Hello and welcome to the August newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we’ll be bringing you our usual articles and features, all focused on life in the islands. Keep reading for the August events calendar, our latest area focus and much more.
Hopefully this newsletter will inspire you to pay our islands a visit, either for a short break or a longer, more permanent stay. You can also find out more via the Orkney.com and Visit Orkney websites.
Twilight tours at ancient site
Visitors to Skara Brae will be able to take advantage of special ‘after hours’ tours of the Neolithic village until the end of August. Groups of up to twelve will get to see the site away from the crowds, with five slots available starting at 5.30pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Access to one of the delicate houses and workshop areas will be available to provide a unique and authentic experience. Find out more via our blog and book your space with Historic Environment Scotland.
Travel in style with local designer
Orkney Crafts Association member Hilary Grant has been commissioned to produce new work for a major exhibition at Edinburgh Airport this month. Local Heroes has brought together ten talented Scottish designers who have all been asked to showcase their takes on a contemporary travel accessory. Hilary has created a lambswool travel blanket inspired by the knitting traditions of Scotland and neighbouring Nordic countries – perfect for ferry crossings to Orkney! Find out more via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Busy season in North Ronaldsay
The summer months in North Ronaldsay, Orkney’s northernmost island, are dominated by the abundant and varied birdlife that can be found across the island. It sits on the migratory path for thousands of birds and sightings this year have included a stone curlew, red-backed shrikes and marsh warblers. Read our blog focused on life at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory for more from the island. The island is also hosting its first Sheep Festival, highlighting the unique seaweed-eating sheep that roam the rugged shoreline. Events continue in August – visit the official website for more details.
Food guide highlights culinary hotspots
Visitors to Orkney this summer will be able to find all the food and drink inspiration they need thanks to the launch of the latest ‘Peedie Orkney Foodies Guide’. The updated 2016/17 version from Orkney Food and Drink features all its associate members, including producers, restaurants and retailers from across the islands. The pocket-sized booklet highlights some of the quality products available in Orkney, from the finest cheese and chutney to beef, beer and even buffalo burgers. You can download a copy from the Orkney Food and Drink website or pick one up at various locations in Orkney.
Win prizes from Orkney!
This month you could be in with a chance of winning the Award Winning Orkney Hamper from the Judith Glue Shop and Real Food Cafe in Kirkwall. Your name will be automatically entered into the draw by signing up to our mailing list. [now closed]
August in Orkney
August is one of the most important months in Orkney’s events calendar. The summer agricultural shows dominate the schedule, but there are also plenty of other activities to enjoy.
Show season always creates a buzz around the islands. On display will be the finest livestock and produce Orkney has to offer, with funfairs, show-jumping, music, dancing and special attractions all added to the mix. The first of the agricultural shows is in Sanday on the 5th of August. It’s followed by the East Mainland Show on the 6th, the Shapinsay Show on the 8th, the Hope Show on the 10th, the Dounby Show on the 11th before the season culminates at the Bignold Park in Kirkwall for the County Show on the 13th. There’s nothing quite like it so make sure you head to one of the showparks for a real taste of Orkney’s agricultural heritage.
The shows are just the start of a packed programme of events in August. On County Show evening Orkney’s Parish Cup football final is held at the Pickaquoy Centre. Two parishes have spent the summer battling to the showpiece final in Orkney’s own mini-World Cup and the final is a real social affair for spectators.
The next day, Sunday 14th, there are two special events. The Orkney Vintage Club holds its annual rally at Orkney Auction Mart, featuring hundreds of beautiful old cars, tractors, motorbikes and much more.
Later in the day Broad Street in the heart of Kirkwall will be full of horses, ponies and carriages for the Riding of the Marches. The traditional event sees hundreds of horses and their riders carry a standard around the old boundary of the town. They’ll be gathering in front of St Magnus Cathedral at 2pm before heading through the town centre. It really is an incredible sight.
The following weekend sees the return of one of Orkney’s most unique occasions, this year celebrating its 150th anniversary. The Festival of the Horse parade across the Churchill Barriers in St Margaret’s Hope sees local girls dressed in colourful costumes, representing the dress harness worn by heavy horses in historic ploughing competitions. Many outfits have been passed down through generations of islanders and are fitted with intricate and beautiful buttons and brooches. Spectators can see all the costumes at the local school during the afternoon.
Later in the day the attention turns to local boys and the annual ploughing match. They take to the pristine beach at the Sands of Wright, armed with handheld wooden ploughs, tracing furrows in the sand. A truly special series of events and well worth a visit – find out more from our short video.
The sprawling Ness of Brodgar excavation comes to a close on the 24th of August. This year’s finds at the dig, in the heart of Orkney’s World Heritage Site, have already included a human bone and decorated stones. Free tours are available daily at 11am, 1pm and 3pm weekdays and at 11am and 3pm on weekends. There is also a special open day on the 21st of August between 11am and 4pm with tours, talks and demonstrations on site, as well as events for all ages at the school in the nearby village of Stenness.
If you fancy getting active during your time in Orkney then a trip to the island of Rousay might be just the thing for you. The challenging ‘Rousay Lap Half Marathon’ will be held on the 27th of August at 12pm. Those taking part can run, cycle or walk around the island’s main road. It’s a hilly route so be prepared to work, but the spectacular views, fantastic local history and warm welcome from the islanders make it all worth it.
Orkney’s other islands are all worth a visit during the summer months. Eday, Papa Westray and Sanday all have regular events run by local Rangers, making it easy to soak up island life for visitors with tight timescales. In Eday the Ranger can help showcase the island with walks, talks and activities. ‘Peedie Papay Tours’ run every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday until the end of the month, taking in Papa Westray's highlights. Meanwhile in Sanday, the local Ranger can organise trips and tours around the island and its glorious beaches.
There are plenty of other events and activities across the islands during August. Movie-goers can enjoy the latest summer blockbusters at the Pickaquoy Centre Cinema. Showings this month include ‘The BFG’, ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Finding Dory’ and ‘Suicide Squad’.
In Stromness, the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘The Brand New Testament’ on the 6th.
If the weather doesn’t play ball during your visit there are plenty of exhibitions to take in. Orkney’s wartime heritage has taken centre stage so far this year. You can explore the impact of conflict on the islands with the ‘Orkney at War’ exhibition at the Orkney Library and Archive. The Orkney Museum is hosting ‘the Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea’ until the end of September and the Sanday Heritage Centre has wartime exhibition open daily.
Meanwhile, the Stromness Museum’s ‘The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener’ will be open until the end of October.
A special charity event on the 2nd of August will see vintage fashions on show at the King Street Halls in Kirkwall between 12pm and 8pm.
Orkney’s talented artists are out in force this month too. There is a photography exhibition by Kirkwall Grammar School students in the Orcadian Bookshop Gallery on Albert Street in Kirkwall. North Ronaldsay’s Old Manse is hosting ‘A Sense of Place’, a pop-up gallery running alongside the island’s sheep festival. It features work by local artists and makers and is open daily between 2pm and 4pm until the 9th of August.
The Pier Arts Centre will be showing ‘Natural States – Three contemporary painters’ until the 20th of August, with the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope hosting recent paintings by Carolyn Dixon until the 23rd.
Music lovers should head to The Reel on the 2nd at 8pm for the latest Orcadian Summer Concert, featuring some of our talented musicians. There are regular events at the venue throughout the summer, check the website for updates. Elsewhere, award winning singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliot Morris will be performing at the Orkney Brewery on the 14th. A charity gig in the Orkney Sailing Club on the 19th will see local acts including The Chair, Maggie and James Nicolson and Camron Dowell take to the stage - find out more via Facebook. Then one of Scotand's most popular folk groups Blazin' Fiddles will perform at the Orkney Theatre on the 23rd, supported by local group Gnoss. Tickets can be bought locally at Grooves or from the Eventbrite website.
Skaill House has a busy August planned. Alongside its summer exhibition ‘On the North Russian Front’, the House will be hosting a Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail concert, featuring some of Scotland’s most talented young musicians. It starts at 7.30pm on the 9th – visit the website for ticket information.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during August. 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.
Where to watch Orkney's wildlife
This regular feature looks at some of Orkney’s best locations for nature and wildlife spotting. This month Alison Nimmo from the local RSPB has been amongst the ancient stones at Brodgar.
The RSPB Brodgar nature reserve is a wonderful 35 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat surrounding the Ring of Brodgar.
The resulting soundscape can be magical, from the near-constant music of displaying curlews and skylarks in spring to the cries of migrating geese overhead and the whistles of wigeon in winter.
It makes you wonder what sounds filled the air 5,000 years ago as the Ring was being built. Excavations of this period in Orkney show that some of today's familiar birds - curlews, redshanks and skylarks, for example - were already at home here.
We manage the nature reserve to give these and other species a helping hand, with nesting and feeding habitats tailored to their needs. It's also a fantastic place for wildflowers and bees in summer. Look out for the great yellow bumblebee, one of the rarest of the UK's remaining 24 species - its yellowish-brown with a distinct band of black between the wings.
The two neighbouring lochs, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray, are home to much life too. Common seals 'banana' on the rocks on the Stenness side, while in winter you can enjoy the gathering of wigeons, teals, tufted ducks, scaups, Slavonian grebes and more.
You can get daily guided tours of the Ring of the Brodgar during August with Historic Environment Scotland's Ranger Service - find out more via our special blog and video.
Orkney Instagram inspiration
Every month we feature fantastic images of Orkney, showcasing the talents of local photographers. For August we’re turning the focus on the new Visit Orkney Instagram page which has been sharing beautiful shots of the islands.
The Visit Orkney Instagram page was launched back in May and has been growing ever since, featuring some stunning images taken across Orkney.
The aim of the page is to inspire people, to promote Orkney’s natural beauty and to encourage potential visitors to find out more about our islands. Instagram is the perfect tool for this – it’s a simple, warm and welcoming platform that helps bring Orkney to a whole new audience.
So far we’ve been sharing a selection of images taken by visitors on their travels and photos owned by the Orkney Marketing Group. We’ve also been lucky enough to tap into the local Instagram community who are always out and about, capturing the spirit of the islands.
Plans are in place to grow the page in the months to come by welcoming new Instagrammers – hopefully this will give a new take on some of Orkney’s beautiful scenery. Make sure you follow the Visit Orkney page so you don’t miss a thing.
Come and visit Orkney's 'star island'
Our featured area for August is the warm and welcoming island of Stronsay. With a strong farming and fishing heritage, it has plenty to offer visitors and residents.
That’s certainly the case with Stronsay. Rich in history and heritage, the island has also firmly moved into the 21st Century with new developments, attractions and plans for the future.
If you’re travelling by ferry you’ll arrive in Whitehall. Its grand old houses line the shorefront, a reminder of the island’s herring fishing days when the village was a bustling workplace for thousands of people. At one point during the herring boom there was said to be dozens of shops, bars, butchers and bakeries – and even a number of ice cream parlours!
Things are quieter now but you’ll still receive a warm welcome. Whitehall is perfect for a stroll and features the newly refurbished Fish Mart Café and Hostel, offering teas, coffees, snacks, light lunches and accommodation. The Stronsay Hotel has pride of place in the village with a busy bar and evening meals available.
There are plenty of other things to do during your time in Stronsay. The island is full of rich, fertile farmland, and there is also a strong link to the sea. The coastline features cliffs, caves, geos and long sandy beaches – sometimes you can have them all to yourself. St Catherine’s Bay, the Bay of Holland, Mill Bay and the Bay of Huip are all perfect for exploring with turquoise water lapping at your feet during the summer.
The Vat of Kirbister is perhaps the island’s most iconic natural attraction. It’s a dramatic sea cave and rock arch on the east side of the Stronsay and is part of a nature walk that takes in the beautiful coastal scenery.
As you might expect, wildlife is a major part of life in the island. Stronsay is home to thousands of grey seals. During the pupping season in October and November a walk around the shore at Linksness will guarantee you a sight of hundreds of young pups, waiting for the first opportunity to take to the sea. The tiny Linga Holm is the world’s third largest breeding ground for grey seals – grab a pair of binoculars to see thousands of pups!
Stronsay is a haven for birdlife too. It regularly welcomes rare migrant visitors, including recorded sightings of an American pipit, an Oriental skylark, pin-tailed snipe and icterine warblers. The Autumn months bring waders and duck to the lochs and curlews and golden plovers to the island meadows. Always have your camera ready because you never know what you might see.
Arts and crafts play a big part of life in Orkney and Stronsay can boast its own talented makers. The Craftship Enterprise hosts craft workshops and holidays, as well as producing personalised greeting cards and handmade wedding and home decorations. Elsewhere you can buy unique island jewellery from Marion Miller Jewellery and quality quilts, children’s clothes and fabrics from Airy Fairy.
Orkney Star Island Soaps & Textiles offers handmade soaps, balms and hand-spun textiles, as well as workshops. These local producers are coming together to make up an informal craft trail which will showcase the breadth of talent across the island.
There are also three annual craft fairs in Stronsay – keep an eye on the Stronsay Got Crafty Facebook page for regular arts and crafts inspiration.
Although you can take your car across on the ferry from Kirkwall, one of the best ways to explore this relatively flat and quiet island is by bicycle. An award of £5,000 from the Cycle Friendly and Sustainable Communities Fund will be used to purchase new bikes for visitors to use free of charge. There are currently five bikes available as well as a trailer and tag-a-long – phone 01857 616 339 to book.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Stronsay, including the Stronsay Hotel, the Fish Mart Hostel and the Storehouse B&B and Smiddy self-catering cottage.
Stronsay boasts a busy community, full of entrepreneurial people, all keen to promote the island and its attractions to the wider world. Around 350 people make Stronsay their home. The local community school currently has a healthy role of just under 30 and caters for children aged between 3 and 16. Older pupils travel in to the new Halls of Residence in Kirkwall during the week.
Young people can also take advantage of two play-parks, one in Whitehall and a newly refurbished facility in the heart of the island which has recently been reopened. The island also has its own 15 metre swimming pool and healthy living centre, boasting modern fitness equipment.
There are two general stores in Stronsay, stocking everything you need for a short visit or a longer stay, including local meat and other Orkney products.
The island is well connected too. There are daily crossings and flights to and from Kirkwall with Orkney Ferries and Loganair. Stronsay is also on the special Sunday excursions timetable with Orkney Ferries. Take a leisurely cruise from Kirkwall and see the island along with visits to the likes of North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Eday on the 7th and 14th of August.
If you’d like to visit the island you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney. If you’re interested in making a more permanent move to Stronsay, find your ideal home with our dedicated property feed.
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.