Less than 30 minutes by ferry from Kirkwall is the fertile, low-lying island of Shapinsay.
Local Sights & Activities for Shapinsay
The main attraction is Balfour Castle, an imposing baronial pile which is in fact a Victorian extension to a much older house called 'Cliffdale'. The house, and the rest of the island, was bought by successive generations of the Balfour family who had made their fortune in India. Today the castle is the home of the Zawadski family and is run by them as a hotel(01857-711283), which can also be visited as part of an inclusive half-day tour.
Info - Tour leaves from Kirkwall on Wed and Sun May-Sep, on the 1415 ferry. Tours must be arranged in advance at the tourist office in Kirkwall. They cost around £15 per person which includes ferry ticket, guided tour of the castle and gardens (at 1500) and complimentary tea and cakes in the servants' quarters. You can take an earlier ferry if you wish to explore the island. Tel. 872856.
In the village, built by the Balfours to house their estate workers, is the Shapinsay Heritage Centre, in the old Smithy. It has displays on the island's history and a tearoom upstairs. Info - Mon, Tue and Thu-Sat 1200-1630, Wed and Sun till 1730. Free. Tel. 711258.
A mile north of the village is the Mill Dam RSPB Reserve, where there's a hide overlooking a loch from which you can see many species of wildfowl and waders. Four miles from the pier, at the far northeast corner of the island, is the well-preserved Burroughston Broch, with good views of seals sunning themselves on the nearby rocks. West of here, at Quholme, is the original birthplace of the father of Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle.
Shapinsay Hotels & Accommodation
You can stay at C Balfour Castle, Tel. 711282, [http:///www.balfourcastle.co.uk Balfour Castle, and enjoy all that Victorian splendour. The price includes dinner. The castle has a private chapel and a boat is available for bird watching and fishing trips for residents. Alternatively, there's comfortable B&B in the humbler surroundings of E Girnigoe, Tel. 711256, near the northern end of Veantro Bay. It also offers evening meals. There's a pub in the village, in the old gatehouse. Also 2 shops and a post office.