Orkney Crafts Association's unique Craft Trail will mark the launch of its 20th season this week. We've been hearing more about the trail and its benefits for local tourism from one of the members, local jewellery designer Alison Moore.
Orkney is famous for a number of things.
There’s our beautiful scenery and the iconic tourist sites. Our warm welcome and entrepreneurial spirit are also evident throughout the islands.
So what if you could combine those elements into one single visitor attraction?
That, in a nutshell, is what the Orkney Craft Trail does. You can follow a route across Orkney’s mainland and beyond, stopping off at the workshops of our most talented makers and taking in some of our fantastic views and heritage at the same time.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the unique trail is the perfect way to see the real Orkney, with local residents welcoming you into their studios and shops as they produce everything from textiles and tapestries to jewellery, woodwork and art.
This year 21 businesses are on the trail which stretches from South Ronaldsay to Rousay, Westray and Sanday in the north isles. With roadside signs and a new brochure featuring all the stops along the way and profiles of each member, you won’t miss a thing.
Local jeweller Alison Moore joined the trail last year after the expansion of her business in Dounby. ‘It has been a really great experience for us,’ she said. ‘The majority of my sales are online so it was really nice to see customers and speak to them face to face – you get to meet so many different people!’
The trail was originally launched in 1996 by Orkney Crafts Association to showcase the work of its members and give visitors the chance to see crafts being made first hand. But it has become much more than that for tourists and members alike.
‘Being on the craft trail has been great for the visibility of the business,’ said Alison. ‘But we also enjoy speaking to our visitors, finding out where they’ve come from, recommending places to visit, that kind of thing. It’s really nice to share the local perspective and help folk explore the islands.’
The trail is full of variety. In Orkney’s east mainland alone you can see jewellery, artwork and tapestries being made. Head west and browse exquisite woodwork, textiles and pottery. The route takes you over the Churchill Barriers, past the Italian Chapel, through the heart of Kirkwall and close to our World Heritage Site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. You can even travel on our ferries to complete the trail. It’s the perfect way to plan your visit to the islands.
‘I think it just makes the experience more special if folk can see items being made, and to be able to go on a trail around a place as compact as Orkney is fabulous from a tourists point of view,’ said Alison. ‘You can visit all the sites as you’re travelling and make a real occasion of it.’
Of course, being part of the trail has other benefits for the makers too. With thousands of visitors heading to Orkney every year, there are always stories to be shared and tales to be told.
‘We had people come from places as far afield as Australia, Japan and Russia on our first year on the trail,’ said Alison. ‘We’ve witnessed a marriage proposal in the workshop and we’ve made a special anniversary ring and watched the husband surprise his wife with it when they arrived. These are experiences we wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t been on the trail!’
Orkney has always had a reputation as a producer of high quality goods. That has continued to grow alongside the trail over the past two decades and the crafts industry is now a hugely important part of the local economy.
The trail plays a vital role in showcasing the breadth of talent in the islands. Visitors can see items being made, get that guarantee of quality and head home with a unique product in their hands. That’s a level of connection that might not be available in other places.
‘I think people like to meet the makers,’ said Alison. ‘It helps create a story and sells the experience for them. Hopefully they then pass that onto their friends and family. It also proves that our items aren’t mass produced and that they’re made by people who really care about what they’re doing.’
There’s a real sense of togetherness on the trail too. Stop off at Alison’s workshop and she’ll direct you to nearby businesses and other members of the trail. That’s part of the whole experience and really helps highlight the commitment of Orkney Crafts Association members to work together and raise the profile of Orkney as a whole.
‘You’ll find quirky little places with interesting people and interesting skills being carried out,’ according to Alison. ‘Touring the islands with the craft trail means you’re seeing a whole different layer to Orkney and not just our traditional tourist sites, and that can be really special.’
Pick up your Orkney Craft Trail 2016 brochure from outlets throughout the islands or download it from the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Visit Alison Moore's website to see her range of beautiful handmade products.