• The Brough of Birsay, Orkney

January 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Happy New Year! Welcome to the first Orkney.com newsletter of 2019 – hope you all had a fantastic festive season and you’re ready to start January in style!

Keep reading for more features and photos all focused on life here in Orkney. You can catch up with the latest island news, view our monthly events calendar and see the work of another talented local photographer.

Remember, you can always find out more about Orkney and keep in touch on social media too – just click on the links at the top of this page and give us follow.

January's headlines

Be inspired by Orkney in 2019

View the 2019 Orkney Visitor Guide

If you’re feeling the post-festive blues then perhaps planning your next holiday could be the perfect solution. The new Orkney Visitor Guide has all the information you need to help you book your trip to the islands this year, including tips on what to see and do, our history, heritage, nature and wildlife and much more. You can even browse accommodation options and places to sample our finest food and drink. View or order your copy now.

Major expansion plans for island brewery

The Swannay Brewery is set to launch a major expansion project in the New Year

The award-winning Swannay Brewery in Orkney is set to have an exciting start to the New Year as it launches a major expansion project. The work will see an enlarged and enhanced production space, a tap room, café and new visitor facilities put in place. It’s hoped the move will open up new international markets for the west mainland-based brewery and give members of the public the chance to visit and see behind the scenes. Find out more with our special feature and video.

Orkney’s makers set to take centre stage in Glasgow

Celina Rupp Jewellery will be taking part in the trade fair this month

The very best Orkney food, drink and crafts will be showcased at two major trade fair events in Glasgow in the New Year. Fifteen local businesses will be attending Scotland’s Speciality Food Show and Scotland’s Trade Fair between 20 and 22 January at the SEC in Glasgow. The two events run concurrently and will see exhibitors promote their products to thousands of buyers from shops, retailers and food halls from around the country. Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.

Get out and about this winter

Take a winter tour of the Standing Stones of Stenness in January

There is still lots of sightseeing to do in Orkney, even during the wild and wonderful weather we can often expect in January! You can join local experts across the islands to tour some of our most fascinating sites, including ancient stone circles, whisky and gin distilleries and the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral. We’ve picked some of our favourite guided tours to enjoy during the winter months, let us know if you agree!

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.

January in Orkney

We like to tackle January head-on and get out and about to enjoy everything island life has to offer! Even in the middle of winter, there are plenty of things to see and do in Orkney.


The action starts right at the beginning of the month with the traditional Kirkwall Ba’ games. New Years Day brings round two of the festive season battle for the Uppies and Doonies. Hundreds of men take to the flagstones for this annual street football game and try to bring a hand-crafted leather ball to their respective goals at either end of the town. Games can last for seconds, minutes or hours, but the action can always be fast, frantic and furious!

The Kirkwall Ba' underway - image by Premysl Fojtu


The men’s game begins at 1pm on Broad Street, with the boy’s version starting at 10am.

January is usually a good time for a New Year detox after the Christmas food and drink delights, so why not join a wonderful wildlife walk this month? The RSPB is hosting a winter stroll around the Brodgar nature reserve on the 6th. You’ll be able to see birds, including skylarks and twits, as well as flocks of lapwing and golden plover. It’s a breathtaking spot, but make sure to bring suitable clothing and footwear. Meet at the main Ring of Brodgar car park at 2pm.

The Ring of Brodgar in winter - image by Mark Ferguson


Later in the month you can take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch too. It’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and helps the charity find out how birds are doing across the country. This year you can join experts at the CLAN Centre garden in Kirkwall to help them monitor the birds that visit. Join them between 12.30pm and 2.30pm on the 26th. Access is through the brown door in the high wall on Watergate.

If the weather isn’t playing ball then don’t despair, there are still loads of things to see and do. Our galleries are full of fantastic displays at this time of year. You can see ‘The Art of the Ba’ – paintings and photographs focused on the Kirkwall Ba’ games – in the Old Library in Kirkwall until the 5th. For Arts Sake in the town has its Festive Open Exhibition until the 18th too.

The Orkney Museum hosts ‘Vanishing Point’, a collection of paintings and 3D virtual reality work inspired by the Ness of Brodgar excavations, until the 5th of February. In Stromness, the Waterfront Gallery has ‘Feast’, a selection of works by visiting and local artists, until the middle of February.

Meanwhile, the Stromness Museum has two exhibitions on in the New Year. ‘Great Expectations – curios from the cupboards’ and ‘From the trowel’s edge – new finds from the Ness of Brodgar’ are both open until the end of March.

There are a number of options for fans of the silver screen this month too. The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual mix of movies. The West Side Cinema in the Stromness Town Hall has two showings in January – ‘Faces, Places’ on the 12th and ‘Blackkklansman’ on the 26th. Doors open at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start.

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 our 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.

Wild Orkney

Orkney’s wildlife is an all-year-round attraction with something different to experience every month. We’ve previewed a year in the life of wild Orkney – check out what you can see and when.


January sometimes isn’t a month for the great outdoors so you could help monitor Orkney’s garden birds from the comfort of your own home! As you read in our events round-up, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is back this month. Orkney’s gardens regularly see visits from starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds, greenfinches, rooks, collared doves, robins and much more.

February sees Orkney’s fulmar population start to lay claim to their nesting spots on cliffs around the coast. These birds are beautiful to watch, soaring and gliding on the thermals in even the wildest of weather.

Seabird in Orkney - image by George Turner


Spring is in the air in March and that means the first flowers of the season are starting to show. Marsh marigolds should be coming into bloom at this time of year, and you can catch the yellow flowers of lesser celandine and coltsfoot in some spots too.

April brings one of our favourite Orkney wildlife moments. Hen harriers begin to ‘sky dance’ this month, twisting and turning in the air above the moorland in an attempt to attract a mate. It’s a stunning and peaceful ritual and usually reaches a peak towards the middle of the month. The fantastic RSPB Eddie Balfour hide at Cottascarth in Rendall is one of the best places to watch this captivating courtship activity.

Hen harrier above the Orkney moors - image by Raymond Besant


The following month brings more colour to the coast – this time in the shape of the incredibly rare and very tiny Scottish primrose, or Primula scotica. This delicate flower is only found in the north of Scotland and Orkney and can be a challenge to spot! Keep your eyes peeled in May at Yesnaby in the west mainland and at the North Hill nature reserve in Papa Westray.

Now, there is one species that every summer visitor to Orkney wants to see. Puffins tend to return to their burrows around our coast in May, but June and July are the best times to see these colourful characters. With their technicolour beaks and big orange feet, these friendly seabirds always attract a crowd. The Castle o’Burrian in Westray is one of the best places to see them during the summer, and a clifftop walk at the Brough of Birsay usually provides a few puffin-sightings too.

Puffin at the Castle o'Burrian in Westray


July is the month to keep your eyes trained on the sea, with regular orca sightings in local waters at this time of year. There have been ever-increasing reports of orcas in Orkney and they are such a stunning sight. You could also see basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish, as they head closer to shore during the summer.

It’s worth returning to the clifftops in early August to see Orkney’s new batch of seabird chicks and their parents leave their ledges for the season. Guillemots and razorbills will be heading off to sea for the rest of the year, followed by fulmars later in the month. The cliffs at places like Marwick Head won’t be the same. Well, until next year!

Marwick Head - image by Kenny Lam


September sees skeins of geese return to Orkney, with their characteristic honking regularly heard overhead. Pink-footed geese arrive en-route to Scotland from Iceland – they’re easy to spot, with their small brown heads and distinctive ‘wink-wink’ call. Some even now stay in Orkney for the winter instead of continuing their travels south.

As autumn rolls on you can expect to see the first of Orkney’s grey seal pups start to make an appearance. Orkney’s waters are home to around 25,000 of them, which is almost a tenth of the world’s population. The cows gather on beaches around the islands and each gives birth to a single white-coated pup. Late October and the early weeks of November usually brings the busiest period of activity. Places like Burwick and Windwick in South Ronaldsay are good places to watch them from a safe distance – remember to stay well back and avoid alarming the seals.

Seal pup in Orkney - image by Premysl Fojtu


During November you might not want to be too far away from a warm cup of coffee, so Kirkwall’s Peedie Sea is a perfect spot to sit and watch some stunning birdlife. Long-tailed ducks can be found here after their summers in the Arctic, and other wintering birds, including great northern divers, can be spied here too. Orkney usually welcomes around 1000 of them from their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.

Finally, shift your attention from the water and skies during December and tackle Orkney’s highest hill to see something a bit different! Ward Hill and the nearby peaks in Hoy are home to mountain hares this month, with most of them sporting a full white coat by January. There isn’t usually too much snow in Orkney so they can be easy to spot!

That’s just some of the wonderful nature and wildlife you can experience in Orkney in 2019.

Focus on photography

Our first featured photographer of 2019 is Glenn McNaughton, an Orcadian ex-pat who still takes time to return to the islands with his camera.


My interest in photography began in the early 70s when I bought my first camera, a Praktika SLR. It was a good camera which I used around Northumberland for a few years, but when the shutter broke, I never bothered replacing it. Then, around 1992-3, I bought a little Fuji camera from Orkney Photographic. It could fit easily into any pocket and I used that around Orkney for a few years. In the early 90s I visited a great majority of Orkney's islands, including the likes of Copinsay, Auskerry, Fara and the Pentland Skerries, but I never took a camera - how I wish I could go back to them all now!

I left Orkney in 2009 to move to Edinburgh and around six years ago I treated myself to a ‘decent’ camera. I bought a Nikon D90, with an 18-105 lens. It’s a super camera which covers most subjects nicely. I also have a Tamron macro lens too and probably my favourite images are taken with this lens - shots of dragonflies, butterflies, beetles etc. Since we've lived in Edinburgh, I’ve worked very long hours, so most of my photography tends to be around the city in the early morning after nightshift, or wandering around the old town.

Orkney is a wonderful destination as a photographer, I'm based very much in Stromness when I return as I don't drive, but the scenery, wildlife and rural-life are constant inspirations. The only downside I found when living here was the weather - even in the summer you could plan a few days off work and find them all grey, windy and cold. However, periods of bad weather tend to be my favourite conditions for taking photos now - I'm quite well known for my shots in the rain, fog and snow when everyone else is running for cover!

In Orkney I always look forward to wandering Stromness's narrow streets, particularly during the early morning or evening, but I also love being in Hoy, especially walking through to Rackwick, up to the Old Man of Hoy and maybe back over the Cuilags to the Moaness ferry. I'd always recommend a visit to any of the isles, each has its own character and attractions – I love places like Whitehall in Stronsay, the hills of Rousay and the wee lochans in Hoy.

I’d always recommend Orkney as a destination. Whenever I post my photos on social media, I get a lot of interest from around the world from folk wishing they could visit for themselves. Indeed, a few have after seeing my photos.

Explore hidden Orkney

Every month we take you to a hidden part of Orkney, a place that visitors might not find on a traditional island itinerary.


To start the New Year we head west to the beautiful old maritime town of Stromness. Its magic is in its stone houses huddled along the harbour, and its street twisting and turning its way towards the sea.

Stromness is squeezed in between the shore on its east side and a steep, granite hill to the west. This is Brinkie’s Brae, as much part of the town’s history as all the buildings below. First and foremost, a walk to the top provides a stunning view out over the town, Scapa Flow, the Hoy hills and the Pentland Firth beyond.


It’s also one of those classic walks where you’re in the middle of a bustling town one minute, and the next you almost feel like you’ve set foot on another planet. Huge chunks of granite make up part of the landscape, in complete contrast to much of the rest of Orkney, and you can soak in scenery that you just can’t appreciate from sea level.


The best way to enjoy a brisk walk up Brinkie’s Brae is to head to the Old Academy on the Back Road. Opposite you’ll find Downie’s Lane and a small car park, with a set of steep stone steps heading up the hill.

On your way up you’ll pass a beautiful stone bench, which is perfect for taking a quick break. A short poem is carved into the stone at your feet and the view will take what little breath you have left away!

To head home, you can either return the way you came or stroll along the quiet lanes at the back of Stromness.

Either way, a walk up Brinkie’s Brae will leave you refreshed and inspired.

See our other hidden Orkney attractions.

And finally...

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’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, Orkney.com and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

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

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