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Hoy is the second largest of the islands that form Orkney. It is about 10 miles long and five miles wide and is roughly rectangular in shape, not counting the tail of South Walls at its south east end. Having said that, the B9047, which runs from near the north west end of Hoy to near the south west end of South Walls, is 20 miles long, so this is not an island who's size should be underestimated.
The name comes from the Old Norse for "High Island", an indication that Hoy differs in character from all the other islands making up the archipelago. Ward Hill, at 1570ft or 479m, is the highest hill in Orkney and sits close to the north end of the island. What development exists is largely confined to the eastern side of Hoy, and this includes the small pier at Moness, terminus for the passenger only ferry to Graemsay and Stromness.
The exception to the "east side only" development of Hoy is at Rackwick, often described as a crofting township. The reality is a scattering of crofts and dwellings behind a broad boulder-strewn bay complete with a fringe of sand. There were 80 residents here in 1900; today only five people live here full time.
To the south Rackwick is framed by imposing cliffs, while to the north the land rises more greenly but still steeply above the bay. A path from the settlement climbs up behind the sea cliffs to the north to give views of the Old Man of Hoy, the 450 foot sea stack thought unclimbable until conquered in a televised climb in 1966.
On your way back along the single track road to the east side, keep a lookout on the far side of the valley to your right for the Dwarfie Stone. This is a large stone which our Neolithic ancestors hollowed out for a purpose no one has yet quite worked out.
The road along the Scapa Flow or eastern side of Hoy gives a good feel for the undeveloped, open nature of the island as it crosses moorland and descends valleys. Keep a good lookout near the island's mid point for the short path leading inland from the road to Betty Corrigall's white painted grave. In the 1770s she killed herself, at the second time of trying, when her lover left her unmarried and pregnant to go whaling.
As a suicide she could not be buried in consecrated ground, and the lairds of the big estates also refused to provide her with a grave. She was therefore buried in an unmarked grave in high open moorland in the middle of the island, and forgotten. Her grave was discovered by accident in the 1930s, then again in 1940, when she was reburied in her current location and her grave properly protected and marked. The irony is that after lying unknown for 160 years, Betty Corrigall now rests in one of the most visited graves in Orkney.
The main settlement on the east side of Hoy is at Lyness. In WWII this was home to many thousands of military personnel as the main base for the fleet based at Scapa Flow. Many of the buildings left from the time have been cleared away, but others remain, giving the impression that nearly every structure owes something to a military architect somewhere down the line.
Nowhere is this more obvious than at Lyness itself. Lyness is now the main point of entry to and exit from Hoy via the car ferry to Houton on West Mainland. The ferry makes use of a harbour originally constructed from spoil extracted from the vast underground oil tanks within the hillside behind. The nearby Scapa Flow Visitor Centre was built as the main oil storage and pumping facility for Scapa Flow.
South from Lyness, Hoy flattens and opens out a little. The military origins of the buildings is wonderfully illustrated by the Garrison Theatre in North Walls. The black and white art deco frontage was once backed by a huge Nissen hut that served as the theatre itself. Now the frontage stands alone and is run as a guest house.
The southern end of Hoy is marked by the large indentation of Longhope, which originally helped separate Hoy from the tidal island of South Walls. The link was more firmly established during the 1800s and a short causeway called the Ayre was built in WWII permantly linking the two together.
West of the Ayre a side road leading to the old Longhope Lifeboat Station, now a museum. On the south shore of Longhope is the village of Longhope and the nearby St Columba's Church. and to South Walls. The south eastern tip of South Walls is marked by the Cantick Head lighthouse first lit in 1858 to mark the southern entrance to Scapa Flow.
Nearby is the Kirkhope burial ground, with its bronze statue of a lifeboatman that serves as a memorial to the crew of the Longhope Lifeboat, who were lost at sea on 17 March 1969. Also nearby are the Martello Tower and battery at Hackness, relics of an earlier generation of defences of these islands than most of those seen on Hoy.