"Old Man of Hoy" - Sea Stack on the Orkneys

"Old Man of Hoy" - Sea Stack on the Orkneys

Scotland. If there is a "Must Do" on Orkney's Isle of Hoy, it is a visit of the old man - the "Old Man of Hoy". The popular coastal walk leads to one of the most famous sea stacks in Scotland. The worthwhile hike is rounded off by stunning views along the rugged red sandstone cliffs and good opportunities for bird watching.

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The Old Man of Hoy is the most popular attraction on Hoy and also its landmark.The almost 137 meter high red sandstone Sea Stack is furthermore one of the highest in Great Britain. Once the Old Man of Hoy was part of the cliffs. Over time, however, the sea has eroded the sandstone cliffs to such an extent that the Sea Stack was separated from the land. A drawing from 1814 shows the Old Man of Hoy still standing on two "legs" - an arch at the foot of the tower formed a broad base.

Blick auf den Old Man of Hoy - Sea Stack auf den Orkneys
What a view - it took us quite a while before we were ready to move on.

The Old Man of Hoy was first climbed in 1966 by the climbers Chris Bonington, Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey.The following year the climb was repeated for a live television broadcast. Afterwards, the rock needle truly captivated mountaineers. It is quite possible that you will see climbers during your hike.

An easier way to experience the Old Man of Hoy on the Orkneys is to walk along the coast from Rackick.

The hike to the Old Man of Hoy at a glance

Length: about 9,25 km
Height difference: about 220 m
Duration: 2,5 - 3 hours
Terrain: easily walkable and clearly visible path
Highlights:Old Man of Hoy, view of coast with red sandstone cliffs and Rackwick beach, bird watching

The Royal Society for Protection of Birds welcomes a small donation for the bird sanctuary. Almost the entire island of Hoy from the north to the center of the island is a designated bird sanctuary.

Where is the Old Man of Hoy located?

The Sea Stack Old Man of Hoy is located on the west coast of Hoy Island, one of the Orkney Islands. It can only be reached on foot. Starting point for the hike is the village of Rackwick in the south of Hoy.

Please note: The Isle of Hoy can only be reached by ferry.There are two ways to get to Hoy:

1. from Houton (Mainland Orkney) to Lyness (Hoy) - vehicles and pedestrians. For details please see Orkney Ferries.

2. from Stromness (Mainland Orkney) to Moaness (North Hoy) - pedestrians and bikes ONLY. For details please see Orkney Ferries.

For departure times and costs, please see the respective Orkney Ferries page. The booking is done by phone, an online booking is not possible. 

Fähranleger Houton - Orkneys
From the ferry terminal in Houton it takes about 35 minutes to Lyness on Hoy.

Ways to get to Rackwick

By car: From the ferry terminal in Lyness it takes about 30 minutes. However, it is best to plan a little more time for stopovers.

By bike: From the ferry terminal in Moaness you will travel 9.2 kilometers to Rackwick. You should plan a good 30 to 40 minutes for this.

On foot: From Moaness to Rackwick there is a 7.25 kilometer long hiking trail, the so-called Rackwick Glen route. You should plan about 2 hours for one way. If you only want to walk the route once, you can also book a cab.

We took the ferry from Houten to Lyness with our car. So we were flexible and could also visit other interesting places on Hoy. The ferry costs there and back for two passengers with a car was 62 pounds. To have some more time, we camped one night at the Bothy in Rackwick.

View of the red sandstone cliffs next to Rackwick Bay.

What does the Name "Schwarzenberg" mean?

"Hoy" comes from the Old Norse "Ha-ey" which means "the high island". And indeed: Hoy is much more mountainous than the rest of the Orkneys. The highest elevation is Ward Hill with 479 meters.

Description of the Walk to the Old Man of Hoy

Starting Point Rackwick

The starting point of the hike is in the small village of Rackwick.The access to the parking lot is signposted. Two information boards give an overview of the hike and the village Rackwick. You will also find information about public toilets and camping facilities at Bothy,a small hut on Rackwick beach.

The way to the Old Man of Hoy is signposted in the village of Rackwick.

View of the most beautiful Beach of the Orkneys

From here you follow the main road through the village towards the coast. Then the signposted path bends off and zigzags up the mountain flank.With every meter of altitude the view of Rackwick Bay with its fantastic white sandy beach gets better. It is said to be the most beautiful beach of the Orkneys. That may be true, I haven't seen a more beautiful one.

Blick auf Rackwick Bay - Wanderung zum Old Man of Hoy -  Orkneys
The beach at Rackwick Bay is said to be one of the most beautiful in the Orkneys.

View of the Old Man of Hoy

Almost at the top, a bench with a view invites you to take a break. Then the path continues and after a bend reaches the highest point. Finally the Old Man of Hoy comes into sight.However, it is still a long way to go. Since the sea stack is with 137 meters higher than the coast, it towers above it and the top of the Old Man of Hoy is already visible.

Old Man of Hoy comes into sight.

Now the trail goes slightly downhill for quite a while. However, we could not enjoy this part of the hike as much as we had hoped because it was raining cats and dogs. Shortly before the viewpoint on the Old Man of Hoy it luckily cleared up again.

What a sight! Proudly the Old Man of Hoy stands in front of the coast and defies wind and waves. But the forces of nature change the rocky coast and will probably not stop at the Old Man of Hoy any time in the future. There is a stony path down to the foot of the rock needle.But we did not go down.

Blick auf den Old Man of Hoy - Sea Stack auf den Orkneys
How tiny a person can suddenly be!

After I photographed the Old Man of Hoy from all sides and we shared our picnic with a fearless herring gull, we set off again. It goes the same way back.

If you want to, you can hike further along the coast to the impressive cliffs at St. John's Head. For the way there and back you should plan about two additional hours.

Sandsteinklippen am Old Man of Hoy - Orkneys
The red sandstone cliffs are another highlight of the hike besides the Old Man of Hoy.

Tip: Better take some more provisions to the island of Hoy. There are hardly any possibilities to buy more.

Here Comes the Rain Again

Hoy was the filming location for the music video of the song Here Comes the Rain Again by British pop duo Eurythmics.My partner had played the song to get me in the mood for the hike. Afterwards the song went into an endless loop in my ears. And as almost expected: during our tour it started to rain several times. Magical!

Tip: Never leave your rain pants in the car!

Blick auf Rackwick Bay - Wanderung zum Old Man of Hoy -  Orkneys
After the ascent, a break is well deserved.

Book Recommendations for Scotland

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I recommend the following travel guides, which have proven themselves on my trip:

Do you know the "Old Man of Hoy" from the Orkneys? How did you like the coastal walk there? Do you have any questions or suggestions regarding my article? If so, please write me a comment!

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Recommendations for further Reading

Do you love wild coasts and lonely landscapes as much as I do? Then you might also be interested in my articles about a Kayak Tour in the Swedish Archipelago or a Trekking Tour to the Greenlandic Ice Sheet.

Kajaktour durch Schwedens Schären - die besten Tipps für eure Tourplanung
Kayak tour through Sweden's Archipelago - the best Tips for your tour Planning

Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum grönländischen Inlandeis auf eigene Faust
Hiking tour from the Eqi Glacier to the Greenland Ice Sheet on your own


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