Hello and welcome to the July newsletter from Orkney.com.
The summer is here and our islands are a real hive of activity. Keep reading this month for more on life in Orkney, including our July events calendar, another look at a special attraction and more images from the islands.
Summer in Orkney
There is so much to do in Orkney during the summer it can be hard to fit it all in. We’ve decided to try and help by highlighting five of our favourite things to do across the islands at this time of year. From taking special tours to celebrating the town of Stromness; seeing our seaweed-eating sheep to walking the coastal trails, there really is something for everyone. Read our summer recommendations and be inspired by the islands!
Beer Awards nominations for Orkney Brewery
The Orkney Brewery is in the running for a number of titles at the Scottish Beer Awards 2017. Seven of the Brewery’s beers have been shortlisted, including the famous Skull Splitter, Dark Island Reserve, Orkney Gold and Puffin Ale. The Brewery has also been nominated in the Beer Destination of the Year category for its five-star visitor centre. Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Archaeology in action
Orkney’s archaeology season is now well underway with a number of excavations being held across the islands during the summer months. The main event, the Ness of Brodgar dig, opens to the public again on the 5th of July too. Most of the excavations are open to the public and are a fascinating opportunity to find out about Orkney’s ancient history first hand. Explore our new interactive map to see the sites you can visit this summer, as well as some of the surrounding attractions.
Special jewellery design raises funds for RNLI
A special range of jewellery, handmade in Orkney, has been launched to mark the 150th anniversary of the Stromness RNLI. The collection by Stromness-based Zoe Davidson Jewellery is named after the Saltaire, the first lifeboat to be stationed in the town in 1867. Zoe designed a collection made up of jewellery for both men and women, ranging from tie pins and slides to necklaces and earrings, aimed at everyday use so people can show their support for the RNLI wherever they go. Ten per-cent of the income generated from the collection will also go to the RNLI to purchase vital lifesaving equipment and to help train volunteer crews. Find out more via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
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!
July in Orkney
Welcome to the summer in Orkney, where the days are long just so you can fit all our events and activities in!
Things just don’t let up in July. Right at the start of the month you can cheer on the runners in the 2nd annual St Magnus Marathon as they prepare to tackle the route all the way from the centre of Kirkwall to the Birsay Hall in Orkney’s West Mainland. The race begins on Broad Street in front of St Magnus Cathedral at 10am on Sunday 2nd.
The slightly more sedate but no less exciting excavation project at the Ness of Brodgar gets underway the following day, although public access only begins again on Wednesday the 5th. From then you’ll be able to see more than a hundred archaeologists painstakingly pick their way through the remains of this fascinating Neolithic complex. Find out more and how you can visit via our special blog. There will also be a special Open Day on Sunday 16th with fun and activities for all the family.
There are other archaeological projects on across Orkney this summer too – explore what’s happening by using Visit Orkney’s interactive map and see history being uncovered right in front of you.
Stromness is the focus for two weeks worth of fun and celebrations in the heart of July. First up is Stromness Shopping Week, the town’s annual gala week, which includes community events, activities, live music, dances and much more. It runs from the 16th and culminates with a fantastic fancy dress float parade and a stunning fireworks display at the Pierhead on Saturday 22nd.
Then, the following week, the town marks its history and heritage with seven days of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of becoming a burgh. A special range of events has been organised which will see locals and visitors alike take part in activities including community sports, food and drink fares, special archaeological projects and celebrations of the town's relationship with the sea. Find out more via our events calendar and get ready to help Stromness shine this summer.
In the midst of all that, the spotlight will swing to Kirkwall and the first visit to Orkney for comedian Phill Jupitus. Well known from shows like QI and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, he’ll be performing for one night only at the Orkney Theatre on the 21st from 7.30pm. Tickets are available online.
One of our furthest flung islands takes centre stage at the end of the month with the return of the popular North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival. The unique event sees visitors help rebuild the stone dyke that encircles the island, which is vital to keep the famous native seaweed-eating sheep on the shoreline. Those taking part will be rewarded with some fantastic events, including exhibitions, films, music and much more. It’s a real holiday with a difference and gives those taking part the chance to join a very proactive community. It starts on the 31st – find out more from the official website.
Remember during the summer months you can enjoy free guided tours of Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse village. The walks are led by Historic Environment Scotland’s Ranger Service and are the perfect opportunity to hear some of the secrets of each site. Meet at the Standing Stones of Stenness car park on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am, and the Ring of Brodgar car park daily at 1pm. They’re free and there is no need to book.
If you’d like to catch some live local music in July then look no further than The Reel on Kirkwall’s Broad Street. There are informal music nights every Saturday from 8pm with Orcadian Summer Concerts on Tuesday 11th and 25th at 8pm too, featuring a variety of local performers.
Even though it’s summer the Orcadian weather isn’t always prepared to please everyone. Lucky, then, that there are plenty of exhibitions and other indoor activities to see across the islands. You can visit heritage centres in the likes of Westray, Eday, Papa Westray and Sanday to explore the history of those communities.
On the mainland the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray is a brilliant place to spend some time, and hosts an excellent café too.
A visit to the Pier Arts Centre is a must if you’re an art lover. The award-winning building currently has two main exhibitions on display alongside its regular collection. You can see ‘Conversations with Magic Stones’ which explores the significance of ancient stone tools found in Orkney over the years. The Centre is also hosting the ‘Portrait of Stromness – A Burgh of Barony 200 Anniversary’ exhibition as part of the Per Mare celebrations.
Per Mare is also the focus in the Stromness Museum throughout the summer. In Kirkwall, you can see the newly refurbished Viking and Medieval galleries at the Orkney Museum. Both the Orkney and Stromness Museums are joining with the Pier Arts Centre as part of the ‘Conversations with Magic Stones’ event over the summer months too.
You can also see a celebration of the town's past through fashions from the late 19th Century to today at the 'Doon Memory Lane' exhibition. It's in the Commercial Hotel until the 31st and is open Monday to Saturday between 10.30am and 4.30pm.
Elsewhere, you can catch ‘7 Waves’, the Magnus 900 art installation, in the St Magnus Church in Birsay until the end of August. The St Magnus sails are hanging again in St Magnus Cathedral too and are well worth a visit.
Expect the usual range of blockbusters, indie films and live theatre and ballet broadcasts at the Pickaquoy Centre Cinema in July – see the full schedule on the Centre’s website. In Stromness the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘The Fits’ on the 1st in the Town Hall from 7.45pm.
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
Every month we focus on another perfect wildlife spotting location in Orkney. Join local expert Alison Nimmo to find out where she’s been this time.
About this time last summer I enjoyed a great day in Westray with visiting family. We spent much of it at Noup Head, where thousands of seabirds nest precariously on the cliffs. I have some vibrant memories of the day: crashing sea, swirling birds, watching and waiting to catch a glimpse of chicks being fed…and top notch fish and chips from Pierowall for the ferry home. So all in all a trip to recommend.
At Noup Head you’ll find the RSPB Noup Cliffs nature reserve. It’s the place to go to see gannets nesting in Orkney, as though they started frequenting the site only fourteen years ago, numbers have risen quickly and the county’s other colonies are out on the remote islands of Sule Stack and Sule Skerry.
Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins raise their chicks here too on the towering cliffs, watched over by Noup Head lighthouse. As you bump along the access track, wind down the windows to catch that first unmistakable tang of guano on the air and the rising noise of thousands of seabird voices.
Seals sometimes haul out on the rocks below the lighthouse, and it's always worth keeping an eye out to sea for whales and dolphins. Enjoy the grandstand view of diving gannets, too, which can reach up to 60 mph as they arrow into the water. Inland, terns and skuas nest on the heath.
You can take a walk along the cliffs from here to admire the rugged coastline - there’s the whole West Westray Walk, about 9km, if you’re feeling fit. Wildflowers brighten the way, accented by the occasional fragment of colourful guillemot egg.
Wild seas and wildflowers fill the lens
Our featured photographer for July is new Orkney resident Nicki Gwynn-Jones. She has spent her year in the islands viewing the land and seascapes through her lens.
On moving to Orkney a year ago I realised that I had an opportunity to tell a different story. For me the important thing is to capture the essence of a place: how do I feel? What can I hear? What can I smell?
In general I like to be at eye level to whatever I am photographing. It makes the image much more intimate. To photograph flowers I lie flat on my belly and focus manually. That way I can find the in-between places where the real magic exists. If I am looking down from a cliff top I try to find unusual patterns in the water and hope for one of Orkney’s stunning sea birds to fly over it. And the sea! I try to get as close as possible to those massive waves.
My aim is to make the viewer feel as though they are there with me, perhaps seeing the scene as for the first time. To me it is the difference between looking and seeing.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we shine a light on some of Orkney’s more unknown places. For July we go island hopping to an ancient location, just waiting to be discovered.
It’s well worth taking the time to get to know Orkney’s island communities when you’re here. Each one is different, with its own attractions, history and heritage. And there is always something special that you won’t find anywhere else.
That’s certainly the case in Papa Westray, or Papay, as it’s known in Orkney. Nestled on the west coast of the island, perched on the coast overlooking the neighbouring Westray, lies the ancient Knap of Howar.
The two small structures are the oldest standing stone buildings in north-west Europe and date back to around 3800BC. It’s thought the buildings were a Neolithic farmstead, home to ancestors of the island nearly six thousand years ago.
The buildings are small – the largest covers an area of around ten metres by five metres – with the walls reaching a height of just over 1.5 metres. But, similar to the larger Skara Brae settlement on the Orkney mainland, it’s the sense of history you feel at the site that really captures the imagination.
The find was preserved by wind-blown sand before being excavated in the 1930s and again in the 1970s and features many of Skara Brae’s fixtures and fittings, including hearths, pits, built-in cupboards and stone benches. It’s thought the buildings were used for around 500 years by farmers, with evidence of livestock and cereal farming and fish and shellfish harvesting found at the site.
The Knap of Howar sits in a wider archaeological context too. Close-by is the chambered cairn on the Holm of Papay, with the huge excavation at the Links of Noltland in Westray only a matter of miles away too.
It’s a fascinating site to visit, in a beautiful island. Just two reasons to hop on a ferry or plane for an island hopping adventure in Orkney.
You can also visit the Knap of Howar on a Papay Peedie Tour, a day-long guided tour of the island. They run between the beginning of May until the end of August, with private tours available between April and September. Phone 07931 235 213 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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.