Hello and welcome to the February newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we have photos, features and articles, all focused on life in the islands. Keep reading for our February events preview and details of a very special prize draw too.
One with Orkney
Come and discover the elements of Orkney with our new Visit Scotland video and eBook. They both focus on earth, air, water and fire and how they all combine to make the islands a unique and magical place. View the full video and experience our eBook via the Visit Orkney website.
Explore the secrets of Orkney
Did you catch the BBC Two series focused on Orkney in January? ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney’ showcased some of the archaeological and natural attractions of the islands during its three programmes. Take a look at our interactive map to explore the locations featured in the series, including some hidden gems not on the traditional tourist trail. You can also watch the episodes with the BBC’s iPlayer.
Awards for local producers
It’s only February but producers in Orkney’s food and drink sector have already been celebrating a number of awards. Craigies Butchers claimed four gold Scottish Craft Butchers Awards in January for some of its delicious pies. Meanwhile Argo’s Bakery marked its visit to the Scottish Speciality Food Show last month by claiming the Best Product title in the Biscuits, Snacks & Confectionery section for its Beremeal Digestives.
Major investment for Stromness
Stromness is celebrating an early birthday present after plans for a multi-million pound research and innovation campus in the town were announced last month. More than £6.5m worth of funding will be used to refurbish the Old Academy and former Stromness Primary School, with the buildings earmarked to become the bulk of the 3.75 acre campus. The development comes in the same year that Stromness will mark the 200th anniversary of becoming a Burgh. Find out more with our dedicated blog.
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram to see some beautiful images from the islands. Every week we share new shots - make sure you join us so you don’t miss a thing. Remember to tag your own images with #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney so we can share your Orkney experiences too.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Have you been dreaming of visiting Orkney? Enter our February prize draw for the chance to win a trip to our beautiful islands, courtesy of Pentland Ferries and The Foveran Restaurant and Rooms. Sign up to enter via our prizes page. [now closed]
February in Orkney
Come and explore Orkney and our busy events calendar during February.
The main event of the month is at the Pickaquoy Centre. Award winning comedian and actor Omid Djalili will be bringing his ‘Schmuck for a Night’ tour to Kirkwall on the 19th of February. His Orkney date is the only Scottish island stop on his extensive schedule – make sure you get your ticket by phoning 01856 879900.
Orkney’s Neolithic attractions have been in the spotlight recently and are sure to be popular with visitors during the summer months. Why not beat the rush and see them now, when you can often have the ancient sites to yourself. Guided tours of Skara Brae and Maeshowe are available all year round.
You can also get guided Ranger walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness on Wednesdays at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. Watch our short video to experience the sights and sounds of a tour at the Ring of Brodgar…
Agriculture is an important part of Orkney life, and special competitions throughout the islands every year give local farmers the chance to test their skills against each other. Ploughing matches see fields full of tractors and equipment as novices and veterans, the young and old, compete alongside each other throughout the day. See one for yourself at Howe, near Marwick in Birsay, on Saturday 4th February at 9am.
There are plenty of exhibitions to enjoy if the weather does take a turn for the worse. The Orkney Museum has two interesting collections on show at the moment. Learn about the colourful and unique Boys Ploughing Match and the Festival of the Horse, held annually in South Ronaldsay, until the 11th of February.
Also on display are finds, stories and case studies in the new World Heritage Site Fieldwalking Exhibition, focusing on an archaeology project carried out in Orkney’s west mainland.
Staying in Kirkwall and the For Arts Sake Gallery on Bridge Street has its ‘Love Your World’ exhibition and sale, featuring art using recycled, repurposed and recrafted materials. See it all until the 25th of February.
The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness has some annual maintenance taking place at the moment so access to some of the gallery spaces may be restricted. The whole gallery will be open from the 25th though, with the bi-annual exhibition celebrating the work of the latest generation of Orkney artists to have graduated from art schools around the country. The collection opens at 10.30 on the 25th until the 17th of April.
Wildlife lovers might be interested in three special events in Orkney this month. The Scottish Ornithologists Club is hosting a talk by Colin Corse titled ‘Sanday Sanderling’ in the St Magnus Centre on the 9th at 7.30pm.
On Thursday 16th the local branch of the RSPB is encouraging young folk to help track some wildlife at Warbeth. Those taking part can make their own footprint plaster cast, hunt for otter poo and see what other signs of wildlife can be found in the area. It's recommended for children aged 7 and over - book by phoning 01856 850 176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then, on the 24th, the Orkney Field Club has its Nature Showcase, a selection of 15 minute presentations on local projects, including skuas and bats. That’s in the St Magnus Centre too at 7.30pm.
The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has its usual mix of showings throughout the month – you can view the full schedule via the Centre’s website. The Cinema also hosts regular live theatre events, with performances broadcast live from venues across the UK. In February you can see National Theatre Live’s ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Saint John’, and ballet from the Royal Opera House, including ‘Woolf Works’ and ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.
The West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing 'The Lovers & The Despot' in the Town Hall at 7.15pm on Saturday 11th, and 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' on Saturday 25th at the same time.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during February. 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.
Where to watch Orkney's wildlife
Our regular wildlife features focuses on some of the different places to enjoy wild Orkney throughout the year. Join RSPB Orkney’s Alison Nimmo as she explores February’s special location.
Originally constructed to defend Scapa Flow, now a vital road link, one admittedly minor aspect of the Churchill Barriers is that they’ve turned out to be great for wildlife-watching. Depending on the tide and direction of weather, you can find a great variety of birds on the accumulated beaches and in the waters to either side.
On the sea, look out for long-tailed ducks, Slavonian grebes, black guillemots (currently grey and white in their winter plumage), red-breasted mergansers and divers - great northern as well as red-throated at this time of year. Onshore you can sometimes find wintering snow buntings and twite flocks, and waders like sanderlings feeding busily at the water’s edge.
With the return of summer will come terns and skuas, the terns fishing gracefully just offshore – a beautiful sight on a calm evening. Curious seals watch from the water and sometimes swim alongside kayakers. There are several popular spots here for snorkelling and diving too, with wildlife below the surface including anemones, starfish, sea urchins and sea squirts.
Birds do breed on the beaches so please look out for their well-concealed nests or any sign of alarm from adults, and avoid disturbing them. A special feature of the 4th Barrier beach is Orkney’s only breeding little tern colony, which this year raised a bumper eight chicks thanks to help from Hope Community School and Burray Primary School. Find out more about the project via the RSPB website.
Add to this a range of plantlife, including oysterplant, sea rocket and Scots lovage, and - while I’ve yet to be so lucky - others have spotted basking sharks, otters and whales from the Barriers. All in all, a remarkable wildlife-watching opportunity.
Exploring Orkney's ancient landscape
February’s featured photographer is Woody Musgrove, a locally based archaeologist with a keen eye for Orkney’s beautiful and raw scenery.
I started taking photographs during high school, and after leaving decided to pursue the subject further, completing an HND at what is now Edinburgh College. However, I became very disengaged with the thought of photography as a profession, so to get as far removed from it as possible I took part in a summer of archaeological excavation up here at the Ness of Brodgar. Fast forward almost five years and I am just starting the final semester of a degree in Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, which I have undertaken here at Orkney College.
Moving to Orkney has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and one that has certainly reinvigorated my passion for photography. Earlier this year I moved away from my Canon SLR and I’ve been using a smaller, more compact Fujifilm XT10 with a range of prime lenses. The change has been a breath of fresh air and I am enjoying taking pictures more than I ever have.
Orkney's raw natural beauty makes it perfect to photograph, whether it is the stunning cliffs of the West Mainland, or the tranquil reflections on the lochs of Harray and Stenness on a calm day. I enjoy nothing more than jumping in the car (when it starts) and chasing the setting sun, especially at this time of year, as the low winter sun shows off Orkney at its absolute best.
I am looking forward to continuing my exploration of Orkney over the coming year, with hopefully more trips out to some of the islands, especially a return to the beautiful Rackwick Bay on Hoy.
Past, present and future in Orkney's maritime haven
Our final area focus of the series takes us to Stromness, the bustling harbour town and the often unexplored countryside surrounding it.
Stromness is one of the most unique and special places in Orkney. The maritime town is perched on the edge of a beautiful bay, under the shadow of Brinkies Brae, with stunning vistas over Scapa Flow and the island of Hoy. Smaller than Kirkwall, it has a character all of its own, as well as some very special attractions.
The town itself stretches south from the busy harbour, which is full of dive vessels and creel boats. Stromness is the main hub for Orkney’s diving industry, with regular charters taking visitors out to Scapa Flow and the wrecks of the German fleet on the seabed below.
Stromness author George Mackay Brown wrote that the main street of the town ‘uncoiled like a sailors rope from north to south’, and it’s the perfect description for the old cobbled thoroughfare. Take some time to wander along it, visiting the many businesses, including cafes, bakeries, delis, galleries and a butchers, as well as shops offering clothes, souvenirs, arts and crafts, stationary, diving equipment and more.
You’ll also pass plenty of interesting sites. The Pier Arts Centre has a fabulous collection of artwork from both Orkney and further afield. It hosts regular exhibitions as well as its permanent collection and it’s well worth spending an hour or two in the beautiful harbour-front building.
Further along the street you’ll come to Login’s Well, the final water-collecting stop for Hudson’s Bay Company ships heading to Canada in the 1700s. It was also the well used to supply water to Captain Cook’s ‘Discovery’ and Franklin’s ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ before his ill-fated arctic exploration.
The real attraction of Stromness is the many lanes and closes leading to and from the sea, and up the hill towards the back road of the town. Explore them to get different views of the harbour and the old buildings, which are full of character. There are hidden attractions everywhere and you could easily let hours drift past as you stroll along the street.
Another place where a whole afternoon can disappear is the fantastic Stromness Museum. It’s packed with artefacts and stories from the town’s maritime and natural history. It also focuses on the story of Dr John Rae, the Orcadian explorer and surveyor of the fabled North-West Passage in Canada. You can access a special audio tour of the town, featuring voices from the past and present, too.
Another stop on your way south is at the cannon viewpoint. The old cannon was salvaged from the American vessel ‘Liberty’ – take a seat on the nearby benches to watch vessels heading into harbour.
Almost anywhere you go in Stromness you will be surrounded by beautiful views. Step out onto the various piers in the town to see the inner holms in Stromness harbour, or head to the south end for a sight of the towering Hoy hills. One of the best ways to enjoy them is to take the walk from the Ness campsite along the coast to the beach at Warbeth. An excellent path will take you all the way, treating you to stunning views of the neighbouring island of Graemsay and Hoy beyond.
On that route you’ll pass Stromness Golf Club, which boasts one of the most picturesque courses anywhere in the UK. Guests are more than welcome at the Club - visit the official website for more information.
Orkney’s wartime history is also visible on the walking route. You’ll pass the remains of various gun and search light batteries, as well as the entrance to a fascinating former military site. The Ness Battery sits high on the hill overlooking Hoy Sound and is one of the UK’s best-preserved wartime sites. Take a guided tour around the concrete structures and see inside the last remaining battery to have kept its wooden huts, used to house the men who were stationed there during WWII. Visit the website for more information.
Stromness is Orkney’s second largest town and is a very popular place for people to stay, both when in the islands on holiday or on a more permanent basis. It has everything you’d expect from a town of its size, with a modern supermarket, garage, furniture store as well as pubs and restaurants.
A recent addition has been the new primary school which sits at the head of the voe. It’s a modern facility and the perfect place for the town’s pupils to start their schooling. There is also nursery and pre-school provision at the school. On the other side of the harbour sits Stromness Academy, the secondary school for the west mainland of Orkney.
Sport is a major part of life in Stromness. Aside from the golf club there is a very active sailing community, taking advantage of the calm waters in and around the harbour. The town’s swimming pool was the first in Orkney and has been modernised in recent years. There are swimming classes and training, and the pool also houses a modern gym and fitness suite.
Nearby, the Market Green is the home of the town’s football club. There is also a refurbished squash court at the Green too, which can be hired through the swimming pool office. A brand new 3G Astroturf pitch was installed at Stromness Academy recently too.
Stromness is a lively, dynamic place that works hard to attract people with a series of events and activities all year round. It’s the home of the annual Orkney Folk Festival, with the pubs and venues full of music and laughter during the last weekend of May every year. Find out more about the 2017 event via the official website.
There is also an annual Blues Festival held in the town, with visiting acts taking to the stage. Another regular attraction is the West Side Cinema, a community cinema group with showings every month in the relaxed setting of Stromness Town Hall.
The centrepiece of the Stromness summer is the town’s annual Shopping Week. Originally launched nearly seventy years ago to encourage people to shop locally, it has evolved to become a wide and varied week-long gala, with fun for all the family. Expect live music, amusements, arts and crafts competitions, fun races through the town and a real party atmosphere, culminating in an open air dance and fireworks on the final Saturday.
Stromness remains a thriving part of Orkney’s inshore fisheries fleet and the town’s relationship with the sea can also be seen with the development of the renewable energy industry in the islands. It’s the home of the European Marine Energy Centre and a number of businesses related to the sector.
Heriot-Watt University also has a campus in Stromness. The Information Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) is the University’s Orkney base and provides courses on a variety of marine energy-related subjects.
Recently plans were announced to invest more than £6.5m to build a research and innovation campus in Stromness too, incorporating two old buildings in the heart of the town. The move will include ICIT and EMEC, and it’s hoped will attract more energy sector business to Orkney.
The town is celebrating its 200th birthday with a series of special events this year too, so why not pay it a visit to celebrate?
If you’d like to visit Stromness you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney. If you’re interested in making a more permanent move to the town, search for your ideal home with our dedicated property feed.
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.