Visitors to Hoy have a choice between two ferry routes operated by Orkney Ferries. A passenger-only vessel links Stromness with Moness, at the north end of Hoy, and with Graemsay. But the main link is the car ferry that runs from Houton in Orphir, some miles south east of Stromness, to Lyness on Hoy and to Flotta. For current fare and timetable information, and for bookings, contact Orkney Ferries via their website.
Houton lies at the southernmost point of West Mainland a couple of miles west of Orphir. Tickets can be purchased from the Orkney Ferries office at Houton. Boarding is via the long linkspan that projects into the almost circular Bay of Houton, an anchorage that has been in use since the Vikings first came to Orkney.
The main ferry used on the route is the MV Hoy Head, which can carry up to 125 passengers and 18 cars. In summer additional sailings are provided by the MV Thorsvoe, Orkney Ferries' main standby ship. She was built in Campbeltown in 1991 and can carry 122 passengers and 16 cars.
On board the Hoy Head, passenger accommodation is in two lounges located beneath the vehicle deck. With no external windows these are not designed for sightseeing. Regulars on the journey tend to stay in their cars, while visitors, weather permitting, congregate on the high level open decks running either side of the vehicle deck. The Thorsvoe also has a lounge below the vehicle deck, plus an open deck area behind the bridge.
The route taken depends on whether your ferry is calling at Flotta or not. From Houton you head south into Scapa Flow, passing either east or west of the island of Cava. Two miles to the east are the rocks and lighthouse called, for no obvious reason, the Barrel of Butter.
If you are going direct to Lyness the route takes you through Gutter Sound, between Fara and Hoy before arriving at Lyness itself. The route via Flotta takes you past the east side of the islands of Cava and Fara. From Flotta you go past the south end of Fara on the short crossing to Lyness.
Many first time users of the route bound for Hoy spend the first half of the trip wondering whether they will need to unload their vehicle at Flotta, a confusion compounded by the taped announcements on approach to Flotta. Don't worry: vehicles bound for Flotta are loaded last and reverse off on arrival, leaving passengers for Hoy to drive off in the normal way on arrival at their destination.