyond!

So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to the Old Man of Hoy walk, and other things to see in Hoy! What do you think, would you make the trip?

Sonja x

If you liked it, pin it!

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

Visiting the Old Man of Hoy + Other Hoy Attractions, Orkney, Scotland

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22 Comments

  • Reply Lisa July 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Wow, I got real goosebumps reading this! The Old Man of Hoy looks incredible, and well done for getting all the way up there! I’ve never been to the Orkney Isles, but I love the remoteness of it, especially from your great photos. It’s almost like stepping back in time. Did you manage to eat that ice cream, or were you too cold?! Great post 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 1, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks! It is like going to another world and I love that feeling. I definitely ate the ice cream haha. Can never say no to that!

  • Reply Natalie July 27, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    What a beautiful place – so rugged and pretty. My husband is a geologist so we are always drawn to different natural forms and things to see. The old man would be very high on our list to see! Also great to know you could view without a lot of walking. I broke my foot just weeks before a big trip and now I always have that in the back of my mind now – Plan B!

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 30, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      It’s high on the list of a lot of climbers too! I think it’s quite unique because it’s not actually that old, and so no one is sure how long it will last. Ouch! That sounds really painful. I wanted to try and provide alternative options, since I know not everyone can walk that far!

  • Reply Jennifer July 27, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    I love finding cool rock formations like this. It’s interesting to hear about how older accounts of what it looked like have changed over the year – and sad to think one day it might not be there. The scenery in this area is stunning too and worth a trip itself!

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 31, 2017 at 5:45 pm

      Me too! It’s interesting that it’s actually quite a new formation, as a lot of sea stacks have been around for longer. You just never know what’s going to happen!

  • Reply Mariella July 27, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Your pictures are incredible! Old Man of Hoy kinda looks like the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. They are very similar 🙂 I would totally hike the 3 hours to get there. Such a breathtaking place! At the end its worth it 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 30, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks!! True it does remind me a bit of the Cliffs of Moher, except you can get even closer to the edge I think! Although to be fair when I visited the Cliffs of Moher I didn’t get too close because it was so windy that it was pretty much closed! It’s definitely worth the 3 hour walk 🙂

  • Reply Abigail Sinsona July 28, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Why haven’t I been here before already? This is such a beautiful natural marvel to behold. The work of nature is truly awe-inspiring and this is one of those rock formations that is shaped by nature itself. Hence, I can’t help but feel in awe looking at your photos. I can only imagine how much more breathtaking that must be in person!

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 31, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      Haha time to make some plans! I really feel like I couldn’t even capture how stunning it was!

  • Reply Lydia Smith July 28, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Old Man of Hoy seems to be a nice place. The pictures you have are beautiful. And there is a lot of places to explore.

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 31, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks! There was so much to see, I think you could definitely spend more than a day here 🙂

  • Reply Cindy July 28, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Gorgeous photos. Hadn’t heard of it, but now I’d like to go!

  • Reply Kim July 29, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    This is the first time I’ve heard of the island Hoy, and I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list! Besides the Old Man of Hoy, all of the other attractions on the island are also so picturesque! The coastline is stunning and I love how much character everything has. Great guide on getting to the Old Man of Hoy, pinned for future reference.

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 31, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks! 😀 It’s a beautiful island and definitely worth visiting if you go to Orkney. I would have loved more time there!

  • Reply Jo July 30, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Yes I would definitely make the trip! Amazing article and photography! Never heard of the Old man of Hoy, but the scenery looks amazing! Something that reminds me of some old English movies.

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 31, 2017 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks so much! It really was stunning, I feel like I couldn’t even capture it properly!

  • Reply Fiona August 2, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    So many amazing stories for such a remote island … loved this post!

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 3, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Thanks so much! For just one small island it has a lot going on!

  • Reply Diana August 10, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    I’d never heard of the Old Man of Hoy before – what an interesting structure! I love your photos from there, esp the photo of you looking out at the edge of the cliff. Looks like it was a pretty clear day when you went which is awesome! I would love to go and of course I would stop by for ice cream on my way back to the ferry 😀

    • Reply Migrating Miss August 11, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Thank you!! We were lucky it was cloudy earlier on and cleared more as we got closer. We set off pretty early though! The ice cream was definitely a highlight 😀

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