Ferries from Scrabster arrive in Stromness, and the newcomer is greeted by rows of stone-built houses hugging the shore, each with their own jetty. Stromness is a much more attractive town than Kirkwall, and its narrow, winding main street, its wynds and closes, its fascinating shops, and its unique atmosphere make it the ideal base for exploring the West Mainland.
Though referred to in the Viking Saga as Hamnavoe, the town in fact dates from the 17th century. Its importance as a trading port grew in the 18th century when wars and privateers made the English Channel too dangerous and ships used the northern route across the Atlantic, calling in at Stromness to take on food and water and to hire local men as crew. Until the late 19th century ships of the Hudson Bay Company made Stromness their main base for supplies, and used Login's Well as a source of fresh water. Whaling ships bound for Greenland also hired local labour. By the late 19th century the herring boom had reached Stromness and there were 400 boats using its harbour, but within two decades the boom was over due to over-fishing. Today Stromness remains a fishing port, as well as Orkney's main ferry terminal and the headquarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board. Phone code: +44 (0)1856 Population: 2,500 Scottish ads
Local Sights & Activities for Stromness
Stromness consists largely of one narrow, winding main street, paved with flagstones, which hugs the shoreline. Running off the street are numerous little lanes and alleyways, many with fascinating names such as Khyber Pass, and full of interesting buildings which reflect the town's proud maritime heritage. The houses on the seaward side of the street are gable end to the waterfront and each has its own jetty. The town is not designed for the motor car, so you'll have to park by the harbour and explore its delights on foot. The main street changes its name from Victoria Street to Graham Place, Dundas Street, Alfred Street and South End as it runs south from the harbour.
The Stromness Museum, at 52 Albert Street, has exhibitions on natural and maritime history, and contains artefacts from Scapa Flow and the days of the Hudson Bay company. Info - May-Sep daily 1000-1700; Oct-Apr Mon-Sat 1030-1230 and 1330-1700. Adult £2.50, children £0.50. Tel. 850025. Opposite the museum is the house where George Mackay Brown (1921-96), Orkney's most famous poet and story-writer, spent the last two decades of his life. On a jetty to the south of the new harbour is the excellent Pier Arts Centre, housing a permanent collection of works of the St Ives school, including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron, amongst others, in a lovely gallery. Info - Tue-Sat 1030-1230 and 1330-1700; Jul and Aug also Sun 1400-1700. Free.
Stromness is one of the classic Scottish fishing villages and a perfect introduction to Orkney
Diving The Diving Cellar, 4 Victoria St, Tel. 850055. Offers diving packages, equipment rental and boat charters. Open Mon-Fri 1100-1400 and 1700-1900, Sat 1300-1700. Scapa Scuba, 13 Ness Rd, Tel./Fax. 851218. Diving course, guided dives, night dives and boat charters.
Stromness Hotels & Accommodation
The best hotel in town is the C-D Stromness Hotel, Tel. 850298, [htttp:///www. Stromnesshotel.com Thr stromness Hotel], an imposing old building overlooking the harbour, recently refurbished and offering good-value meals.
Also near the ferry terminal, on John St, is the E Ferry Inn, Tel. 850280, The Ferry Inn which serves food and has a lively bar. There are several B&B options, including E-D Stenigar, Tel. 850438. Open Apr-Oct, a converted boatyard on Ness Rd, just before the campsite, with views of Hoy and E Mrs Worthington, Tel. 850215. Open Apr-Oct, a traditional gable-ended house at 2 South End. On Victoria St near the harbour is E Orca Hotel, Tel. 850447, www.theoakleigh.com Also has a bistro (Bistro 76) serving good food.
A few miles behind Stromness, at Innertown, is E Thira, Tel. 851181, a comfortable, friendly and non-smoking modern bungalow with spectacular views of Hoy. Also serves an excellent cooked breakfast, and will provide a fantastic dinner made from the finest local ingredients on request. F Brown's Hostel, 45 Victoria St, Tel. 850661. This popular independent hostel has no curfew and is open all year round; unlike the F SYHA Hostel, on Hellihole Rd, a 10-min walk south from the ferry terminal, Tel. 850589. Open Mar-Oct. There's a campsite, Tel. 873535, open May to mid-Sep, at Ness Point, a mile south of the ferry terminal. It's well equipped and has incomparable views, but is very exposed.