Hello and welcome to the August newsletter from Orkney.com.
The summer season is in full swing and there is plenty of action across the islands this month. Keep reading for a rundown of our August events as well as another hidden attraction feature, our regular wildlife focus and much more.
Archaeology season continues to delight
It has been another busy season for Orkney’s archaeologists, with excavations across the islands now beginning to draw to a close. There have been plenty of interesting finds and new ideas developed at a number of sites, including the Cairns in South Ronaldsay and at Swandro in Rousay. The Ness of Brodgar project will continue into August, with tours available until the 23rd. There is a special Open Day on the 20th too, with events and activities for all the family. Find out how you can visit via the Ness of Brodgar website.
Amateur cooks asked to step up to hot plate
Orkney’s finest amateur chefs are being encouraged to test their skills in front of a live audience later this year. The Orkney Amateur Master Chef competition returns in September as Orkney Food and Drink once again celebrates the very best local produce. Four budding culinary Kings or Queens are needed, and they will face a panel of judges as well as some audience taste-testing! Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Explore the world of art and archaeology
Orkney has always been a haven for artists and archaeologists. Now the two worlds are combining with a special weekend of workshops in the islands, between the 17th and 20th of August. The programme includes tours of some of Orkney’s finest sites, including the Ness of Brodgar and the Ness Battery in Stromness. Those taking part will also explore the material used for art in the Neolithic and learn about printmaking with world-renowned printmaker Charles Shearer. Sign up for this special event by emailing email@example.com or by phoning 01856 569 225.
Restoration plans announced for popular attraction
One of Orkney’s most popular attractions is set to undergo a much needed refurbishment during 2018. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness documents Orkney’s role as a base for the Royal Navy during two World Wars through photographs, artefacts, films and audio. Now, thanks to more than £1.1m worth of support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the restoration of the site - including enhancements to the displays and a new building to house an exhibition space, café and toilets - will now be carried out. Work is due to start next spring, with a grand reopening planned the following year. Read all about the scheme via the Visit Orkney website.
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.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Our August prize draw gives you the chance to win this selection of delicious biscuits, all baked right here in Orkney. Sign up to enter via Orkney.com.
August in Orkney
August is one of the busiest months in the Orkney calendar – from agricultural shows to art and archaeology activities, there’s a real mix of events to get involved in.
This month sees some of the highlights of Orkney’s cultural calendar take place. Our agricultural show season sees folk from across the islands gather to celebrate the very best local livestock, food and drink. There’s also the social aspect too!
Sample the atmosphere in Sanday on the 4th of August, at the East Mainland Show on the 5th, in Shapinsay on the 8th, South Ronaldsay on the 9th, at the West Mainland Show in Dounby on the 10th and at the main event, the County Show in Kirkwall, on the 12th.
County Show night is also one of the biggest party nights of the year in Orkney, with live music and dances held across Kirkwall. It’s also Parish Cup Final night, one of the biggest games in the Orkney football calendar. Watch the finalists compete in our own mini-version of the World Cup at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 12th at 6.30pm.
The weekend continues on Sunday with plenty of chances to clear the head! The annual Riding of the Marches gets underway in the centre of Kirkwall at 2pm. The traditional event sees horses, ponies, carriages and their riders travel along the old town boundary. See it all start in front of St Magnus Cathedral.
Sunday the 13th also sees the annual Vintage Rally held at Orkney Auction Mart at Hatston, on the outskirts of Kirkwall. See some of the finest vintage vehicles and equipment from local private collections. Join in the fun from 10 o’clock.
One of the most unique events in the Orkney calendar is held the following weekend in St Margaret’s Hope. The Festival of the Horse and the Boy’s Ploughing Match celebrates our agricultural heritage and sees girls dress as working horses, wearing beautiful handcrafted costumes passed down through generations.
Meanwhile, local boys compete in a ploughing match using miniature ploughs on a nearby beach. It really is a special event and well worth taking in. See it all for yourself at the St Margaret’s Hope School on the 19th. The parade of horses begins at 2pm with the ploughing match at the nearby Sands of Wright at 3.30pm. There will also be a performance of ‘Sea Hames’ at the school at 1pm.
There are plenty of other things to do in Orkney during August too. The North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival runs until the 11th with loads of activities planned in the island, including exhibitions, dances and much more. Take a look at the official website to see a timetable of events in one of Orkney’s most special locations.
The dig at the Ness of Brodgar remains open for tours until the 23rd – make sure you see it before it closes for another year. A special series of events will also be held as part of the Magnus 900 celebrations across Orkney this month. ‘Mapping Magnus’ will see community archaeology events aimed at marking the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus. You’ll be able to take part in surveys, excavations and workshops – visit the UHI Archaeology Institute website for more information.
Music lovers have a number of options this month. Local fiddle player Louise Bichan will be performing with Bostonian Conor Hearn at the Gable End Theatre in Hoy on the 4th – doors open at 7pm for an 8pm start. Phone 01856 791 312 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a ticket.
French DJ and producer Alan Braxe will be on stage at Orkney’s newest venue, the Sound Archive, in Kirkwall on the 19th at 9pm. Tickets can be purchased at Grooves in Kirkwall or via seetickets.com.
Later in the month you can catch blues musician Jim Suhler and his band 'Monkeybeat' in Matchmakers in Kirkwall. Doors open at 8pm on the 27th – tickets are available from The Reel in Kirkwall or Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness.
The Reel also has a busy month planned. There is another Orcadian Summer Concert on the 1st at 8pm, with ‘Auld Hats, New Heids’ – a celebration of Scottish folk music from the 60s and 70s - on the 3rd and 4th at 8pm too. There’s also a free Song Night on the 10th from 8.30pm.
For the fitness fanatics amongst you, Orkney has a real challenge this August. The Rousay Lap on the 26th is a half marathon run, cycle or walk route around the island of Rousay. The road is very steep in places, but the views are matched by the excellent community spirit at the event! If you fancy tackling it then registration starts at 11.15am – you need to book your place on the ferry by phoning 01856 751 360. Visit the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust website for more information and to download an entry form.
Saturday the 19th sees a special event in one of Orkney's most beautiful locations. Join local experts at Happy Valley in Stenness for a 'bioblitz', a day spent recording and identifying as many species as possible - a great event for families! It's all happening between 12pm and 5pm.
It’s always handy to have some indoor options incase the summer weather takes a turn for the worse. The West Side Cinema is showing the classic ‘Whisky Galore’ on the 5th at 7.45pm in Stromness Town Hall. Bring your own refreshments and grab a seat at one of the candlelit tables for this unique cinema-going experience.
The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual selection of blockbuster and indie films this month. You can see Spiderman: Homecoming, Cars 3, Dunkirk and much more. View the full schedule via the Picky Centre website.
For art fans, take in 'Wheels within Wheels', an exhibition from Sheena Graham-George and Angelica Kroeger, in the Loft Gallery in St Margaret's Hope until the 22nd. You can also catch ‘7 Waves’, the Magnus 900 art installation at the St Magnus Church in Birsay before it closes at the end of the month.
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
For our August wildlife watch, local expert Alison Nimmo has been visiting a very special part of the Orkney coastline.
I get to write about a lot of special places for this newsletter, but Birsay Bay is a personal favourite – site of many swims, picnics and afternoons spent rock-pooling, not to mention winter aurora-hunting and wave-watching during gales, when the fulmars skim the breakers with breathtaking verve.
Sitting at the north-west tip of West Mainland, the bay has grand views all around. Close at hand sits the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island with its own lighthouse and remains of a Norse settlement. Looking north-east, you can often make out Noup Head lighthouse in Westray, while the Kitchener Memorial crowns Marwick Head to the south and can be reached on foot by the coast path, a fine way to enjoy the cliffs and seabirds.
In the bay itself, the keen-eyed may find a lucky groatie buckie or cowrie to take home amongst the colourful periwinkles and other shells. Driftwood dots the strandline, particularly after rough weather - look out for the goose barnacles sometimes attached – and fossils in the rocks at the top of the shore offer glimpses of creatures long-gone.
Eider families are sticking together just now at the water’s edge, the females and this year’s youngsters banded together against the threat of bonxies dropping down from above. The piercing alarm of a ringed plover may mean it too is still keeping a watchful eye on a young bird tucked out of sight.
Seals often haul out on rocks exposed by the tide or watch your activities from the water. I’m sure I provide plenty of entertainment as I slither over the seaweed searching for life amongst the rockpools at the Brough of Birsay or at the south end of the bay. Hermit crabs, starfish and anemones may be familiar but they’re no less fascinating for that, and have you ever come across a chiton, brittle star or sea slug? If not, take that as an August challenge!
Island home provides inspiration
This month’s featured photographer is Kendra Towns, a Canadian who now calls Orkney home.
My Orkney links come from my mum – she is Orcadian and we spent a number of vacations here when I was young. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the islands. I eventually moved here myself three years ago and quickly settled in, taking long walks and lots of pictures to share with my friends and family back in Canada. It felt like the best way to give them a visual connection to my new home and to show them all the reasons I loved Orkney.
Art has always been an important part of my life. My grandmother is an incredible artist and she inspired me from a young age. As I started to travel more extensively, my camera quickly became one of my favourite mediums with which to express myself. Orkney, with its vast coastline and countryside, is the perfect place to capture beautiful images of remote locations.
I originally started taking pictures of anything that caught my eye whilst out walking with my i-Phone. Last year I upgraded to a Sony a6000, which has really increased the quality of my photos.
Orkney is stunning and every day I am reminded of my reasons for moving here. Sunsets and landscapes are probably my favourite subjects to photograph. The play of the light on the long summer evenings as the sun sets creates some pretty spectacular images.
The islands are a magical place for all types of visitors, but it truly is a photographer’s dream. There is a little bit of everything for everyone, with rugged coastlines, country landscapes, historical architecture, flowers, wildlife and incredible sunsets. I would and do actively recommend Orkney as a destination for photographers in search of that unique moment; Orkney is full of them.
Follow Kendra on Instagram to see more of her images from the islands.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we take a closer look at one of Orkney’s hidden attractions, a location that can sometimes go unnoticed. For August we focus on one site that has to be on everyone’s bucket list.
We’d always recommend a visit to the town of Stromness during a trip to Orkney. This harbour town has so much character, with winding stone streets and old houses hanging over the sea. It’s full of history too, and the best place to explore that is at the fantastic Stromness Museum.
The Museum was originally founded in 1837 before moving to its current premises in Stromness in 1862. It’s an incredible space, full of artefacts, exhibits and galleries, with every corner of the old building full of antiquities and objects from thousands of years of Orcadian history.
Much of the Museum focuses on Stromness and its rich maritime history. There is also a fascinating natural history collection and items gathered by Orcadians from around the world, then taken home to the islands.
The Stromness Museum is also home to an extensive collection of artefacts from Canada and the Arctic. The town was the last port call for the Hudson’s Bay Company ships during the 18th and 19th centuries and local workers were employed before setting sail for fur trading outposts in the ‘Norwast’. At one point almost three-quarters of the Company’s workforce were Orcadian.
The exhibition contains items owned by Orkney’s Arctic explorer John Rae, including his shotgun and fiddle. Other objects include Franklin’s own Arctic medal, snowshoes and clothing from the Canadian Northwest.
There is also a Ness of Brodgar collection at the Museum, focusing on some of the finds from the incredible excavation taking place in the heart of Orkney’s World Heritage Site.
The current summer exhibition is ‘Per Mare Stromness 200: 200 years as a Burgh of Barony’ – a look at the development of the town over the last two centuries.
It’s fitting that, in this year of celebration in Stromness, the town’s unique Museum is once again a focal point for locals and visitors.
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.