The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The Old Man of Hoy

Made of red sandstone on a volcanic base, The Old Man is currently the tallest sea stack in Britain. Standing at 137 metres (400 feet), it attracts many climbers every year. It was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonnington, Tom Patey and Rusty Baillie. It took them three days to get to the top and the wooden wedges they used are still firmly in place and can still be seen by present climbers.

Impressive as this is, the stack is thought to be less than 400 hundred years old. In the Bleau map (circa 1600) a headland is visible but no rock stack is shown. Similarly in the McKenzie map of Hoy in 1750 a headland is again recorded but still no stack. In 1819 William Daniell, a landscape painter visited Hoy and sketched the site. By now the stormy seas had carved the rock into a stack and an arch at the bottom that created two legs, which gave the Old Man of Hoy its name.



 William Daniell sketch of the Old Man of Hoy c1818        
Early in the 19th Century a severe storm washed away one of the legs. Today (2010) there is a 40 metre crack in the south face of the old man and this has left a large overhanging block, which will eventually collapse.   With the passage of time and coastal erosion, we will lose this Old Gentleman and the entire pillar will disappear as the waves erode the base.     
A well worn footpath runs from Rackwick Bay to the Old Man. The RSPB installed a wooden boardwalk to make access easier for the hundreds of visitors to the site. As part of the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme, this path is being upgraded and improved to enable access to areas of natural interest around Scapa Flow.