Visiting Shapinsay

Thinking of visiting Shapinsay? The Heritage centre, gift shop and Smithy Cafe will not be opening this season – but we have great news, The Shapinsay Development Trust has just bought the building and it is about to undergo extensive renovation, so will definitely be ready next year! The RSPB Bird hide is open currently but is due to undergo extensive repairs at some point. Thankfully Nature doesn’t stop, and neither does history, so there is still plenty to see and do, just bring a picnic and a flask! The shop have plenty of cold drinks, crisps, sweeties and ice-creams to offer! They have a coffee machine where you can get freshly ground coffee, hot chocolate or a cup of tea (hopefully it will be up and running in the next week or two if it is not already) and they plan to get their whippy ice-cream machine fired up by Summer. On certain days, you should be able to grab a sandwich from there, but it’s always worth calling ahead first to find out if they have anything in! (check out “living on Shapinsay – Thomas Sinclair, for more information)

Toilets: There are 2 public toilets on Shapinsay – the first one is in the Gatehouse Square, just up from the old pier. The second one is round at the playpark and is part of the Community School building, right opposite the playpark, with help from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Community Association were able to get an outdoor toilet fitted in 2021!

For more information on what there is to see and do on Shapinsay, please check out our interactive map on the home page

Transport – See our Transport page for more information about the Transport available on Shapinsay

Where to stay on Shapinsay

We are a bit low on accommodation to offer at the moment, but we do have one fantastic self catering house – Click below to find out more.

Burroughston Broch

Burroughston Broch is an iron age broch situated in a beautiful spot by the sea, at the north end of Shapinsay, about 4 miles from the pier. It was excavated in the mid 1800’s and is one of the best preserved Brochs in Orkney.

RSPB Mill Dam Nature Reserve

RSPB Mill Dam Nature reserve is covered in a dynamic wetland with open water. It’s covered in wide swamp plant communities and a range of different plants, especially adaptive to living in damp, marshy places. This natural marsh was dammed in the 1880s, providing an ideal habitat for birds throughout the year.

In the summer you look out for the rare pintail and up to nine different species of ducks. Also keep an eye out for the great yellow, one of the rarest British bumblebees that can be found on Shapinsay.

Autumn attracts hundreds of birds every year. The numbers increase as they migrate from the arctic. Greylag geese arrive in October and up to 1000 breeding pairs can been seen at one time.

Later in the winter up to 120 whooper swans and several hundred greylags roost within the safety of the reserve at night. Hen harriers can be seen on the reserve during the winter, attracted by the large flocks of waders and wildfowl. For more information visit:

Photo of the Mill Dam Reserve taken by Jenny Hall

Wildlife on Shapinsay

The wildlife on Shapinsay is an attraction in itself, the vast variety of habitats lead to a wide range of breeding birds and wildflowers. You don’t need to walk far from the Ferry to see Seals basking in the sun on a nice day, you will find them most of the year round lazing on the shore below the shop!

The bird hide is usually a fantastic place to see a huge variety of birds, although it’s currently closed till it is refurbished, you can still see many birds on the shores and on the cliffs up at castle bloody.

Beaches on Shapinsay

Shapinsay is surrounded by the sea, and with the sea, comes beautiful beaches! Shapinsay has an array of beauty spots on the shore, from rocky beaches with rock pools and wildlife treasures galore, to beautiful sandy beaches! Ness has a beautiful sandy beach, but be careful if you want to swim there as there is a ferocious tidal current that runs past there, watch the speed the seals whizz past with their heads in the air! From here, in the Summer, you can watch Martins feed their young, gannets, shags, cormorants,Terns and more, occasionally you might even spot an otter or a porpoise swim past!

Sands beach is a little further out of the way, on the east side, but is just as beautiful if the tide is right and great for a swim!

Skenstoft beach is a favourite with many locals for a paddle as it’s so shallow. The tide goes out over the sand for a long time down there.