Hello and welcome to the February newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we’ll be bringing you all the usual articles focused on life in Orkney, including the latest news, our featured area and our regular wildlife watch.
Hopefully you’ll be inspired to take a trip to our beautiful islands. If you’re planning a visit or a move over the coming months, keep reading for the latest from Orkney.
Iconic poppy display coming to Orkney
Orkney’s St Magnus Cathedral will host thousands of ceramic poppies in a special display to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland later this year. The ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’ installation will see the poppies cascade from the western end of the Cathedral between the 22nd of April and the 12th of June. The display was originally at HM Tower of London in 2014. Orkney will be the first place in Scotland to welcome the installation. The islands will be hosting the UK’s national commemoration of the Battle of Jutland with a series of events planned over the coming months.
Folk Festival fever begins to build
Eighteen acts from nine traditions, with performances in four different islands across just four short days – it can only be the 2016 Orkney Folk Festival! The initial line-up for this year’s event has been announced, with the likes of Liz Carroll, The Unthanks and Julie Fowlis heading here for the festival between the 26th and 29th of May. They’ll be joining the very best local talent at the 34th annual event. Tickets will go on sale in April via the Orkney Folk Festival website, but be quick as more than 6,000 seats were sold last year! Don't delay and book your accommodation via Visit Orkney.
Good news for oatcake lovers
The latest food product from Orkney is set to hit the shelves soon. Stromness based Stockan’s Oatcakes has unveiled its healthy, high in fibre and very tasty new Beremeal Oatcakes. The bere, an ancient local grain, comes from Orkney’s Barony Mill, helping to create a uniquely Orcadian product. The oatcakes have been produced alongside Queen Margaret University and should be available soon – perfect for a healthy snack! Find out more from the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Our monthly prize draw is sure to get your taste buds tingling! How do you fancy getting your hands on a special cheese gift box from Orkney’s Island Smokery? All you have to do is sign up to our mailing list to enter. [now closed]
February in Orkney
The days are getting longer and, although the weather is slightly temperamental, there are still plenty of events and activities planned across Orkney in February.
If you’re looking for a laugh this month, the Pickaquoy Centre is the place to head for. Renowned US comedian Rich Hall brings his ‘3.10 to Humour’ tour to Orkney on the 3rd of February at 7pm. A well known face from various television shows and a previous Perrier Award winner, his deadpan delivery is sure to be a hit with the local audience. You can get your tickets via the Grooves store in Kirkwall.
Staying indoors and, with the Oscars taking place in Hollywood at the end of the month, the Phoenix Cinema will be hosting a number of nominated movies. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, ‘The Revenant’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio and ‘Joy’ with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro will all be shown on the big screen during February.
The theatre takes centre stage later in the month with the return of the annual Orkney District Drama Festival. Local drama clubs will perform their one act plays between the 23rd and 26th of February in the Orkney Theatre. There will be eleven performances in total – you can get tickets from Findlay’s Photo Shop in Kirkwall from the 9th of February. The top three plays will be shown again on the 27th of February too.
There are also a number of interesting talks and events this month. Professor Donna Heddle from the UHI Centre for Nordic Studies will deliver her ‘From the Fury of the Norsemen, Good Lord, Deliver us?’ lecture about Norse influence in Scotland in the Gable End Theatre in Hoy on the 10th of February at 8pm.
There is also a Nature Showcase Night in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall on the 19th at 7.30pm. You’ll be able to hear from local naturalists with talks and presentations, along with the chance to ask questions about Orkney’s nature and wildlife. Contact John for more information on 01856 831 507.
There are some interesting exhibitions on at the moment too. ‘Get the Howdie Wife…the Bairn’s Coming!’ is a brief history of infant and maternity care in Orkney during the 20th Century at the Orkney Museum. It’s open until the 15th and admission to the Museum is free.
Meanwhile the For Arts Sake Gallery will be showing ‘To Your Own Heart Be True’, featuring heart themed works made from recycled materials, until the 20th. Admission is free.
If you’re still trying to get fit after the festive period then the 2016 Open Day at the Pickaquoy Centre might be just the thing for you. Sunday the 7th of February will see the Centre’s doors open with free entry to all the arranged activities. You can try your hand at fitness classes, treatments, roller skating, masters swimming, squash, a pool family disco and much more! Find out more from the Picky Centre website.
And why not brave the February weather and head out for the West Mainland Ploughing Match? See some of our finest farmers plough their furrows carefully in the fields at Vetquoy in Sandwick on the 13th. There is far more skill to the practice than you would think!
That’s just a taste of February’s events in Orkney. 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.
Eyes and ears peeled for nature in action
Our regular wildlife watch continues as Orkney’s seabirds begin to make a fleeting appearance on cliffs and coastlines around the county. Find out what you can see this month with the RSPB’s Alison Nimmo…
Although the days are stretching out again, February can still feel very much like winter – I find it comforting to keep an eye on what the birds and other wildlife are up to as their behaviour makes it clear spring really is on the way.
Fulmars are already starting to lay claim to their nesting ledges, sitting together around the coast renewing their pair bonds. On calmer February days guillemots and razorbills may come in to the cliffs too. Ravens are even earlier breeders and some will be laying eggs before the month is over.
Meanwhile waders like lapwings and curlews will be starting to sing and display again during warmer spells, perhaps with hares boxing nearby in the fields. Coltsfoot flowers early, bringing splashes of yellow to the verges.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds my own behaviour naturally changes too as the weather eases and daylight lengthens - after a bit of a winter hibernation it’s great to be getting out again more. Even if it’s just a quiet walk listening to the daily routine of the shoreline - the quiet clack of turnstones turning over stones, the whistles of wigeon sheltering inshore or the gossipy squeaks of purple sandpipers huddling on the rocks – there is so much to enjoy.
Local landscapes capture the imagination
Every month we share some beautiful images of Orkney taken by a local photographer and hear about their experiences. For February, Scott Van Schayk has selected ten of his best…
I would borrow my parents camera and go out shooting anything and everything. Growing up in Orkney, I was constantly surrounded by the expansive landscapes, seascapes and skies. Obviously that made landscapes an easy go-to subject whilst learning more about photography.
Over recent years I have become more and more enthusiastic about photography. I began by joining a few photo sharing sites. This made me more confident about my work and grew my knowledge of photography greatly. Then, last year I took the steps to set-up a business around my photography. I made pages on social media and also designed and launched my own website.
I love exploring the coastline of Orkney to find unique viewpoints and experience the extreme weather. I also find that the expansive landscape and skies of Orkney lend themselves perfectly for panoramic photography to fully capture the beauty of the island.
The wonderful thing about photography in Orkney is you will never struggle to find something to photograph, no matter the weather, from St Magnus Cathedral and the Italian Chapel to the wonderful array of wildlife.
Over the sea to Shapinsay
February’s area focus takes us on a short ferry hop to Shapinsay. The fertile island lies just a few miles away from the Orkney mainland, but it has plenty to offer potential visitors and residents…
Orkney’s islands are all worth a visit. Some lie on the fringes of our archipelago, with flights or longer ferry journeys a necessity. But others, like Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, are classed as ‘inner isles’, and enjoy shorter, quicker sea links to the Orkney mainland.
Shapinsay is one of them, and it’s certainly worth making the trip across ‘the String’ to sample all the island has to offer.
The ferry journey from Kirkwall takes just twenty five minutes and leads you to a beautiful village and a green island full of rich farmland beyond.
En-route you’ll pass the small isles of Thieves Holm and Helliar Holm, with its Stevenson designed lighthouse, then the ferry will head into Elwick Bay, offering fantastic views of the iconic Victorian Balfour Castle and The Douche, a drystane tower built as a salt-water shower, with a dovecot on top, on the shore.
The village of Balfour itself is a real treat. Its single street takes you through Orkney’s first planned village with beautiful stone buildings on your left and gardens full of flowers and plants on your right. The village is also the main hub for the island, featuring the excellent Shapinsay Heritage Centre where locally designed arts and crafts can be bought and family history researched. It sits above the Smithy Restaurant, a great place to get refreshments during a sightseeing trip.
The island shop and post office, packed full of local products and more, is also nearby.
Outside the village there are plenty of activities and attractions for visitors. The Burroughston Broch lies around six miles away and is one of the Orkney’s finest Iron Age sites. It was first excavated in the mid 1800s and is well worth the walk from the small car park. The coastline close to the broch is also one of the best places to see Orkney’s common and grey seal populations – remember to take your binoculars and camera!
As with many places in Orkney, Shapinsay is a nature lovers paradise. It has all kinds of landscapes for wildlife, flowers and plants to thrive in, including moorland, wetlands, green fields and cliffs and beaches. Around a mile north of the village is the RSPB’s Mill Dam nature reserve. It’s one of Orkney’s real hidden gems with excellent bird watching opportunities throughout the year.
During the spring you can see the likes of wigeon, mallards and greylag geese before the summer brings waders and gull and wildfowl chicks, wandering amongst the surrounding marshlands and flowers.
The autumn and winter visitors to Mill Dam include whooper swans, grey herons and water rails. The increasing population also attracts raptors like hen harriers and short eared owls – a birdwatcher’s delight all year round. The site has a spacious hide with a car park, bike rack and a picnic area for visitors.
There are locations throughout Shapinsay, including the loch at Vasa and Lairo Water that offer excellent walks and wildlife spotting opportunities.
Shapinsay is also seen as a producer of some of Orkney’s best cattle. Prize winning livestock will watch you with a relaxed eye from their fertile fields as you travel throughout the island. If you arrive in Shapinsay at the beginning of August you’ll be able to see them close up as the island’s annual Agricultural Show takes centre stage at the school.
When it’s not hosting the show, the school is a thriving hive of activity with a healthy number of pupils. The building also hosts community events and features a healthy living centre too, with modern gym equipment available for use by islanders.
The local community has also worked hard in recent years to create new developments and employment opportunities in the island. The Shapinsay Development Trust has been at the forefront of these projects, including the construction of the island wind turbine which brings finance back for community schemes. These include an Out of Hours ferry service which complements the regular scheduled sailings from Orkney Ferries.
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.
In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.