Knap of Howar

Knap of Howar

One of the northernmost isles of the Orkney Isles is Papa Westray, home to the shortest flight in the world and the Knap of Howar. This Neolithic settlement is one of the oldest standing stone buildings in North Western Europe, with human activity that goes back over 5000 years ago. If you’re planning on going on an archaeological expedition, then the Knap of Howar should be on your list alongside Orkney sites like Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar, and Maeshow.

We’ll cover everything you need to know about the Knap of Howar, from its history to how to get there and the top things to do while you’re there. Let’s jump right into it.

History of the Knap of Howar


Where there was once likely a Neolithic settlement, only two buildings remain today. The history of the Knap of Howar is surrounded by mystery, although Archaeologists have done their best to decipher the ancient remains of the two homes that still stand. What is known is that the houses date back to around 3700 BCE to 2800 BCE, making them even older than Skara Brae’s prehistoric village on the Orkney Mainland.

The Knap was excavated during the 1930s, although many local people were aware of the prehistoric evidence at Papa Westray long before then. The Knap of Howar was likely part of a larger settlement, but coastal erosion has washed away any major evidence. To prevent the same from happening to the Knap, the landowner William Trail began uncovering the site and discovered two stone-built structures.

Similar to Skara Brae, the Knap of Howar was covered entirely by sand, which needed to be removed before the structure below could be studied. The first house was revealed in 1927, swiftly followed by the second house. The large houses are connected by a short passageway, and it’s theorised that the home was likely a farmstead for the settlement.

The Knap is now managed by Historic Scotland and is open for visitors to see:

Here is what was discovered within the two stone buildings:

The First House

Of the two buildings that were found at the Knap of Howar, House One is the larger and older of the two. The main house is separated in two by stone walls, and there was once likely a low-pitched roof, as suggested by the post-holes that archaeologists noted.

Within the home was housed a heart, stone cupboards, and even an external porch (everything that an early Neolithic Orcadian family could ever want).

The Second House

The second house is slightly smaller than the first and is separated into three distinct areas by stone slabs. While the two structures are referred to as houses, this building could have served as a workshop or storage area. Within the second dwelling, excavations found a low stone bench, grinding stones, another hearth, and stone-built cupboards.

Evidence of Neolithic Life

In addition to the large homes that were found, a scattering of evidence for Neolithic life was also discovered at the Knap of Howar. Everything from bone and stone tools, grinders, unstan ware pottery, and animal bones for ritual activities were found on site. Animal bones are particularly noteworthy because they show what Neolithic humans ate.

While meat was a large part of the diet of this Neolithic settlement, there is evidence of agricultural practices on site, too! Barley and wheat were a major part of cereal cultivation at the Howar Knap, which formed a major part of their life alongside sheep herding.

How to Get to Knap of Howar

The Knap of Howar sits on Papa Westray, one of the northernmost islands of the Orkney archipelago. While there are frequent flights and ferries to the Orkney mainland, the Knap of Howar is more difficult to reach.

By Ferry

Ferries are an excellent and cost-effective way to reach the Isle of Orkney. From the Scottish Mainland, there are North Link Ferries from Aberdeen and Island towns like Scrabster and Lerwick. These take you to Kirkwall, but there are also ferries to Stromness if you want a quicker route to Skara Brae.

There are ferries every week throughout the year, and they can take cars and people. Car transport costs range from £63 – £70 and £19.45 – £22.65 for passengers.

By Plane

Stromness’ main town of Kirkwall has a thriving airport that hosts several flights from all over Scotland. Arriving with a plane reaches Kirkwall with such haste that you’ll have time for the other unique attractions you can look forward to in Orkney.

Flight times vary, but you can reach Kirkwall Airport within an hour or two of airtime. There are options to fly from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and even England if you don’t mind catching a connecting flight.

Local islands like Sumburgh, Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, and more also offer flights to the Kirkwall Airport, although more infrequently.

Top Things to Do at the Knap of Howar

Once you’ve made the journey to one of the far corners of Scotland, you can enjoy the oldest standing stone buildings in England to your heart’s content. Here are the top things to do at the Knap of Howar during your visit.

Explore the Knap of Howar

Explore the Knap

The Knap of Howar is open for visitors to explore once they reach Papa Westray, Orkney. The Knap allows visitors to walk right into the excavation site and bask in the preserved state of the oldest building in England. As you stand, surrounded by the stone walls of the Knap, it’s easy to transport yourself back in time to when this Neolithic settlement was a thriving landscape.

One comment that we hear constantly about the Knap of Howar is, “It’s one of the most peaceful places in Scotland”. It’s difficult to disagree, especially since you’re so far from the Scottish mainland. Whether it’s by yourself or with a group, do yourself the favour of thoroughly exploring one of the best attractions to see in North West Europe.

Walk Along the Orcadian Coastline

Walk along the Coastline

It’s easy to become enamoured with the attractions Howar consists of, but don’t forget about the wondrous coast that stands before you. As long you don’t get swept away by the wind-blown sand like the rest of this Neolithic farmstead, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of Papa Westray’s west coast.

Walking along the coastline, admiring the sea as it continually crashes against the cliffside, is truly a breath of fresh air that washes away your stress. What else could you want during your holiday?

Take the Shortest Flight in the World

Shortest Flight

One of the great experiences you can enjoy on your way to the Knap of Howar is taking the shortest commercial flight in the world! Yes, you heard right – the flight from Westray to Papa Westray takes about a minute, sometimes even less if the winds are in your favour. 

The journey covers about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometres), making it a short and sweet way to reach Papa Westray. While the Loganair flight is a popular attraction for tourists coming to Papa Westray, the commute is regularly undertaken by archaeologists visiting the island and doctors who serve the roughly 90 residents.

Flying to Papa Westray on this flight is a highly unique experience. Why not strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers? They may be able to tell you little-known facts about the Knap of Howar!

Visit the Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

If you haven’t already, paying a visit to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney is one of the best ways to get your fill of Scotland’s history. The region is concentrated in a rich selection of Neolithic history, unlike anywhere else on Earth.

Sites like Skara Brae (a Neolithic village), Maeshowe (chambered cairn), the Standing Stones of Stenness, and the Ring of Brodgar are only a sample of the attractions occupied at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

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