Hello and welcome to our latest newsletter from Orkney – thanks for joining us!
August is here and we’ve been delighted to see so many people out and about across the islands over recent weeks. Hopefully our monthly features and photos will give you plenty of inspiration if you’re planning a visit to Orkney before the end of the summer.
Remember to take a look at our COVID-19 section for all the latest travel advice and local information.
You can follow us on social media for regular updates from the islands too.
Explore underwater Orkney
We all know about the incredible sites and scenery available across Orkney, but how about experiencing life beneath the waves here too? There is no better place to take the plunge than Orkney, with Scapa Flow regarded as one of the finest diving locations in the world. Local company Kraken Diving runs scuba diving sessions for beginners at the Churchill Barriers, complete with wartime wrecks and wonderful wildlife to explore.
Tidal turbine starts generating electricity
The world's most powerful tidal turbine has begun to generate electricity from the sea in Orkney. Orbital Marine Power's O2 device is now connected to the grid and has the capacity to provide power for around 2000 homes over the next 15 years. The 74-metre device arrived in local waters in May after being built in Dundee. It is now anchored at EMEC's Fall of Warness test site and connected to the local electricity network by a subsea cable.
Programme launched for 2021 Science Festival
The sea, sky and stars will take centre stage at the 31st Orkney International Science Festival this year. Returning for the second time as an online festival, the full programme features more than 80 livestream events, with talks, workshops, concerts and more on offer, as well as daily guided ‘in-person’ walks in Orkney. This year’s festival, which will be held between 2 – 8 September, will welcome contributions from as far afield as Canada, Greenland and Slovenia, and it’s hoped folk from around the world will join in.
Our favourite places
Orkney is full of special places, from stunning coastal scenery to amazing archaeology and incredible islands. Different locations also mean different things to different people, so to try and find out what makes a single site stick in the memory, we've asked six local photographers to share the secrets of their favourite places and tell us why they'll always make a return trip.
Join us on Instagram
Join us on Instagram where we post plenty of stunning shots from the islands. Make sure you follow Visit Orkney to see new images every week, and you can take part too. Tag your own images and use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
Orkney is a bird-watching paradise with an incredible array of locations to visit with your binoculars close at hand. This month we’re taking a closer look at some of the best places to go wildlife-spotting.
Orkney is famous for its relatively flat and fertile landscape, but this small group of islands still has a fabulous range of habitats for a wide selection of species to call home. Knowing where to go and when can be slightly overwhelming, so the best advice is to visit some of our RSPB reserves to tick your targets off your list.
There are 13 reserves in Orkney so it might be hard to get around them all. If you’re based on the mainland then you have six options. The Hobbister reserve south west of Kirkwall features a fascinating mix of moorland and sea, and offers excellent opportunities to see hen-harriers, short-eared owls, red-throated divers and much more.
The Brodgar reserve is found right in the heart of Orkney’s Neolithic landscape. A beautiful walking route takes you past the ancient Ring of Brodgar towards and along the Stenness Loch. En-route you might catch a glimpse of curlews, drumming snipes and lapwings – not to mention some of the otters that live around the loch.
Elsewhere in the mainland you’ll find the Birsay Moors and Cottascarth reserves. Both are wild, desolate stretches of moorland, perfect for hen-harriers and other birds of prey.
Then, only a few miles away, you can visit two completely different habitats. The Loons and Loch of Banks reserve is the largest remaining wetland in Orkney. Nearby are the spectacular cliffs of Marwick Head and its seabird city.
If you’re keen for more birdwatching opportunities, island hopping is the way to go. The RSPB reserve in Hoy is a dramatic place to be at any time of the year, with huge sea cliffs and sweeping moorland to take in. Great skuas, hen-harriers and red-throated divers are liable to make an appearance, and white-tailed and golden eagles have successfully bred nearby in recent years too.
Orkney’s north isles offer some excellent locations for wildlife watching. Shapinsay is only a short ferry hop away from Kirkwall and the island’s Mill Dam reserve is perfect for pintails, redshanks and wigeon in the summer, and migrating whooper swans in the winter.
Rousay is another island with a relatively short ferry connection, and its Trumland reserve is quite special. It’s made up of more than 180 hectares of blanket bog and wet heath. Visit now and you might see breeding red-throated divers, hen-harriers, merlins and short-eared owls.
The neighbouring island of Egilsay is a quiet and peaceful place, and is home to the Onziebust reserve. There are wildflower meadows, rich grassland and wetland areas, home to populations of curlews, lapwings and redshanks.
Further north and Papa Westray’s North Hill reserve is a beautiful stretch of maritime heath. You’ll be able to see primula scotica here, and its low-lying cliffs are home to the likes of Arctic terns and skuas.
Just across the water is Westray. Head to its north-western tip and you’ll arrive at Noup Head, home of huge cliffs and a stunning, isolated lighthouse. The summer months here bring thousands of breeding seabirds to the cliffs, and a spectacular coastal walk offers plenty of flowers and fauna to enjoy.
Find out more about all these sites from the official RSPB website.
Focus on photography
Our featured photographer this month is Laura Cogle. Laura used her long lockdown hours in 2020 to launch her own Instagram account, sharing some spectacular imagery from the islands.
I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember and began taking lots of images when I got my first camera phone at 15 years old. I have maxed out my storage capacity on phones ever since, just so I can keep my thousands of photos.
As the years have gone on, and with every phone upgrade, I’ve always picked the one with the best camera. I’ve had a couple of cameras over the years too but I purchased a new Canon whilst on holiday in 2019 and it comes most places with me now.
My boyfriend and I enjoy spending our free time going on walks around Orkney and taking photos to capture the scenery. At the start of 2021 we purchased a drone and have loved seeing all our favourite spots from a different perspective - although it needs to be perfect flying weather and it can’t be too sunny or too windy.
I started ‘Capturing Orkney’ on Instagram in the middle of lockdown in 2020. I was going on walks daily and taking more and more photos to showcase what I’d been up to. ‘Capturing Orkney’ was a place I could share these images without thinking I was annoying anyone by doing so! I’m delighted the page has grown and people from around the world can enjoy my photos.
My dad’s family is from South Ronaldsay and it’s a favourite place of mine to explore as I spent a lot of my childhood there. Our go-to spot is at the Brough of Birsay; we love hunting for groatie buckies and enjoy sitting on the cliffs, puffin-spotting. Another favourite is the Brough of Deerness as it is so quirky!
I would recommend Orkney as a place to visit - there are SO many spots to go on walks and take photos of. The scenery is breath-taking and it’s always interesting to read about the history behind each location. And you cannot beat a sunset in Orkney.
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter. If you’re planning to visit the islands this year, take a look at our COVID-19 section to make sure you’re up-to-date with all the latest news and advice.
In the meantime, it's cheerio from Orkney for now.