Sanday History

Sanday History and Wildlife


Sanday is the largest of the North Isles of Orkney and is approximateley 16 miles (26 km) long, with a population of around 500.

The name Sanday means "sand island", which is appropriate as one of the most outstanding features of the island are its sweeping bays with their white sandy beaches.

Around 4000 BC farmers were settling on Sanday. The island offered the best conditions in Orkney for arable farming, reflected in the extraordinary density of prehistoric, Viking age and later settlements.

This wealth is indicated by the Medieval taxation records, which valued land on Sanday higher than elsewhere in Orkney. 





On the Elsness Peninsula you'll find one of the most spectacular chambered cairns found on Orkney: the Quoyness Chambered Tomb.

The tomb and its principal chamber date from around 2900 BC and reaches a height of around 13 feet (4 m). 

Originally, the  cairn would have looked like the Maeshowe cairn does today. When the cairn was originally excavated, it was found to contain the remains of 10 adults and 5 children.

The cairn is classified as a scheduled monument and is in the care of Historic Scotland.


In 1991 a spectacular Viking-Age find was made near Scar in Burness: the Scar boat burial.

The find consisted of a viking burial boat measuring some 21 feet long (6.5m) and 4.9 feet wide (1.5m) which contained three human skeletons; a man, a woman and a child. The boat contained a number or ornaments, household goods and weapons.

The Scar whalebone plaque, which is made from the rib bone of a whale, was found  next to the woman.

Such an ostentatious funeral could only have been staged by a family of enormous wealth. Intriguingly, Sanday folklore tells of a fantastically rich individual once having lived at Scar.  



The island is also a haven for wildlife and the Holms of Spurness is a favourite breeding ground for grey seals. Seal pups are born on the islands secluded beaches in November each year.

Sanday boasts all the seabirds, terns and waders found elsewhere in Orkney. Migrant birds such as Hoopoe, Red-Breasted Flycatcher, Ortolan and Little and Pine Buntings have all been seen in summer months.

The Northwaa area has been declared a site of special scientific interest, due to the rich diversity of plant and birdlife which inhabit this wetland area.


As a purchaser of a small part of the island, you will be making a direct contribution to the preservation of this rich natural and archaeological heritage.