Hello and welcome to the July newsletter from Orkney.com.
Focus returns to the Ness of Brodgar
July brings the return of one of the major events in the Orkney calendar – the start of the annual Ness of Brodgar archaeological excavation. Work at the six-acre site gets underway at the start of the month, with free tours available throughout the season once again. This fascinating dig has captured the imagination of thousands of visitors since it was first discovered more than 15 years ago. Find out what’s in store for 2018, and how you can visit the site, with our preview blog. There are other archaeology projects open to the public across the islands this summer too.
Sea eagle success
Orkney’s wildlife world has been celebrating in recent weeks thanks to the news that Hoy’s resident pair of sea eagles have successfully hatched a chick. It’s the first in the islands for nearly 150 years – and RSPB Scotland believes there could actually be two chicks in the eyrie! Staff members are keeping a close eye on the nest, high above the Dwarfie Stane in the Hoy hills, to try and catch a glimpse of the new arrivals. Sea eagles, also known as white-tailed eagles, arrived back in Orkney in 2013, with unsuccessful breeding attempts in 2015 and 2016.
Orkney stacks up!
We’ve been exploring some of the nearly six hundred miles of coastline to be found around these islands recently, on the hunt for Orkney’s best sea stacks. There are rocky outcrops of all kinds of shapes and sizes, from the huge Old Man of Hoy, to smaller, more delicate structures sitting just offshore. Take a look at our favourites and share your own images with us on social media!
A taste of Orkney
We’ve recently launched a new feature that’s sure to get your taste buds tingling! We’re going to be taking a regular look at Orkney’s fantastic food and drink with local food writer Rosemary Moon over the coming months. She’ll be visiting producers around the islands to find out more about the products, as well as putting together some new recipes for you all to try at home. You can read her first blog, with the Orkney Gin Company, on the Orkney.com 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 on social media. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
July brings a busy events calendar, with walks, talks, tours, tunes and much more to enjoy.
The month gets underway in an athletic fashion though, with the St Magnus Marathon and 10k. Now in its third year, the marathon has become an established part of the Orkney summer and the route takes runners from Kirkwall to Birsay, through some of the finest scenery the islands have to offer. It’s too late to enter this year but why not take a look at the St Magnus Marathon Facebook page and begin planning your training schedule for 2019!
As you read in the news section, one of the main attractions of the summer starts in the first week of July too. The covers at the Ness of Brodgar excavation begin to come off on Monday 2nd ahead of tours being launched again on Wednesday 4th. This fascinating Neolithic excavation is one of the jewels in Orkney’s archaeological crown and is a must-see when you’re here. Visit the official website for full visitor information. There's also an open day on July 15th between 11am and 4pm too.
There are a number of other interesting excavations taking place across the islands, check out the UHI Archaeology website to see what’s happening and discover how you can visit. You can also find out more about the dig at Swandro in Rousay at the next Orkney Archaeology Society talk. It's in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall at 7.30pm on the 12th of July.The Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. There will be free entry to the Centre between 10am and 5pm on the 1st of July, and a new garden display will open at midday too.
July brings National Meadows Day 2018 and in Orkney you can take a guided walk around the beautiful RSPB Brodgar reserve, right in the centre of our UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Along with experts from Historic Environment Scotland and RSPB Scotland, the walk will showcase the wildflowers, rare bees and other wildlife that can be found in the area. It's all on the 7th of July between 11am and 1pm. It's free but places are limited and booking is essential. To reserve a place, call 01856 850176 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stromness Shopping Week is one of Orkney’s most popular events and sees the town of Stromness come alive during July. The gala week features activities for all ages held in and around the town, with fancy dress parades, live music, fun and games, competitions and much more throughout the course of the seven days. It all gets underway this year on the 15th of July – check out the official Facebook page for updates.
A special attraction at Shopping Week this year is ‘Brave the Bounce’, offering folk the chance to experience a 160ft bungee jump to raise funds for CLAN Cancer Support! The jumps will be held on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st July – sign up online.
If you’re game for a laugh in July then popular Scottish stand-up comedian Fred MacAulay could have just the thing for you. He’ll be bringing his ’30 years on’ tour to the Orkney Theatre on the 13th at 8pm. Tickets are available at The Reel in Kirkwall on 01856 871 000 and at Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness on 01856 851 063. You can also get them online.
Live music is always at the heart of the summer season. This month you can see a blend of traditional music styles from Orkney and the USA with McNally, Bichan and Hearn. Orcadian fiddler Louise Bichan will be performing with Americans Katie McNally and Conor Hearn at The Reel in Kirkwall on the 22nd at 7.30pm, in the Graand Owld Byre in Westray on the 24th and at Skaill House on the 25th. Find out how to book via the Visit Orkney events page.
The Hoy Hoolie returns for 2018 with a fantastic weekend of live music in the island of Hoy. The Longhope YM will host some of the finest local bands between Friday 27th and Sunday 29th of July – more information can be found on the Hoy Hoolie website and on Facebook.
Elsewhere you can catch a performance from award-winning blues guitarist Doug Macleod this month too. He’ll be playing the Stromness Town Hall on the 29th at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from Sinclair Office Supplies on 01856 851 063 or by emailing email@example.com
The Reel in Kirkwall has a number of fantastic musical events on this month, including a performance from the legendary Ivan Drever and another Orcadian Summer Concert – view the full calendar and find out how to get tickets on The Reel website.
On the silver screen you can see the likes of 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom', 'The Little Vampire' and 'Sicario 2: Soldado' at the Pickaquoy Centre. Meanwhile the West Side Cinema has ‘A Fantastic Woman’ in the Stromness Town Hall on the 14th from 7.15pm.
Staying in Stromness and the Pier Arts Centre has plenty to see this summer. You can celebrate the work of poet, artist and filmmaker Margaret Tait with a special exhibition until the 9th of September. There is also an exhibition of sculpture and photography by father and son Tam and Paul MacPhail. It’s on display until the 8th of September.
The Orkney Museum has ‘Tracing the Lines: Pots and People in the late Neolithic’ on display all summer, with ‘Skara Brae Rediscovered’ taking centre stage at the Stromness Museum until the 31st of October.
Finally, the end of July brings something a bit different with the return of the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival. It’s all aimed at helping promote and preserve the island’s iconic seaweed-eating sheep for generations to come, and the twelve-day event brings plenty of activities. Volunteers can also help rebuild the ancient sheep dyke that encircles the island. This year’s festival begins on the 29th of July - find out more via our short film and blog looking back at the 2017 event.
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.
These wonderfully warm days are perfect for getting down to the shore where, glowing in the sun, Orkney’s rockpools are more enticing than ever. It’s a habitat that richly rewards exploration.At this time of year you may well come across sea slugs, which are much more attractive than their name suggests. Take the sea hare, for instance (Aplysia punctata). Individuals may be brown, green or a purplish black, with young ones often pinky red.
On larger individuals you can see that their translucent body is finely stippled, almost leopard-like, and you might even agree that the broad tentacles on either side of the mouth give them an intelligent and expressive look. From the delicately sculpted head protrude two further tentacles, like a hare’s ears, giving the species its name.
Sea hares are just one of many species found locally. Another favourite is the grey sea slug (Aeolidia papillosa), whose greyish pink body is covered in soft, spine-like protrusions, like a shaggy rug.
It can take perseverance, as you gently explore the seaweeds in a rockpool or check underneath rocks (remember to turn these back the right way round). As often in nature, though, the thrill is that you never know what you might find.
One such moment for me was coming across a sea hare mating chain last year, which I’d previously only read about in Paul Naylor’s superb Great British Marine Animals. As he explains, sea slugs are hermaphrodites and can therefore form stacks “where each acts as a male to the one below it and as a female to the one above”.
Turning over some seaweed in one of Birsay Bay’s fantastic rockpools, there they were – almost indistinguishable as individuals, and busy laying a mass of eggs in tangled pink threads. I hope to meet some of their descendents this summer, or perhaps you will.
My interest in photography developed fairly naturally. I bought my first 110 camera when I was young and I remember taking photos with it for a while, thinking it was such a cool piece of kit. I moved onto at Canon AV-1 and got a couple of lenses and it was such a joy to use, with a far greater picture quality compared to the 110.
Eventually I moved onto a DSLR and worked my way up to a Canon EOS 1D MKIII, before curiosity got the better of me and I tried some Nikon cameras. I now have the Sony A6000 mirrorless camera which is tiny compared to the others, but it’s really good and excellent for travel.
I’ve always lived in Orkney and photography kind of developed into a hobby as I was always carrying a camera about with me. Due to work commitments, I never really got the time to get out to take images and it’s only in recent years I’ve managed to find more time. I mainly take shots of landscapes, places and subjects of interest, sunrises and sunsets, geological features, wildlife, flora, historical buildings, that kind of thing. I’m drawn to architecture and I enjoy taking black and white images too. I love panoramas, though, they’re great for landscapes and sometimes I stich them together to get that fully wide shot.
Orkney is a great place for photographers but most of my images are from around my home island of Eday, which has some beautiful locations. As most local photographers will tell you, the weather can be a bit challenging here, but wild, stormy conditions also provide the perfect backdrop for images with dramatic light and high seas. Just get the big jacket on and go for it!
I would definitely encourage anyone to come to Orkney if they’re looking for a place to take great pictures. There are endless subjects, brilliant light and beautiful scenery – something for everyone with a camera.
See more of Len's photography on his Facebook page.
Orkney’s ancient history is often the focus of many visitor guides and itineraries, but there are also plenty of attractions and sites to visit that tell the story of the islands in more recent times.
If you’re travelling around Orkney you’ll often see derelict old mills by the roadside, their time in the spotlight long gone. You can imagine them at work in years gone by, at the centre of the communities. Only the Barony Mill in Birsay is still operational, but there is an example of an even older mill nearby.
Just north of the village of Dounby you’ll find the Click Mill, a fully-restored water mill, the last of its kind in Orkney. The stunning stone work and distinctive turf roof are the first things you’ll see as you head towards the building from the small lay-by.
The Click Mill is tucked away in the moorland and sits beside a small stream. It was built in the early 1820s and it’s thought it was in use for around 60 years. The door to the Mill is always open and it’s well worth taking a look inside, as it’s the only one in the islands to still feature its internal machinery.
Stooping down through the low door, you’ll see the horizontal paddle wheel and grind-stones, as well as the cowling, hopper and meal bin. These kinds of mills, traditionally found in the northern and western Scotland, date back to Norse times and the Click Mill is one of the best surviving examples of its kind.
Close the door on this historical gem as you leave and head back to your car. Remember to keep your eyes open as you continue over the Hillside Road into the parish of Evie too – you’ll be travelling through the RSPB Birsay Moors Reserve and could see hen-harriers, short-eared owls, merlins and much more. You’re never far away from history and nature in Orkney.
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.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.