December 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the final newsletter of 2015 from This month we’ll be bringing you photos and features focused on life during this festive season here in the islands.

If you’re visiting or planning a move over the coming weeks then why not have a look at our December events preview? We feature the work of another talented local photographer and also find out about the wildlife delights that await you in Orkney this winter. If you’re inspired by this newsletter to find out more, pay a visit to and

December's headlines

Christmas shopping on the Craft Trail

You can see Orkney's arts and crafts makers in action on the Orkney Craft Trail

If you’re looking for that unique gift for someone special this Christmas, members of the Orkney Crafts Association might have the perfect present for you. With some of the most talented arts and crafts makers to be found anywhere, Orkney is a festive shopper’s delight. The OCA website has published its Christmas creative events calendar, full of information on exhibitions, shopping opportunities and workshops. You can also take a trip on the Orkney Craft Trail for inspiration.

Good Food fans flock to Orkney stands​

Orkney Food and Drink's stands proved popular at BBC Good Food in Glasgow

Seven local food and drink companies flew the flag for Orkney at the BBC Good Food Show Scotland in Glasgow earlier this month. The Island Smokery, the Orkney Bakery, the Orkney Brewery, the Orkney Chocolate Company, Orkney Isles Preserves, Stockan’s Oatcakes and Williamson’s Butchers all manned stalls to promote their products to foodies from across the country. Thousands of visitors took the chance to sample the very best Orkney produce over the three day event. Find out more about our local delicacies via the Orkney Food and Drink website.

3D views of archaeological treasure

Orkney's Ness of Brodgar in 3D by Hugo Anderson-Whymark

Many of you might be in the midst of finalising your travel plans for your summer holidays. If you’re still looking for inspiration, explore Orkney’s incredible Ness of Brodgar Neolithic site thanks to this fantastic 3D model. It’s the result of hundreds of photographs and hours of work, and the end product provides a fascinating insight to the excavation project. There are other models of Skara Brae and the Standing Stones of Stenness to enjoy too. Nothing beats the real thing, though. Find out more about the sites and book your trip via the Visit Orkney website.

Win Orkney prizes every month!

'Storm' from Alison Moore Designs - this month's prize on

You can now win a special prize from the islands thanks to our new monthly draw on From the very best local food and drink to jewellery, crafts and more, anyone signing up to our mailing list via our homepage will be automatically entered into our draw for a chance to win. This month the prize is a beautiful, handmade ring from local jewellery designer Alison Moore. 'Storm' is a stunning set of five sterling rings featuring the gemstone labradorite. The set is inspired by the changing light during an Orkney storm and is one of Alison's most popular pieces. Alison Moore Designs is based in a small workshop in the village of Dounby - find out more from her website.

Festive Events

December is a month packed with events across Orkney, with everything from Christmas tree lighting ceremonies and festive days out to Santa parades, performances and pantos!

Kirkwall's Broad Street with its Christmas lights

You can see the Christmas lights switched on in communities across the islands during December. The Stenness tree will be illuminated on the 2nd of December, followed by events in Dounby, Finstown and Shapinsay on the 4th. Flotta and Westray join Kirkwall on the 5th to turn their lights on.

The Kirkwall event includes a special concert in and around St Magnus Cathedral and the St Lucy procession, inspired by Orkney’s Scandinavian heritage. The large tree on the Kirk Green is donated by Orkney’s twin region of Hordaland in Norway.

Now, it wouldn’t be the festive period without some panto fun. This year Kirkwall’s Palace Players are putting on a performance of Aladdin in the Orkney Theatre with daily shows between the 5th and 12th of December. Perfect fun for all the family!

Get ready to rock with the Stromness Drama Club

​Over in Stromness, the local drama club is performing its version of Rock of Ages every night between the 2nd and 5th of December. It will feature some classic rock songs from the 1980’s – but also includes some ‘tasty’ language, so it might not be suitable for the younger members of your family!

Christmas in Orkney wouldn’t be the same without music, and one of our favourites is the Winter Choir from Orkney Camerata. Join 120 performers in St Magnus Cathedral on the 13th of December for festive music from the choir and orchestra.

Sometimes it’s best to stay indoors during December in Orkney, and the Phoenix Cinema has the perfect excuse to take a seat in front of the silver screen. This month there are live screenings of two theatre performances – Jane Eyre and The Winter’s Tale – and a showing of The Mikado from the English National Opera.

The cinema will also be showing Episode 7 of the Star Wars saga on its national release date. The Force Awakens will be onscreen at a minute past midnight on the 17th of December, with regular showings right through to the New Year

Maeshowe, in the heart of our World Heritage Site, is one of Orkney's most popular tourist attractions

Just before Christmas, one of Orkney’s most special sights takes place. Did you know that the Neolithic tomb at Maeshowe was built so the setting sun at midwinter beams directly down the entrance tunnel, flooding the chamber with light? You can see the beautiful event for yourself before, during and after midwinter on the 21st of December. If you can't make it to Orkney, you can still see the event via these excellent webcams.

Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are about family and friends – unless you play the Ba’! The traditional street football games see the Uppies and Doonies battle through the streets of Kirkwall to reach their goals at either end of the town. It really is a spectacular sight, with hundreds of participants and even more spectators. Join them and take in this unique event. On both days the boy’s game begins at 10.30am, with the men’s game starting at 1pm. Here's a taste of what it is all about... (404)

If you’re looking for a post Christmas knees-up, look no further than the Birsay Community Hall on the 27th. It will be hosting the annual Festive Fling with live music from Genuine Draft. It’s for over 18s only and is sure to be a fun filled night.

Hogmanay in Orkney is a special time – you can take in the bells with friends at pubs around the islands, including Helgis in Kirkwall, which will have live music, along with some of the very best Orkney beers and whiskies, right up to and after midnight.

Or, if you’re ready to brave the cold, head out to Broad Street in Kirkwall or the Stromness Pier Head with hundreds of other revellers to celebrate the New Year in style.

There’s always lots more happening around Orkney – you can find out more by having a look at the Visit Orkney events page, and you can also pick up a copy of local newspaper ‘The Orcadian’ every Thursday. BBC Radio Orkney broadcasts a daily diary of events too, every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM, and on Facebook.

Winter wildlife on show in Orkney

Wildlife enthusiasts in Orkney look to the skies in December, with wintering birds making the islands their home over the coming months. Alison Nimmo from the RSPB in Orkney has highlighted some of her seasonal favourites…

Long-tailed Ducks in Orkney - image courtesy of @Orknithology

December in Orkney often brings perfect weather for ducks, which certainly suits some of our winter wildlife visitors. The seas around the islands are internationally important for wintering ducks and divers.

Spectacular long-tailed ducks are making their way here after their summer in the Arctic, with sheltered inshore waters great for catching a glimpse, especially the Peedie Sea in Kirkwall and at the Broch of Gurness in the West Mainland.

Each winter Orkney also welcomes nearly 1,000 great northern divers from their breeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle in Canada, Greenland or Iceland – an impressive quarter of the British wintering population. Imposingly large, it’s wonderful to watch them fishing. Try Scapa Flow from the Hobbister cliffs, the Hoy ferry, Echnaloch Bay in Burray, or Rerwick Head in the East Mainland to see them in action.

Curlews are commonly seen in Orkney during December

If you’re out for a bracing winter walk, listen for the atmospheric calls from great flocks of waders including curlews and lapwings. Golden Plovers also glow so beautifully in the low winter sun, it’s well worth braving the weather for a look.

If you’re lucky you might see a Slavonian Grebe too. In winter they’re white and black, but if you get close enough you’ll see their intense little red eyes. Again, anywhere overlooking Scapa Flow or Echnaloch Bay in Burray are good bets.

A mountain hare in Hoy - image from Linda Heath

Away from the shoreline and sky, if you take a trip to Hoy this month keep an eye out for mountain hares on the slopes of the hills at the north end of the island. They change colour in winter and are usually mostly white by January. Of course this is so they don’t stand out in the snow, but we don’t generally get too much of the white stuff in Orkney so they’re not too hard to spot. The striking hares are much stockier than their brown counterparts and have shorter ears.

Thanks to @Orknithology for the image of the Long-Tailed Ducks - follow on Twitter for more excellent photos of wildlife in Orkney.

A different view from Longhope photographer

Orkney is the perfect place for photography, with rolling hills, beautiful beaches, dramatic cliffs and fertile farmland. Every month we ask a keen amateur to share some of their favourite images of the islands. For December, it’s Longhope resident Mary Harris…

July sunset in Longhope, Orkney

It was my dear old Dad who first brought me to Orkney in 1962 and we spent those long summers fishing on the beautiful lochs of Orkney. I always had some sort of cheap camera slung in the bottom of a bag or over my shoulder but I had no idea how to use them properly.

Nothing really changed in that respect until I was asked a few years ago to become a Press Officer for RNLI Longhope. It was then I was presented with a super Canon camera with a huge zoom and I remember gasping with amazement at what I could see through the lens. After a while I started twiddling all the dials to see the different effects - although I'm still not sure what I'm doing!

The RNLI Longhope Lifeboat on exercise with SAR helicopter in Longhope Bay

I live in Longhope on the island of Hoy and it is a photographer’s paradise. With moody dark hills often laced with fingers of mist creeping down the valleys into the sea. The sheltered bays catch and reflect the ever changing colours and light of the rising or setting sun and shimmering moon, often accompanied by the lonely song of the seals.

A winter wave rolling in from the Pentland Firth

All around us the sea ebbs and flows, often raging but sometimes sleek like silky turquoise glass and the sky is so huge with magnificent clouds and graced with flocks of birds, vibrant rainbows or dreaded midges. Oncoming sinister squalls of hail and ice growl across the bay, lifting the water and everything is a howling salty grey. Then the sun comes out and the birds call again.

I don't think I would live anywhere else in the world.

Hurry to Harray for a unique Orkney experience

Every month we take a trip to a different part of Orkney to try and share some of their secrets. For December, the focus is on Harray – the only landlocked parish in the islands.

Harray might lack some of the most common Orkney attractions - there are no beaches, no coastline and no cliffs here. But that doesn’t mean water isn't an important part of the parish’s reputation.

The view over the Harray Loch to the Merkister Hotel

It’s the home of the Harray Loch, seen as one of the best fishing sites in Scotland. It’s certainly the jewel in Orkney’s trout fishing crown, with more than 2,500 acres full of skerries, shallows, bays and points. It’s perfect for wading too, with more than fourteen miles of shoreline. You can stay on the banks of the loch at the Merkister Hotel, which also hires out boats, and find out more from the excellent Orkney Trout Fishing Association website.

Farming is also very much at the forefront of life in Harray. There are a number of beautiful viewpoints across the fertile landscape, with a picnic spot off the Stoneyhill Road the pick of the bunch. If you head up the Lyde Road too you will see a stunning vista back across the parish towards the hills of Hoy in the distance.

You can also find out more about farming in Orkney in years gone by thanks to the excellent Corrigall Farm Museum. It’s a traditional ‘’longhouse’ style farmhouse and steading from the late 19th Century. The working barn and grain kiln and examples of horse-drawn machinery really help to bring the past to life.

One of our favourite walks in Orkney is also in the parish of Harray. Syradale is a beautiful valley which can be reached from Refuge Corner, passing the Wasdale Loch en-route. In the right conditions you can see waterfalls and plenty of wild flowers and plants. Of course, you can then relax and take in the panoramic view across the West Mainland.

Andrew Appleby in action in the Fursbreck Pottery

No trip to Harray would be complete with stopping off at the Fursbreck Pottery – home of the original Harray Potter! Andrew Appleby creates a wide variety of pieces in his pottery, many inspired by Orkney’s rich archaeological heritage. As a member of the Orkney Craft Trail you can watch him in action before browsing the vast selection of pots, plates, mugs, cups, bowls, jewellery and lots more.

Past the Pottery is Harray Stores, a popular local shop that carries all the essentials, as well as quality home-baked goods including rolls and fancies.

Although the village of Dounby isn’t strictly in the parish of Harray, the boundary almost brings you to the village limits. It’s one of the larger settlements in the West Mainland and includes all the services you’d expect.

The school currently has a thriving roll of more than 180, made up of nursery, pre-school and primary aged children from the Harray, Birsay and Sandwick area. It’s also the main hub for the community with meeting rooms and sports facilities, including an indoor games hall, fitness suite and excellent football and rugby pitches. The Dounby Community Centre also hosts various classes, workshops and events. A newly opened all weather bowls rink is also on offer in the village.

The Dounby Butcher in the village of Dounby

Dounby also has one of Orkney’s best butcher shops, the Dounby Butcher, along with two excellent stops on the Craft Trail – Alison Moore Designs and Castaway Crafts. There is also a well stocked supermarket and popular hotel, bar and restaurant, the Smithfield Hotel.

There is a doctor’s surgery, pharmacy and modern care home in the village too, making it one of the most popular areas in Orkney to live.

The village is also on a regular bus route between Kirkwall and Stromness, which runs through Harray as well.

If you want to make Harray your destination of choice during your visit to Orkney, you won’t be disappointed in the accommodation on offer. There is everything from hotels to bed and breakfasts and self catering options, many of the very highest standards. Make sure to have a look at the options available, and find out other hints and tips about the area, through the Visit Orkney website.

And finally...

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.

We’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter or E-mail.

In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now. Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to receive our newsletter and get the latest updates from our beautiful, vibrant islands.
Sign Up Now