Hello and welcome to the June newsletter from Orkney.com. In this issue we will hopefully give you plenty of information, ideas and inspiration about life here in Orkney.
This month we’ll be taking a closer look at life in one of our north isles, another local photographer shares their unique take on Orkney’s dramatic scenery and there’s a preview of just some of the events and activities planned here over the coming weeks.
Firstly this month, let’s look back at what has been happening in Orkney over the last few weeks.
Rainy weather doesn’t dampen May enthusiasm
Isles success as home produce takes centre stage
Kirkwall Grammar School was the venue for one of the most hotly contested inter-parish competitions in Orkney last month. Westray claimed the inaugural Orkney Food and Drink ‘Homemade in the Parish’ title, which saw twelve teams from across the islands entered. Parishes put forward some of their very best produce, including pies, cakes, bannocks and home brew. Hundreds of folk turned out to sample some of the products on show before the Westray contingent was awarded the cup. It’s hoped there will be more ‘Homemade’ events in the future, after it was hailed a great success.
Local energy industry highlighted
Orkney’s relationship with renewable energy was the focus of a special episode of the ‘Fully Charged’ YouTube programme last month. Hosted by actor, presenter and renewable energy advocate Robert Llewellyn, it looked at local projects including marine energy, wind power and the popularity of electric vehicles in the islands. It has received a very positive response – if you missed it, you can still see ‘Orkney – Island of the Future’ online. Orkney was also well represented at the annual All Energy Exhibition in Glasgow during May. Twelve local organisations, suppliers and device developers came together under the 'Energy of Orkney' banner at the event.
Connect with nature under canvas in Orkney
Visitors to Orkney can take advantage of all the traditional types of accommodation here, from hotels to bed and breakfasts and guest houses. But now tourists can enjoy something just that little bit different. Described as ‘adventurous self catering’, the Orkney Yurt is now up and ready to welcome new guests. Situated in the rural parish of Rendall, the 21 foot Yurt offers a luxury camping experience with a wood burning stove inside to keep you cosy during the night. It’s a real chance to get up close to nature, with all the home comforts you would expect. Find out more from the Orkney Yurt website.
Fingers crossed for brighter skies in June
So the summer is finally here – at least if you look at the calendar! We’re still waiting for the sun to shine after a very rainy May. But, things are slowly getting greener and the days are certainly getting longer. And that’s definitely good news, because it can be hard to fit everything in to one day in Orkney during the summer months.
One major event dominates June in Orkney. The St Magnus International Festival is the centrepiece of the Orcadian summer, with hundreds of singers, dancers and musicians joined by even more visitors at concerts and performance across the islands. From the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to Eddi Reader, jazz to musical theatre, there is something for all tastes. Best of all, there are still tickets available, so if you want to make a last minute dash north from the 18th of June, have a look at the Festival’s website and arrange your accommodation through Visit Orkney.
Orkney’s gardens will also take centre stage this month. In total, seventeen properties on Orkney’s Garden Trail will be opened to the public, with the first trail launched on the 7th of June. Visitors will get the chance to see some beautiful plants, flowers and locations – with all the funds raised being shared between a number of charities. Don’t worry if you’re planning to visit next month, as the trails continue into July. Find out more from the Scotland’s Gardens website.
As always in Orkney, it’s handy to have some plans in place just in-case the weather isn’t as ‘welcoming’ as it should be. This summer there is a vast array of artistic talent on display – the Bayleaf Deli in Stromness is showcasing Ian Birrell’s framed photographic prints of life in Orkney this month, and the town’s Waterfront Gallery has an Orkney Mix of paintings and craftwork by local artists. In Kirkwall the For Arts Sake Gallery has a new exhibition of Work by Kathy Pickles, while Robinson RR is showing his ‘Seawards’ exhibition at the Old School Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope.
The Pier Arts Centre will host works by renowned UK artist Damien Hirst later in the month. The exhibition is being arranged through the Artists Rooms project – you’ll be able see the likes of Hirst’s ‘Away from the Flock’ from the 20th of June.
Orkney’s museums have really pulled out the stops this summer too. In Kirkwall, the Orkney Museum explores the lives of local men who served in World War One in ‘Orcadians in the Trenches: The War on Land. And, ahead of the Ness of Brodgar excavation starting again next month, you can see some of the amazing finds at the Stromness Museum in its ‘Art and Artefacts’ exhibition.
If archaeology is your thing, Orkney is the place to be this summer. June sees a number of local projects get up and running again. Workers are back on site at the Links of Noltland in Westray, and the fascinating excavation of an Iron Age broch at Cairns in South Ronaldsay continues on the 15th of June. A week later, a team from the University of Bradford will return to the sprawling Swando site in Rousay. Members of the public are more than welcome to head along and see the past being uncovered for themselves during the dig periods. As always, you can find out more from the excellent Orkneyjar website.
And if you can't make it north this month, you can still experience Orkney at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston in Edinburgh between the 18th and 21st of June. Fourteen local food, drink, arts and crafts companies will be exhibiting, with everything from butchers to bakers and potters to painters present.
A watchful eye on Wild Orkney
June is a really exciting time to be a wildlife watcher in Orkney. You can see anything from orcas to puffins and corncrakes to beautiful wild flowers and insects. Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney shares some of her summer highlights...
Orkney’s first breeding sea eagles in nearly 150 years are still frequenting the Dwarfie Hamars on Hoy at the moment. Although the young pair weren’t successful in raising chicks this year, they’re the 100th to have bred in Scotland since the reintroduction programme that started four decades ago – a real milestone in a remarkable project. Let’s hope this time next year we’re celebrating their first chicks.
June is a promising time for sea-watching all around Orkney, with many sightings of Orcas over the last few weeks. Keep an eye out for basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish at 12m long – they live in open waters but move closer to shore in summer, cruising slowly back and forth at the surface with their enormous mouths wide open.
If you’re looking out over Scapa Flow, scan the water too for fishing red-throated divers, or listen for them flying overhead with deep ‘gok-gok-gok’ calls. Try out the new hide at Burgar Hill, part of the Birsay Moors nature reserve, for views over a secluded lochan where a pair often nests.
Meanwhile wildflowers seem to have been set back a couple of weeks by the cold spring. The cliff tops are finally turning pink with thrift and wet areas are a sea of marsh marigolds.
Orkney’s rare great yellow bumblebees should be out and about soon and I’m looking forward to the emergence of beautiful common blue butterflies later in the month, coaxed out by all the sun that better be on the way...!
Atmospheric Orkney is the inspiration for local photographer
There are many folk in Orkney with a real talent behind the camera. Every month, we ask one of them to showcase their work, and the beautiful local scenery, here on orkney.com. For June, the focus is on Ingrid Budge and her take on Orkney. She stays away from some of the more traditional tourist haunts and, as she says, she finds inspiration in the wilder side of the islands...
Orkney has continued to keep me interested in photography over many years. A lot of people are quite rightly attracted to our famous sites and scenery, but it’s the wild skies in the bleakness of winter that inspire me.
I photograph other subjects like derelict houses and their beautiful patinas and colours, and layer upon layer of lives. Stormy seas, endless horizons, water and reflections are also scenes that are close to hand in Orkney.
The colours of the local landscape – slate greys and mossy greens, combined with stunning light and reflections in grimy, broken window panes and flagstone streets – never fail to mesmerise me.
I always have at least one camera with me, as different cameras help me interpret my feelings about the landscape. Sometimes techniques like a very long exposure with a pinhole really help me describe a place.
Keep up to date with Ingrid's work by visiting her Facebook page.
Island life comes into focus
For our monthly parish feature, we’re heading north to the island of Westray. It has always been a strong, forward thinking community and a real magnet for both visitors and residents. We asked Local Tourism Development Officer, Hazel Moore, to try and condense life in Westray down to just a few paragraphs – not an easy job, believe us! Have a look to see just how lively life in the isles can be...
Westray, at the North West edge of Orkney, lies close enough for a day visit from Kirkwall while also offering a truly distinctive island experience. However you spend your time in this vibrant, inspirational place, be it for a day or longer, you can be sure of a warm and friendly welcome.
This unspoilt green landscape, fringed with white sandy beaches, is home to some 600 folks, bound together by a strong sense of community and tradition. Underpinned by successful farming and fishing industries, Westray is a dynamic island - a pioneer in the field of renewable energy and a leader in sustainability and community development.
It is also an outward looking place and connections are highly valued; from genealogical links extending around the globe, to more recent partnerships such as those with communities in Malawi and Zimbabwe and expressed also in our Fairtrade Island status.
Our history reaches back some 5000 years to the Neolithic period - the award winning Links of Noltland excavations are revealing a settlement of over 30 well preserved stone buildings, complete with their contents. Amongst the wealth of artefacts recovered, a small figurine - the ‘Westray Wife’ - has reached international stardom as the earliest representation of the human form yet found in the British Isles. The site is open daily, Monday to Friday, during the summer; artefacts are displayed at Westray Heritage Centre. This hub of heritage-related activity holds genealogical records and local archives. It also offers kids’ activities and sells a range of local crafts and books. The 2015 exhibition looks at the changes and challenges in farming.
Other must-see sites include the reconstructed Norse longhouse at Quoygrew, the imposing 16th Century Noltland Castle and the Romanesque Cross Kirk. Children will enjoy the activities at the Heritage Centre and may be interested to hear about the ghost who (reputedly) inhabits the castle!
Getting here from Kirkwall is easy, with daily flights and ferries which also link with Papa Westray, making it an ideal island-hopping destination. The two minute air ‘hop’ to Papay, famously the shortest scheduled flight in the world, is a bucket-list favourite.
To make the most of a short visit, a tour with the local guide comes highly recommended. For longer stays, there is a wide range of accommodation available, from hotel and country house comfort, to luxury B&Bs and self-catering houses, including cliff top hideaways, traditional stone cottages and family sized farmhouses. There is also a comfortable and reasonably priced hostel. For full details of the accommodation and other visitor information see our tourism website.
There are a number of eating places to choose from – Pierowall Hotel and the Half Yok Café are situated in the village. Further afield, light meals and refreshments are on offer, alongside local art and craft items, at Richan’s Retreat (01857 677877) and The Wheeling Steen Gallery. There is a bar at Pierowall Hotel and another at Cleaton House. Some B&B’s can also provide meals if requested.
Westray is justly famed for the quality of its seafood, with crab, lobster, salmon, scallops and fresh caught fish available locally. Pierowall Fish in the village is the go-to supplier and you can also order fresh or cooked lobster here to take away for tea. Fresh crab can be purchased directly from Westray Processors at Gill Pier. On Wednesday and Saturday Jack’s Chippy serves fantastic fish and chips and lots more - day visitors can book a takeaway meal to eat on the ferry back to Kirkwall (call ahead - 01857 677 471).
Other ‘foodie’ highlights include the organic Westray Wife cheese, made locally at Noltland Farm and a range of traditional bakery products from the local award winning bakery, WFM Brown. Westray Chutney produces a wide range of delicious chutneys and jams - using Fairtrade ingredients and designed to complement local fish, meat and cheese – they’re great with oatcakes too.
Local produce, along with all most anything else you could ever need, is available in our three local shops. Tullochs (with post office) and Rendalls (with fuel) shops are situated in Pierowall village, while Millers (with post office & off licence) lies toward the south end of the island. Shop windows on Westray are the place to find out about upcoming events; for local news see the monthly What’s On newspaper.
Also in the village is Hume Sweet Hume - an emporium of lovely things specialising in elegant, and edgy handmade knitwear by local designers. Nearby, the Westray Gallery exhibits a range of artworks inspired by the Westray land and seascapes.
There are many lovely walks, places for cycling and dog walking and beaches for picnics. We have high cliffs with hundreds of seabirds, including puffins, to watch. There are seals all around our shores and occasionally, otters and whales to spot. You can knit and spin, golf, sail and swim in the company of local groups.
There is a lot happening here - come to our Regatta in July or our Westray Connections music festival in August. Later in the year, when the dark skies and wild weather are perfect for star gazing, northern lights watching and exhilarating winter walks, there is a mini-science festival in September and storytelling events during October, together with regular euchre nights and more music - and dancing!
We look forward to meeting you.
Plan your own island adventure to Westray by looking at the Visit Orkney website.
That’s all for this month from orkney.com - thank you for taking the time to catch up on life in Orkney.
Remember to get in touch with your news, views and comments, and share the story of your time here with us via Facebook and Twitter.
In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.