Hello and welcome to the July newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for all our usual features focused on life in Orkney – from a wildlife watch to our monthly parish focus, events calendar and much more.
There are plenty of images and articles to inspire you to visit our special islands, for a short break or on a more permanent basis. If you want to find out more, make sure you look at Orkney.com and Visit Orkney.com for all the information you need.
Orkney uncovered during the summer
Warm weather over recent weeks has been welcomed by teams of archaeologists, working across Orkney at various excavations. Experts are on site at the Cairns in South Ronaldsay and at the Links of Noltland in Westray. Other projects will begin later this month, including the sprawling Ness of Brodgar. Find out what you can see in Orkney over the coming weeks.
Busy season for local food and drink
Some of Orkney’s finest food and drink companies were showcasing their products at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh last month. From fudge to oatcakes and ice-cream, thousands of visitors were able to sample the very best local produce. The Island Smokery and Orkney Cheese both took home awards from the event too. There was also exciting news closer to home as the Orkney Distilling Ltd was granted planning permission for its new gin distillery in Kirkwall. The first bottles are expected to be on sale later this summer.
Orca alert in Orkney!
Wildlife watchers have been in for a treat across the islands in the past few days. Pods of orcas have been spotted at various locations in the seas around Orkney, with sightings near Inganess bay, Hoxa Head and in the Pentland Firth off Burwick. Orcas are regular visitors to the county during the summer months and are on the bucket lists of many visitors. Read our blog on the latest spate of sightings.
Eleven breathtaking photos of the islands
Orkney is a dream destination for photographers. From stunning sea views to craggy coastlines and bustling towns and villages, there is a subject for all styles. We were asked by Visit Scotland to choose eleven of our favourite images of Orkney, and although it was a challenge, we’re happy with our pick! We’d love to see some of your Orkney photos – why not enter our new photo competition for the chance to showcase them to everyone inspired by the islands?
Follow us on Instagram
Remember you can also see beautiful images from Orkney on Instagram via the new @VisitOrkney page. We’ve been sharing stunning shots of the islands over recent weeks – make sure you follow us so you don’t miss a thing.
Win prizes from Orkney!
This month you could win a delicious basket of jams, marmalades and chutneys from Orkney Food and Drink member Orkney Isles Preserves. Your name will be automatically entered into the draw by signing up to our mailing list. [now closed]
July in Orkney
Orkney always has a packed events calendar during the summer, and July is no different. Find out what’s happening around the islands this month.
As you might have seen mentioned in the news section, July is a busy month for all our main archaeological excavations. There is an open day at The Cairns dig in South Ronaldsay on the 1st of July and workers will be on site at Swandro in Rousay from the 4th. Keep up to date with the various projects via the Visit Orkney website.
The covers at the Ness of Brodgar will begin to be removed on the 4th before full tours get underway once more on the 6th of July. Find out more from our blog on Orkney.com.
There’s an energetic feel to the start of July this year too with the inaugural ‘St Magnus Marathon’. Organised by the Birsay Community Association, the marathon will follow a route from St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall to the parish of Birsay, which has strong ties to the story of Orkney’s Viking Earl, St Magnus. Although entries are now closed it will still be a great spectacle, with around 130 runners gathering in front of the Cathedral on the 3rd of July at 10am.
As part of the weekend there will also be a 5km fun run and entertainment in the Birsay Community Hall on the Sunday, and a ceilidh in the evening. The dance is open to all – find out more from the Birsay Community Hall website.
Three Orkney islands will be hosting very different events this month. Hoy is having its second ‘Hoy Hoolie’ after the last year’s success. Head over to the island on Friday 15th for a weekend of music, dancing and plenty of fun for all the family. Find out more from the Hoy Hoolie website.
In Papa Westray the local community will be enjoying its annual Fun Weekend between the 22nd and the 24th. It’s a great excuse to visit the island, with live music, picnics, cart races and much more planned. Visit the Papa Westray website for more details.
Meanwhile the unique seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay will be the focus of a special festival between the 25th of July and the 5th of August. The event is aimed at raising awareness of the ancient breed and giving people the chance to learn practical skills associated with managing the 3,000 strong flock. Find out more from this blog on Orkney.com.
July also sees the town of Stromness take centre stage. The 67th Stromness Shopping Week will be held from the 17th of July, featuring a week-long calendar of community events and activities. Street entertainment, sporting events and live music dominate the week which has become a main part of the Orcadian summer. Visit the official Shopping Week website for updates.
You can take a trip to the very special uninhabited island of Eynhallow with the Orkney Heritage Society in July. Leaving Tingwall at 7.15pm on the 18th, you'll be able to walk around the island, viewing the monastery and a wide variety of sealife and birdlife in the company of local experts. Tickets go on sale on the 4th of July from the Orkney Library and Archive. Find out more from the OHS website.
If the Orkney weather doesn’t play ball there are always plenty of indoor activities to enjoy. For art lovers the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope is showing work by Sheena Graham-George and Angelica Kroeger until the 5th, with Carolyn Dixon taking over from the 9th.
The Pier Arts Centre has two new exhibitions this summer. ‘Natural States – three contemporary painters’ and ‘New Territory – Soulisquoy Printmakers in Stromness’ will both be on display until the 20th of August.
There are plenty of options for music fans too. Scottish folk band ‘Tannara’ will be performing in Westray on the 12th and in The Reel in Kirkwall on the 15th.
The Reel also has regular music events for visitors and locals. There are weekly Saturday night sessions and another Orcadian Summer Concert on the 5th at 8pm, featuring the best of local musical talent. Have a look at The Reel website for the latest information.
The Pickaquoy Centre cinema has a busy summer schedule. On offer this month are blockbusters including ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’, ‘Warcraft: The Beginning’ and ‘The BFG’, along with others like ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘The Silent Storm’. View the full schedule on the Pickaquoy Centre website.
In Stromness the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘Papusza’ on the 2nd at 7.45pm.
Remember you can enjoy free guided tours of Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse village during the summer months. Led by Historic Environment Scotland’s Ranger Service, the walks are the perfect opportunity to hear some of the secrets of each site. Read more and see a special video via Visit Orkney.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during July. 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
Our monthly wildlife feature focuses on where to go for the very best ‘Wild Orkney’ experiences. For July the island of Sanday takes centre stage thanks to local Ranger, Emma Webb.
Sanday is the third largest and one of the most northerly islands of Orkney. Known as the 'Jewel of the Isles' because of the richness of its archaeology, Sanday also deserves the name for the beauty of its long, unspoilt beaches, the abundance of birds, seals and other wildlife, the glittering seas, the clean air and the spectacular skies. On a clear night, the stars are spectacular and winter visitors may glimpse the 'Merry Dancers', the magic of the Northern Lights.
Nature surrounds you in Sanday, no matter the season. It’s a haven for animals and plants, with wonderful rarities to discover and a plethora of wildlife to enjoy. In spring and summer, there is the constant backdrop of bird songs and calls. Lapwing and skylark have all but disappeared in southern Britain, but these, along with redshank and curlew are in full voice at 59 degrees north. In summer you are also never far from the shrill 'peeping' of an oystercatcher. Along the coastline, fulmars cruise by or watch from the safety of their shoreside nests and arctic terns call overhead warning you away. Ever present are the great skua and arctic skua looking for an easy meal and eider duck are now congregating in the shallows with their chicks.
Be sure to keep an eye on the sea as sightings of cetaceans have increased around Orkney in recent years. Orca, minke whale, risso’s dolphin, harbour porpoise and even a humpback whale (seen from North Ronaldsay) have all be recorded around Sanday in recent months – both from land and the inter-island ferries! There are plenty of otters in Sanday too although you do usually have to be patient to find them (special tip - keep a close eye around the harbour when waiting for the ferry!). Look out for their tracks in the sand or ‘spraint’ (droppings) on prominent rocks. Otters prefer habitats within easy reach of both sea and freshwater.
Both grey and common seals are easy to find, take a walk along one of Sanday’s deserted beaches and you will soon find company as the ‘selkies’ follow you just beyond the surf. Over the next few weeks, there is a good chance of finding pups in amongst the common seal colony at Whitemill Bay and Otterswick as they rest beside mum or play in the shallows. Grey seal numbers are also starting to increase again following their post-breeding dispersal and can often be found hauled up on rocky shores at low tide.
Sanday’s beaches certainly live up to their name and are formed from tiny pieces of shell. Shell-hunting is a very popular pass time here and it is possible to find a wide variety of shells including periwinkles, topshells, tellins, banded wedge shell and the blue-rayed limpet. Of course, if you are lucky you may find the rare Faroese sunset shell or the lucky groatie buckie (cowrie shell). There are many good beaches for shell-hunting in Sanday including Backaskaill, DounHelzie and Start Point.
Orkney's landscape inspires local photographer
Every month we feature the work of a talented local photographer which gives us the chance to highlight different views and takes on the stunning Orkney landscape. This month Graham Lyon has been sharing some of his favourite images of the islands
Although I have always been interested in photography, I never had time to develop this interest until ill health forced me to give up farming a couple of years ago. During my convalescence, I spent a lot of time looking for photos on the various Orkney community websites and thought ‘why don’t I try taking some myself?’.
I did some research on cameras and eventually decided on a Lumix LZ-70, thinking it would be a good all-round camera to start me off. Although it still gets a lot of use, I decided to move onto an SLR and now shoot mainly with a Nikon D3300.
I enjoy taking sea and landscape photos, mainly in the West Mainland especially during the ‘golden hour’ around sunrise and sunset.
I feel I am very lucky to be able to capture the extreme weather conditions we can experience in Orkney, from the winter storms to the long summer nights when it is never dark.
You can see more of Graham’s images on the Orkney Past and Present, Orkney Sky and Orkney from the Roadside Facebook groups.
The island on the edge of Orkney
Orkney is an archipelago made up of around seventy islands. This month’s area focus takes a trip to our northernmost community, the unique and wonderful North Ronaldsay.
Getting to North Ronaldsay is an experience in itself. You can either set sail with Orkney Ferries, plotting a path through our low-lying north isles, or you can take to the skies with Loganair, flying over beaches and bays and some of Orkney’s smallest, but most vibrant, communities.
North Ronaldsay certainly ticks all those boxes. It’s an island with one of the smallest populations in Orkney but it still has a lot going for it. From fantastic bird life to a rugged coastline, history, heritage and the famous seaweed-eating sheep, there really is nowhere else like it.
Most visitors head to two different attractions at either end of the island. Towards the south sits the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. Established in 1987, it is the epicentre of the study of the incredible array of migrant birds that pass over North Ronaldsay. From northern harriers to greenish warblers, great shearwaters and an American golden plover, the island is simply one of the best places in the UK for bird watching.
The Observatory is also a one-stop-shop in North Ronaldsay. It offers accommodation, camping, meals and a shop for visitors. Follow them on Twitter for the latest sightings from the island.
Take the main road north to the extreme edge of the Orkney archipelago and you’ll be greeted by the tallest land-based lighthouse in the country. The distinctive tower of the North Ronaldsay lighthouse looms large over the island and its elderly relative, the Old Beacon, next door.
Tours are available of the lighthouse itself and it’s well worth a visit. Brave the climb to the top to be greeted with stunning views – on a clear day you can see Fair Isle in the distance. The surrounding buildings host excellent accommodation, exhibitions and a café and gift shop during the summer too, a perfect place to spend some time when you’re in North Ronaldsay. You can also tour the nearby wool mill which turns the fleece from the famous island sheep into yarn.
You can’t go far in the island without encountering those sheep. The 3,000 strong flock lives on the shoreline of North Ronaldsay, feasting on kelp and seaweed rather than the traditional grass diet of regular sheep. They’re kept from the farmland by a stone, hand-built, thirteen mile sheep dyke that encircles the island.
Wild winter weather over recent years has caused severe damage to stretches of the dyke, and with an ageing island population, it is becoming harder for the community to maintain it and the flock. The Orkney Sheep Foundation has been launched to try and raise awareness of the island and its unique breed. The first ever North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival will be held this month, offering visitors the chance to learn the practical skills associated with looking after the sheep – from dyke repairs to helping round them up for clipping. Find out more from our blog.
The island also has excellent beaches, perfect for exploring and walks, often by yourself away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
If you’re visiting the island bike hire is available and the flat landscape is perfect for cycling, although you might encounter the odd breeze!
Despite its small size, North Ronaldsay boasts a community that works hard to promote and maintain the unique benefits of island life. There is an excellent school for pupils up to Primary 7, with older children attending Kirkwall Grammar School during the week.
The island has a local shop and post office and all the usual benefits of modern life. The local development trust also runs an excellent ‘gateway house’, aimed at giving families the chance to sample the island experience before making a permanent move. It’s the perfect chance to ‘try before you buy’.
The annual North Ronaldsay Harvest Home is one of the main events on the Orkney social calendar too, with food, drink, speakers and dancing into the early hours.
There are regularly positions available for workers in North Ronaldsay, often at the Bird Observatory but also with the local retained fire service and airfield. There is always a need for help restoring the sheep dyke too.
If you’d like to visit the island you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney. If you’re interested in making a more permanent move to North Ronaldsay, search for property with our dedicated property feed.
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.