HMS Tern

The former control tower at HMS Tern


Orkney’s is one of the best places in the UK to visit for wartime heritage. Old anti-aircraft batteries are dotted around the coast, with other sites like the Churchill Barriers and the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness more obvious reminders of our military past.

HMS Tern is another often-overlooked part of our wartime history. It was one of four airfields in the islands during WWII and was part of the Royal Navy’s presence here during the conflict. Found near the village of Dounby, you can just see a cluster of old buildings from the road. From above, though, you can quite clearly see the remains of the airfield's runways.

The majority of the buildings are relatively derelict but thanks to the hard work of the Birsay Heritage Trust and the Aviation Reseach Group Orkney & Shetland (ARGOS), the site has been cleaned up and some of the remaining structures have been opened to the public for official guided tours.

The site is full of bunkers and buildings


During tours visitors can see the former cinema and fire station, as well as getting exclusive access to the iconic control tower on the site. Stories about the airfield and the men stationed there also form a large part of the tour, which are a great way to get a feel for life in Orkney during the conflict.

Booking isn’t required – just turn up at the start of a tour to join in. Find all the information you need, including tour times, access and cost, via the HMS Tern website. You can also read more via Orkney.com's special feature.