' Stromness is a town that has a history of international connections. It now stands on the threshold of global opportunities '
James Stockan, Councillor
Stromness lies in the west of the Orkney islands, huddled around the sheltered bay of Hamnavoe. The town owes its existence to this natural harbour, and its history reflects changes in maritime life over the centuries.
From the earliest habitation of Orkney, the sheltered Hamnavoe would have been a favoured fishing spot for fishermen from the nearby farming communities. Norsemen named the bay Hamnavoe (hamna meaning small islands; voe meaning inlet). The modern name of Stromness reflects the meeting of sea and land: strom meaning tidal stream and ness, being the peninsula of land which protrudes to the south, creating the sheltered bay.
The best way to arrive in Stromness is by sea, the entrance lying between the holms and the Point of Ness. It is a dramatic setting - the buildings crowd around the harbour, creeping upwards towards the towering ridge of Brinkie’s Brae. Most of the houses are built gable end on to the street and the sea, with narrow closes in between. Many have their own pier and there are numerous boatslips between them.
The long street varies in width as it wends its way along the shore, with steep steps leading up the hill towards the larger houses, built above the town by wealthy merchants and sea captains in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Later, council schemes and private dwellings have filled the gaps on the hillside above the old town.
The unusual townscape is the focus of a major conservation initiative, the Townscape Heritage Initiative, which is funding the restoration of many buildings and the streetscape itself.
In 2012 the green light was given for a new development at Copland's dock, which will provide facilities for the burgeoning marine renewables industry, on the shores where the first people may have settled in this area.