Coordinates: 58°58′N 3°18′W / 58.96°N 3.3°W / 58.96; -3.3
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A view of Stromness
Stromness is located in Orkney Islands
Location within Orkney
Area0.89 km2 (0.34 sq mi)
Population1,790 (mid-2020 est.)[2]
• Density2,011/km2 (5,210/sq mi)
OS grid referenceHY2509
• Edinburgh208 mi (335 km)
• London530 mi (853 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtKW16
Dialling code01856
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
58°58′N 3°18′W / 58.96°N 3.3°W / 58.96; -3.3

Stromness (locally /ˈstrʌmnɪs/, Old Norse: Straumnes; Norn: Stromnes) is the second-most populous town in Orkney, Scotland. It is in the southwestern part of Mainland Orkney. It is a burgh with a parish around the outside with the town of Stromness as its capital.


Pier, Stromness
Stromness Museum

The name "Stromness" comes from the Norse Straumnes.[1] Straumr 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".[3][4] In Viking times the anchorage where Stromness now stands was called Hamnavoe.[5]


A long-established seaport, Stromness has a population of approximately 2,500 residents. The old town is clustered along the characterful and winding main street, flanked by 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.[6]

First recorded as the site of an inn in the sixteenth century, Stromness became important during the late seventeenth century, when Great Britain 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 Hawaiian Islands, where Captain Cook had been killed.[7][8]

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).[9]

Stromness harbour was rebuilt to the designs of John Barron in 1893.[10]

Statue of Dr. John Rae at Stromness

At Stromness Pierhead is a statue by North Ronaldsay sculptor Ian Scott, depicting John Rae standing erect with an inscription describing him as "the discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage", which was unveiled in 2013.[11]


Stromness in 1825
Stromness Harbour

The parish of Stromness includes the islands of Hoy and Graemsay in addition to a tract of land about 5 by 3+34 miles (8.0 by 6.0 kilometres) on Mainland Orkney. The Mainland part is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south and southeast by Hoy Sound, and on the northeast by the Loch of Stenness.[12]

Antiquities include Breckness House, erected in 1633 by George Graham, Bishop of Orkney, at the west entrance of Hoy Sound.[13]

Media and the arts[edit]

The Stromness branch of the Orkney library is housed in a building given to the library service in 1905 by Mrs Marjory Skea Corrigall.[14]

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.[15]

Stromness is named 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; plans for the uranium mine were cancelled later that year.[16]

Stromness is also the title of a 2009 novel by Herbert Wetterauer.[17]

Stromness plays host to the Pier Arts Centre, a collection of twentieth-century British art given to the people of Orkney by artists such as Margaret Gardiner.[18]


Stromness presents to the Atlantic a range of cliffs between 100 and 500 feet (30 and 150 metres) 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 (1849).[19]


  1. ^ a b List of railway station names in English, Scots and Gaelic – NewsNetScotland
  2. ^ "Mid-2020 Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland". National Records of Scotland. 31 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  3. ^ "Parish Names" Orkneyjar. Retrieved 27 Dec 2010.
  4. ^ Iain Mac an Tàilleir. "Placenames K-O & P-Z" (PDF). Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 23 July 2007.
  5. ^ Murton, Paul (2019). The Viking Isles: Travels in Orkney and Shetland. Birlinn. ISBN 978-1788852289.
  6. ^ "Sail to Orkney and Shetland". NorthLink Ferries. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  7. ^ The History of Stromness
  8. ^ A dinner service Captain Cook used on his final voyage is on view at Skaill House, Bay of Skaill, home of 19c. Skara Brae excavator William Watt, a mansion built by George Graham, Bishop of Orkney 1615-1638, on the site of a farmstead dated to the Norse period.
  9. ^ "Ethnography | Stromness Museum". Archived from the original on 6 August 2021. Retrieved 6 August 2021.
  10. ^ David Goold. "Dictionary of Scottish Architects - DSA Architect Biography Report (March 15, 2020, 12:08 am)". Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  11. ^ "John Rae statue unveiled at Stromness Pierhead". The Orcadian Online. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  12. ^ Wilson, Rev. John (1882). The Gazetteer of Scotland. Edinburgh: W. & A.K. Johnstone.
  13. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Breckness House and site of chapel (SM1487)". Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  14. ^ "Wasps: An Artistic Chapter in the Story of Historic Buildings". Historic Environment Scotland. 20 August 2019. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  15. ^ "Hamnavoe by George Mackay Brown"[permanent dead link]. Poetry Archive. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  16. ^ "The Yellow Cake Revue (1980)". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  17. ^ Stromness: Roman: Herbert Wetterauer: 9783898414876: Books. ASIN 3898414876.
  18. ^ Adams, Kari. "Margaret Gardiner". Piers Arts Centre. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  19. ^ Miller, Hugh (1849). "The foot-prints of the Creator: or, The Asterolepis of Stromness". Boston: Gould and Lincoln.

External links[edit]