Saturday, July 19, 2014

Quoyness Chambered Cairn - Sanday

Most visitors to Orkney pay a visit to the great chambered cairn of Maes Howe. It is an amazing thing to see. But due to the large number of visitors you have to book ahead to see it; and when you get there your visit is highly regimented. A tour guide herds everyone inside, and then proceeds to give an informative talk on the tomb. No photos are allowed, and once the talk is over everyone is herded back out. Fortunately there are several other spectacular chambered cairns on Orkney that are accessible to travelers who, like me, relish seeing sites like this without the crowds.

I previously described a visit to the massive 'long' chambered cairn on Holm of Papa (see July 6 post). Another impressive cairn I visited last month was Quoyness Chambered Cairn on Sanday.

Quoyness is a smaller version of Maes Howe. As with Maes Howe, the cairn dates to around 3000 BC, and you enter it by crawling along a narrow passageway.

After crawling through the 30-foot-long passage I came to the central chamber. Even standing up I could not touch the roof, as it is 12 feet high.

There are six small side chambers, and I crawled into one to take a close look. One of my disappointments when I saw Maes Howe was that they do not allow visitors to enter the side chambers.

Spending some time alone in this ancient sacred place was a privilege. See this Orkneyjar link for more information on the Quoyness cairn. After seeing it I spent an hour exploring the Elsness Peninsula and the nearby white-sand beach of Sty Wick (the last two photos).

Next time I'll end my Orkney posts with a visit to another, and much more recent tomb. The 1893 grave of one of my heroes: the Orcadian John Rae.


  1. Thanks for this post (and the Holm of Papa one), it's somewhere I've always wanted to visit.

    Do you know how easy it would be to find someone willing to take you across to Holm of Papa?

    1. Sorry, I am not sure how easy it is. The Papa Westray webpage on Holm of Papa (, says to ask about it at the Coop. It might be worth a phone call to them to ask if anyone still offers such a service these days. The coop has its own webpage (

  2. Thanks Marc, it was just out of general interest for some distant point in the future really.