Hello and welcome to the August newsletter from Orkney.com.
We’ve had a bit of everything weather-wise so far this summer, let’s hope the sun shines for all of August! Keep reading to find out all about life in the islands this month, including our events preview, wildlife focus and much more.
As always, we’d love to hear from you too - stay in touch on social media by following the links at the top of the page.
Science Festival programme launched
Exploration, wildlife and adventure will be at the heart of the 2019 Orkney International Science Festival later this year. The programme for the Festival has just been released, with events taking audiences from pole to pole, to Central Asia and even to the Moon. With fascinating talks, island trips, outdoor demonstrations and plenty of fun activities, there is something for everyone at this year’s Festival, which will take place between the 5th and 11th of September.
New fashion collection inspired by Pier Arts Centre
A new range of products has been launched by a local designer to mark the 40th anniversary of the Pier Arts Centre. Kirsteen Stewart has joined forces with the Stromness-based Centre to create ‘Fareing’, a limited-edition collection, inspired by the building itself, its artwork and the streets of Stromness. The range includes backpacks, clutch bags, hand bags, scarves and wallets. New production methods aimed at reducing waste means items can have individual features too. The collection is available to view and order at the Pier Arts Centre and at Kirsteen Stewart’s online shop.
Island-hopping to Graemsay
Orkney has plenty of incredible islands to visit, but Graemsay is one that tends to be overlooked. This small island is found between Stromness and Hoy and is famous for its two lighthouses. But it also has a wealth of nature and wildlife to explore, as well as plenty of history and some stunning scenery. Travel blogger Susanne Arbuckle recently took a day trip to the island and shared her experiences with us. Check out the story of her day and let us know if you’d like to visit Graemsay 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.
August in Orkney
August is such a busy month in Orkney, with a packed calendar of events and activities to enjoy.
Things get underway almost at the start of the month with the return of our annual Agricultural Show season. These are fantastic celebrations of farming, one of the most important industries here in the islands. Orkney's shows are more than just a day out for farmers, though. They are a huge draw for families who enjoy seeing the animals, catching up with friends, and browsing stalls selling locally produced crafts and goods. There is always fantastic food on offer too.
The first show of the season is in Sanday on the 2nd, followed by others in the East Mainland, Shapinsay, South Ronaldsay and the West Mainland, culminating in the main event, the County Show, in Kirkwall’s Bignold Park on the 10th.
County Show Day doesn’t finish when the livestock heads home! Head down to the Pickaquoy Centre for the annual Parish Cup Final, one of the biggest games in the Orkney football calendar. The Parish Cup is Orkney’s own World Cup, with parish select teams facing off through the summer for the right to challenge for the title on County Show night. This year sees Stromness take on Sanday, who are making their first appearance in the showpiece event since the late 1980s. It’s sure to be a fantastic atmosphere – kick off is at 6.30pm.
The following Sunday is about nursing sore heads for some, but for Orkney’s equestrian community it’s time for one of the biggest events of the year. The Riding of the Marches is a traditional event that sees horses, ponies, carriages and their riders take to the streets of Kirkwall to carry a standard along the old boundary of the town. It's quite a sight, watching the horses and riders emerge from Tankerness Lane onto Broad Street at 2pm and gathering in-front of St Magnus Cathedral. After a short speech, the standard is passed to the current year's bearer and the group sets off through the town towards the Pierhead.
Back to the start of the month and the annual Orkney Vintage Show is back on the 3rd and 4th of August. The event at Orkney Auction Mart will see a wide range of old vehicles, tractors and motorbikes on display. All kinds of stationary engines and farm implements will be present, and an indoor exhibition will be held too.
August is the final month for you to see archaeology in action. The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar and at Swandro in Rousay come to a close after a summer of activity. You can take a free tour of the Ness dig until the 21st, with a special open day on the 18th. Find out more from the official website. Note that the dig is closed on the 10th.
The project at Swandro has provided a number of fascinating finds this year already, and a trip to Rousay also offers the chance to see a wealth of archaeological and historical sites. The dig will start to be closed up for the season around the 6th, so you’ll have to be quick. Free tours are on offer, just turn up between Sunday to Thursday – get the latest visitor information via the official website.
Another annual event is back this August. The North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival is an annual celebration of culture and conservation in Orkney's most northerly community. It attracts volunteers from across the globe to help with the annual task of maintaining and rebuilding the stone sheep dyke that encircles the island and keeps the famous seaweed-eating sheep on the shoreline. There are plenty of events and activities for volunteers too. It’s all on until the 9th – find out more via the official website.
Staying on the agriculture theme, South Ronaldsay’s annual Festival of the Horse and Boy’s Ploughing Match will be held on the 17th. It’s one of the most unique events in the Orkney calendar and sees girls dress as working horses, wearing stunning hand-crafted costumes handed down through generations. Later, local boys compete in a ploughing match on a nearby beach using miniature ploughs. See these special events at the St Margaret’s Hope school from 2.30pm.
If you want an excuse to get fit then Orkney has a few events that might be perfect for you in August. The Kirkwall Half Marathon will be held on the 18th. The route takes you out around the town, with views over Scapa Flow and the north isles to take your mind off the miles! Entries must be in by the 4th – find out more via the Orkney Athletics Club website.
The Rousay Lap will be held on the 31st and it’s definitely one of the more challenging athletic events in Orkney. It’s a half marathon distance route around the island, taking in spectacular scenery but some devilish hills too. You can run, walk or cycle and the race is free to enter. Find out more from the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust website.
There’s plenty to keep music lovers happy in August. The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s Symphony Orchestra will be performing in the Pickaquoy Centre on the 7th at 7pm. Tickets are available from the Centre – quote ‘Symphony Summer’ to receive 25% off your ticket price.
The Reel in Kirkwall has Orcadian Summer Concerts on the 6th and 20th – the perfect chance to see some local performers in action with an Orkney beer to accompany you! Get your tickets early as the events are always popular. Doors open at 7.30pm and tickets can be bought from The Reel itself. At the other end of the musical spectrum, the Orkney Rock Festival gets underway on the 29th, bringing a weekend of the very best rock, punk and metal music to venues across Kirkwall. There’s a packed programme of free pub gigs as well as a main ticketed event too. Find out more on Facebook.
Take advantage of a tour this month with a free guided walk in Orkney’s World Heritage Site. The rangers will be leading daily guided walks of the Ring of Brodgar at 1pm until the end of August. You can also join them for longer, four-hour walks at the site and beyond every Tuesday from 10am. All these walks start at the Ring of Brodgar car park.
The Standing Stones of Stenness ranger walks are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.
Other tours available include the Papay Peedie Tours in Papa Westray every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday until the end of August and walks around the Lyness Wartime Trail in Hoy until October. The walks take around two hours and start at 11am every Tuesday. Booking is advised by phoning 01856 791 300.
If the weather isn’t great then you could head to the cinema. The Pickaquoy Centre has showings including The Lion King and Midsommar this month. The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘Capernaum’ on the 3rd at 7.45pm in the Stromness Town Hall. You could also catch an exhibition or two as well. See ‘Scapa 100 – Salvaging our Heritage: The Wrecks of Scapa Flow’ and ‘Living Wrecks: The Marine Life of Scapa Flow’ at Stromness Museum. The Orkney Museum has ‘1919 – The Scuttling of the German Fleet’ on display too.
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 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.
Join local wildlife cameraman and photographer Raymond Besant as he picks out some of his favourite 'Wild Orkney' highlights.
We think of August as the end of summer, which is a shame as there is still plenty of wildlife on view. In fact, early August is the best time to see some of our smaller but no less impressive creatures; damselfly and dragonflies. The Large Red Damselfly is our most numerous species and can be found throughout Orkney but to see the greatest number and variety of these little carnivores then head to Hoy. Sunny, warm, calm days are best.
There are several very good pools not far from the ferry terminal at Lyness. Look out for Blue-tailed Damselflies at the museum pool, and a little further up the track towards Wee Fea opposite the plantation is a great pool for Emerald damselflies, a fairly new arrival in Orkney but now a regular breeder.
The Emerald damselfly and the male in particular with his stunning blue colour are my favourites by far. Drive through the valley towards Rackwick (keeping an eye out for our resident sea eagles) and there are some easily accessible pools at the end of the track from Moaness, one either side of the road. These, plus the large pool behind the Rackwick car park, give you fantastic views of all our damselfly species plus Common Hawker, a large and fast species. Another beautiful Dragonfly to look out for is the Black Darter, though it’s only the male which is black, interspersed with deep yellow patches whilst the female has lovely golden hues.
Luckily it can be found throughout August and even into early September so there is plenty time to look for it. Darters and damselflies like to return to the same spots they've just flown off from. So, if you’re trying to photograph one at close quarters don't be disheartened if it flies off, stay still and its likely it will land right back in front of you! A word of warning though, one of the damselflies favourite prey is an insect that also likes to make a meal out of us too - the midge! It too likes warm calm days on these pools - you’ve been warned!
August doesn't mean the end of flowering plants either, though I must confess to needing help to identify this one as an Autumn Gentian! I knew it was a Gentian, which flowers from July through September, but there are two very closey related and similar cousins in Orkney, the Field and Autumn Gentian. Both of these can be found flowering close to one another although Autumn Gentian is less common.
The Autumn Gentian found in Orkney has off-white and lilac petals whereas the field Gentian tends towards blue lilac. However, this is a flower that is reluctant to appear in all but the sunniest conditions, so a better way to confirm its identity is to look under the flower head. Look for four equal-sized pointy sepals for Autumn Gentian. Found in Hoy, Flotta, Egilsay, Papa Westray and many other locations, I wish you good luck!
Much easier to identify is the Harbour or Common Seal. Now is a great time to see them having finished pupping in July. Pups born last year can be seen chasing each other around on secluded beaches - well, belly-flopping around is probably a more accurate description!
Harbour seals are very inquisitive so whilst walking along the shore you may have a whole squad of them slowly following you. If they are already hauled out however, try not to get too close to them as they will stampede into the water. Out of the water they can vary in colour from black to ginger but my favourite is the classic mottled grey and charcoal pelage.
They are found all over Orkney but one of the best places to see them is at the Stenness Loch opposite the Standing Stones of Stenness. At low tide they haul out onto shallow rocks and desperately try to stay on them whilst the tide rises!
Focus on photography
Our featured photographer of the month is Sarah Wylie, who likes to take an alternative view at Orkney's stunning scenery.
Photography has always been present in some way since I was quite young. My earliest spark with photography was at the beginning of my teenage years, equipped with my LG slide phone camera, myself and my friend were embarking on mini portrait shoots in my back garden. From then, I was gifted my first camera by my parents, a wee Agfaphoto point-and-shoot, nothing particularly fancy but I made sure to keep it with me at all times, taking photos of anything and everything! It was fascinating how this little piece of technology allowed me to view our surroundings in a different way by breaking it down into colours, shapes and lines. It was exciting!
I worked myself up to my first DSLR, a Canon 550d in my later school years which was a turning point in understanding the technical aspects of photography and the camera which I continued with further into my college studies. I was introduced to the world of darkroom photography and alternative photography processes by Rebecca Marr who was teaching at college at the time and I haven’t looked back since! The film photographic process is a challenging one but equally as humbling and exciting to work with your photographs from start to finish.
I currently switch between a Canon AE-1 and a Rolleiflex TLR medium format for my own work but have a Canon 6D at hand for any digital jobs. It’s also worth having a nosey around the charity shops for any cheap and cheerful point-and-shoots too, I have found some real gems in there to experiment with! There’s usually one at the bottom of my bag in case of any photo opportunities on the go.
Orkney is a location where a photographer can really flourish and enhance their skills with endless amounts of inspiration wherever you go, regardless of what your interest is. The subjects I focus on are constantly in flux; generally if something looks interesting, quirky or even “out of place” I will photograph it!
I tend to seek out spaces or objects that have a bit of a story or history to them, from scrap cars and abandoned buildings to the crags and cracks between our landscape. There’s something for everyone no matter what your equipment is or where you’re shooting, the subject matter will always speak for itself. The changeable conditions can present a few challenges along the way, however they can offer new and exciting possibilities when you adapt and make them work in your favour.
I may have lost a couple of lens caps along the way due to some strong gales, though!
See more of Sarah's work by following her on Instagram.
Explore hidden Orkney
Every month we pick out a hidden gem in Orkney, a place worth visiting that’s off the beaten path. For August, it’s a perfect place to visit on a sunny day.
Kirkwall has plenty of attractions, all within the heart of this old Viking town. There’s the bustling pierhead, the busy street and popular shops, the Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces and, of course, the majestic St Magnus Cathedral.
Amidst all this sightseeing, you’d be forgiven for wanting to find somewhere quiet to sit back and soak up the summer weather. If so, then Tankerness House Gardens is definitely the place for you.
This beautiful green space is an oasis of calm in the centre of Kirkwall. Found just off Broad Street, it was originally the private garden of the Baikie family, who moved into Tankerness House in the mid-1600s. The house itself now houses the Orkney Museum, and the gardens at the rear are a special addition to the artefacts and exhibitions on offer.
There’s a well-manicured lawn as well as rockeries and displays full of flowers and bursting with colour. It’s sheltered from the Orkney breeze by Tankerness House and the surrounding stone walls, and offers a spot to sit back and soak up the sun during the summer. It’s also home to the Groatie Hoose, which we featured in December last year. It’s a unique building constructed from volcanic stones salvaged from the ballast of infamous pirate John Gow’s ship, ‘Revenge’.
So, if you’re in Kirkwall and looking for a place to enjoy an ice-cream, read your paper or just sit back and relax, Tankerness House Gardens should certainly be on your list.
See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.
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