Hello and a warm welcome to the July newsletter from Orkney.com. Warm hasn’t been a word used to describe our recent weather, but we’re sure things will improve this month…!
It has been a busy few weeks in Orkney. We’ve had the largest visitor event of the season with the St Magnus International Festival, our fundraising Garden Trails are up and running and the Pier Arts Centre started showcasing work by acclaimed artist Damien Hirst – just your normal June in Orkney really!
Hopefully we’ll be able to bring you more of the same in this month’s newsletter, and give you ideas and inspiration about life in the islands.
We’ll be travelling across the Churchill Barriers to explore the linked island of South Ronaldsay, there will be the monthly wildlife watch and our local photographer search takes us to the island of Shapinsay. As well as that, you’ll be able to read about just some of the events and activities planned for the islands in July.
Remember, we’d love to hear from you too, so please get in touch via E-mail, Facebook or Twitter with any comments.
Let’s get underway with a look back at the last few weeks in Orkney…
Busy June marks the start of summer
Highland showcase for the best in Orkney produce
Fifteen local businesses did Orkney proud at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh last month. The food, drink and craft companies attracted thousands of visitors to the Orkney stands at the four day event – including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Samples of cheese, fudge and ice-cream proved popular with the crowds and helped highlight the sheer quality and breadth of Orkney products on show. Ortak hosted the craft contingent and there was brisk business for local knitwear, pottery and jewellery. We’ve collected some images taken by our businesses at the event, have a look below.
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Pick a Pod or two at the Picky Centre
With camping becoming increasingly popular across the UK, visitors to Orkney won’t miss out with the launch of new facilities at the largest campsite in the islands. The Pickaquoy Centre now offers two brand new ‘camping pods’, ideal for those keen to keep some of the comforts of home on their trip. The pods were designed by a local architect and built by Orkney building firm R Clouston Ltd. They include beds for up to six people, heating, lighting, a kettle and a fridge. They also have their own picnic deck – with appropriate shelter, of course!
Midsummer celebration of arts continues to surprise
The 39th St Magnus International Festival drew to a close last week and has been hailed as one of the best events yet. From orchestras to jazz, comedians to magicians, the seven days featured it all, with thousands of tickets sold. The streets of Kirkwall were buzzing with visitors from all parts of the world, lending a real cosmopolitan flavour to the islands. Plans are already being drawn up for the 40th anniversary Festival in 2016 – as always the event website is the place to go to keep up to date with the latest news and developments.
New websites aim to promote Orkney to the world
Have you had the chance to look at the brand new Orkney Crafts Association website yet? It was launched last month with a fresh new design, featuring information and images on all members of the local group. And, later this month, the brand new Visit Orkney website will be unveiled, featuring updated accommodation entries and plenty of engaging features and information. Keep in touch with us via social media to make sure you don’t miss out when it is officially launched.
Fingers crossed for bright skies in July
July in Orkney can be a special time. The whole community is buzzing as visitors descend in their droves and thoughts turn to the agricultural show season. The colours really come out too, with rich, green fields and sandstone cliffs glowing in the summer sun. And whether you’re here for a couple of hours on a cruise ship, a flying visit or for a week or two, there is sure to be something happening that will interest you.
One of the main attractions this month will be the reopening of the excavation work at the Ness of Brodgar, in the centre of Orkney’s World Heritage Site. The dig has become one of Orkney’s most iconic and popular tourist attractions, with visitors able to get almost within touching distance of the 5,000 year old site and the archaeologists helping to uncover it. Get reacquainted with the Ness by reading our project preview, and find out more through the official website. The dig starts again on the 6th of July, with free guided tours available from the 8th of July until the 26th of August at 11am, 1pm and 3pm between Monday and Friday, and at weekends at 11am and 3pm.
Stromness takes centre stage every July with the town’s Shopping Week. It was launched in 1949 to attract customers to shops in the area, but it has now become a week long, fun filled festival for folk of all ages. Residents really come together to make it a success. It all gets underway from the 19th of July this year, and will feature old favourites like the Holms Swim, the Shopping Week 10k and the Yard of Ale, as well as plenty of activities and workshops for young people. The whole week culminates in the Fancy Dress Float Parade through the town and an open air dance at the Pierhead on the Saturday night. It’s well worth spending some time in Stromness during Shopping Week to sample the atmosphere for yourself – find out more from the official website and view our gallery from recent years below...
Elsewhere, one of the most popular stand-up comedians in the UK is heading to Orkney in July. Kevin Bridges brings his ‘A Whole Different Story’ tour to the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall on the 31st of the month – contact the Centre for ticket information.
Also on the last day of the month, Orkney’s all important Agricultural Show season begins with the Sanday Show. There is no better time to make the trip to the island, with the very best Sanday livestock and produce being showcased. Plan your trip to Sanday through the Orkney Ferries or Loganair websites.
As always, there are plenty of smaller events on throughout the month. Have a look at the Visit Orkney site for more information
Wonderful wildlife during the summer
Wildlife always draws visitors to Orkney, and every month we ask Alison Nimmo from the local RSPB Branch to take a closer look at some of the species you can see here. Her she is with her July round up...
With a stroke of luck we’ve just been able to set up a webcam overlooking a red-throated diver nest, so over the next few weeks, and possibly even months, we’re hoping you can enjoy a rare glimpse into the lives of these secretive birds, one of Orkney’s most beautiful wild inhabitants. Watch them online here, or to see red-throated divers in real life try out the new Birsay Moors hide where you can look over a regular breeding lochan without alarming the birds.
Meanwhile the cold, wet spring has put wildflowers back by several weeks this year, but July should still be a good time to hunt for Scottish primroses at places like Yesnaby, West Mainland, and RSPB Scotland North Hill on Papa Westray. These tiny purple flowers, endemic to Scotland, bloom twice a year in May and July on Orkney’s windswept areas of maritime heath. Don’t be misled by enlarged photos in flower books - these primrose heads are smaller than a finger nail!
From one extreme to the other - Hoy’s young pair of sea eagles, birds that have a wingspan of up to 2.4 m, are generally roaming further afield on the island having abandoned their nest site for this year. A member of staff licensed to approach sea eagle nests recently roped up to carry out an inspection of the eyrie on the Dwarfie Hamars and it turns out the eagles did lay one egg, which was possibly infertile (we may be able to tell from further analysis). The stunning photo on the right shows the sweeping view from the eyrie over the valley.
One of things I’ll be doing over the next month is spending some time up on the cliffs enjoying the sight of all the seabird chicks on ledges being fed by busy parents, before they start heading out to sea where they’ll spend the rest of the year. July is the last good month for spotting puffins in particular, as they tend to head off fairly early. Castle o’Burrian on Westray perhaps Orkney’s best accessible location for close-up views – well worth a visit if you haven’t been out there yet!
Island life inspires local photographer
We travel to one of Orkney's islands now for our regular look at the work of a talented local photographer. Lisa-Marie Muir lives in Shapinsay with her husband and three children, and island and family life play an important part in the pictures she takes. She’s shared ten of her favourites with us, and described what it is about Orkney that makes it a special place…
I have lived in Orkney all my life and have always loved the sky. People here talk about Orkney having a ‘big sky’ and I totally agree – the lack of a big hilly landscape means that you can see the sky for miles! I love to watch it change. In a matter of minutes you can go from blue skies (if you are lucky) to huge columns of rain clouds that inspire awe, or straight to bright oranges and reds.
I'd say the sky is my first inspiration and the sea is my second. So many of my photos are taken not for the foreground interest, but for the sky in the background, and the foreground is just a feature! Sometimes I have to stop myself running for the camera when I see a fantastic sky and just stay still and enjoy it for a minute, without trying to freeze it in time!
The sea also makes me stop what I'm doing and just watch sometimes, or run and grab my camera and get as near as I can without getting a soaking!
I remember one particular day I headed out to photograph the sea after a really rough south easterly gale that had thrown fish up onto the shore near where we live. Myself and a friend were there with cameras, speaking to the landowner. Suddenly he gave a yell as a huge wave roared in. We did just manage to get out of the way, with only a bit of a splash, but after that I invested in a weather proof camera, which seems to be quite important in Orkney as we get plenty of interesting weather!
My other inspiration would obviously have to be my three bairns. They are the reason I got my first digital camera and some of my favourite photos are of them at the beach, or enjoying a sunset.
I started off with a little 3MP point and click digital camera eleven years ago and now I love my DSLR and the extra scope that it gives me to play with light, or capture the sky at night.
Head south in Orkney for special sights
Last month we took a trip north for our regular ‘area of the month’ feature, so it was only right that the focus was switched south this time around. South Ronaldsay is linked to the Orkney mainland by the four Churchill Barriers but still manages to retain its island character. It also has the largest settlement outside Kirkwall and Stromness and a new found role as an important ferry hub, linking Orkney to the Scottish mainland.
The village of St Margaret’s Hope is very much the centre of life in South Ronaldsay. It sits overlooking a picturesque bay and features beautiful stone houses alongside its winding roads and streets. It hosts the local primary school, community hall, post office and doctor’s surgery, along with hotels, pubs, a café, shops and more. It’s also the base for award winning The Creel, one of Orkney’s finest restaurants.
Local company Pentland Ferries is based in the village too. The privately run business operates a vehicle ferry between St Margaret’s Hope and Gills Bay in Caithness, with up to four return sailings daily during the summer months.
The Workshop and Loft Gallery can be found in the village too. The Workshop is a local craft co-operative with its own exclusive knitwear range, but it also sells a wide range of Orcadian arts and crafts. The Loft Gallery is upstairs and hosts regular exhibitions by both local and visiting artists.
The Cromarty Hall in the heart of the Hope, as the village is known locally, has undergone a large refurbishment in recent years and holds a number of local events. There is a regular Film Night, with movies shown on a large screen, a book festival and other plays and productions. There are plenty of other attractions in the Hope. There is the excellent Smiddy Museum with artefacts from bygone days. There is also an excellent nine hole golf course, bowling green, a tennis court and gym facilities at the Healthy Living Centre, next to the local school.
The school itself is the venue for the unique annual Festival of the Horse parade and Boys Ploughing Match in August. It sees local girls dressed in fantastic costumes, decked out in brooches, ribbons and buttons, designed to resemble horses. Young boys take part in a traditional hand-ploughing match on the beach at the nearby Sands of Wright with ploughs handed down through the generations.
Just past the Sands of Wright, the headland of Hoxa juts out into Scapa Flow. It had an important role to play in two World Wars – its elevation and position proved to be the perfect spot for gun batteries and searchlights to scan the area for signs of enemy intrusion. There is a walk to the well preserved batteries, although now some of it has been closed off due to the deterioration of the old buildings. If you do visit the area, make sure to stop off at the Hoxa Head Tearoom for refreshments, before heading to the nearby Hoxa Tapestry Gallery to view some of the superb designs by local artist Leila Thomson.
If you continue past the village heading south, you will be rewarded with some spectacular viewpoints, at the Olad Summit and overlooking the bay at Windwick. Here, a sea stack pierces the surface of the water and seabirds dominate the nearby cliffs. During the summer you can also take in a very important archaeological dig at Windwick too. The project at The Cairns is uncovering an Iron Age settlement and workers will be on site until the 10th of July.
Also on the road to Windwick is the lovely Olav’s Wood. A small patch of mixed woodland that has been carefully cultivated over the last four decades, it really is a special place. It features areas of dense forest, plenty of wildlife and flowers, with a burn running through the entire site. It’s a great spot for a walk, but parking is limited, so be mindful of other road users if you plan to visit.
Further down South Ronaldsay you will come across Orkney Food and Drink member, the Eastward Guest House. It offers dinner, bed and breakfast packages in a luxurious setting, along with themed dining experiences.
Continue towards the southernmost point of the island and you’ll come to the signs pointing you in the direction of the Tomb of the Eagles. It’s one of Orkney’s most popular tourist attractions and visitors use a small trolley to pull themselves into the chambered cairn, uncovered by accident by a local farmer in the 1950s. There you can see an amazing collection of bones and artefacts, left behind 5,000 years ago. There is also a visitor centre, which offers a unique ‘hands on’ experience, daily talks and a gift shop.
Nearby, the Banks Chambered Tomb also offers the chance to experience Orkney’s ancient history, with talks and tours of the remains found at the site. It sits next to the highly rated Skerries Bistro, which offers unmatched views across the Pentland Firth towards Scotland as well as the very best in local seafood.
The small port of Burwick is the last stop in South Ronaldsay. During the summer months, the John O’Groats Ferry company runs passenger only sailings between the pier and mainland Scotland.
We’ve come to the end of another Orkney.com newsletter – thank you for taking the time to read all about life here in the islands.
Remember to get in touch with your news, views and comments, or if you just want to share the story of your time here with us via Facebook or Twitter.
In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.