While ferries to most of Orkney's northern islands operate from Kirkwall, the ferry to Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre operates from Tingwall on the east coast of West Mainland, north of Finstown. For current fare and timetable information, and for bookings, contact Orkney Ferries via their website.
The ferry serving the three islands is the MV Eynhallow named after the uninhabited island home only to a ruined monastery that lies at the north west end of Eynhallow Sound, between West Mainland and Rousay.
The Eynhallow was built in Bristol in 1987 and intended from the start to bring the roll-on roll-off era to the three islands it serves. In a classic example of the "new ferry" effect, it rapidly generated demand beyond its capacity. In order to remedy matters the Eynhallow sailed to Buckie in April 1991 to have a 5m section inserted. This gave it the capacity for nine cars it has today. It can also carry 95 passengers.
Most drivers and passengers remain in their vehicles during the short crossing, though the Eynhallow also offers a passenger lounge underneath the bridge and some open deck space for passengers behind it. Vehicles are reversed onto the Eynhallow, a process that reveals the artistry of the crew in getting the maximum number of vehicles on board, sometimes despite the skills of the drivers.
The Eynhallow is based on Wyre and begins and ends its day there. A glance at the timetable suggests that the services offered by the Eynhallow are at least as important in linking Rousay to the smaller islands of Wyre and Egilsay as they are in connecting the three islands to Mainland. Those travelling without a vehicle will want to check the details of the connecting bus links between Tingwall and Kirkwall bus station. It is also worth noting that if you are prepared for an early start, the timetable allows time to be spent on all three of the islands in a single day: though it does make for a rather rushed tour.
The crossing is straightforward, heading generally north east from Tingwall to the west end of Wyre Sound, and then along the sound between Rousay and Wyre. The slipway on Rousay is in the island's only real settlement at Trumland, while that on Wyre is directly opposite. Getting to Egilsay involves sailing further around Rousay and into Rousay Sound to the slipway at Skaill.