Celebrations of Orkney's Arctic explorer

Events to mark the anniversary of John Rae's birthday will be held in Orkney this weekend (29th September - 1st October 2017).

John Rae is a name etched firmly into Orcadian history.

Born at the Hall of Clestrain overlooking Hoy Sound, he went on to explore distant shores and was the man who discovered the fabled Northwest Passage, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in 1853.

The childhood home of John Rae, the Hall of Clestrain

He also learnt of the fate of Sir John Franklin and his men, who were lost in 1845 searching for the Northwest Passage. Rae was told by Inuit that Franklin’s men had died of starvation and had resorted to cannibalism in a desperate attempt to stay alive. He reported this on his return to London and was immediately discredited by, amongst others, Lady Franklin and Charles Dickens.

John Rae, Orkney's Arctic explorer

His reputation suffered and his achievements in the Arctic were credited to others. It’s only in recent times that efforts to restore Rae to his rightful place in history have really begun to gather pace.

In Orkney, the John Rae Society has been at the forefront of that campaign. The group was launched to highlight Rae’s achievements, with a number of successes to date, including hosting the first John Rae Festival.

But one of its greatest challenges, and ultimate aims, is just now getting underway. The Society wants to restore Rae’s birthplace, the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir, to its former glory, to help tell the great man’s story and inspire future generations of islanders.

Plans are in place to look at the restoration of this beautiful old building

It’s an incredible task. The building has been open to the elements for decades and requires a huge amount of restoration work. But the awareness raising over recent years has certainly had a positive impact, and some works to preserve the Hall in the short term have already taken place.

This weekend (29th September – 1st October) will also see a special series of events organised to mark the anniversary of John Rae’s birthday. It’s a date the Society celebrates every year, but 2017’s celebrations will be extended over three days.

The stone staircase inside the Hall of Clestrain

Activities include talks, musical performances and a showing of John Walker’s 2008 film ‘Passage’. There will also be two open afternoons at the Hall of Clestrain, on Saturday 30th and Sunday 1st October between 1pm and 4pm, when visitors can hear about the Society’s plans for the building and get a chance to see inside.

All the events are free, but donations towards the restoration of the Hall of Clestrain are welcome. Find out more about the weekend via the John Rae Society website.

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