Olav's Wood is a magical place - a mixed woodland with
areas of dense forest, a haven for wildlife, through which
runs an attractive burn with cascades and pools, all set
in the almost treeless landscape of one of Orkney's
Visitors are welcome to explore the woodland. See the
information on this website, including a guided walk,
animals and plants you may see, and the history of the
Woodland in Orkney
The landscape of Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland,
is now mainly treeless. However, this was not always so,
and evidence suggests that early man in Orkney was at
least partly responsible for the destruction of woodland.
Climate change may be another factor. "Natural" woodland,
such as that around Berriedale on Hoy, is now rare in
It is sometimes said that present conditions in Orkney
make it almost impossible for trees to grow, except in
very sheltered areas. It is certainly difficult to
establish new woodland, and young trees need careful
attention if they are to thrive. The experience is that
losses may be high and it is difficult to predict which
species will survive.
Oback burn runs through the wood.
A woodland glade and spruce trees.
Olav Dennison at the entrance.
Olav's Wood on South Ronaldsay has been established over
The first plantings took place in the mid 1970s, with
major planting beginning in the 1980s. It continues to be
developed today. The woodland is approx. 4.5 acres (1.8
hectares) in area
and runs down a hillside towards Windwick, alongside an
attractive burn, Oback Burn.
Trees and shrubs from many parts
of the world have been successfully established here and
the wood now forms dense forest in some places and more
open woodland elsewhere. For some of the exotics, this may
be the northernmost point in the British Isles (and
possibly elsewhere, given the latitude: 58 45' N) where
they currently thrive, making this woodland of both
horticultural and wildlife interest.
Helen and Stephen Manson of Cellardyke and Olav Dennison
began planting the woodland
have been primarily responsible for its development and
maintainance. The woodland is
a testimony to these people and to others
who have contributed to the development of the
woodland and surrounding area.
It is with great sorrow that we report that Olav Dennison
passed away in January, 2022. Olav's Wood, and other
woodlands around Orkney, stand as a memorial to his love
of trees and woodlands, and to his dedicated work in
planting and caring for many thousands of trees, and
developing woodlands for the community. He will be very
There is a variety of habitats in Olav's Wood:
- Woodland: The woodland areas range from dense
coniferous plantations, through to deciduous areas,
and open mixed woodland. Typical woodland plants include
primroses and the attractive Wood Horsetail (Equisetum
- Heathland: Areas of heathland are found within
the woodland and on its borders. Typical heathland
plants include Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bell
Heather (Erica cinerea), Tormentil (Potentilla
erecta) and Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum).
- Open grassland: There is a variety of open
grassland types on the site with characteristic plants.
- Waterside and wet woodland: Alongside the burn
may be found waterside plants such as Marsh Marigold (Caltha
and the very common Yellow Flag Iris (in Orkney called
`Seggs') (Iris pseudacorus).
- Freshwater pools and stream: The burn itself
contains a variety of aquatic plants.
This range of habitats supports a wide variety of plants,
birdlife and invertebrates. Indeed some species new to
Orkney have been discovered in Olav's Wood and some
species are recorded in Orkney only in these woods. For
details of animals and plants on the site, see the wildlife
Location: Olav's Wood, Oback Burn, Cellardyke, South
Ronaldsay, Orkney, KW17 2RN. OS Grid reference: ND449869.
The woodland is best entered from the Windwick road, off
the A961 (the main road from Burwick to St. Margaret's
Hope). Entrance is through a gate on the right between
Masseter and Linklater. There is a small carpark. Please
use this considerately.
The woodland is on private land and is not a public
utility. Access is not easy and can be dangerous. Paths
are uneven and steep in places and can be very slippery.
There are unfenced steep banks and areas of open water.
Because of these dangers,
it is not a suitable area for unsupervised children, and
adults need to take great care.
Parking: There is a carpark at Olav's Wood. Please
park considerately and allow space for others to park.
Ensure that you leave the roadway completely free.
The road is used by wide farm vehicles and your car should
not obstruct their movement or narrow the roadway.
Please remember to take your litter with you and, if you
are walking your dog, please behave responsibly and do not
allow dogs to foul the woodland.
Use of website material
Text and photographs from this website may be used for
non-commercial purposes as long as the source is
acknowledged "Olav's Wood: www.olavswood.org.uk". For
commercial purposes, contact the site