Stromness, Kirkwall, Scotland | CruiseBe
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History and museums
town,historic site,sightseeing

Stromness local /ˈstrɒmnəs/ is the second most populated town in Orkney, Scotland. It is in the south-west of Mainland Orkney. It is also a parish, with the town of Stromness as its capital.


The name "Stromness" comes from the Norse Straumsnes. Straum refers to the strong tides that rip past the Point of Ness through Hoy Sound to the south of the town. Nes means "headland". Stromness thus means "headland protruding into the tidal stream". In Viking times the anchorage where Stromness now stands was called Hamnavoe, meaning "peaceful" or "safe harbour".


A long-established seaport, it has a population of approximately 2,190 residents. The old town is clustered along the characterful and winding main street, flanked with houses and shops built from local stone, with narrow lanes and alleys branching off it. There is a ferry link from Stromness to Scrabster on the north coast of mainland Scotland.

First recorded as the site of an inn in the 16th century, Stromness became important during the late 17th century, when England was at war with France and shipping was forced to avoid the English Channel. Ships of the Hudson's Bay Company were regular visitors, as were whaling fleets. Large numbers of Orkneymen, many of whom came from the Stromness area, served as traders, explorers and seamen for both. Captain Cook's ships, Discovery and Resolution, called at the town in 1780 on their return voyage from the South Seas where Cook had been killed.

Stromness Museum reflects these aspects of the town's history (displaying for example important collections of whaling relics, and Inuit artefacts brought back as souvenirs by local men from Greenland and Arctic Canada). An unusual aspect of the town's character is the large number of buildings decorated with displays of whale bones outside them.

At Stromness Pierhead is a commemorative statue by North Ronaldsay sculptor Ian Scott, unveiled in 2013, of John Rae standing erect, with an inscription describing him as “the discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.”


The parish of Stromness includes the islands of Hoy and Graemsay and a tract of about 5 miles by 3¾ on Mainland. The main part is bounded on the west by the Atlantic, on the south and the south-east by Hoy Sound, on the north-east by the Loch of Stenness.

Antiquities include Breckness House, erected in 1633 by George Graham, bishop of Orkney at the west entrance of Hoy Sound; and an ancient cemetery, with ruined church, and remains of a monastery, between Breckness House and Stromness town.

Media and the arts

Stromness plays host to the Pier Arts Centre, an outstanding collection of twentieth century British art gifted to the people of Orkney by Margaret Gardiner.

The Stromness branch of the Orkney library is situated in a building gifted to the library service in 1905 by Marjory Skea (later Corrigall).

Writer George Mackay Brown was born and lived most of his life in the town, and is buried in the town's cemetery overlooking Hoy Sound. His poem "Hamnavoe" is set in the town and is in part a memorial to his father John, a local postman.

Stromness is referred to in the title of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's popular piano piece "Farewell to Stromness", a piano interlude from The Yellow Cake Revue, which was written to protest at plans to open a uranium mine in the area. (The title refers to yellowcake, the powder produced in an early stage of the processing of uranium ore.) The Revue was first performed by the composer at the Stromness Hotel on 21 June 1980 as part of the St Magnus Festival; the uranium mine was cancelled later that year.

Stromness is also the title of a 2009 novel by Herbert Wetterauer.


Stromness presents to the Atlantic a range of cliffs from 100–500 ft high and to Hoy Sound a band of fertile lowlands. The rocks possess great geological interest, and were made well known by the publication of the evangelical geologist Hugh Miller, The Footprints of the Creator or The Asterolepsis of Stromness (1850).

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