Happy New Year!
Welcome to the first Orkney.com newsletter of 2018 – let’s kick the year off in style! We hope you all had a fun festive period and are ready to be inspired by our islands once again.
Keep reading for more on life in Orkney with plenty of features and photos, plus the chance to win your own holiday with us.
Find out more about Orkney via Visit Orkney website, and you can follow us on social media too.
Get your Orkney guide
Have you picked up your copy of the 2018 Orkney Visitor Guide yet? It contains all the information you need to make the most of a holiday in the islands. The handheld guide features everything – from accommodation listings and travel information, to pages on our history, nature, culture and much more! View or order your copy online, or pick one up from Visitor Information Centres across Scotland.
Orkney makers take centre stage
Some of Orkney’s finest food, drink and craft producers will be promoting their products at major trade fairs in Glasgow later this month. Five Orkney Food and Drink members – Jollys of Orkney, Orkney Creamery, Orkney Bakery, Orkney Distilling and the Orkney Gin Company – will be taking part in Scotland’s Speciality Food Show between the 21st and 23rd of January. Meanwhile eight Orkney Crafts Association members will be showcasing their work to potential buyers from around the country at Scotland’s Trade Fair – find out who is attending via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Winter tours in the islands
Even in the middle of winter your can still take advantage of local experts in Orkney. A number of our most popular sites and attractions stay open all year round – perfect for beating the summer crowds and experiencing the islands at a different time of year. Guided tours are available of our ancient stone circles, St Magnus Cathedral and some of our fascinating wartime locations too. Find out more from our special blog.
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!
Fancy a special break in 2018? Our January prize draw gives you the chance to win a fantastic holiday for two in Orkney, courtesy of Loganair and The Shore in Kirkwall. Sign up to enter via Orkney.com (now closed).
January in Orkney
January in Orkney isn’t always about staying in until spring arrives! There are still plenty of events and activities to enjoy as the year gets underway.
In fact, one of the main events of 2018 happens right at the very start of January! New Year’s Day sees the Kirkwall Ba’ game on the streets of the town once more. Hundreds of men, split into the Uppies and Doonies depending on where in Orkney they’re from, battle to bring a leather ball to their respective goal in the town. It’s a traditional event with hundreds of years of history, and it certainly is a sight to see. The men’s game begins at 1pm on Broad Street, with a boy’s game beginning earlier at 10am.
The Orkney Native Wildlife Project has a series of events throughout January, including a drop-in consultation on Friday 5th with fun activities for all the family. It’s in the St Magnus Centre in Kirkwall between 1pm and 6pm. There will be a talk and Q & A later, between 7.30pm and 8.30pm. There will be similar events in Stromness, Hoy, Stronsay, Shapinsay and Papa Westray throughout the month.
Orkney’s wildlife continues to take centre stage on Sunday 7th with a winter wildlife walk, hosted by the RSPB. Join experts for a relaxed walk at the charity’s Brodgar reserve, with beautiful views across the Stenness loch and the chance of seeing some wintering wildfowl. The walk is 2-3km and boots or wellies are recommended. Meet at the Ring of Brodgar car park at 2pm.
You can also drop-in to the Loons hide in Birsay on the 13th of January to join RSPB staff who will point out wildlife to you. You might see hen-harriers, water rails and much more. Free hot chocolate will also be available! Join them between 10.30am and 12.30pm.
The following week, on the 20th, there is a birdwatching drop-in at the Peedie Sea in Kirkwall. It will be held between 10.30am and 12.30pm.
If the weather isn’t too kind this January then how about heading inside to catch a movie or two? The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual range of showings, with films including GeoStorm, Daddy's Home 2 and Stronger on offer this month.
In Stromness the West Side Cinema is kicking off 2018 with a fantastic musical theme. Catch a classic musical every Saturday night in January, including ‘Singing in the Rain’ and ‘West Side Story’. Showings are in the Stromness Town Hall with doors opening at 7.15pm – remember to bring your own refreshments!
The West Side Cinema becomes the North Side Cinema on the 19th with a showing of ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ in the Kelp Store in Papa Westray. It gets underway at 7.30pm.
The Orkney Museum's winter exhibition, 'Welcome to Finland', is on display until the 27th of January and features artefacts celebrating 100 years since Finland declared independence from Russia. See it all at the Museum on Broad Street in Kirkwall - admission is free.
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.
Orkney wildlife watch
The winter months bring plenty of wildlife attractions across the islands. Find out what you can see and where!
We've enjoyed a relatively mild winter so far, give or take the odd storm or two! It has been a fantastic few weeks for getting outside and exploring our countryside and coastline, and fingers crossed there will be more opportunities to come.
The beaches are great places to see some unexpected nature and wildlife. Windy winter weather throws up huge piles of kelp at places like Warebeth, Marwick and the Bay of Skaill. There are plenty of varieties to see, including furbelows, cuvie and dabberlocks – and many other forms of life nestle or hunt amongst these great uprooted 'trees'.
Keep your eye on the water when you're beachcombing too as our resident grey seals are sure to be following your actions closely! There will be plenty of birdlife too - perhaps a great northern diver or some beautiful long-tailed ducks or eiders.
Back on slightly drier land and winter brings some evocative sounds in our fields and lochs. A quick walk at some of the local RSPB nature reserves will bring you past flocks of lapwings and curlews, or golden plovers with their bell-like, mournful calls. Feeding alongside them are noisy greylag geese, pink-footed geese and even whooper swans. In South Walls you could even come across some barnacle geese.
Thousands of wildfowl returning from Iceland and Russia add their voices, including teal and wigeon. The keen bird spotter might see a peregrine or hen harrier at places like The Loons or Mill Dam in Shapinsay, too.
Up on the hillsides, the harriers are roosting at dusk, perhaps as many as 25 at Durkadale, making it one of the largest roost sites in the UK.
Heading even higher, on Ward Hill in Hoy, you can catch sight of a snow-white hares. It's the only location in Orkney where you can see these mountain hares, with their transformation complete this month.
Local resident documents island life
Every month we share the work of a local photographer with a keen eye for capturing the islands in all their glory. For January, Shapinsay resident Sheila Garson has been picking her favourites.
Taking photos is something I’ve done most of my life in a fairly random, casual way, but five years ago I was given a Panasonic FZ150 bridge camera for Christmas and I’ve never looked back. I also have a small, lightweight Panasonic DMC-SZ3, which is always in my bag. I’ve not really mastered taking photos on my phone so only use it if I have nothing else to hand.
I take photos almost every day, although I rarely plan what I’m going to take; my photography is much more spontaneous than that. I’m particular drawn to the big skies we have here in Orkney and the sea and how the light, weather, time of day or season can make the same view look so different. The sky changes fast, as can the weather, so if I spot something I tend to snap it right away.
I also like taking photos of the rich variety of flora and fauna we have here and the wildlife. Old buildings and farm animals also often feature, but I hardly ever take photos of people unless it’s candid shots when something interesting is happening.
Photography is now very much digital and I got an iPad at about the same time as my Panasonic camera and find the two work together well. I do edit and mainly use Snapseed for this. Editing usually comprises of straightening the horizon, which is inevitably squint, cropping and minor adjustments to brightness and contrast.
I have occasionally thought of upgrading to an SLR, but have yet to make that leap, mainly because I’m really happy with the results from my bridge camera. It’s very easy to use and flexible and I think this has really encouraged me to go out there and take photos and not be frightened to experiment.
Explore uncovered Orkney
January’s ‘off the beaten path’ attraction is a fantastic Neolithic structure, found on one of Orkney’s most beautiful islands.
A trip to Sanday is always worthwhile if you’re visiting Orkney. Take the ferry or plane and explore the island’s fabulous white sand beaches, or visit Start Point lighthouse with the local Ranger.
But whatever you do, we’d recommend a stop at the fantastic Quoyness Chambered Cairn – one of the finest megalithic tombs to be found anywhere in Orkney.
The cairn is one of the most impressive ancient monuments you can find here. It’s found on an isolated stretch of coastline on the island in a setting full of other cairns and archaeological sites. It was built around five-thousand years ago and was first excavated in the 1860s.
As is the case with Maeshowe and a number of other similar cairns and tombs in Orkney, part of the fun is finding your way in. The entrance passage at Quoyness is nine metres long with a majority now on the outside. Visitors do need to get on their hands and knees for the final three and a half metres!
It’s worth it though, as the passage leads you into the heart of the cairn – a large four-metre long chamber with walls stretching up four metres high. There are six side chambers, built in a similar style to Maeshowe, which contained the bones of adults and children when first excavated.
Quoyness is one of those places where you can really feel part of history. You can touch the walls, climb into the side chambers and spend as long as you like in the main chamber, one of those experiences that Orkney provides so well.
Find out more about visiting the cairn via the Historic Environment Scotland website.
Take a look at the Visit Orkney website to read more about Sanday and how to get to the island.
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.
In the meantime, it's cheerio from Orkney, for now.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.