Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands has been named Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street having topped a poll of the general public. (news source)

Having received 21% of nearly 5,000 votes, Kirkwall faced off stiff competition from Island town neighbour, Lerwick, who secured 18% of the vote and East Dunbartonshire town, Milgavnie, who came in a close third on 15% of votes cast.

Kirkwall named as most beautiful High Street. Milngavie in 3rd place
Kirkwall, Orkney. Winner of Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street 2019.

The national competition for Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street is run by two of Scotland’s most well known organisations for place and the environment – Scotland’s Towns Partnership, the national body for towns in Scotland, and Keep Scotland Beautiful, the environmental charity which campaigns to keep Scotland green, clean and sustainable. 

The online vote took place over a four week period through the Scotland’s Towns Partnership website.

The other shortlisted towns included: Ayr, Innerleithen, Linlithgow, Lanark, and Rothesay.

Speaking about the results, the Chair of the Kirkwall Business Improvement District, Duncan McLean, who made the submission on behalf of the town, said:

“We at Kirkwall BID are delighted that our town has won this very special award. It recognises both the beauty of the town’s historic centre, and the efforts of local individuals, public bodies and voluntary organisations to make the town a wonderful place to live, work and socialise.

“Most importantly, it was the support of our community that won this award, and to know that the people of Kirkwall love and are proud of their town is the best reward of all.”

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, said:

“This competition is all about recognising the work and effort of local people to make their high streets the best they can be. It’s not just an award for a high street, it’s an award for the people who occupy them. I’ve seen first hand just some of the innovation and forward thinking used in Kirkwall and it is a real demonstration of what can be achieved with creativity and determination.

“I want to warmly congratulate Kirkwall, and all of the worthy towns who were shortlisted. It’s no secret that our high streets have been under pressure for the past few years, but this competition gives us hope for the future. When people come together and take ownership of their places, great things can happen and big challenges can be overcome.”

Katie Murray, Communities and Place Manager at Keep Scotland Beautiful, commented: 

“I would like to offer my congratulations to Kirkwall for being selected as Scotland’s most beautiful high street. This is a fantastic example of how, by working in partnership, significant improvements can be brought forward to improve the town centre experience for residents and visitors alike. 

“Every participant in the competition deserves recognition for the benefits that they are delivering across Scotland – helping everyone to enjoy cleaner, greener and more beautiful communities.”

Scotland’s Towns Partnership article ENDS

Kirkwall’s application to the competition by the Kirkwall business improvement district made impressive reading, so we have re-produced it below. Many of their projects are similar to the approaches we are taking in Milngavie such as improving the High Street, floral enhancements, a regular events programme, and cycle racks that we already have.

We would recommend visits to each of the towns nominated, including Milngavie. Although coming third overall, and in a spirit of being positive, Milngavie is effectively the most beautiful High Street on Scotland’s mainland, so everyone is welcome to visit us for a day out to explore for a day of walking, cycling, shopping as well as a decent food and drink.

Graeme Ross, the chair of Milngavie BID visited Ornkey recently and commented “Kirkwall is a vibrant and interesting place to visit, and not what you would expect from a trip to the Scottish islands. On behalf of Milngavie, we would like to offer our congratulations to Kirkwall and all participants. The competition demonstrates the strength of our towns in Scotland, that we all must build on for future generations.”

“Mention the Orkney Islands to most people in mainland Scotland, and images of wild seas, winter storms and bleak, treeless landscapes are likely to come to mind. We do have all those things, but in Kirkwall we also have one of the most bustling and beautiful high streets in the country.

Kirkwall owes its status as Orkney’s capital to its position between the great natural harbour of Scapa Flow to the west, and the North Sea to the east. Rich rolling farmland lies to the north and south. Produce from the island’s farms, and seafood from its fishing fleet, flow through Kirkwall on their way to customers across the UK and beyond. Kirkwall is a busy market town and port, and its shops and other businesses need to provide everything the hard-working population could possible require – after all, it’s not easy to nip to the nearest city when that is Inverness, separated by 15 miles of the Pentland Firth and 100 miles of the A9!

Kirkwall’s businesses have worked hard – both individually and jointly through Kirkwall BID – to maintain and improve their town centre. The high street now has, at the time of writing, a full complement of commercial premises, with no vacant shopfronts. This is not down to good luck, but rather to the loyalty that local consumers feel for their high street, and the attentiveness and creativity of business owners in meeting their needs. The Orkney public’s love for Kirkwall’s high street is not surprising, as at its centre lies St Magnus Cathedral, the heart of the Orkney Islands since its establishment in 1137.

Stretching out to the north and south of the cathedral lie the two halves of our high street, in winter months illuminated by tree and canopy lights recently installed by our BID. In summer the surprisingly numerous trees are complemented by hanging baskets all along the street, provided by the Community Council. In recent years the Townscape Heritage Initiative has helped fund renovation of several iconic buildings that had fallen into disrepair: some of these are now thriving new businesses, and all contribute to the preservation of the town’s heritage. THI also introduced street layout improvements, following full public consultation, to make the high street more pedestrian friendly, and installed (in partnership with BID) new benches, planters and information boards. Cycle racks and water stations are next on the agenda.

Most importantly, perhaps, local consumers support the (mainly independent) shops that line the high street. They also flock to the frequent events the town hosts, including live music, pipe band parades, shopping days, our unique Ba games on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Easter Egg hunts and Neepie Lantern trails. Visitors are frequently highly complimentary about the town, and we get a lot of visitors: Kirkwall is currently the UK’s most popular cruise liner destination, with nearly 150 liners being welcomed in 2019.

All in all, our high street is a mix of farming, fishing, shopping, history, locals, tourists, business, sport and culture – in other words, a vibrant community. And that is what really makes Kirkwall beautiful.”