Happy New Year from Orkney!
We hope you had a fantastic festive season and are all set for 2017.
If your thoughts are already turning to potential holiday destinations then hopefully this newsletter will inspire you to find out more about our islands.
Orkney’s ancient secrets on the BBC
Orkney will be taking centre stage tonight as a new three-part BBC series focused on the islands gets underway. ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney’ will begin on BBC Two at 9pm (2nd January), taking a closer look at Orkney’s Neolithic past – including the archaeological excavation at the Ness of Brodgar. The history, nature and landscape of the islands will also be featured during the series, presented by Neil Oliver, Chris Packham, Dr Shini Somara and Andy Tobert. It’s set to be a fascinating take on life in Orkney so make sure you tune in!
Food and Drink showcase in Scotland
If you’ve over-indulged during the Christmas break you might want to look away now! Four of Orkney’s finest food and drink companies will be promoting their delicious products at the Scottish Speciality Food Show in Glasgow between the 22nd and 24th of January. Jollys of Orkney, Orkney Bakery, Orkney Creamery and Kirkjuvagr Gin from Orkney Distilling Ltd will all be representing the islands at the event. Seven Orkney Crafts Association members will be present at the Scottish Trade Fair at the same time – Aurora Jewellery, Zoe Davidson Jewellery, Sheila Fleet Jewellery, Ortak, Celina Rupp, Annie Glue and Hume Sweet Hume will all be on show.
Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology underway
2017 is Visit Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology – and where better to experience all three than Orkney? From our incredible Neolithic sites to our unique culture and traditions, the islands have it all to offer. We’ve brought together just some of the attractions and events that could inspire you to make Orkney your destination of choice during this year of events – take a look at our special blog via the Visit Orkney website and begin your journey!
Join us on Instagram
Did you know that we are on Instagram? We’ve been sharing some stunning shots from the islands over recent months – follow us so you don’t miss a thing, and remember to tag your images with #VisitOrkney so we can share your Orkney experiences too.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Get creative this January by entering our competition to win this unique knitting kit from Orkney Craft Association members Isle of Auskerry. Sign up to enter via Orkney.com. [now closed]
January in Orkney
January in Orkney isn’t all about hibernation after a busy festive period. There are still plenty of events and activities to enjoy over the coming weeks.
The main event happens to be right at the start! Because New Years Day falls on a Sunday this year, the unique Kirkwall Ba’ games will be held on the 2nd of January. The traditional street football event sees local men and boys split into two sides – the Uppies and the Doonies – to try and bring a handcrafted leather ball to their respective end of the town.
It’s an incredible sight and the atmosphere around the scrum can be electric. The boy’s game begins at 10am followed by the men at 1pm, with both ba’s thrown up from the Mercat Cross in front of St Magnus Cathedral. The games are very much a social occasion so remember to wrap up warm and enjoy the spectacle – just don’t get too close!
If you want to get out and about with nature in the New Year then a special event in Orkney’s largest woodland might be just the thing for you. RSPB Orkney has organised a Wild Scavenger Hunt in Binscarth Wood on Sunday 8th at 10am. Take on some set challenges and work your way through the woods, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature as you go. It’s free but booking is required – phone 01856 850 176 for more information.
There's also a Winter Wildlife Walk at the Brodgar Nature Reserve at 2pm on the 8th, where you’ll be able to spot some of the wintering wildfowl on the lochs.
Now, January can bring some bad weather and short, dark days, so why not cheer yourself up with a visit to the West Side Cinema this month? The Stromness-based community cinema is hosting its first Comedy Season, aimed at bringing some light and laughter into your lives. A classic comedy film will be shown in Stromness Town Hall every Saturday of the month, and you can vote for the films you’d like to see via this link.
All films are at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start – bring a bottle and take a seat at the candlelight tables for a really unique cinema experience. Find out more via the official Facebook page.
Meanwhile the Pickaquoy Cinema will be showing its usual mix of blockbusters and family movies. January’s schedule includes ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ and ‘Moana’, plus a special showing of the series four finale of the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’. You can also enjoy a live broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Il trovatore’ from the Royal Opera House.
Staying indoors, make sure you catch the Orkney Museum’s Christmas Exhibition, which runs until the 11th of February. It focuses on the unique Boy’s Ploughing Match, held in South Ronaldsay every summer. Find out more about the event, as well as the colourful ‘Festival of the Horse’ too.
A little bit of advance warning now. The Orkney Folk Festival might still be more than five months away but the organisers have been announcing some of the acts set to appear at the popular four-day event over recent weeks. Keep up to date via the official website.
Remember to take a look at our special ‘Winter in Orkney’ blog for all the island inspiration you need too.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during January. 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
Every month we take a look at the nature and wildlife attractions of different parts of Orkney. Join Alison Nimmo from the local branch of the RSPB for January’s update.
With gusts of hail beating the window as I type this, it’s maybe not just the moment to wax lyrical about the delights of wildlife-watching. But here’s a great place to save up to visit during one of those spells of winter calm – Egilsay.
Most people probably enjoy visiting the island’s sandy beaches, tranquil wetlands and hay meadows in spring and summer, so what’s around at this time of year? There’s a whole different soundscape for a start - if you take a walk along the shore you’ll be accompanied by the piping of redshanks, the quiet squeaks of purple sandpipers and perhaps the nasal ‘tseep’s of a twite flock flitting by.
Meanwhile turnstones keep up their constant, quiet probing for food and red-throated divers fish offshore, along with flocks of eiders and smart long-tailed ducks. Wigeons whistle and teals bleep from the lochs, where water levels have risen over the autumn and winter to welcome these wildfowl and geese arriving from the north.
People have enjoyed some magical moments watching otters along the coast here. Telltale signs they’re around might be a five-toed pawprint (dog prints have four) or a smear of fishy-smelling spraint (otter poo) on a prominent stone, full of scales and spiky bones.
If you’d rather wait for warmer weather, an early morning visit in spring or early summer is like stepping back in time with the amount of birdsong that surrounds you - lapwings, curlews, redshanks, snipe, oystercatchers, skylarks, meadow pipits and more. The damp meadows fill with bright flowers that feed one of the UK’s rarest bees, the great yellow bumblebee, while Arctic terns nest along the shore and you can watch mallard, teal and shoveler families on the lochs and crèches of eider ducklings on the sea.
Visit Egilsay's RSPB Onziebust Reserve to experience it all for yourself.
Instagram inspiration for local photographer
Join this month’s featured photographer Julie Shearer to see life in Orkney through her lens.
Watching wild stormy waves, wildlife and the ever changing colours and tones in the Orkney sky and landscape always makes me want to go gallivanting around our island. I love taking my bairns Alanna and Aiden and my peedie westie with me when I go.
My partner Paul gave me a Nikon D3300 with different lenses and it's a lovely camera to use. It re-sparked my interest in photography too.
I have been lucky enough to grow up in Orkney, and although I have always known the islands are stunning, it has only been within the last few years I have started to explore its nooks and crannies and seek out new places to photograph. I particularly enjoy walking costal routes and taking pictures of the sea and cliff faces.
The best days are spent with my family and camera in Orkney. I sometimes share my pictures on Instagram and I enjoy seeing other takes on a similar view. Although Orkney can seem quite peedie, the photo opportunities are limitless - every scene can change dramatically in minutes, and seasons bring new light and wildlife.
I'm working towards creating prints to fill our home with and perhaps selling a range of framed prints and cards too. But mostly I'm keen to capture shots of otters and orcas in local waters and continuing to encourage our bairns to explore, enjoy and appreciate what is around us.
Click on the image below to view a gallery of Julie's photos.
If you'd like to see more of Julie's images then you can follow her on Instagram.
Come and explore sensational Sanday
Our first area focus of 2017 takes us north to the beautiful island of Sanday. It’s a place full of beaches and beautiful bays, but there is much more to life there too.
Sanday is the largest of Orkney’s scattering of North Isles. It’s a long, low-lying island graced with some of Orkney’s best beaches and beautiful, turquoise water. It’s a busy community, full of life and activity, and a perfect place for wildlife watching too.
You could spend all your time exploring the wide bays and golden sands. The beaches at Backaskaill, Tresness, Scuvthie and Whitemill are some of the finest you’ll find across the islands, but there are plenty more. There are dunes, small lochs and marshes to explore too, making Sanday a real wildlife paradise.
Wading birds and otters are common sightings, along with seals bobbing about in the bays. To help take advantage of the natural delights on offer, the island’s Development Trust has employed a Ranger since 2005, hosting events and activities throughout the year. Visit the Sanday Ranger website to find out more about the walks, talks, excursions and guided visits available during the summer months.
The beach at Lopness has more to discover than just wildlife. Look closely at low tide and you’ll see the remains of the B98 Destroyer, a WWI German vessel that came ashore after its tow broke in 1920. At low tide it’s possible to walk around the wreckage - a fascinating find during a trip to a beach!
There is plenty of ancient history to uncover in Sanday too. The five-thousand year old Quoyness Chambered Cairn is one of the finest megalithic tombs to be found in Orkney. It was first excavated in the 1860s and features a nine-metre long entrance passage which leads visitors into its large central chamber.
The landscape is dotted with brochs and burial mounds. A recent archaeological project saw a threatened burnt mound at Meur carefully excavated and reconstructed next to the Sanday Heritage Centre.
The Centre itself provides a fascinating insight into Sanday’s history. It’s based in the former Temperance Hall just outside Lady Village and is full of natural and man-made artefacts, with displays on farming, the sea, archaeology and the impact of the First World War on the island. There’s also a small shop stocked with island souvenirs.
Next door is a renovated small croft house, giving visitors a chance to experience what life in Sanday would have been like in years gone by. The restoration project was a labour of love by islanders and was fully completed in 2012.
One of our favourite attractions in Sanday is Start Point Lighthouse. It sits on a small tidal island off the north east coast. Its distinctive black and white stripes make the lighthouse, built in 1870, stand out for miles around. The Sanday Ranger organises regular walking trips to Start Point, which includes tours of the lighthouse itself – a real highlight during a visit to the island.
Sanday’s bays and beaches have provided inspiration for local artist Bill McArthur for the last forty years. His work depicts the interaction between the sea, sand and wind on the island shoreline – you can view his original seascape oil paintings via the Orkney Crafts Association website. Bill’s studio is also part of the Orkney Craft Trail so make sure you pay him a visit during your time in Sanday (although a quick phone call first is advisable).
If you’re short of time and want to see the island then take advantage of the ‘Sanday Experience’, a guided, day-long excursion of the island. It’s a great opportunity to see the sights. Find out more via the Sanday website.
Sanday is home to a great – but challenging – 9 hole golf course too. It’s a traditional links course and you’ll have to negotiate a number of hazards, including rabbit burrows, but if you’re a golfer it’s one not to miss! For just £10 a day you can tackle the 2,600 yard course – just leave your fee in the honesty box at the Clubhouse.
Sport plays an important role in the community too. The island’s football team regularly makes it to the latter stages of Orkney Parish Cup – if you’re in Sanday when a home game is on during the summer then make sure you join in with the partisan crowd! There’s also an island cricket team which plays the annual ‘Embers’ fixture against Stromness Cricket Club.
In recent years the island has been organising regular weekends of events during the summer months. The ‘Sanday Soulka’ calendar sees a variety of activities held throughout the island, encouraging both locals and visitors to explore and take advantage of everything it has to offer. There are film nights, barbecues, walks, sport, music, dances and much more – the 2017 dates have just been announced so find out more from the Sanday Soulka website and Facebook page.
Sanday boasts an excellent range of accommodation for visitors, from hotels and guest houses to bed and breakfast and self-catering options. Search for your home from home via the Visit Orkney website.
Sanday isn’t just a place to visit though – it’s also a vibrant and active place to live with all the facilities you’d expect. Around 500 people make the island their home, working in a range in industries including farming, fishing and tourism. The local community school is at the heart of the island and caters for pupils aged from 3 to 16. The new school hostel in Kirkwall provides accommodation for Sanday pupils studying in S5 in S6 on the mainland.
There is also a local youth and community centre at Heilsa Fjold, opposite the school, which has wi-fi, toilets, tea and coffee, plus a café open between 11.30am and 2pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between May to September. The island also has a swimming pool and modern fitness suite at the school.
There are two well stocked shops and two post offices in Sanday, providing everything you need for a short break or a more permanent stay. There are also two licensed hotels in the village of Kettletoft and a restaurant at the Backaskaill B&B.
There is a doctor surgery service too, with round-the-clock care for local residents.
Connectivity is vitally important for island life. You can fly or take the ferry to Sanday from Kirkwall, with daily sailings and flights available. Find out more via the Orkney Ferries and Loganair websites. There is also an on-demand bus service in Sanday too, providing transportation throughout the island.
If you’ve decided that island life is for you then search for your dream Sanday home via the Orkney.com property pages.
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.