Tucked away on the remote southwestern coast of Hoy, Orkney’s ‘high island’, is one of Scotland’s greatest hidden gems – Rackwick bay. Rackwick is a strikingly desolate yet breath taking place, enclosed and cut off from the rest of the world by a fortress of towering red sandstone cliffs and dark brooding hills. On the hillsides overlooking the bay are a scattering of little stone cottages, remnants of an old crofting township which dates back more than 300 years. The name Rackwick comes from the Old Norse language of early Viking settlers, meaning ‘wreckage bay’. It reflects the common fate suffered by many ships as they tried to cross the perilous Pentland Firth to reach Orkney.
The road to Rackwick winds through a valley of sleep heathery slopes before eventually opening out to reveal the secluded bay. Due to the closed off nature of its location and the surrounding dark heathery hills, Rackwick is known to have its own unique climate, with temperatures in the sheltered bay often reaching several degrees warmer than anywhere else in Orkney on a sunny summer’s day!
The beach itself is stunning, with giant sea-smoothed boulders and a sweeping arc of pinkish sand. The sand gets its colour from the red sandstone surrounding the area and the amount of sand in the bay can differ greatly depending on the time of year as more boulders are pushed ashore by the powerful waves of winter storms.
Down by the shoreline you can find Burnmouth, one of the traditional stone cottages which is owned by the Hoy Trust and open to the public as a bothy for visiting campers. If you want to get the full Rackwick experience, then a night spent or two spent at the bothy is highly recommended!
Another of the old crofts – the Cra’as Nest has been restored to its original condition and is now open as a museum which gives an endearing insight into the lives lead by the traditional crofters of Rackwick. I always find it fascinating to ponder over what life was like for the crofters and fisherman who chose to make this distant valley their home.
Rackwick has a particularly unique sense of isolation and tranquillity, and I’m sure I am not alone when I say it is one of my favourite places in the world. This little paradise holds a special place in so many people’s hearts. The famous Orcadian poet and writer George Mackay Brown was known to be very fond of Rackwick and once wrote of it as ‘Orkney’s last enchantment, a hidden valley of light.’ It’s the perfect place to come if you need to slow down, reconnect and gather your thoughts, with only the echo of the sea to be heard on a still summers day.
Words and Photographs by Rachel Eunson
I’m Rachel, a photographer and certified drone pilot from the Orkney Islands. I have always had a fascination for capturing special moments and living in these remote islands has provided an amazing place to develop individual creativity. I feel very lucky to call Orkney home and it’s unique, rugged natural beauty continues to be a main source of inspiration for my work.