A recent visitor described the Orkney Fossil & Heritage Centre as a "hidden gem".
Housed in converted farm buildings on the island of Burray, the Centre has an intriguing collection of fossils from Orkney and around the world, including some rare and beautifully preserved specimens. There are also local heritage displays, including fascinating exhibitions about Scapa Flow's wartime history: 'Building the Barriers' about the construction of the Churchill Barriers and new for 2019 'Scapa and the Scuttle'.
The collections were donated to the people of Orkney by local builder Leslie Firth who, with his father Ernest, developed an interest after finding fossils at their quarry in Sandwick, West Mainland. Recently updated exhibitions downstairs showcase the extensive fossil and rock collection, with detailed information and illustrations of 380 million year old fish!
Ernest Firth was also a great collector of heritage objects. His interest was not in fine antiques or valuable rarities, but in the objects used in everyday life by Orcadians. His extensive hoard includes furniture, household china, cameras and tools, providing an intimate portrait of life in Orkney in the last century.
The heritage galleries also have information about boat building in Burray and exhibits about life in Orkney during the First and Second World Wars, including a feature about the other 'Italian Chapel' built at POW Camp 34 on Burray.
The 'Scapa and the Scuttle' exhibition was funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant. A new interpretative floor map details the location of the scuttled German ships and the WW1 and WW2 blockships whilst two screens show archive film and photos .
The Centre has a level access and there is an outside toilet accessible via a ramp as well as inside toilets with steps.
The downstairs galleries displaying fossils, rocks and the Building the Barriers exhibition are all readily accessible for wheelchairs and buggies. There are three audio visual displays and a dark room showing fluorescing rocks using UV light, which is down a couple of steps.
The upstairs heritage galleries are accessed via a staircase.
There are some outdoor workshops containing tools and household objects, which are accessed via a narrow uneven path and have low door lintels.
The Orkney Fossil & Heritage Centre is a charity run by local volunteers. The centre is open April - September, but pre-booked tours can be arranged outwith these months by phoning 01856 731 255.
The Gift Shop at the main entrance stocks a large range of books about fossils and geology, gemstones, jewellery and other Orkney crafts, toys, hand-made cards, prints and local music recordings.