• Waulkmill, Orkney

July 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the July newsletter from Orkney.com.

Orkney is a special place to be during the summer months. The islands are a kaleidoscope of colour, with golden sunsets, green fields and blue seas and skies to take in. It’s a busy time of year too, so keep reading to find out all about life here during July.

As always, we’d love to hear from you too - stay in touch on social media by following the links at the top of the page.

July's headlines

Make the move to North Ronaldsay

North Ronaldsay's famous seaweed-eating sheep

If you fancy a change of scene then North Ronaldsay might be the perfect destination for you. The island is looking for a warden to manage maintenance of its sheep dyke, a 13-mile stone structure that keeps North Ronaldsay’s unique seaweed-eating sheep on the shoreline. It gets damaged during winter storms and it’s hoped the new post, fully funded for three years, will help with its restoration. The post will also help co-ordinate volunteers and promote the island to visitors.

Take a trip back in time in Kirkwall

Download the app via GooglePlay or the AppStore

You can now explore one thousand years of history and heritage in Kirkwall with the town’s new app. The Kirkwall Heritage App tells the story of more than 100 buildings and sites of interest in the town and their role in its development over the last millennia. The app offers five different ‘trails’ to follow around the town, including two for younger folk. Users can also collect ‘badges’ as they visit sites and compare today’s street view with historical images.

New secrets to be uncovered at the Ness

The dig at the Ness of Brodgar

More than 100 archaeologists and volunteers will be back on site at the sprawling Ness of Brodgar excavation this month. The dig officially opens to the public again on July 3, with free tours available once again. Now in its 13th year, the work this summer will focus on the mysterious Structure Twenty-Seven, which could pre-date most of the other buildings on site. The Ness of Brodgar is a fascinating place to visit and one not to miss during your time in Orkney.

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.

July in Orkney

July is such a fantastic time to be in Orkney, with so much to see and do throughout the month.

It’s also the perfect month to get out and about, and one event in particular will help you do just that. The Orkney Garden Festival is back, offering a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most beautiful gardens in the islands.

28 gardens will be open over two weekends between the 4th and 14th, and there will also be illustrated talks with experts from BBC Scotland’s Beechgrove Garden too. Find out more via the official Facebook page.

Explore some of Orkney's finest gardens this summer


As you read in the news, the Ness of Brodgar dig opens for tours this month once again. It’s just one of a number of excavations you can visit this summer, with others being held in South Ronaldsay and Rousay. Read our guide to Orkney’s 2019 dig dates so you can see history being uncovered in front of you.

Did you know that Orkney is home to the UK’s most northerly marathon? The St Magnus Marathon takes runners from the centre of Kirkwall to Birsay on the west coast of the Orkney mainland, a historical route through some of our finest scenery. Now in its third year, it’s fast becoming a fixture on Orkney’s athletic calendar.

Runners at the St Magnus Marathon get underway on Kirkwall's Broad Street


It all takes place on the 7th, and even if you’re not ready to run it this year, it’s well worth turning out to watch those taking part leaving from in front of St Magnus Cathedral. There’s also a popular 10k event too – visit the official website for more information.

You know summer is here when Stromness Shopping Week is on the horizon. The annual gala week is a fantastic showcase of community spirit in and around the town, with plenty of fun and games planned. Events include fun runs, children’s entertainment, live music and the annual fancy dress and float parade. This year it will all be held between the 21st and 29thcheck out the official Facebook page for updates.

One of the most unique events in Orkney’s annual calendar returns this month. The North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival begins on the 29th, offering ten days of a holiday with a difference. The festival is aimed at promoting and preserving the island’s iconic seaweed-eating sheep, focusing on conservation and the restoration of the North Ronaldsay sheep dyke. Volunteers will help rebuild the dyke, but it’s not all hard work! On offer will be walks, talks, workshops, tours and dances – as well as the chance to make a real difference to this special community. Watch our video to find out more.

Find out more via the official website.

If you want to explore Orkney’s wildlife this month then a trip to Hoy is a must. Join RSPB Orkney’s Eaglewatch to try and spot the island’s white-tailed eagles and their chicks. Take your own binoculars or use one of the RSPB scopes at the Dwarfie Stane car park every day between 11am and 4pm.

The local RSPB also has weekly walks at the North Hill Reserve in Papa Westray and a special Bumblebee event at Brodgar on the 20th. Visit the official website for more details.

The summer months are always full of live music in Orkney. The Reel in Kirkwall has a variety of performances planned in July, including two of its famous Orcadian Summer Concerts. They’re on the 9th and 23rd this month, with doors opening at 7.30pm. Remember to get your tickets in advance as these concerts are always very popular.

The Reel in the centre of Kirkwall


If you missed out on the Scapa 100 commemorations in June then you can still find out more about the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet with some excellent exhibitions this month. The Stromness Museum has ‘Salvaging our Heritage – the Wrecks of Scapa Flow’, and ‘Living Wrecks: The Marine Life of Scapa Flow’ on display until November. In Kirkwall, the Orkney Museum hosts ‘1919 – the Scuttling of the German Fleet’.

Take advantage of a tour this month with a free guided walk in Orkney’s World Heritage Site. The Rangers will be leading daily guided walks of the Ring of Brodgar at 1pm until the end of August. You can also join them for longer, four-hour walks at the site and beyond every Tuesday from 10am. All these walks start at the Ring of Brodgar car park.

The Standing Stones of Stenness Ranger walks are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.

The Standing Stones of Stenness - image by VisitScotland/Iain Sarjeant


Other tours available include the Papay Peedie Tours in Papa Westray every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday until the end of August and walks around the Lyness Wartime Trail in Hoy until October. The walks take around two hours and start at 11am every Tuesday. Booking is advised by phoning 01856 791300.

There’s always the option to retreat indoors if the sun isn’t shining. The Pickaquoy Centre cinema has showings of The Secret Life of Pets 2, X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Toy Story 4 scheduled this month. In Stromness, the West Side Cinema has screenings of ‘Border’ and ‘First Man’ – check out the Facebook page for programme information.

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 our 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.

Wild Orkney

Our wildlife featured this month focuses on one of Orkney’s most popular seasonal visitors, the ever-popular puffin!

Orkney’s cliffs are spectacular places to be during the summer months. Take a trip to the coast and you’ll be greeted with the sound of thousands of seabirds swirling above the waves. You’ll see fulmars, guillemots, gannets and much more.

In certain locations though, if you look really closely, you’ll see some really colourful characters. Orkney’s puffin population returns to the cliffs towards the end of April to build burrows before heading back to sea at the end of July and into August.

Puffins in Westray, Orkney


They’re known as ‘tammie norries’ in Orkney and actually spend most of their lives at sea. Their trips back to land see them lay a single egg before nurturing their pufflings over the summer.

Puffins are definitely one of the most popular wildlife attractions in Orkney. With their technicolour bills, black and white plumage and bright orange feet, they look almost clown-like as they waddle on cliff edges and ledges. But behind their comical appearance lies a gifted diver and a hardy character – they have to be given they spend much of the year in the Atlantic Ocean.

July is the last chance you have to see them here before they disappear again for the rest of the year. Orkney has four locations where you should be able to get lucky. The Castle o’Burrian in Westray is definitely your best bet, with the castle, a squat sea stack, home to hundreds of puffins during the summer.

The Brough of Birsay is another good option, with puffins easily spotted on the tidal island’s west and north coasts. You might also be able to see some at Marwick Head and on the cliffs close to the Old Man of Hoy, but remember to bring binoculars for these locations, as finding them here can be quite a challenge.

But remember, be quick, as they’re building up for the great puffin departure once again!

Focus on photography

Our featured photographer for July, Iain Johnston, spends his time documenting daily life in his home island of Stronsay, from sunsets and seals to beaches, bays and coastal walks.

I first became interested in photography whilst messing about with a Polaroid camera with my gang of friends when we were all at the stage of starting to go out – thankfully back in those days social media didn't really exist! Jump forward to slightly more recent times and my wife started taking me hiking in the Munros when we lived in Aberdeen, which was a perfect location to get out with a camera.

My first DSLR was a Canon 350D, followed by trading up to the 650D model. I have recently changed to a Sony Alpha mirrorless body, with an adapter to allow use of my existing Canon/Canon-fit lenses. I've recently added a 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens, which is proving very handy for the wildlife shots.

It's only after moving back home to Orkney six years ago that I'm fully appreciating just how lucky we are to be surrounded by such stunning scenery. It's impossible not to be inspired by Orkney, with the big skies, ever-changing seas, stunning wildlife and Aurora. I'm finding huge inspiration from the images other photographers post on social media, in particular the Orkney.com newsletter, the Orkney Past & Present and Orkney Aurora Facebook pages.

Being based in Stronsay, the Vat of Kirbister is a favourite destination, particularly at random times of the night for Aurora, or at the crack of dawn to try capturing the sunrise. There are also many secluded bays here where it's possible to spend hours snapping the seals and birdlife close up. I'm especially fond of shooting during the golden hour of an evening, when the light is pretty special.

On the Orkney mainland, it would have to be out West that ticks the boxes, from the spectacular seascapes around Birsay to the scenic views over the Harray loch.

Orkney is a photographer’s dream location, whatever level you're shooting at or equipment you're using. With the skies and changeable weather, the stunning cliffs and seascapes, a huge variety of wildlife, history and archaeology everywhere, you're really spoilt for choice. There’s also a great bunch of local photographers sharing images, many of whom are very willing to advise on camera settings, locations etc to help fine tune your techniques.

You can see more of Iain’s images on the Stronsay Facebook page, and via the Visit Stronsay Instagram page.

Explore hidden Orkney

Every month we highlight an Orkney attraction that can be found off the traditional tourist trail. For July we’re island hopping to Hoy.

Hoy is an island that has its fair share of wartime stories to tell. Lyness was the Royal Navy’s base during two World Wars, with thousands of men and women stationed around the port. The shells of military buildings left behind are testament to this time of conflict. But tucked away in South Walls, just ten miles away from the ferry terminal at Lyness, you’ll find a site built for a perceived threat from a different century.

The Hackness Battery and Martello Tower were built between 1813-14. At that time the Napoleonic Wars were at their height and French and American warships were attacking merchant shipping, using the Pentland Firth en-route.

The Hackness Martello Tower


Although the sites didn’t see any enemy action, even when they were brought back into use in the 1860s, they still offer a fascinating glimpse into military life more than 200 years ago.

The battery and tower sit close to the coast, overlooking Longhope Sound and Scapa Flow. The battery gives visitors the chance to experience barracks life and features furniture and other items of military memorabilia. You can walk through the rooms, see gun emplacements and the remains of the powder magazine. It really is a rare and remarkable site.

The remains of the Hackness Battery


The Hackness Martello Tower was one of only three built in Scotland (one of the others sits across the Sound, at Crockness). It’s a circular stone building housing barracks and stores, with a cannon on top. The tower is incredibly well-preserved and you can get a real feel for what life would have been like here.

These sites are definitely worth taking the time to visit. The surrounding area is full of wildlife and stunning scenery, and it’s an especially beautiful place on a sunny day. If you’re a military history buff or you just want to see a unique piece of island history, then a trip to South Walls and Hackness should be top of your Orkney list.

The cannon on top of the Martello Tower, overlooking Longhope Sound


See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.

And finally...

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.

We’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, Orkney.com and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

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

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