Star.pngStar.pngStar.pngStar.pngStar grey.png


From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (10)
From:  Kirkwall (HY452102)
To:  Burwick (South Ronaldsay) (ND437839)
Via:  The Churchill Barriers and The Italian Chapel
Distance:  20.3 miles (32.7 km)
Meets:  A960, A963, B9052, B9044, B9043, B9042, B9041
Former Number(s):  B9052, B9040
Highway Authorities

Orkney Islands

Traditional Counties


Route outline (key)
A961 Kirkwall – Burwick


The A961 links Kirkwall with South Ronaldsay and the intermediate South Isles, which have been joined together via the Churchill Barriers since World War II.

Kirkwall – Burwick

Heading into Kirkwall

The road starts off towards the south of Kirkwall at a fork junction with the A960, and heads south as Holm Road. It quickly reaches a TOTSO with the A963 Holm Branch Road, where even though the A961 forms the straight ahead route, the through route at the junction is the A963 - A961 as it turns ninety degrees. This is largely because the A963 is now the main signed feeder / distributor route around town. The road then passes the famous Highland Park whisky distillery (indeed, there are a few pipes passing over the road as the distillery has buildings on both sides of the road), before leaving Kirkwall behind. The road has been climbing through the town, and continues to climb, round a couple of kinks at Tradespark - with a fine view across Scapa Bay - and on to a long undulating straight through fields.

Although never much more than a mile from the coast, the view is often hidden by the rolling landscape, but every now and then it opens up and the full panorama across Scapa Flow is visible. A couple of shorter straights lead on to another long straight over a mile in length, which drops traffic down towards the coast at St Marys. Here, the road turns sharply along the shoreside of this pretty village to a junction with the B9052 and the first of the Churchill Barriers. The Barriers were built in 1940-1945 by Italian POWs to block the eastern sea approaches to Scapa Flow, and so protect it from enemy attack. As it was not permissible for POWs to be employed on military projects, it had to be decided from the outset that the barriers would in due course form a road. The first barrier takes the road onto the small island of Lamb Holm, home to the Italian Chapel – converted by the Italian prisoners of war from a standard Nissen hut. There are often bus-loads of tourists along here in the summer.

Barrier 3 to Burray

Lamb Holm is a small island with a grass airfield taking up most of the ground. It is quickly crossed and then Barrier number 2 leads onto the uninhabited Glimps Holm, where the road skirts the southern shore to reachthe third barrier onto the larger island of Burray. Both of these barriers offer glimpses of the blockships that were scuttled in the narrow channels before the barriers were built as an earlier protection for Scapa Flow. On Burray, the road takes a rather tortuous route, as before the Barriers were opened there was no classified road on the island, and ferries operated in and out of Burray Village at the south end. The roads north across the island were therefore 'designed' to serve outlying farms and cottages, not a through route! The road winds southwards, using a natural shingle bank cutting off the Echna Loch lagoon and passing through various scattered properties before reaching Burray Village. The village is largely bypassed, with the road sweeping eastwards to cross over the fourth and final Churchill Barrier onto South Ronaldsay.

The first bit of road on the island is new, connecting up to the barrier, but then at the B9044 junction, the old route of the B9040 is picked up and followed to the southern end of the island. After a mile or so, the A961 enters the village of St Margaret's Hope - the third largest settlement in Orkney, where the B9043 leads past the village and on to the ferry terminal for Gills Bay in Caithness courtesy of Pentland Ferries. The A961 continues south out of the village and a mile later the B9042 also heads west along the ragged shore. As the A961 continues south, it passes several tiny, scattered settlements, with a good viewpoint near the top of Sandy Hill. The road is a long, slightly curving straight which is suddenly interrupted by some sharper bends as it winds down to the shore at Burwick. Here the B9041 heads east in a long straight line to Cleat, while the A961 turns westwards around the bay of Bur Wick to the end at Burwick, which is close to the southernmost point of Orkney. Here a passenger ferry to John o Groats can be caught in the summer, a service widely used by coach parties.


The South Isles before the construction of the Churchill Barriers – the current A961 follows the then-B9040

Before the construction of the Churchill Barriers, the A961 only followed its Mainland route, from Kirkwall to the pier in St Mary's. After the Barriers were built, the A961 was extended along a bit of the B9052 and over the barriers as far as South Ronaldsay, where part of the B9040 was upgraded as far as St Margarets Hope; the other islands en route did not have classified roads beforehand. Within the next ten years, the A961 had been extended along the rest of the B9040 to its current southern terminus at Burwick.

The extension of the A961 saw a number of short bits of new road constructed, not least across Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm. On Burray and South Ronaldsay, the extension mainly followed pre-existing roads, but a number of corners and junctions have clearly been improved, ironing out sharp turns. Many of the culverts and small bridges have also been replaced as the road was widened to accept two way traffic. None of these changes have, however, involved any major realignments, and many have been carried out more or less within the original boundaries of the roads.

The 1922 MOT Road List defines this route as: Kirkwall - St Mary's


The Churchill Barriers

The Italian Chapel

Related Pictures
View gallery (10)
A961 - Churchill Barrier No. 4 - Coppermine - 965.jpgChurchill Barrier -3.jpgChurchill2a.jpgChurchill2b.jpgA961 to Burwick - Geograph - 1448588.jpg
Other nearby roads
NCN1 • A960 • A962 • A963 • A964 • A965 • B9053 • B9054 • B9148 • C1 (Orkney) • C40 (Orkney) • C41 (Orkney) • C42 (Orkney) • EuroVelo 12
A900 • A901 • A902 • A903 • A904 • A905 • A906 • A907 • A908 • A909 • A910 • A911 • A912 • A913 • A914 • A915 • A916 • A917 • A918 • A919

A920 • A921 • A922 • A923 • A924 • A925 • A926 • A927 • A928 • A929 • A930 • A931 • A932 • A933 • A934 • A935 • A936 • A937 • A938 • A939
A940 • A941 • A942 • A943 • A944 • A945 • A946 • A947 • A948 • A949 • A950 • A951 • A952 • A953 • A954 • A955 • A956 • A957 • A958 • A959
A960 • A961 • A962 • A963 • A964 • A965 • A966 • A967 • A968 • A969 • A970 • A971 • A972 • A973 • A974 • A975 • A976 • A977 • A978 • A979
A980 • A981 • A982 • A983 • A984 • A985 • A986 • A987 • A988 • A989 • A990 • A991 • A992 • A993 • A994 • A995 • A996 • A997 • A998 • A999

Defunct Itineries: A920 (Perth) • A920 (Banff) • A921 (Perth) • A921 (Fife) • A922 • A949 • A951 • A968 • A982

SABRE - The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts
Discuss - Digest - Discover - Help