Hello and welcome to the April newsletter from Orkney.com.
We’ll be bringing you all our usual features and photos focused on life in the islands as spring finally arrives! Keep reading for our monthly events preview, our wildlife update and a look at another hidden Orkney attraction.
Remember, you can always find out more about Orkney via the Visit Orkney website, and you can follow us on social media too.
Get into the festival spirit
Now that spring is officially here, thoughts are already turning to the busy season of fun and festivals across the islands. Orkney has such a fantastic events calendar, full of activities and performances for everyone to enjoy. From nature to music, science to storytelling, you’ll find the perfect festival for you in Orkney. Find out more from our special video and blog on the Visit Orkney website.
Orkney welcomes a walrus!
Orkney is famous for its wildlife attractions but one special visitor in March caught everybody by surprise! A huge Arctic walrus arrived on the shoreline of Sanday, much to the delight of local residents and wildlife watchers who flocked to the island for a closer look. Nicknamed ‘Wally’, the walrus relaxed on the beach for 24 hours before slipping back into the sea. It was the first walrus visitor for Orkney since 2013 when one arrived in neighbouring North Ronaldsay. See some more images of this unique visitor in our blog!
Doors open at craft gin distillery
The Deerness Distillery, producers of craft gin and vodka, is set to open its brand-new tasting room and shop at its base in Orkney’s east mainland this month. Visitors will be able to sample Sea Glass Gin and Into the Wild vodka and see the spirits being produced, as well as getting the chance to pick up some bottles and merchandise too. The business launched in 2017 and has been going from strength to strength – find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Get out and about in Orkney
With spring here and summer on the horizon, there is no better time to get out and about to experience everything Orkney has to offer. Across the islands there are walks, viewpoints and new locations just ready to be explored. We’ve picked nine of our favourites, including beaches, islands and sea stacks, for all the island inspiration you need. Take a look at our recommendations!
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram to see some beautiful images of the islands. We publish shots from around Orkney every week and you can join in too. Tag your own images so we can share your Orkney journey on social media. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
April in Orkney
Spring brings a real sense of anticipation of all the events and activities to come across Orkney over the next few months, and April is no exception!
April is also the month Orkney celebrates St Magnus Day. The 16th of the month marks the martyrdom of our patron saint, Magnus Erlendsson, more than 900 years ago. Get caught up the story with a visit to St Magnus Cathedral, named in his honour, or to Egilsay, the island where he was slain.
You can also tackle the St Magnus Way, a 55-mile walking route, following part of the journey the body of Magnus was taken on after his death. Find out more about the St Magnus Way with our special blog.
You can explore more of Orkney’s history this month via free guided tours in our World Heritage Site. Meet the ranger team at the Standing Stones of Stenness at 10am on Wednesday mornings and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm. The walks are fantastically insightful and a great way to discover our Neolithic past.
Some of Orkney’s finest attractions re-open for the season in April too. The Bishops and Earls Palaces in Kirkwall open their doors on April 1st, as does the fantastic Hackness Martello Tower and Battery in South Walls. Walking tours of the former Royal Navy base at Lyness in Hoy also start again on April 3rd. They leave from the Lyness ferry waiting room every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. Booking is advised - find out more via the Orkney Islands Council website.
If you want to see some Orkney wildlife this spring then you can join local RSPB members at Cottascarth in Rendall on the 15th between 9.30am and 12.30pm. Take in a guided walk and get the chance to watch hen harriers skydance over the moorland.
Music fans are in for a treat this month with the return of the annual Orkney Jazz Festival. Held over the course of a weekend in the Stromness Hotel, the festival sees a wide range of performances, with visitors this year including the Diplomats of Jazz and Bill Salmond’s Louisiana Ragtime Band. It all gets underway on the 20th of April and performances start around 9pm in the Hotel’s Lounge Bar.
If you like your music a touch more traditional then get involved in the Orkney Ceilidh Festival this month. Held between the 13th and 15th of April, it’s a fun-packed weekend of dance workshops and ceilidhs with local and visiting tutors and bands. Get up and get dancing to some toe-tapping tunes! Find out more from the Orkney Traditional Dance Association website.
If you’re looking for funk, soul and pure entertainment then get yourself along to the Sound Archive in Kirkwall on the 28th to catch The Cuban Brothers on stage. It’s sure to be an action-packed night full of fun – tickets are available online.
Popular comedian Jon Richardson will be visiting Orkney later this month. The ‘8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown’ star will be taking to the stage at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 29th of April – tickets can be bought from the Centre or by calling 01856 879 900.
A special exhibition at the Orkney Museum featuring work from three local artists will open on the 7th of April. ‘Lift’, a display focusing on Orkney’s skies by Ingrid Budge, Rebecca Marr and Alan Watson, will run until the 28th of the month.
You can see work from local photographer Ingrid Budge at her ‘Fade’ exhibition at For Arts Sake in Kirkwall until the 14th of April. ‘Colour & Line’ by Stephanie Spence will be in the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 17th too.
April is a busy month at the Pier Arts Centre. It is hosting the Jerwood Makers Open Exhibition until the 9th of June, and two smaller exhibitions will be on display too. See work by Higher Photography students at Kirkwall Grammar School until the 11th of April, then between the 14th and 28th the Centre will feature a display of work as part of Orkney’s Lifestyle Public Art Project. It has been giving adults with a wide range of learning disabilities the chance to participate in creative workshops to produce public art work for the Lifestyles Centre in Kirkwall.
There are also family drop-in art activities on weekdays (except Monday) at 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm during the Easter holidays.
The Pickaquoy Centre cinema has its usual range of movies this month, including The Shape of Water, Lady Bird and Monster Family. There are also live broadcasts of ‘Macbeth’ by the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company in April too.
The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘I Am Not A Witch’ on the 7th of April and ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ on the 21st. Doors open at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start at the Town Hall.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during April. There’s always lots more happening around the islands – keep up to date with the Visit Orkney events page, pick up a copy of local newspaper ‘The Orcadian’ every Thursday or tune into BBC Radio Orkney every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM or on Facebook.
Orkney wildlife watch
This month’s wildlife focus finds Alison Nimmo embracing the changing of the seasons with a look at what lies beneath in Orkney.
Last spring I noticed quite a few whole sea urchins washing up on my local shore around now. I don’t know if it’s a seasonal thing – I’ll be interested to see if it happens again, and perhaps hear if others have observed the same.
In any case, last year’s influx prompted me to wonder, what’s actually inside these spikey balls and how do they live?
If you’ve ever had the chance to snorkel or dive in Orkney, you may have seen the living creatures stuck onto the rocks or wrecks underwater. Urchins are omnivorous, so they could be grazing on algae or munching their way through a carpet of barnacles. (Their mouth parts are hidden underneath.)
It might be news that urchins move at all, since we mostly just see the passive-looking skeletons, called ‘tests’, when they wash up. But if you look closely at a test, you can see rows of tiny holes running from top to bottom, like the divisions between orange segments. Those holes allow the sea urchin to extend tube feet out past its spines, so that it can walk. It controls the feet by pumping water in and out of them so they extend or contract.
Sea urchins can also move their spines, with each one attached to the test by a minute ball and socket joint. On a test you can usually see the remaining ball part of the joint - the tiny lumps that cover the test’s surface.
There’s so much more to say about sea urchins, but perhaps the most fascinating thing to look out for is the mouth parts, which together look a bit like a beak (known as an Aristotle’s lantern, after Aristotle’s description of it some two thousand, three hundred years ago).
It’s a beautifully formed structure holding five teeth, which grow continuously as they get worn down. If you happen to come across a freshly washed-up urchin, turn it over and you may find these teeth still in place!
Island views captured by local photographer
Our featured photographer for April is Nicolle Windwick, who has been inspired by Orkney's sunsets and seascapes, whatever the weather!
I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. I believe that I got it from my Grampa, Alan Windwick, as when I was younger I always remember him with his camera wherever we went.
Living on an island with so much beauty and so many places to explore has developed my passion for photography, whether it is a beautiful Orkney sunset, or waves crashing off cliffs during a storm, there is never a bad time to be taking photos in Orkney.
Looking back at my photos now I can see how much my work has developed and improved throughout the years, but I know I still have a lot to learn and I am excited to keep improving and progressing with every photo I capture. I currently have a Nikon D5500 camera with an 18-55mm lens that I use for most of my photos. I also own a 55-200mm lens and a 70-300mm lens that I use for wildlife close-up photos.
There are a lot of places in Orkney that inspire me, although I have to say sunsets are my favourite thing to capture. The sunsets that Orkney offers are breathtaking to watch. I would highly recommend the Brough of Birsay for watching the sun disappear into the horizon – just remember to check the tide times first!
As long as you are brave enough to go out and get battered by the wind and rain you can get excellent photos here. The many cliffs are beautiful to photograph, whether it's a stunning sunny day or there are gale force winds and hailstones - there is always something to capture.
I would highly recommend Orkney to anyone interested in photography. The wildlife here is extraordinary, a must-see for any amateur or professional photographers. There are so many historical sites to explore, from the Ring of Brodgar to the Churchill Barriers.
No matter what age you are or what your interests are, will always find something to see or do here in Orkney.
Explore uncovered Orkney
April’s ‘off the beaten track’ site is a beacon at the very end of our archipelago – literally! It’s time to explore the North Ronaldsay lighthouse.
A lighthouse might seem like an unlikely subject for a hidden attraction, given that its purpose is to be visible and guide the way, but when it’s found in one of Orkney’s most unique and far-flung communities, we think it qualifies.
North Ronaldsay, as the name suggests, can be found at the northern extremity of our archipelago. It’s a place like no other in Orkney with its own special landscape, history and heritage. Where else can you find a one-of-a-kind flock of seaweed-eating sheep? And a hand-built stone dyke that encircles the entire island to keep the afore-mentioned sheep on the rocky shore?
Add to that some magnificent migratory birds and a warm and welcoming population and you have an island not to be missed.
And then there is the lighthouse. Not just any lighthouse – it’s the tallest land-based lighthouse in the UK. It’s also Scotland’s last working foghorn station too. The red brick building dominates the low-lying island, looming large over the old stone crofts and the former beacon, built in the late 1700s, found nearby.
If you’re feeling fit and want to experience a beautiful 360-degree view you can take advantage of a lighthouse tour, climbing 176 steps to reach the top. At 43 metres high on a clear day you can enjoy views south towards Sanday, Stronsay and Orkney’s other islands, and north as far as Fair Isle and even Shetland.
There is the Visitor Centre to enjoy too, all housed in the lighthouse buildings, featuring a gift shop, exhibitions and an excellent café during the summer months. Bike hire is even available so you can explore the whole island.
You can take a tour of the Wool Mill next door – visit to see how fleece from North Ronaldsay’s flock of sheep is turned into yarn. And if you think you might struggle to fit this all in, you can stay in the former assistant lighthouse keeper cottages, which have been converted into 3-star self-catering cottages.
For a truly special experience we’d always recommend an island-hopping visit to North Ronaldsay, and a trip to the top of the lighthouse to take in the beautiful landscape and seascape all around you.
Explore our ‘Uncovered Orkney’ map for more hints and tips on some of our favourite hidden attractions across the islands.
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter – hopefully there has been something to inspire you to make a visit to Orkney, for a short trip or a more permanent stay.
In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.