Hoy Listening – A valley of voices

Hoy Heritage Centre is delighted to have been awarded Museums and Galleries Scotland funding to undertake a community project to produce a series of podcasts celebrating the culture and heritage of Hoy.

The podcasts will be a landscape of stories and a valley of voices packaged almost like radio programmes. Five audio journeys will take in different areas in Hoy and feature landmarks, local lore, archaeology, and flora and fauna. The Hoy community will be involved in the gathering, generation and recording of the content, which will include archive and newly made audio recordings together with specially commissioned music. The downloadable podcasts will add to the experience of visitors to Hoy whilst virtual remote listeners can journey through imagined landscapes. 

The five connected audio journeys will comprise: Moaness Pier to Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre; the old road to Rackwick through the valley; the road via the Dwarfie Stone; Rackwick; the Old Man of Hoy. Each podcast will be approximately 10 minutes. They will be available to download from the Hoy Heritage website, supported by an interactive map and links to discover more about particular topics.

Hoy Heritage Centre will be working with Dan Lee, Lifelong learning and Outreach Archaeologist with ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute). Dan has worked with the community in Hoy over a number of years and his knowledge of the area has added greatly to the resources at Hoy Heritage Centre.

Dan said: ‘Hoy is full of stories, and with the community we plan to let the landscape speak. Archaeology can be about the Dwarfie Stone, but it can also be about more recent activity such as the audacious 1967 BBC outside broadcast of the Old Man of Hoy climb. It is the layers of time that we will be building up in this creative audio project’.

Filmmaker and editor Mark Jenkins will be making new recordings with the community and weaving the audio journeys together, whilst musician and composer James Watson, who has strong family links with Hoy, will compose and play new music for the project. Mark and James have worked together on many film projects including a series of Hoy films a decade ago.

Hoy heritage officer Rebecca Marr said: ‘Like many visitor centres this past year, Hoy Heritage Centre has had to close to the public. This has had a significant impact on us, but this is a great opportunity during these difficult times to lift spirits and allow people to experience the magic that is Hoy. Whether people use the podcasts to accompany their walks in Hoy or whether they travel from their armchair, sharing heritage by hearing local stories from local voices will make their journey a real experience’.

Hoy residents living in the parish, or those who have homes in the parish, are invited to get involved by telling their stories, sharing tales or voicing up newspaper clippings.

Contact us here

It’s the Hoy Kirk Science Festival Night in your living room!

This is your ticket to join us for the Orkney International Science Festival event.


You’ll need your imagination but we’ll help get you there through archive photographs, so…take the ferry from Stromness to Moaness pier, and walk up the brae to the Hoy Kirk for seaweed soup for supper, with a recipe for you to prepare at home in advance.

Then sit back and enjoy some music, with the story of Jimmy o’ the Bu’s Polka, with memories from his grand-daughter Jean Thomson and his tune played by six of his great-great-grandchildren, including the fiddle that he played on.

Then we hear the story of settlement in Rackwick from archaeologist Dan Lee. Dan has been working in Hoy for some years now and he draws on the fascinating features he covered in his Rackwick Survey. Dan will show us the traces of the BBC 1967 televised Old Man of Hoy climb, describe to us the phenomenon of ‘The House That Was Built In A Day’, connect us to the communications in Rackwick and more.



Share the link and see you all there. Although we will miss seeing you in real life at the Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre, the online opportunity means that many more folk can join in from all over the world.

Photograph: Niall Anderson

Young men on the Old Man

It’s a while since these young men from Aylesford climbed the Old Man but their families have recently been in touch with this fantastic newspaper clipping from Kent.

The Old Man only has one leg but it’s a sea leg and it seems John Smith didn’t have any sea legs, struggling with sickness on a calm crossing. There are some great details of this 1972 climb in the amusing write up, tackling the stack with just a barley sugar between them, picking up South African radio on their walkie talkies and a feeling of anti-climax.

John Smith, Robert ‘Scottie’ Henderson, Martin ‘Barny’ Barnicott and Richard Wilkinson – you are in the Old Man roll call.

If you, or your family members, have climbed the Old Man please let us know when and who with and we can add you to our list.

As a foot note: We did an  internet search on the Reed paper mill where the clipping is from and found out that in 1932 the mill was producing 850,000 miles of newsprint a year that’s nearly 10 million Old Men of Hoy (if our calculations are right! 5,280ft in a mile and The Old Man is 450ft).

Thank you to John Smith and Fiona & Allun Maunder.

A warm welcome to our new website

During this period of closure we have been using our time to work behind the scenes on updating the website and adding lots more content.

So here is your invitation to visit us virtually, there’s a warm welcome and you can stay as long as you like but you’ll have to make your own cup of tea for now.


Please get in touch with anything you would like to see covered on the website. There will be new pages added regularly.

Old Man on the box

The Old Man of Hoy is on the television twice this week! Wednesday 20 May tune in to BBC4 at 9pm to watch the remarkable 2019 ascent of the Old Man by blind climber Jesse Dufton, Climbing Blind. More here.

Thursday 21 May on Film4 at 12:50pm the 1939 Michael Powell film The Spy in Black is being screened. In the cast is the Old Man of Hoy, with many other familiar locations such as Longhope, South Walls and Scapa Flow. See locations here


header image: the Daniell print of the Old Man on two legs.

Hoy Kirk closed but lots of Hoy to enjoy online

Due to the increasing concerns relating to the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and in compliance with advice from the Government, Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre will be shut for the time being.

The defibrillator can be accessed from the back door, all other areas will be locked.

We look forward to opening the doors once more when times are better, but for now we can bring you Hoy Heritage through the website as we use this time to update our content. Take care of yourselves and your neighbours.

There is plenty to enjoy on the Hoy Heritage website including audios and films. Today we have just uploaded Catherine Grivas’ story of her time at the Hoy Inn. Other recent additions to the website are the highly enjoyable tales of Tommy Moar, Margaret Moar and Frankie Sinclair see here.

In older recordings there are the films of Jack Rendall, Jimmy Moar and Jimmy O The Bu’s Polka among others. See here.

In audios you can hear  Jack Rendall talking about the BBC filming the Old Man of Hoy or Mary Mowatt about collecting peats see here.

And if you can’t get out and about just now, you might enjoy a virtual walk joining John Crossley and others in the Hoy hills in the footsteps of botanist James Sinclair.

We’ll soon be bringing you another virtual walk with archaeologist Dan Lee as he walks in the footsteps of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Bringing the outside inside for those indoors, here with the kind permission of Raymond Beasant and Orkney.com is Raymond’s recent article on mountain hares in Hoy.

Wild Orkney from Orkney.com

After some recent wintry showers, local wildlife photographer Raymond Besant took the opportunity to focus on one special species in its perfect habitat.

It hasn’t been what you might call a traditional winter this year, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what a traditional winter is! With its predominantly maritime climate, heavy snowfall isn’t that common in Orkney, yet we would expect the Hoy hills to at least have a dusting through the winter months.

It’s here that we can find one of my favourite species, the mountain hare. Like most land mammals found in Orkney, it has a somewhat complicated history and was mostly likely introduced by people. In fact, records show there have probably been several introductions, the last being between 1898 and 1914. Unlike the brown hare (also found in Orkney, but not in Hoy!), the mountain hare is indigenous to the UK. The population is now well established in the Hoy hills however and now is the perfect time to see them.


Their coat changes from brown to white from October onwards and with little snow cover at the moment they are very conspicuous amongst the dark heather. In fact, mountain hares actually have three moults through the year; a spring moult from white to brown, an autumn moult from brown to brown, and a winter moult from brown to white. However, the moult to winter white, sometimes with a grey/blueish tint, isn’t always even – the head often being the last to change. On a pure white individual only the tips of their long ears remain black.

So, where do you find them? They are widely distributed in Hoy though not found in South Walls as the heather uplands are their preferred habitat. Even here though the distribution isn’t even, most preferring heights of over 250 metres, which in Hoy means heading for Ward Hill or Cuilags. However, I’ve also seen them foraging at sea level, right near the road at Lyrawa Bay.


My favourite place to see them is on the summit of Cuilags, the westernmost hill in Hoy and, at 433 metres, slightly smaller than its cousin Ward Hill at 481 metres. Granted, as far as Scottish hills go, they aren’t very high, but what they lack in height they make up for in steepness. If you want to see mountain hares on Cuilags or Ward Hill you’re going to have to make your calves work! You could always take the path towards the Old Man of Hoy and carry on northwards until you reach Cuilags but that’s quite a walk. I usually park up just north of Sandy Loch, walk the length of the loch then take a hard right straight up the hill.


If you have the time and the stamina, it’s well worth the effort. The views from the tops of these hills are unparalleled in Orkney, with Scapa Flow, the mainland and the north isles spreading out in front of you as you look north. If this sounds like too much effort then you have a very good second and much easier option; just watch the mountain hares from the main road! The only road running north in Hoy takes you past the small loch called the ‘Water of Hoy’. Slow down as the road runs parallel with the coast and look on the hillside to your left. I was here recently and spotted 8 different individuals, feeding and socialising.

Your challenge really starts now if you want to photograph them. The hares on this hillside have a great vantage point and will definitely have seen you coming, so in some ways there’s little point in trying to creep up on them. The ball is firmly in the hare’s court here. My advice is to move slowly but purposefully, walk five metres, stop, take some pictures, walk five metres, stop and take some pictures. Some hares can be very trusting and allow a close approach, others will stand up straight, ears alert and run off over the hill at the first sight of you.


In my experience there is little success to be had in following hares down the hill in the hope of photographing them. I suspect this is to do with their predator escape strategy. Up until the 1980s a pair of golden eagles nested in Hoy. From then the hares only had the odd great skua to worry about, until our resident pair of white-tailed eagles set up home near the Dwarfie Stane a few years ago. The mountain hares now make up a significant part of the diet (along with fulmars) of these magnificent birds of prey. They aren’t an easy catch though and mountain hares will actually run straight up the hill rather than down it if an eagle approaches, making it far harder for the eagle to successfully catch its prey.

The signs of mountain hares are all around. They don’t utilise burrows the way rabbits do but rather make do with what is known as a ‘form’, a shallow depression in the heather. There are plenty of small, rocky outcrops on this hillside and the forms are often found on the western side of these rocks. Droppings are also conspicuous, being larger and rougher looking than those of the rabbit, whilst the beautiful white fur is often found caught in sprigs of heather.

Screenshot 2020-03-21 at 14.43.27

Spend a day in the Hoy hills and you have a great chance of seeing both mountain hares and white-tailed eagles. Try and catch the hares before they become harder to see again, as the next moult back to brown isn’t far around the corner – though it may help them blend in a bit better and avoid the talons of those eagles who should shortly be nest-building.

Find out more about Raymond’s work via his official website.

His new book, ‘Naturally Orkney Volume 2’ is out now, focusing on Orkney’s coastline and all the sights and species that can be found there. You can order your copy online with the Orcadian or for delivery by Stromness Books & Prints on 01856 850565.

Thank you again to Raymond and to Orkney.com for allowing us to reprint this article.

New exhibition coming soon

We are delighted that the team behind the HMS Pheasant 1917 exhibition at Northlight Gallery last year (Fiona Graham, Cary Welling & Martin Laird) are bring the show to Hoy Heritage Centre, Hoy Kirk. The exhibition will open on 1 March to coincide with the anniversary of the loss of the entire crew off Rora Head, Hoy in 1917.

The exhibition will run for the whole of March. Hoy Heritage Centre is always open. Come in make yourself a cup of tea and find out ‘Who were the lost men and boys?’. More details at facebook.com/HMSPheasant1917