Hello and welcome to the August newsletter from Orkney.com. Every month we bring you a snapshot of life here in Orkney, hopefully to inspire you to spend some time in our islands – be it for a short trip or a more permanent stay.
This month we’ll be looking at some of the local headlines over recent weeks as well as previewing the events and activities you can enjoy in Orkney in August. We have another parish feature and a talented local photographer shares some of their special images.
Let’s start with a look back at July in Orkney…
Rainy weather doesn't dampen July enthusiasm
Orkney gets romantic with Mills and Boon
Did you know that Orkney was named the UK’s Most Romantic Destination by publishers Mills and Boon earlier this year? To coincide with that well deserved title, the organisation has launched its own Romantic Trail for star crossed lovers to follow during a trip here. It contains everything from stunning jewellery to deserted beaches – view the trail for yourself and find out more from visitorkney.com and orkney.com.
Handheld guide for food lovers
A brand new guide to Orkney’s food and drink delights is now available to pick up across the islands. The Orkney Foodies Guide 2015/16 showcases a range of local restaurants, retailers and producers. The pocket booklet has been put together by Orkney Food and Drink and it’s hoped visitors will be encouraged to carry it with them as they explore the county. Copies can be downloaded from the site, or picked up at accommodation providers and other outlets in Orkney.
Meet the makers with new craft content
Orkney has a vast array of highly talented craft makers, and now you can learn all about them thanks to a new blog from the local Crafts Association. ‘Meet the Makers’ will give readers the chance to find out about individual artists and craftspeople and their experiences of living and working in Orkney. The first focus is on painter Ingrid Grieve and her Toumal Art Studio. Find out more from the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Fingers crossed for an August heatwave
Traditionally, August in Orkney is all about celebrating the very best of local livestock and produce with our series of agricultural shows. This year, though, wet weather throughout the spring and early summer has led to the cancellation of a number of events.
The centrepiece of the late Orcadian summer, the County Show, is still going ahead as planned at the Bignold Park in Kirkwall on Saturday the 8th. You can also take in the sights and sounds of the remaining shows in St Margaret’s Hope on Wednesday the 5th and in Dounby on Thursday the 6th.
The County Show is followed by the hotly contested Parish Cup Final – Orkney football’s very own World Cup! You can watch the action between the parishes of Stromness and Holm at the Pickaquoy Centre from 6.45pm on the evening of the 8th.
Things don’t stop there though – on the Sunday, head down to Broad Street in Kirkwall to experience the spectacular Riding of the Marches. The traditional event sees hundreds of horses and their riders carry a standard around the old boundary of the town. Watch them all gather in front of St Magnus Cathedral at 2pm, or galloping through the surf at Scapa beach later in the afternoon.
Staying with history, Orkney’s World Heritage Site Rangers continue to guide visitors through the past in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Catch up with them on their free guided tours in August – at the Standing Stones and Barnhouse Village on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at ten o’clock, and at the Ring of Brodgar every day at one o’clock.
There are free daily tours available at the Ness of Brodgar throughout August too. Join up with a guide at the site Monday to Friday at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, or on Saturday and Sunday at 11am or 3pm. Remember there will be no workers present at the weekends. The fascinating dig is open until the 26th of August.
Archaeology is also the theme of a special three day course being held in Orkney in August. ‘Traces in the Landcape’ will see art and archaeology come together with fieldwork, practical workshops and talks. Those taking part will be based in and around the Ness of Brodgar, the Pier Arts Centre and the museums in Kirkwall and Stromness. It all takes place from the 14th of August. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01856 569000 for more information.
Later in the month, why not take a trip across the Churchill Barriers to watch a very unique and iconic event in the Orkney calendar. The Festival of the Horse parade in St Margaret’s Hope sees local girls dressed in colourful costumes, designed to represent the dress harness worn by heavy horses in ploughing competitions from years gone by. Some of the outfits, adorned with buttons and brooches, have been handed down through the generations. Local boys then compete in a ploughing match on the beautiful beach at the nearby Sands of Wright, with handheld wooden ploughs tracing furrows in the sand. It’s all well worth a visit, and will be held at the St Margaret’s Hope School on the 15th of August.
Elsewhere in Orkney during August, you can head north to visit Papa Westray, and take in the island’s RSPB North Hill Reserve. There are warden tours every Wednesday and Saturday, which can be taken on their own or as part of the island’s ‘Peedie Package Tour’. Find out more from the Papa Westray website or phone 01857 644 224. Booking is essential.
For the art enthusiasts, the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness is hosting free tours of its current ARTIST ROOMS Damien Hirst exhibition. The Centre’s new Gallery Programmes Trainee, Laura Henning, will lead the tours every Wednesday at 1pm and on Saturdays at 3pm.
As always, there are plenty of smaller events and exhibitions to take in across Orkney. Have a look at the Visit Orkney events page for more information. Local newspaper The Orcadian is published every Thursday and features an Out and About section, and BBC Radio Orkney also broadcasts a daily diary of events, every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM, and on Facebook.
Wildlife watchers eager for August sights and sounds
Orkney is a haven for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts and fans of flowers and fauna. So, what are some of the highlights across the islands in August? Alison Nimmo from the local branch of the RSPB has some suggestions…
Guillemots and razorbills, their chicks now mostly fledged, are quickly leaving the cliffs which they’ve brought to life for the last few months. I know I for one will miss the raucous chorus surrounding from colonies like Marwick Head. We won’t see them back on land till next spring – spare a thought for these little seafarers during the winter gales!
Fulmars have more recently hatched their large, single, fluffy grey chicks and these will take well into August to fledge, so look out for them on ledges all around the coast.
Others are on the move too – we’ll soon start to see the first migrating waders passing through Orkney on their way further south for the winter. Amongst large flocks of dunlin you may be able to pick out the odd greenshank or ruff, or for the lucky few a curlew sandpiper or little stint. St Peter’s Pool or Birsay Bay are good spots to find flocks feeding when the tide is out.
Inland, moorland areas are already brightening as heather comes into flower. On warm, still days (if any!) listen for the buzz of bees gathering nectar – it’s an important source for them at this time of year with many other flowers going over – and keep an eye out for large heath butterflies.
Dragonflies and damselflies are another August highlight if we get a good spell of good weather. Blue-tailed and large red damselflies are the ones you’re most likely to encounter on the Mainland, darting around pools, but for the best chance of a variety try Hoy, home to beauties like four-spotted chasers, golden-ringed dragonflies and common hawkers.
Everyday life catches the eye, and lens
Every month we ask a keen local photographer to share some of their images of Orkney. It helps give a different perspective of the islands, through the lens of our talented array of amateurs. This month, Anne Flint has picked ten of her favourite photos, and says Orkney is a special subject matter…
I have been taking photographs since I was around 11 years old when my Aunt gave me her Kodak Box Brownie. My younger daughter now has that in her collection of old cameras which she keeps in a display cabinet in her home in Thessaloniki, Greece!
Since retiring three years ago from working in the Balfour Hospital, photography has become my hobby. We have an amazing variety of landscapes, seascapes, buildings and wildlife in Orkney, but I think St Magnus Cathedral is one of my favourite subjects. There is always something different to capture in this awe-inspiring building, especially when the sun shines through the stained glass windows, throwing beautiful colours onto the sandstone.
Another favourite haunt is Kirkwall Harbour and the reflections which can be captured on a calm day. Its variety of boats also gives plenty of scope for interesting pictures.
Being a member of the U3A Camera Group, I have learned so much from comparing the photographs we take on our outings, and from the projects set for us each month.
I enjoy taking photographs of animals and wild birds and have, several times, been sprawled on a cliff edge with my arms and camera over the edge, capturing the endearing puffins and other birds including razorbills. Farm animals are a delight too, especially cattle with their beautiful faces.
Orkney is an inspiration with a wealth of subjects for any keen photographer and I am proud to have lived here for the past 40 years.
Visitors welcome with open arms in Orphir
Our monthly parish focus moves on to Orphir, an area that helps bridge the gap between the east and west mainland of Orkney. Like much of the islands, it contains its own unique attractions, offering peaceful beauty spots for the more intrepid visitor.
Despite its quiet charm, the parish has played an important part in Orkney’s history, from being a haven for Vikings to its role in two World Wars. One of Orphir’s most popular attractions is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre. It tells the tale of the Norse Earls of Orkney with interpretation boards and a video display. It’s situated next to the remains of the unique Round Kirk, Scotland’s only surviving circular medieval church. It’s thought to have been built by Earl Hakon towards the end of the 11th Century. Nearby are the foundations of a great Viking drinking hall, or Bu. There is also a lovely coastal walk at the site, leading you past cliffs and back via quiet country roads.
Orphir’s coastline has a number of special sites. One of Orkney’s most beautiful beaches is in the parish – Waulkmill Bay offers long stretches of clean, golden sand, gently sloping into Scapa Flow. It’s perfect for families with its shallow, calm water, and you’ll often find dog walkers, nature enthusiasts and ramblers heading down the steps to the beach. There is limited car parking on the road above the Bay, and toilets are available too.
As you continue heading west through the parish, you’ll pass the Kirbister Loch. It’s a fine location for keen anglers, with plenty of free rising trout. It’s seen as an excellent loch for anyone new to the sport and wading is easy. Kirbister is also the site of the Orkney Trout Fishing Association’s Hatchery, where volunteers work hard to maintain the high quality of trout stocks in local lochs.
The small Orphir village sits at the heart of the parish and includes the local primary school, community centre and play-park. There’s also a post office and pub at The Noust, which offers bar meals and snacks and hosts quiz nights and social evenings with darts and pool played.
Another recent addition on the outskirts of the village is the new home of Orkney’s Clay Pigeon Club. The purpose built shooting range was officially opened earlier this year and features a clubhouse as well as facilities for six shooting disciplines. The Club is always on the lookout for new members and can also be booked for special events – find out more via the OCPC website.
Many folk travel through Orphir heading for the small but busy port of Houton. The view across the bay there is very different nowadays compared to nearly one hundred years ago, when Orkney hosted the interned German High Seas Fleet at the end of the First World War.
Many of the ships were anchored within sight of Houton in the summer of 1919, when onlookers watched in shock as German crew members deliberately scuttled their giant vessels on the 21st of June.
Nowadays Houton has a far more peaceful role. It’s the base for ferries to the islands of Flotta and Hoy, as well as regular crew boat crossings to the Flotta Oil Terminal. If you’re planning on booking your car on the Orkney Ferries vessel ‘Hoy Head’, make sure to do so in advance, especially during the summer, as Hoy is one of Orkney’s most popular destinations for visitors.
Orphir is also blessed with spectacular views across to Hoy, especially from the Scorradale Road. During the winter months you can see spectacular scenes as the sun fades away behind the famous Hoy Hills, as squalls of rain and dark clouds blow in through Hoy Sound.
There are plenty of accommodation options in the parish, with high quality self catering and bed and breakfasts available. Find out more by having a look at the new Visit Orkney website and its accommodation listings.
If you want to make your stay in the parish more permanent, there are plenty of housing options to choose from – including private sites and homes available through local estate agents. The parish is also ideally placed for travelling to both Kirkwall and Stromness, whilst retaining that rural feel sought by so many. Find out more about living and working in Orkney through Orkney.com.
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter – hopefully you were inspired to find out more about our islands.
In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.