Situated at the furthest eastern extremity of Mainland Orkney, Deerness is almost an island, accessed by a narrow isthmus called Dingieshowie. The name, like many Orkney names, is Norse and with the open sea on one side and the sheltered St Peter’s Pool on the other, it’s not hard to imagine a Viking longship being carried across this narrow stretch to take a short cut home.
Deerness is mainly a rich agricultural parish, green and productive, with wonderful beaches – one for every airt of wind – and a beautiful coastline much of which can be walked around. It is also home to the Mull Head, a nature reserve with precious and rare maritime heathland, spectacular cliff scenery and beautiful views of the outer isles. The reserve’s interpretation centre is a great introduction for visitors and has excellent facilities including picnic area and toilets.
Walks around the Mull Head will take you by the Covenanters’ Memorial – erected by local folk two hundred years after the tragic wreck on the rocks below of the “Crown”, a ship whose dark cargo consisted of imprisoned Covenanters. At the reserve’s eastern accent point lies “The Gloup” an impressive roofless sea cave complete with waterfall. Walk on and you come to the Brough of Deerness, one of Orkney’s iconic archaeological sites with its Norse chapel and the remains of some Viking chieftain’s stronghold, and much below, perhaps of the Picts, that is gradually being peeled back by Dr James Barrett’s excavations.
Deerness prizes its community life, centred on the Community Hall, where local groups meet and a wide variety of events take place throughout the year. Alongside the hall there is also a campsite and children’s play park. We are lucky to have the Deerness Stores, a thriving shop which stocks just about anything you might need, including petrol, and also hosts the local Post Office. There is excellent self-catering holiday accommodation in the parish and a spectacularly sited bed and breakfast establishment. The Deerness Small Boat Owners Association slipway at the Geo, Newark Bay, is a well-used facility for boat owners. Its nearby picnic tables and benches make this a fine spot to stop and take in the views to Copinsay and its lighthouse, set right on the edge of the highest point of the island’s dramatic south-east facing cliffs. It is home to thousands of seabirds and is now in the care of the RSPB.