The West Mainland includes “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney”, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ness of Brodgar, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, and parts of the surrounding area.
There is a strong argument for the whole of Orkney to be a World Heritage Site in view of its unique natural and cultural heritage, however for now the designation is cultural only. The West Mainland encompasses in a small and accessible area most of what is best about the archipelago.
Apart from the Neolithic attractions, there are other many sites of interest. These include dramatic coastline such as at Yesnaby, Marwick Head and the Brough of Birsay as well as fine beaches such as Warebeth, the Bay of Skaill, Birsay, Aikerness and Waulkmill.
For birdwatchers and botanists, the huge variety of habitats ensures a wide range of species to see at any season, while anglers have a choice of several lochs on which to try their skills and luck. Walkers will also find a diverse selection of interesting routes, coastal or inland, easy or more strenuous. There is much to do in the West Mainland.
Apart from the main five archaeological sites, there are many others to visit. These include Neolithic chambered cairns at Bookan, Unstan, Cuween and Wideford Hill. The Broch of Gurness is the best preserved of many such Iron Age sites. There are Pictish and Norse ruins the Brough of Birsay, and a 16th century Earl’s Palace in Palace Village.
The Farm Museums at Corrigall and Kirbuster, the Click Mill and Boardhouse Mill, all date from the 19th century. Skaill House, next to Skara Brae is a restored laird’s home full of interesting artefacts.
Stromness has its internationally acclaimed Pier Arts Centre and a delightful small Museum, reached through narrow, winding streets. The sheltered harbour was called Hamnavoe by the Norse.
Orphir offers fine views over the great natural harbour of Scapa Flow, once home to the British Fleet, and last resting place of the WWI German Grand Fleet. The St Nicholas Round Kirk is Norse, and was built by Earl Haakon in atonement for his murder of Earl, later St, Magnus.