Hello and welcome to the April newsletter from Orkney.com.
Spring is here and we’ll be bringing you all our usual features and photos about life in the islands.
Keep reading for our news round-up, a look at April’s events calendar and much more. We’d love to hear from you too, you can stay in touch on social media by following the links at the top of the page.
Uncover ancient secrets in Orkney
Archaeologists in Orkney are preparing to get their hands dirty once again, with our annual excavation season just around the corner. Experts will soon be on-site at digs across the islands, helping to uncover thousands of years of Orcadian history. Most of our excavations are open to the public, with archaeologists more than happy to give guided tours to visitors keen to see stunning structures and fantastic finds emerging from the ground. We’ve rounded up the main events planned for 2019 – why not plan a visit?
Free Orkney magazine launched ahead of summer season
The 2019 edition of the Orkney Islander magazine is out now. Designed by The Orcadian newspaper, the free publication includes 116 pages of Orkney-related features and photos to help you organise your trip before and during your visit to the islands. The magazine also contains adverts and listings for attractions, sites of interest, things to see and do and places to eat. It should be a vital part of your Orkney planning, so download your copy today!
Medal success for local breweries
A beer from Orkney’s Swannay Brewery has been named the overall Champion of Keg Beers at a major brewing industry event. The brewery’s ‘Muckle IPA’ claimed the Overall Champion Gold medal in the craft keg competition at the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Independent Beer Awards 2019 in Liverpool. The Orkney Brewery’s ‘Skullsplitter’ scooped overall bronze in the craft keg category too.
Follow our itineraries for island inspiration
We’ve been showcasing some of the very best attractions in Orkney over recent month through a series of stunning itineraries. They cover everything, from Viking and wartime sites, to coastal trails, wildlife highlights and ancient Neolithic attractions. You can download your own copy to take with you as you travel across our islands too.
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. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
April in Orkney
Spring is in the air and that means the Orkney events calendar is really starting to fill up, full of special activities and things to see and do over the coming weeks.
April sees some of our favourite attractions re-open for the season. Both the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces in the centre of Kirkwall open their doors at the beginning of the month. The Bishop’s Palace was built in the 1100s when Orkney was still under Norwegian rule and was very much part of the town’s medieval cathedral complex. The Earl’s Palace was a later addition, with construction completed in the early 1600s, and is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Scotland.
Also re-opening for 2019 is the fantastic Hackness Martello Tower and Battery in South Walls. These coastal defences were built to protect merchant shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. Both the tower and battery are fascinating places to visit. Doors open on the 1st until the end of September. The Broch of Gurness begins its new season as well. The Iron Age site is one of our favourites in Orkney and definitely worth a visit.
Orkney celebrates St Magnus Day on the 16th of April, the date of the martyrdom of our patron saint, Magnus Erlendsson, more than 900 years ago. This year, a new addition to the St Magnus Way – a 55-mile walking route across Orkney including many of the places associated with St Magnus – will see a route launched in Egilsay, where he was martyred. You can also visit St Magnus Cathedral, named in his honour, to learn more about his story.
There are plenty of options for fans of live music in Orkney this month. The Sound Archive at the Old Library in Kirkwall has a couple of cracking gigs planned. On the 5th you can see funk and soul band James Brown is Annie, described by The Times as ‘super tight horns, a funky rhythm section, heroic guitar and cool vocals’.
Then, on the 20th, catch trio The Burning Hell, supported by a solo performance from Glasgow-based folk-pop act Randolph’s Leap. Tickets for all the Sound Archive concerts are available at The Old Library and online.
You can also see a performance from Fara on the 3rd in the Orkney Theatre in Kirkwall. This Orcadian quartet are currently making a real impact on the folk music scene in Scotland and this concert will also mark the launch of their new album ‘Times From Times Fall’. Tickets are available at The Reel on Broad Street in Kirkwall, Sutherlands Pharmacy in Stromness, or can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07746 125 348.
The Orkney Distillery will host the first of its 'Spring Sessions' on the 11th, featuring one of Orkney's most popular acts, Saltfishforty. It gets underway at 7.30pm - tickets can be booked via email@example.com or on 01856 875 338.
If you like your music a touch more traditional then get involved in the Orkney Ceilidh Weekend this month. Featuring workshops with tutors and live bands, daily ceilidhs and a special family concert, it’s a weekend full of fun. It’s all on between the 12th and 14th – find out more from the Orkney Traditional Dance Association website.
Take a visit to the Pier Arts Centre later in the month to catch an exhibition celebrating 40 years of the Pier. It opens on the 23rd of April. There’s still time to see ‘The Rise of the Machines’ at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope, too – it closes on the 16th.
If you’re keen to get out and about then take advantage of free guided walks in our World Heritage Site. Meet the Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at the Standing Stones of Stenness at 10am on Wednesday mornings, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm. The walks are a great way to discover our Neolithic past.
Fans of the silver screen have plenty of options in April. You can see ‘Shoplifters’ on the 6th and ‘Summer 1993’ on the 20th at the West Side Cinema in Stromness – check out the Facebook page for more information. Meanwhile the Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has the likes of ‘Dumbo’, ‘Captain Marvel’ and a special anniversary screening of ‘The Matrix’ this month – see the full schedule via the Picky Centre website.
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 our 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.
We’ve asked local wildlife cameraman and photographer Raymond Besant to share some of his favourite natural attractions in Orkney as April comes around.
April very much feels like a month of change with the promise of warmer longer days ahead. You can see this change in the plumage of some of our visiting winter birds, with the striking long-tailed duck almost completely reversing its colours as spring progresses. The winter white head of the male takes on a rich chocolate colour before it heads north to the Arctic Circle to breed.
Throughout the winter you can see these beautiful ducks on our freshwater lochs and along the Churchill Barriers, feeding close to shore in loose groups, whilst Scapa Pier is also an easy vantage point. Inter-island ferry trips to Hoy or Rousay yield excellent views along with great northern divers, eiders and black guillemots, but it’s in April that we can really see the long-tailed duck at its best.
Large groups, sometimes up to a thousand strong, can be seen together on Lairo Water in Shapinsay as they gather before their migration. Fortunately for us they are really easy to see around all the islands. The Peedie Sea in Kirkwall can hold a large group - and you don’t even have to get out of your car to see them! Calm mornings are my favourite before the traffic starts, with the birds ‘yodelling’ call ringing out as their courtship display gets into full swing. You’re likely to see goldeneye and tufted ducks amongst the flocks too.
Head to Echna Loch in Burray for a truly unique experience. Large groups fly back and forth between Scapa Flow and the loch. Lie on your back, hidden on the shore, as the birds fly low overhead, whizzing past like little missiles!
It’s worth looking out for another visitor that is changing its colour from silver to mottled chestnut during April. Sanderling are small waders that run back and forth feeding on the shore as the waves come in and out. The beaches of Sanday, South Ronaldsay and Birsay are excellent places to see them. You can get some great pictures of them by lying still on the sand and letting them come to you, you’ll be amazed how close they will come. Be mindful of course not to get soaked by the incoming waves they are dodging!
Focus on photography
Our featured photographer of the month for April is Kim McEwen, who has combined her interest of wildlife and photography across Orkney in recent years.
I have always been interested in wildlife and photography. As a child growing up in South Ronaldsay I was forever chasing butterflies and birds around the garden, and I loved going to the beach groatie buckie hunting (to be honest I still do!).
I remember getting my first ‘proper’ camera when I was about 12 years old, a second-hand 35mm film camera that weighed a ton, which I’d spent months saving up for. I lugged it along the cliffs ‘perfecting’ my technique and despite the excitement and anticipation of getting the film developed, the pictures never really turned out how I expected - there were certainly no keepers anyway! Fast forward a couple of decades and my husband bought me a DSLR Canon EOS 550D for my birthday. That was the game changer - well, compared to the point and shoot digital cameras I’d been used to up until then anyway - suddenly I was out as much as possible with my new camera in tow.
Orkney is full of inspiration, from the unique landscape and nature, to the history that you can literally find everywhere, and every season has something different to offer. I love getting out in the summer evenings - I live for those long summer days that seem to go on forever and always try to have my camera with me. However, there is something particularly special about the winter light here in Orkney. That fleeting, soft golden light that makes everything look that extra bit special, and which I spend the short days at the weekends searching for, usually in vain, but when you do find it...it is always so, so worth it.
I’m usually out and about in South Ronaldsay, partly because it’s on the doorstep and working full-time with two young children means that ‘spare’ time is usually in short supply, but also because I love the coastline here and South Ronaldsay alone has 40 miles of it! I don’t think anyone could ever run out of inspiration in Orkney. I certainly haven’t, and with so many different islands to explore, I don’t think I ever will.
See more of Kim’s photos on her Instagram page.
Explore hidden Orkney
Our 'hidden Orkney' location of the month is actually found within Orkney's World Heritage Site, but it's definitely not as well known as its famous neighbours!
Thousands of visitors make a stop at the stunning Standing Stones of Stenness every year, taking in the views and the atmosphere at Orkney’s oldest stone circle. But, a little more than a hundred metres away, lies another Neolithic site, and it’s one that is well worth adding to your historic hit-list.
During the Stone Age, the Barnhouse Settlement was a small cluster of ancient homes, built at a similar time to Skara Brae. The settlement was only discovered in 1984, and all that remains are the lower parts of just a small section of this village. But, whilst it’s not as impressive as its larger cousin, it’s still a special place to visit.
It’s thought there were originally around 15 small, round houses at the site, which could have had timber and turf roofs. As at Skara Brae, the dwellings here have central hearths, box beds and stone furniture.
But the difference between the two sites lies in two of the Barnhouse buildings. This pair of structures are larger than all the other homes at both sites, which has prompted theories that they could have been built as houses for someone of great importance.
Another theory is that the Barnhouse settlement could have been used to house the people responsible for building the Standing Stones of Stenness. The homes were demolished after they were used, so could the stonemasons have simply moved on to another site?
Although there is less to see at Barnhouse, like many Neolithic locations in Orkney it provides a real sense of wonder, and throws up as many questions as answers. As always, you can make your own mind up as you wander through the remains of this ancient village.
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.
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