Hello and welcome to the December newsletter from Orkney.com – our last one of 2017!
This month we have all our usual features, photos and articles taking a look at life in the islands. We round-up a packed calendar of festive events, focus on another local attraction and much more.
Remember, you can find out more about Orkney by visiting the Visit Orkney website, and you can follow us on social media too.
New Orkney Visitor Guide out now
The 2018 Orkney Visitor Guide, featuring all the information you need to plan a trip to the islands, has been launched. The new guide, printed in an A5 format for the first time, covers everything - from Orkney’s ancient and wartime history, to its nature, culture, food, drink and crafts. It features a top tips section as well as essential advice on how to get here and extensive accommodation listings. Copies of the brochure are available to view and order online, and can be picked up from Visitor Information Centres throughout Scotland.
Experience wild Orkney this winter!
As winter approaches most people are probably planning indoor activities to shelter from the worst the weather can throw at them. We’re a hardy bunch here in Orkney though, and we think everyone should embrace the elements! Our coastline and cliffs are beautiful places to visit when the low winter sun is shining and the waves are crashing into the shore. We’ve compiled seven of our favourite wild walk locations across the islands for you to enjoy – why not take a trip and blow away the cobwebs!
Restoration work at the Italian Chapel
The intricate paintwork at Orkney’s iconic Italian Chapel was the focus of restoration work during November. Professional art restorer, Antonella Papa, travelled to the islands from Rome to help maintain the Chapel and its beautiful interior. Antonella is a regular visitor to Orkney and volunteers her time at the Chapel, which was built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII. Antonella also passed on advice to local artists so they can continue the restoration work. Read all about it and watch our short film to find out more.
Make a move to the islands
Have you ever considered a move to Orkney on a more permanent basis? Author Richard Clubley made the leap earlier this year and has been documenting his island experiences for us. Catch up with his latest blog, featuring evening classes, coffee shops and community spirit. If you’re inspired to investigate a change of scene then remember to read the Orkney.com website for all the information you need.
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.
Win prizes from Orkney!
December in Orkney
December is a month full of festive fun in Orkney! Find out what’s happening across the islands over the coming weeks.
December also hosts some of our most unique events. The Kirkwall Ba’ games are back on their normal days of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The traditional street football games are truly a sight to be seen, with hundreds of men separated into the ‘Uppies’ and ‘Doonies’ depending on where they’re from in Orkney. They then battle through the streets of Kirkwall to push a hand-crafted leather ball to their respective goals at either end of the town.
The action can be fast, fierce and frantic! If you’re going to watch then make sure you’re at a safe distance, and resist the urge to get too close! The men’s game begins at 1pm on Broad Street, with a boy’s game held at 10am. It’s a social experience for spectators too, so head down and enjoy this unique event.
Hogmanay always brings special activities, but this year a traditional event from yesteryear is being resurrected. The town of Stromness will welcome the return of its own traditional street game, the ‘Stromness Yule Log’. It will see North Enders of the town face the South Enders in a show of strength, dragging a tree through the narrow, winding streets to opposing goals.
The game was a highlight in the town’s festive calendar up until 1937 and the revival is the latest in the year-long Per Mare celebrations. It’s being supported by Event Scotland's Winter Festivals fund and the action will get underway at 2pm at the Stromness Pierhead on December 31st. Food and entertainment will be available on the street and there will also be a display of historical information in the Warehouse Buildings. Find out more on the Stromness Orkney Facebook page.
Earlier in the month, you can get into the Christmas spirit at the Scapa Distillery on the 2nd with a special Christmas Fayre, featuring lots of local producers and craft makers. It’s all between 12pm and 6pm – head along and buy your presents nice and early this year!
There are always plenty of musical performances to take in during December too. St Magnus Cathedral hosts the Winter Choir and Orkney Camerata Christmas Concert on the 3rd at 7.30pm. Meanwhile Orkney DJ Will Atkinson will celebrate his homecoming with a special gig in The Old Library on the 27th from 9pm – tickets are available from Grooves or via www.seetickets.com. Local pubs across Orkney are full of music over the festive period, keep your eye out as Christmas draws closer.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a good pantomime, and Orkney has plenty of options for you this year. The Stromness Drama Club has Jack and the Beanstalk in the local town hall between the 7th and 9th of December – tickets are available at JB Rosey in Stromness and at Ortak in Kirkwall.
Palace Players host Beauty and the Beast at the Orkney Theatre in Kirkwall between the 9th and 16th of December. Tickets can be bought at AJB Scholes in Kirkwall. Find out more from the Palace Players Facebook page. Finally, head to St Margaret’s Hope for a performance of Dick Whittington from the 13th until the 16th of December. Tickets are available at Robertson’s in the Hope, the Burray shop and from VAO in Kirkwall
Christmas trees will be lit up in communities around the islands over the coming weeks – you can see a full list via the Orkney Islands Council website, but the tree on the Kirk Green in front of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall will be illuminated on the 9th from 5.30pm. There will be music and a traditional parade celebrating St Lucy, featuring the Kirkwall City Pipe Band.
Now, if you’re on the hunt for a special Christmas present, then Orkney is a fantastic place to do your Christmas shopping. Our local craft and food and drink producers offer plenty of excellent gift ideas, from jewellery and knitwear to cheese, biscuits and beer. There are festive Sunday opening hours in Kirkwall on the 10th, 17th and 24th of December, with late night shopping on the 14th. In Stromness, shoppers have the chance to take part in the town's annual Christmas Bonanza - every £5 spent in a local store gives you a number, with a prize draw on the 30th of December for a top prize of £1000. There's late night and Sunday openings, offers and discounts available throughout December too.
Orkney's villages, including Dounby, St Margaret's Hope and Finstown, also have some excellent shops offering a wide range of unique goods and gifts. Remember, you can always take advantage of the Orkney Craft Trail for Christmas present inspiration too.
Onto some of the other events planned during December now, and the Hoy Nature Reserve comes under the microscope at the beginning of the month. RSPB Scotland will host a talk at the Hoy Kirk on the 1st at 7pm about the year’s activities at the reserve, with a raffle, mulled wine and mince pies on offer. The ferry leaves Stromness at 5.45pm and returns at 10pm.
Then the following day there is a guided walk to the Old Man of Hoy from the Hoy Kirk, and plenty of other activities to enjoy too. Phone 01856 850 176 for more information and to book the walk. The ferry leaves Stromness at 9.30am and returns at 4.30pm. Drop-in activities will be held at the Hoy Kirk between 10.30am and 4pm.
The final Orkney Archaeological Society talk of 2017 will be held on the 4th at 7pm in Orkney College. Join Jim Bright for an illustrated talk titled ‘Digging in to digital: A summer of photogrammetry in Orkney’.
Then, on the 8th, the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI hosts an ‘Archaeology in a Day’ Open Day – the perfect chance to find out more about studying the subject here in the islands. The are workshops planned and folk will get the chance to see finds from sites across Orkney too. It’s all on between 1pm and 5pm.
If you’re feeling fit before the festive food extravaganza then a special Santa Fun Run might be the thing for you. The event on the 17th of December will raise funds for the Orkney Deaf Children’s Society. Run, walk or jog two laps of Kirkwall, with prizes on offer for the best dressed Christmas theme! Entries must be in by the 10th via the Pickaquoy Centre website.
Staying in Stromness and the Pier Arts Centre’s Annual Open Exhibition is on display until the 30th. You can also see an exhibition of felted accessories and other handcrafted items by Lulia Fisher at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 19th.
Movies are a major part of Christmas. If you’re bored of the usual telly offerings then there are plenty of options in Orkney. The Pickaquoy Centre cinema has its usual mix of films, including ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ and ‘Justice League’.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during December. There’s always lots more happening around the islands – keep up to date with the Visit Orkney 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.
Orkney wildlife watch
With winter rapidly approaching, local wildlife expert Alison Nimmo has been wrapped up warm at another nature hotspot in Orkney - find out where she has been this month.
I walked round Rerwick Head in Tankerness recently, and it was the kind of walk where you wish the wind would hurry up and numb your fingers so they wouldn’t hurt so much. Not conducive to using binoculars. But in the golden afternoon light, with a dramatic sky over the old wartime buildings and sweeping views in every direction, it was a superb place to enjoy a blast of fresh air.
Looking north over Shapinsay Sound, the white-capped water did not look welcoming. Sure enough there were many birds sheltering inshore where a sort of natural lagoon forms when the tide drops. Gulls lifted from the shore like flung sea foam as I appeared, but soon resettled, and I sat for a while watching the oystercatchers and turnstones.
A band of wigeon bobbed on the choppy wavelets by the rocks, sheltering as best they could, but what soon caught my eye was the red-throated diver fishing further out. It looked very pale in its winter plumage and so streamlined and powerful as it vanished and reappeared, clearly at home.
The shadows were growing long as I headed on round the low cliffs, and a faint moon had already risen, occasionally veiled by distant hail showers that seemed to be becoming less distant. I did stop to examine the rock formations here, which are striking. Like waves themselves, they made the solid stone look malleable.
Some of the natural attractions at Rerwick Head - all photos by Alison Nimmo
My fingers didn’t last much longer. I look forward to my next visit - a calm spring day, when the wildflowers have returned, curlew song rises from the fields and you can sit by the old watchtower looking out for whales and dolphins… Nice to think of at this time of year, but I am glad to know this place in all its seasons.
A year in pictures
Over the past eleven months we’ve been showcasing Orkney’s beautiful scenery through the work of talented local photographers – take a look at our favourites from 2017!
This year we’ve shared images from all over the islands, including Papa Westray, South Ronaldsay, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Hoy and much more. Our contributors have all taken the time to tell us exactly what it is about the islands that they love too.
The wild weather often plays a part. The dramatic light that can come as storms pass over Orkney help create the perfect setting for a photo. Fiona Annal was our featured photographer in March, she captured this stunning scene of stormy seas in the Pentland Firth.
Orkney’s historical sites featured heavily in selections this year – and with more than five thousand years of history here, it’s no wonder! The Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness always draw a photographer’s eye, but we loved this take by Woody Musgrove in February. Shot from across the Harray loch, you can see the Standing Stones of Stenness outlined on the far left.
Wildlife photography requires a keen eye, the right equipment, plenty of patience and a lot of talent. David Bailey from Westray managed to tick all those boxes when he took this photo of puffins on his home island, part of his selection of images in September.
Orkney’s smaller islands have always attracted photographers looking for new locations and subjects that are rarely captured. North Ronaldsay is our most remote community but is well worth taking the time to get to. It’s a unique place, and with locations like this one, the Old Beacon at the north end of the island, you can see why. The structure was captured perfectly by Ewan Dunsmuir in his April contribution.
We’ve also picked our favourite shots from our other featured photographers over the last year, take a look at their work below.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our journey around Orkney through the eyes of some of our talented residents – we’ll be back to bring you more in 2018.
Explore uncovered Orkney
A trip across to the island of Hoy is a must during a visit to Orkney. It’s a landscape that looms large, with rolling hills and dramatic cliffs, but there is another special site well worth seeing.
South Walls, at the opposite end of the island to the Old Man of Hoy and Rackwick bay, is much like the rest of Orkney, relatively flat with rolling, green fields. It also has plenty of places of interest of its own.
The village of Longhope is at the heart of the area. It was thrust into the national spotlight in March 1969 when the local lifeboat capsized during a rescue operation in the Pentland Firth, with the loss of the entire crew of eight. The tragedy had a massive impact on the small, close-knit community of Longhope and South Walls, with two families each losing three members.
The disaster did encourage the RNLI to begin research into self-righting lifeboats and indeed the village of Longhope continues to have its own vessel and crew, ready to patrol the Pentland Firth when called upon.
Nowadays the village’s long association with the RNLI is highlighted in the fascinating Longhope Lifeboat Museum at Brims. It’s a real hidden gem, full of historical artefacts and photographs, all found in the former lifeboat station. At the centre of the museum is the island’s 1932 lifeboat ‘Thomas McCunn’, which is still launched for special occasions!
The museum tells the story of Longhope’s relationship with its lifeboat, the former crews and, of course, the tale of that fateful night in 1969.
The Longhope Lifeboat Memorial can be found on the east side of South Walls, a poignant reminder of the lives lost during the 1969 tragedy. A visit to the memorial and the museum can be an emotional, but equally an inspiring experience. Don’t miss them if you’re heading to Hoy during a holiday in Orkney.
Explore uncovered Orkney with our interactive map, featuring all our previous locations.
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 hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!