The Island of Stroma, Caithness

Translates as “the island in the stream”. The sea around it runs like a river, numerous ships have floundered on it’s shores but the ravages of the seas and, in the past, the islanders, leaves little to be seen.

The Island of Stroma lies in the Pentland Firth 1.5 miles North of Huna, a small community where a lifeboat was once stationed, and 2 miles from John O’Groats. Life is prolific due to the strong currents. Launch at Gills.

Though the island is uninhabited it is a working farm and nature reserve. Gain permission from the owner before landing on it.

The name Stroma comes from the Norse for “tidal stream” a well deserved name due to the wild currents of the Pentland Firth. On an ebb tide look out for the “Men o’ Mey” an impressive but dangerous tidal race.

Althugh, Stroma was once a busy island with a population of 365 at its height, it is now deserted. The last family left the island in 1962.

Mr J. Simpson owns Stroma and most weekends runs trips out to the island for people who would like to spend the day viewing the history, the seals and the bird-life.

Stroma, suddenly illuminated in a patch of sunlight, or to watch the Merry Men of Mey becoming wilder and whiter as the ebb tide builds against a strong westerly. Or to climb up onto Warth Hill and look across the land of big sky to distant Spittal Hill and remember how this was a key stage in the Ordnance Survey triangulation of Britain – when men measured, on foot, the exact distance in a straight line between the two triangulation points to check that all the previous measurements and calculations were correct.

The Island of Stroma
Fig: The Island of Stroma

Boat or Wreck Diving – Sub-Aqua Diving

For a second dive, try the shallow wreck of the Bettina Danica at the south of Stroma Island, so shallow that significant chunks of it are still on the rocks and even on top of the cliffs. Or go round the corner of Duncansby Head to find the Geo of Sclaites, a cut deep into the cliffs that’s wide enough to drive a boat in and turn round at the other end.

There is warm sitting on the boat sailing from Gills to Stroma. We walked up the middle of the island towards the lighthouse which sits at the north end. Hundreds of terns were nesting round it and we were constantly dive bombed by them until we left their territory. The cliffs behind the lighthouse are only 15-20 feet high with shoals of rocks reaching far out into the sea. Several dozen seals were either basking on the rocks or swimming in the shallow sea.

At the opposite end of Stroma you may make a shallow drift through a seal colony tucked in behind Swilkie point. This early in the season they are inquisitive, but not in a playful mood.

Stroma island has a lovely sense of peace and quiet. The people left willingly, seeking a better living in the mainland and some still return for visits every summer. The whole island is run as a farm, with wandering sheep and cattle, and people are always travelling back and forth as weather permits.


Scotland, UK

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