Hello and welcome to the August newsletter from Orkney.com.
Hopefully you’ve all been able to enjoy at least part of the summer since lockdown restrictions eased. Here in Orkney we’re starting to see more local businesses, restaurants and shops re-open and some attractions begin to welcome visitors once again too.
If you’re planning a visit to Orkney then remember to check out our dedicated COVID-19 section. You’ll find all the details you need if the islands are on your itinerary this year.
Keep reading this month for more local information and inspiration, including our regular wildlife and photo features too.
Innovation is key for Orkney Distilling
First it was thousands of litres of hand sanitiser and DIY cocktail kits, now it’s a car park covered with artificial grass and an al fresco, physically distanced gin experience. Like so many Orkney businesses dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown, Orkney Distilling has had to adapt and innovate. The team is currently creating a new covered outdoors space to the rear of its visitor centre which will see customers seated in cosy private booths under a canopy of lighting, with a full drinks menu of its award-winning gins and much more on offer.
Find your own space
Thousands of historical sites, hundreds of miles of coastline and wide-open spaces as far as the eye can see. Physical distancing isn’t a problem in Orkney. If you’re visiting the islands and want to find your own space on a beach, we’ve picked some of our favourite locations that are well worth seeking out.
Meet the makers
Over the long lockdown months, we took a trip on a virtual creative trail, meeting some of Orkney’s talented makers who would normally have been welcoming visitors from around the world. Our latest ‘Introducing Orkney’s Makers’ feature focuses on Westray-based textile designers Hume Sweet Hume – a real family-run business that takes inspiration from their beautiful home island.
If things are busy
Are you planning a trip to Orkney this year? We know that you’ll be keen to keep physical distancing in mind when you're here so, to help, we've selected some alternatives to a few of our most popular places. Substitute sites that still give you that special Orkney experience, but with a little more space when you need it.
Shop Orkney online
Even if you’re not planning a trip to the islands in 2020, you can still experience Orkney with an online order from some of our finest food, drink and crafts producers. The Orkney.com website has dedicated ‘Shop Orkney’ pages so you can pick something special for yourself or loved one and have it delivered directly to your door. From gin, beer, biscuits and bread, to knitwear, jewellery and furniture, there is so much to choose from.
Join us on Instagram
We’re still posting images from the islands on Instagram, so if you want to see more from Orkney make sure you follow us. We publish shots every week and you can join in too. Tag your own images and use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
Orkney’s wildlife has enjoyed a beautiful and quiet spring and summer so far, and local wildlife filmmaker Raymond Besant has been out enjoying our natural world once again over recent weeks.
I hate to say it but August feels like the month of change! The weather in July has been unsettled at best, it’s darker earlier and with the grasses and lush vegetation now turning brown, autumn isn’t too far around the corner. But that’s too gloomy an outlook!
For the wildlife watcher August in Orkney still has plenty to offer. I like the signs of change and there are little things to marvel at and take solace in. It’s great to see groups of young swallows flitting around the fields in the warm windy air. In the right places they’re often accompanied by sand martins, a species that seems to be on the up in Orkney.
A great place to see them is the shoreline approach to the Brough of Birsay, a small uninhabited island off the north west coast of the Orkney Mainland. They breed nearby in the eroded walls of low-lying cliffs and can be seen zooming around collecting flies from just above the surface of the shore.
This has always been a popular spot with Orcadians and visitors alike. Don’t be alarmed if you see people on their hands and knees scraping meticulously through the sand, they haven’t lost anything, they’re looking for something! Specifically, they are looking for ‘groatie buckies’ the cowrie shell, a small but beautifully formed shell of the mollusc species Triviidae. Living cowries wrap a skirt of tissue around the lower half of the shell nut and you’ll only see this if snorkelling or diving. Once you’ve found one it can become like gold fever! Prized beaches are kept under wraps so don’t be surprised if you ask where to find a ‘groatie buckie’ and the response is ‘sorry, never heard of them!’
The island itself can be reached at low tide by walking across a narrow causeway. But there’s low tide and there’s low tide. It’s easy to get caught out here by the rising tide so instead of arriving when the charts tell you it’s low, arrive when the tide is still falling and that way you give yourself a much longer window to explore the island.
But before heading across you’ll see what are some of the best tidal rock pools in all of Orkney and they are worth an hour of your time. Be careful not to slip of course, but most of these big pools are easily accessible. These are perfect places for children to learn about sea life. The pools are invariably full of bright red beadlet anemones and a wide range of seaweed species.
If you have a net and bucket then all the better to study what you’ve discovered. Once you get your eye in you can find all sorts of fish left by the falling tide, as well as the odd shore crab. Look out for butterfish, so called because of its slippery body. It’s kind of like a flattened eel, usually orange with black spots and common amongst the weed. It’s also the favourite food of black guillemots and otters!
But my favourite shoreline fish is the long-spined sea scorpion. It has a short-spined cousin but it’s an altogether bigger fish and lacks the white barbel on the edge of the mouth, characteristic of the long-spined version. It has a fearsome name and is probably best observed rather than picked up (though in no way a dangerous fish), but that will be your first challenge - they are supremely well camouflaged. I most often come across individuals that are red or a picture of reds and pinks, it really depends on the habitat they live in as they try to match the environment to blend in. I’ve seen variations from bright red, to pale yellow to dark green.
Once you’ve finished rock-pooling and if the tide it still out then head to the Brough itself. The fledged young of this year’s wheatear broods are now flying from fence post to fence post in search of insects - it won’t be long before they’re migrating back to Africa. For the puffin lovers amongst you there will still be individuals here until mid-August, but better to try and see them sooner rather than later.
One of my favourite seabirds, the fulmar, extends what we think of the traditional seabird season well into September. Fulmar chicks are dotted everywhere on the Orkney cliffs just now and are great balls of fluff. Granted, they aren’t the prettiest of chicks, but just look at the accompanying adult to see what a beauty it will turn into. They are easily approachable but you’ll soon know if you’re getting too close. Both chick and adult will at first (hopefully!) make a mock spitting action. This is the line in the sand, any closer and the spit will be real and it really is unpleasant. Nobody wants the foul-smelling contents of a fulmar’s stomach heading in their direction!
The sea itself is almost at its warmest now (when I say warm, it’s not quite tropical!) Wild swimming is increasingly popular on our beaches and at this time of year it’s easy to find our more common species of jellyfish sharing the water with you - moon, blue and lion’s mane. Personally, I like to swim in a wetsuit and it’s worth bearing in mind if you do come across some of these species that the tentacles can run for quite a distance behind them. Don’t let this put you off taking a dip in the warm(ish) waters of some of our beautiful beaches though.
His new book, 'Naturally Orkney Volume 2' is out now, focusing on Orkney's coastline and all the sights and species that can be found there. You can order your copy online.
Focus on photography
Our featured Orkney photographer of the month is a relative newcomer to the image-taking world, but Jenna Harper has already built up an impressive following on Instagram where she showcases the islands to the world.
I have lived in Orkney all my life and having spent the majority of my childhood outdoors, my love for exploring our beautiful islands naturally expanded as an adult. With that came my penchant for photography. Initially I was gifted a digital camera which sparked my interest. Then came the introduction of smartphones, on which I developed my creative flair, and basic skills of composing a good photo. I finally purchased my first DLSR this year. Now my knowledge and abilities are flourishing and I thoroughly enjoy my new hobby, only wishing I had started sooner!
I started off by learning how to utilise all my camera’s different functions and I’m now focusing on mastering manual mode, working on depth of field and exposure to achieve optimal results. In June, I started an Instagram page to showcase my snaps around Orkney and was blown away with the positive response from the photography community and folk who aspire to visit the islands, as well as locals. Having such a supportive online community only fuels my drive to continue building on my skillset whilst capturing the essence of Orkney to share with people all over the world. It is also a great platform for learning and for connecting with others on a similar journey.
I use a Canon 250D, typically with the kit lens (18-55 mm - f/4-5.6). I use a 75-300mm f/4-5.6 for wildlife shots and have recently added the SIGMA 105mm f/2.8mm to my collection as I’d like to further explore macro photography.
As a beginner, I’m enjoying getting a feel for all sorts of subjects and settings. To me, photography is an art of observation and I like to capture the mood that a particular place or subject influences, so my photos range from bright and colourful to moody and atmospheric. I am especially inspired by the rugged coastline and ever-changing light of Orkney and I love to capture the spectacular displays that sunrises, sunsets and cloudscapes provide us with. Orkney’s wildlife is another particular highlight which has piqued my interest.
I would thoroughly recommend our islands to photographers. Orkney really is a unique place of tranquillity and wide-open space, offering a grand dose of good old fresh air. With its quaint towns, vast and wild coastlines, rich history, patchwork fields, and unique flora and fauna, there is an abundance of tremendous sights to be captured everywhere you look.
You can see more of Jenna’s photography on her Wandering Orcadian Instagram page.
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter. We hope it has brought a small slice of island life to your inbox.
Remember, if you’re planning to visit Orkney soon, please check our website for the latest travel, visitor and health information.
In the meantime, it's cheerio from Orkney for now.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.