Escaping to Orkney Crofts’ East Heddle

by Keith Savage · 9 comments

East Heddle, Orkney Crofts, Orkney Islands, Scotland

Upon my last visit to the Orkney Islands five years ago I found a series of renovated self-catering crofts in the heart of Orkney’s mainland called Orkney Crofts. I spent a solid four nights in one of the smaller crofts, The Bu, with my dad as we explored my favorite place in Scotland. I was blown away by the quality of the renovation, location of the crofts, and Simon Treasure’s (the man behind the venture) ability to retain their authenticity without slipping into generic luxury all too common in the ravenous high-end accommodation market.

As I departed Orkney and ended that 2012 trip, I wondered when I’d return to these mystical islands. That’s how I feel every time I leave Orkney — I had, after all, spent most of my honeymoon there. So when Sarah and I considered what to do for our 10-year wedding anniversary this year the idea to return to Orkney instantly came to mind. I knew I wanted to return to the Orkney Crofts and show them to Sarah, who had yet to experience their glory. When I made the booking with Simon I opted for Orkney Crofts’ flagship East Heddle property. Anticipation!

Fast forward nine months and we landed at Kirkwall airport on a sun-splashed Saturday after an early flight from Edinburgh. I remembered the way to the crofts by heart and relived a scene from my novel — my first experience had such an impact that it became the model for one of my early chapters. The first selling point for the Orkney Crofts is their location in the hills between Kirkwall and Stromness in Orkney’s west mainland. You can’t find a better situation. From the crofts you’re 15 minutes from both of Orkney’s largest towns and less than that to the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, the Ness of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness. Orkney is an archipelago, and the mainland is connected to several smaller islands to the southeast, meaning if you choose an outlying base you’ll have a lot of extra driving (and possibly ferrying) to do.

After following the Heddle Road for a ways we turned down a dirt-and-gravel track that led to East Heddle. The sod-roofed croft gleamed in the sun, standing bedecked in flowers amidst flagstones and outbuildings and pretty gardens (Simon’s passion). The exterior is homey and simply attractive, recalling the croft as it might have once been but exuding a tidiness and level of care that made it feel well-loved.

I circled the croft as the wind picked up and leaped over the modest hills. Chairs, benches, and tables greeted me at every turn, places to sit and meditate on Orkney’s calming beauty. A couple of the side buildings remained to be repaired or renovated. I wasn’t put off by them — they provided a look at what these crofts must have looked like before Simon’s extensive work.

Inside, a small coatroom/vestibule leads into East Heddle’s main living area, a long room divided by a wood-burning stove. The immediate feel is cozy and private, for while light streamed through the windows on the far end there were no other crofts nearby to impinge on our seclusion. A huge dry-stone wall added loads of atmosphere, and the furnishings all had character without feeling used. Orcadian books and decorations stood on tables, ledges, and windowsills, including a useful binder of Simon’s own recommendations.

East Heddle has three bedrooms so it’s big enough to comfortably accommodate six people. At the end of the main hallway, the master bedroom is replete with a full bathroom and defined by more drystone and wood panelling. Crofts aren’t known for being bright spaces but Simon has managed to bring in the light in key places throughout East Heddle. The bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a wall of glass bricks and a swing door that aids in this effort. I slept like the dead in this room with just the perfect amount of darkness and silence.

East Heddle’s two other bedrooms exhibit the same interior style and brightness, and while we didn’t use them any of the three could serve as a master bedroom. We did, however, use the guest bathroom a lot more than the master. The guest bathroom has been done to a slightly higher standard with a magnificent rainhead shower head, beautiful tiling and fixtures, and just a ton of space. Plus, the windows in the guest bathroom looked out over East Heddle’s patio and the hills beyond.

The twin-bed guestroom and guest bathroom lie down a couple of steps from the living area, and next to them stands East Heddle’s amazing kitchen. We spent quite a bit of time here using the six-burner stove and double oven cooking breakfast and dinner and admiring the Orkney countryside. No expense was spared as an entire set of the Harray Potter’s beautiful crockery filled the wooden shelves on one wall. It was so peaceful here, and now, nearly three months later, I still yearn for those mornings in East Heddle’s kitchen.

Sarah and I spent a week at East Heddle and it wasn’t nearly enough time. East Heddle is the kind of place you dream of finding to connect you to a place when time is of the essence and utmost importance. As we drove away to catch our flight back to Edinburgh we desperately tried to figure out how we could spent half the year here. It was the perfect way to spend our anniversary, but I see the Orkney Crofts as the best self-catering in Orkney and among the best anywhere in Scotland. With four different crofts, the Orkney Crofts would make an ideal destination for large groups of travelers, work outings, or even retreats for meditation or yoga.

I left a bit of my heart at East Heddle, but I know I’ll be back. I also know such special places don’t promise permanence. Go, see it for yourself, experience Orkney and these amazing crofts, and book early. This is the type of place we need more of in the world.

Thank you for sharing it with us, Simon.

Disclosure: Orkney Crofts provided me with a discounted stay. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.

Keena Murray CharbonneauNo Gravatar January 7, 2018 at 8:47 AM

I am beyond thrilled that I have found you and your wealth of information! We are traveling to Scotland in mid-September – just purchased our flights! We will be taking the train over from London and will fly home from Edinburgh. I “have” to see Blair Castle as that is my family castle. 😉 I’m trying to decide whether to do it as a day trip by train from Edinburgh or as part of the process of getting us somewhere else! Also, I’m thinking of NOT renting a car until we get to the Isle of Skye area. Any thoughts would be appreciated! I am now going to continue reading all of your articles!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 7, 2018 at 9:02 AM

Hi Keena. Welcome and happy reading. I strongly recommend having a car in Scotland for the entirety of your trip outside the cities, so I would drive into Perthshire to see Blair Castle. You could take the train to Pitlochry, then either hike the remaining way to the castle or attempt to find one of a limited few taxis.

Keena Murray CharbonneauNo Gravatar January 7, 2018 at 12:22 PM

Thank you!!! I’m beginning to think the car will be a necessity. We really love the nature side of traveling, and it seems we will miss out on a lot without a car. I am STILL reading your posts and making notes! 😊

LisaNo Gravatar December 26, 2017 at 8:13 AM

Still in the early planning stages for my August/September 2018 trip. 3 weeks (or more?) Already have my Edinburgh Tattoo tickets and those first few nights in Edinburgh booked. Then getting a car and heading out to Skye, the North Coast 500, castles and lochs and … Orkney. In September will I be able to wander as I want to all those destinations and still find accommodations or do I need reservations? Been following your newsletter for a couple years now and excited to finally start using everything I’ve read/learned as I plan my trip.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 26, 2017 at 11:39 AM

Hi Lisa. It’s possible to wander and book as you go, but it’s not something I recommend. You can waste a lot of time seeking out accommodations and nobody wants to spend their vacation that way.

Margaret CarrNo Gravatar December 23, 2017 at 11:46 AM

I’ve used Orkney Car Hire a lot. They’ve very good – friendly, accommodating and the only time I’ve ever had trouble with a vehicle over the years, they came to me with a replacement on a weekend.

NancyNo Gravatar December 22, 2017 at 9:28 AM

This place looks great. Question: You obviously rented a car while you were there. Is there a rental company in Orkney you’d particularly recommend? Thank you and Happy New Year.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar December 22, 2017 at 9:29 AM

You only have a couple of options on Orkney. I’ve used W.R. Tullock at Kirkwall airport, and they’ve been ok.

Alison WilkinsonNo Gravatar December 13, 2017 at 7:24 PM

YESSS next time !!

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