South Ronaldsay | Neil MacRae

Island intro

With a capital named for a queen, a rich history and a vibrant, creative community, South Ronaldsay has plenty to explore year-round, come rain or shine. At just 6.5 miles across the Pentland Firth from John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland, South Ronaldsay is the gateway to the Orkney Islands.

Ask an Islander

We asked locals on South Ronaldsay to tell us why their island is special. Here’s what they said:

The main village of St Margaret’s Hope is the third-largest in Orkney and is thought to be named after a chapel dedicated to Margaret, Queen of Scotland (circa 1093), or the ill-fated Margaret of Norway who died in 1290.

The island itself is teeming with history, from its numerous ancient sites to the remains of 20th-century military positions.

More widely, the island offers plenty to explore for those looking for creative inspiration or a taste of Orkney – with a range of local galleries and some excellent local produce.

The island has ancient roots. Nothing demonstrates this as much as the enigmatic Tomb of the Eagles site where a local farmer and self-taught archaeologist, Ronnie Simison, uncovered a Stone Age tomb and Bronze Age site on his land, unearthing some 16,000 human bones, alongside the bones and talons of around 14 sea eagles. The site is now closed to the public, but remains an archaeological treasure.

The remains of wartime defences at Hoxa Head overlook the main channel into Scapa Flow. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy panoramic views of the gun batteries and other defences from both world wars.

The Festival of the Horse and Ploughing Match is an event that dates back to the early 19th century. Held every August, local children showcase traditional costumes representing working horses, which have been handed down through the generations. These outfits are complete with a collar and headdress. The parade is followed by a ploughing match at the Sands O’ Wright.

There are several other places that are worth a visit on the island. Old St Mary’s Church is the site of one of the earliest chapels in Scotland. The Ladykirk Stone can be found inside, and is believed to be a Pictish inauguration stone. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, it’s believed that Earl Thorfinn the Skullsplitter was buried at the Howe of Hoxa, a prehistoric broch, in 976AD. Marengo Community Garden is Orkney’s first community garden, created in 1997, and situated in the heart of St Margaret’s Hope. It is lovingly maintained by volunteers and is a peaceful haven for all to enjoy.

Collect your travelogue stamp!

If you have one of our paper travelogues you can collect your stamp using the brass rubbing plate located at Robertsons Cafe in St Magaret’s Hope

Why not download the Scottish Islands Passport app to collect digital stamps!

Getting Here

Pentland Ferries operates several sailings a day for vehicles and foot passengers between St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay and Gills Bay (near John O’Groats) on the Scottish mainland.

John O’Groats Ferries operates seasonal foot passenger sailings between Burwick on South Ronaldsay and John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland, with a connecting bus to/from Inverness at the height of the tourist season.

The Churchill Barriers connect South Ronaldsay with Mainland Orkney, which offers ferries and flights to mainland Scotland. Find out more about getting to Mainland Orkney.

Explore More

Want to find out more about South Ronaldsay and explore more of our amazing islands?

Download the free Scottish Islands Passport app to:

  • discover your perfect island match,
  • find out about the experiences each island has to offer,
  • collect passport stamps for the islands you visit,
  • find information on accommodation, travel and island amenities.

Get Your Passport

You can find lots more information about things to see and do on the island, see some amazing island photography and collect your island stamp by downloading our app.

Download the app

App in phone

Download the Scottish Island Passport app to collect your island stamps! The app also provides lots more information on each island including recommendations from locals about things to see and do, info on how to get around, more stunning photos and useful offline maps.

  • Unlock Stamps - Collect them all! Stamp your passport when you visit each island - with an individual stamp designed to represent a unique aspect of island heritage.
  • Experiences - Discover the best experiences each island has to offer – from local boat trips to exciting traditional festivals, there is something for everyone.
  • Maps - Navigate the islands with useful offline maps, handy for areas where internet connectivity is weak.
  • Travel Jounals - Create an in-location travel journal with pictures from your island adventures, to look back on your trip.
  • Favourites - keep track of your most loved islands with the favourites feature. Available to access from your account on both the app and web.