Orkney & Hebrides
Best months:
August to December

Orkney & Hebrides

Scotland, United Kingdom
LAST UPDATED 03/03/2008
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Pic: Northern Exposure; Author: Matt Smith/crystalbluephotography.com

To really get away from it all, take a trip to the Orkney Islands. Located off the northern tip of Scotland where the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Orkney takes it name from the migrating orca whales that pass through this region.

Orkney is an archipelago of 70 or so islands and currently 17 of them are inhabited. Around 20,000 people live in Orkney, with most people living in the main towns of Kirkwall and Stromness.

The quiet sandy beaches, stunning scenery, abundance of wildlife, fresh quality cuisine and warm welcoming hospitality make these islands an ideal place for any surf trip.

The Hebrides are formed from some of the oldest rock on the planet and lie north west of Scotland. Their exposed position means they are swell magnets to every pressure system in the atlantic.

The Hebrides have a reputation as one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, but also lush and verdant - due in no small part to the large amounts of rain which tend to fall. However, this should not put off the potential visitor, and many would say that the Hebrides are just not the same without at least some drizzle - just bring some rainclothes! When the sun does shine however, the resulting vistas are almost always stunning.

The Outer Hebrides have some of the most spectacular beaches, not just in Europe but in the world. Much of the west side of the 130 mile long string of islands is one virtual long deserted and clean beach. Incredible beaches can be found on Barra, South Uist, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis.

Many of the other Hebridean islands, such as Coll, Tiree, Islay and Mull also have quite breathtaking beaches. Due to the beaches, tides and weather, the Hebrides are rapidly becoming a major fixture on the surfing map.


During a time when even the most remotest surf spots have surfers turning up by the boat load to scramble all over them, the Orkneys and Hebrides still have pristine quality waves going unridden. This is probably due to temperature, the waves you pass on the way i.e Thurso, and the expensive ferry ticket. In the time it takes you to get here, you could've jumped on a 747 to Indo and be catching a few curly ones at Ulu's. Plus the surf here can be hit and miss, charts change quickly and what looks like a perfect week ahead can quickly become driving onshore rain. So why bother? Well when it's on, it's on and wave counts are high with little competition. It also makes for a very different surf trip if you've done Indo to death and fancy a taste of something new. In the summer, due to their north extremity, it barely gets dark here and you can surf almost 24hrs a day!


Pic: Automobile of the Orient; Author:Moverton; Date: 07.06.05


  • Air British Airways operate direct flights to Kirkwall Mon-Sat from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glascow and Inverness with connections from London Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast. Flights here are pretty expensive however and also at time of writing British Airways are refusing to carry surfboards, so double check.
  • Ferries Northlink Ferries operate a year round service between Scrabster near Thurso and Stromness on the Orkney mainlands west coast. The service runs twice daily Mon-Fri. Allow about 1.5hrs for the trip.


  • Air British airways operates regular flights from Glascow, Edinburgh, and Inverness to Stornoway airport. Again, make sure you can take your board before booking any British Airways flight.
  • Ferries CalMac runs regular ferry services year round between Ullapool on Scotlands north west coast and stornoway twice daily. The crossing takes around 2.5hrs.

where to stay

Cactus.man: Eilann Donan Castle; 28 March 2006


There are plenty of places to stay meeting all price criteria’s, from youth hostels to grand hotels, Orkney has it all! The west coast is home to the major breaks on Orkney and although it is away from most pubs and shops it's a great place to escape the tourist trap.


Accommodation is often most rewarding if you stay somewhat off the beaten track - most villages will have chalets or bed and breakfasts. These will probably be cheaper than those in the more tourist-oriented areas. Due to the steep cost of advertising, most accommodation is not listed in official tourist brochures. Instead, ask locally and search the web.

what to pack

Pic: Checking the surf, nice wettie dude; Author: Matt Smith/crystalbluephotography.com

During the summer months (May-Sept) you'll need short sleeved t-shirts, shorts and long trousers (pants) and probably a light jacket or pullover for the more blustery days and evenings and sun cream for days out on the water. In winter bring long trousers (pants), warm pullovers, warm waterproof coats, scarves, hat and gloves!!

As far a wetsuits go you'll need a good quality 3/2mm steamer for Summer, add boots and gloves for Spring/Autumn. For Winter it's strictly 5/3mm steamer, boots, gloves, hood, thermal rashie and a strong will to surf!!

For boards you'll probably want something with a little extra volume than your usual to allow for the extra weight in rubber you'll be wearing. Also don't forget a semi-gun for the epic days, something in the region of 6'8" - 6'10" plus a spare or two might not go a miss!

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