Shapinsay is one of the smaller Orkney Islands, a short ferry ride from Mainland Orkney, with its main settlement at the village of Balfour. The castle can't be visited but there are several prehistoric sites.
Orkney Ferries ply to Shapinsay from Kirkwall on Mainland. The ferry is a small roll-on, roll-off ferry for vehicles and foot passengers and takes about 30 min. In summer there are six sailings daily and day-trips are easily possible.
At about 6 km by 5 km, you can reach most sights on foot. A bike would come in useful though.
- 1 Balfour Castle, ☏ . Closed. Impressive 19th-century castle in Scottish Baronial style. It has operated as an upmarket hotel and wedding venue, with occasional guided tours. However it's now a private dwelling and is closed to the public. You can admire the Gatehouse, and the house facade from a distance - indeed it's visible from Kirkwall.
- 2 Burroughston Broch is a well-preserved Iron Age broch, with thick dry-stone walls and an interior chamber. It's on the north-east corner of Shapinsay, 4 miles from the ferry pier, follow Hillock Road. Nearby on the north tip of the island, the Geo of Ork is a deep cleft in the cliff face.
- Other remains are the Mor Stein, a 3-metre neolithic standing stone in the south-east of the island; Linton Chapel a 12th-century ruin on the east coast, and nearby Castle Bloody a neolithic chamber.
- Helliar Holm, the uninhabited islet enclosing the harbour at Balfour, has a lighthouse and the remains of a broch, cairn and chapel. It's tidal but only just, you'll need a spring low tide to walk across, but then how to get back? Seek local advice before trying.
- Milldam RSPB Reserve 1 km from the port, the bird hide overlooks a peaceful lake, once used to power a mill.
- 1 Thomas Sinclair, Shoreside, Shapinsay, KW17 2GG. A general store and bakery.
- 1 The Smithy, Balfour Village, ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. Moderately priced good food, would make a good lunchtime trip out from Kirkwall. Tables on the seafront too. With various exhibits about the history of the island.
- Self-catering accommodation may be available at nearby Iona Cottage.
Back to Kirkwall and the Mainland is the only option.