The Old Man of Hoy is a 137 metre high stack on the Isle of Hoy, part of the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. Formed of old red sandstone, it is one of the highest stacks in Britain. Old Man of Hoy is popular with climbers, and was climbed in 1966. Created by the erosion of a cliff by hydraulic action shortly after 1750, the red sandstone pile is no more than a few hundred years old and may soon collapse into the sea.

The Old Man of Hoy probably got its name from its earlier formation, where it appeared to have 2 legs supporting a larger body. However, from many angles, the large stack still looks like a man.

How to get to the Old Man of Hoy

How you get to the Old Man of Hoy, and the island in general, depends on your mode of transport. If you are visiting Orkney by car, you can take a ferry from Houton on the main island of Orkney, which is a 25 minute drive from Kirkwall. From Lyness you drive 30 mins north to Rackwick, where the walk to the Old Man of Hoy begins.

Check the Orkney Ferries website for timetables, ferries can be booked by calling +44 (0) 1856 872044 or at the ferry terminal in Kirkwall. There is no online booking system. Make sure you book early if you are travelling to Hoy with a car in the summer because the ferries are full. It is important to book your return journey, so that you don’t get stuck, and have enough time to drive to the start of the Old Man of Hoy walk, complete the walk and return.

It is also possible to see the Old Man of Hoy without a car. One way to do this is to hire bikes in Stromness, take the ferry to Moaness (booking as above) and cycle 30 minutes to the start of the walk. Make sure you allow enough time to cycle, walk and cycle again!

You can also walk from Moaness, taking the Rackwick Glen walk from Moaness to Rackwick, then completing the Old Man of Hoy walk. It is a two hour walk from Moaness to Rackwick one way (7.25km).

If you really want to get to the start of the Old Man of Hoy walk and don’t fancy cycling or walking, you can take a taxi or minibus. You will need to book this well in advance. Check out some of the options here.

Itinerary for the walk to the Old Man of Hoy

The Old Man of Hoy walk starts in Rackwick, which was once a bustling little community but is now a small collection of empty houses and small old farms, so don’t expect to find any amenities.

The walk to the Old Man of Hoy is 9.25km round trip and will take about 2.5-3 hours, depending on your speed and how long you spend there.

The walk to the Old Man of Hoy starts with a steep descent, and you should be prepared for this. There is an entrance to the walk which starts further up the hill if you are driving, but parking is for guests staying at the Rackwick Hostel, unless you choose to park on the roadside further down.

You can also start the walk from the car park near the campsite. I would advise you to walk up the road towards the hostel and go in that direction rather than towards the seafront and then up, as it is much steeper. It depends on whether you want a more gradual climb or a steeper and shorter one!

Once you are higher up the hill, the views of the bay are magnificent, and the track levels out a little to go around the hill. A little further on, the gradient will decrease and eventually you will reach a point where you can see the top of the Old Man of Hoy in the distance. But there is still a long way to go! It’s just that the Old Man of Hoy is higher than the cliffs opposite, so you can see it over the cliffs.

This part of the path is relatively flat with a rocky mountain on one side and grass on the other. It will be even more grassy as you approach the Old Man of Hoy!

You can continue to walk further along the coast for different and beautiful views, but you will always have to come back the same way.

See the Old Man of Hoy without walking

The ferry from Scrabster on the Scottish mainland to Stromness, which runs along the coast of Hoy, gives you a wonderful, uninterrupted view of the cliffs of Hoy, including the Old Man of Hoy. This ferry is much more expensive than the John O’Groats ferry to St Margarets Hope to get to Orkney, and it also takes much longer, but if you really want to see the Old Man of Hoy and you don’t want to walk, have no transport, or are short of time, this is how to do it. So it is possible to take a boat to see the Old Man of Hoy by sea.

Best time to visit Orkney and see the Old Man of Hoy

Going to Orkney in the summer doesn’t guarantee you’ll have beautiful sunny days, but it does mean the temperatures will be a little warmer. I went to Orkney in July and it rained for most of the trip, but it was warm and the weather changed often, so don’t be afraid if the day starts with a little rain.

I would recommend taking the first ferry from Houton to Hoy at 8am and going straight to the start of the walk. Chances are you’ll get there before everyone else and you’ll have some great views to yourself for at least half an hour before anyone else arrives. On your return, you will pass many more people on the way. I highly recommend leaving early to see the Old Man of Hoy to avoid the crowds, you will be rewarded!

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