Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, evidently stole Birsay's thunder at some point in history. St Magnus Church in Birsay dates from long before Kirkwall's St Magnus Cathedral, having been in continuous use as a place of worship for over 900 years, and is thought to have been Orkney's first cathedral. But the church is by no means Birsay's only point of historical interest: the whole of this part of the Orkney Mainland is redolent with historical remains from way back through the ages. Earl's Palace, built in 1574 was the main residence of Robert Stewart, the illegitimate son of James V. Relics of rural life in the 18th and 19th centuries include Click Mill and Kirbuster Farm Museum.
The Brough of Birsay, reachable by a causeway at low tide, is a paradise for nature lovers, carpeted with sea pinks during the spring and with several bird reserves to choose from: Birsay Moors, Marwick Head and The Loons wetland reserve. Brough Head, graced with a lighthouse built in 1925, is colonised by sea birds. Many of Birsay's oldest remains are to be found at the Brough of Birsay, including Pictish and Viking farmsteads and a 12th-century Romanesque church.
Map of the area.