Hello and welcome to the June newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we’ll be bringing you all our usual features focused on life in the islands. Keep reading to find out about local news and events as well as advice on what to see and where to go.
Orkney hosts Jutland commemorations
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Kirkwall at the end of May to pay their respects to the thousands of lives lost at the Battle of Jutland during the First World War. Orkney was hosting the UK’s national commemoration of the greatest naval battle of the war, with special services held at St Magnus Cathedral and at Lyness in Hoy. Princess Anne, Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck attended the services. A full programme of cultural events and activities is underway across the islands at the moment, lasting throughout the summer – find out more via the Visit Orkney website.
Local events to mark centenary of HMS Hampshire loss
The week of official WWI events will come to a close on the 5th of June with a service to mark the loss of more than seven hundred lives when HMS Hampshire sank off the west coast of Orkney in 1916. Relatives of the men who died will be travelling to the islands to take part. A special commemorative wall has been built at the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head, featuring the names of all those who lost their lives in the disaster. This fantastic blog has been keeping people up to the date about the project.
The Mamas and the Papas!
A spoof tourist brochure for the fictional Orkney island of Mama Westray hit the headlines last month! It showcased some of the main attractions of the island, including the Tomb of the Haddock and the annual ‘Ratsmack’ event. Unfortunately Mama Westray doesn’t exist so isn’t set to become a stopping point on an Orkney island hopping adventure. But we do recommend a visit to the beautiful – and very much real - Papa Westray! Find out more through our blog.
Come and support Orkney’s seaweed-eating sheep
The Orkney island of North Ronaldsay will host a unique festival this summer to celebrate its rare breed of seaweed-eating sheep. The fortnight-long event aims to raise awareness of the ancient breed. Visitors will get the chance to help rebuild the vital island sheep dyke and gather the 3,000 strong flock for clipping. There will be local entertainment and activities too. It all happens between the 25th of July and the 5th of August - get the latest on the event via Orkney.com.
Follow us on Instagram
Orkney has now officially joined Instagram! Follow VisitOrkney on the photo-sharing site and be inspired by stunning shots of the islands. We’re keen to share your images too - use the hashtag ‘visitorkney’ so we can share them across our social channels. We’re keen to showcase Orkney and everything that is special about it, so remember to follow and share!
Win prizes from Orkney!
This month’s prize draw gives one lucky entrant the chance to win work by talented Orkney artist Ingrid Grieve. She has donated a beautiful 20x20cm water-based oil painting of the coastline at Yesnaby from her collection at her Toumal Art Studio in Orphir. Your name will be automatically entered into the draw by signing up to our mailing list. [now closed]
June in Orkney
Orkney is bustling with activity this June. With festivals and events across the islands there is sure to be something to help fill our long summer days.
Orkney’s First World War commemorative cultural programme dominates the start of the month. On the 1st there is a charity concert in the Pickaquoy Centre featuring the Royal Marines Band and the Federal German Navy Band. Tickets are free – contact the Centre to book.
Other highlights throughout the week include the visit of several Royal Navy vessels to Orkney’s outer isles, talks and concerts in the Birsay Hall and a full day of events in Sanday on the 4th.
The week culminates with a commemorative service at the Kitchener Memorial to mark the centenary of the loss of 737 lives when HMS Hampshire sank off Marwick Head. Free tickets are available for the event.
You can find out more about the full programme via the Visit Orkney website.
Staying on the wartime theme – the beautiful ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’ display at St Magnus Cathedral comes to a close on the 12th of June, make sure you see it for yourself before the installation is taken down.
The first weekend of June will see the cream of Orkney’s young sportspeople take on their Shetland counterparts in the annual Junior Inter-County competition. Over the weekend of the 4th and 5th young Orcadians will compete in athletics, football, hockey, netball and swimming at the Pickaquoy Centre. The event has been running since 1947 and Orkney’s young sports stars will be hoping to retain the Stuart Cup, won in Lerwick last year. All the sports are free to watch – head along to the Picky Centre over the weekend to see all the action.
Orkney will host a very special event for the tenth year in a row this month. The Orkney Wine Festival has become a fixture on the local calendar and this year has tastings, a wine fair and plenty of the very best Orkney food and drink on offer. Find out more from the organiser's Facebook page.
One of Orkney's main events takes place during June. The St Magnus International Festival has become one of the largest cultural attractions in Scotland and this year will host its usual wide range of acts, from music and poetry to visual arts and puppets! There is a bumper programme over an extended ten days to mark the Festival’s 40th anniversary. It’s all on between the 16th and 26th of June - find out more from the official website.
If you’re visiting Orkney during June why not take advantage of our local ferry service and head out to some of our islands? Orkney Ferries has special Sunday Excursions available again this summer. Hop on-board and set sail for the isles, with extended stops available this month in Westray, North Ronaldsay and Eday. Keep your eyes open during the crossings too – you might see an orca or two en-route!
In the south isles we’d recommend a late trip to Hoy to see the island’s two sea-eagles as they come towards the end of their incubation period at their eyrie high above the Dwarfie Stane. Hopes are high they’ll be able to produce Orkney’s first sea-eagle chick for nearly 150 years. RSPB Orkney staff will be on hand at the small car park at the site to tell you more about the eagles.
Drama enthusiasts are in for a treat this month. The St Magnus Players will be performing George Mackay Brown’s ‘Witch’, with music by the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, in the Stromness Town Hall on the 10th and 11th at 8pm. You can get tickets by phoning 01856 850 278 or 01856 870 870.
With summer arriving and bringing drier weather, Orkney’s archaeological excavation season is starting to get underway. The 13th of June will see digging at The Cairns project in South Ronaldsay begin again. It will run until the 8th of July and visitors are welcome to head along and see the site being uncovered.
Although work at the world-famous Ness of Brodgar doesn’t start again until early July, dig director Nick Card will host a special talk during June to whet the appetite ahead of the covers coming off. ‘Building the Ness of Brodgar’ is in the New Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 16th at 5.30pm, and entry is free.
There are plenty of events and exhibitions ongoing across Orkney. The Orkney Museum has ‘The Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea’ whilst the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is hosting an exhibition on the Battle of Jutland and HMS Hampshire. The Stromness Museum has ‘The loss of the HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener’.
For art lovers, the Pier Arts Centre’s excellent ‘Form and Function’ comes to a close on the 4th of June. It features the work of eight talented young makers in Orkney and is well worth a visit.
You can also visit the Hoxa Tapesty Gallery in South Ronaldsay as part of the Orkney Craft Trail this month. It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is open all week – plan your visit via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during June. 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
Each month we bring you a new part of Orkney to explore to take in some very special nature and wildlife attractions. This month Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney has headed to the north isles…
As the website for Westray and Papa Westray says, these islands are ‘worth going that bit further for’ if you haven’t already. North Hill on Papay is one particularly magical spot, with more to it than perhaps meets the eye at first.
The maritime heath here is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Scoured by wind and sea spray, the stunted heather, bare soil and rock form a fragile habitat where seabirds and waders raise their chicks each summer, surrounded by a carpet of salt-tolerant wildflowers.
The Arctic terns that nest on this RSPB Scotland nature reserve have chosen North Hill over all the other places they see on their amazing migration, travelling the length of the Earth twice a year. Standing on the reserve, it’s strange to think that the bird calling overhead as it looks down at you may have been looking down on the penguins and icebergs of Antarctica a few months ago.
In contrast, in May and July you’ll find Scottish primroses blooming around your feet – plants that grow in the same spot for 20 years and are found nowhere else in the world but Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland.
Now is a brilliant time of year to explore, with bright thift and spring squill colouring the clifftops and skylarks, meadow pipits and trilling oystercatchers filling the air. Tysties nest in crevices along the low cliffs and rocky shores along with guillemots and razorbills on the ledges, while you can often spot puffins in the water and gannets diving offshore. It’s still one of the best places in Orkney to see many Arctic skuas at once (although these birds are sadly, like the Arctic terns, in decline).
But it’s a special place at any time of year as those who’ve read Amy Liptrot’s new book, The Outrun, will know. Thousands of migrating birds pass through in autumn and spring on their biannual pilgrimage, reminiscent of the Celtic monks who once journeyed to the island. Gales in winter smash against the cliffs and winds sweep across the exposed reserve from three directions.
If you can, visit Fowl Craig at the south-east corner of the reserve – here you’ll find a monument erected by the junior members of the Orkney Field Club to commemorate the last of Orkney’s great auks, which was killed for a collector in 1813. Sadly, great auks became globally extinct not long afterwards.
Unique take on Orkney by local photographer
Orkney is full of talented photographers, each documenting their own take on the islands. We feature the work of one every month – for June it’s over to Michael MacLeod…
My first memories of photography are walking around with my Mum’s old point and shoot camera. It used 110 film cartridges and had those magnesium flash cubes on top! Then, when I was about 10 or 12, my Dad showed me how to focus and set the exposure on SLRs.
It wasn’t until I was 21 when one of the most inspirational people I know convinced me that it was worth taking photography further, so I went to study at the Glasgow College of Building and Printing.
Since returning home to Orkney after I’ve been fortunate enough to win over thirty international professional photography awards and I regularly travel to work for the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle as a weddings, party and portrait photographer.
To me some of the best aspects of living and working in Orkney are being able to take back all the experience I’ve gained and being surrounded by the people who make it what it is, including some very talented and creative poets, artist, musician and designers. And who can forget some of the most truly remarkable landscapes and skylines, World Heritage Sites and historic towns to be found anywhere in the world.
Three islands with close connections
Island hopping is one of the best ways to see everything Orkney has to offer – and that doesn’t always mean spending hours on a ferry. Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre all lie in close proximity to the mainland and are well worth a visit. All three are the subject of this month's area focus.
These three islands are linked by a ferry service and also by a rich archaeological history with many fascinating sites, central to Orkney’s heritage.
In fact, Rousay has been described as the ‘Egypt of the North’ thanks to more than a hundred archaeological sites. This hilly, rugged island boasts incredible remains, spanning thousands of years of Orcadian history.
Only in Orkney could thousands of years be condensed into around a mile of coastline. The Westness Heritage Walk in Rousay takes visitors on a trip back in time, from the Neolithic more than five thousand years ago, through the Iron Age, Vikings and Earls, to the clearances of the early 1800s.
The walk includes Midhowe Cairn, built around 3,500BC and housed in an imposing building featuring a suspended walkway offering a fantastic view of the structure.
Nearby is the Iron-Age Midhowe Broch which is great fun to explore, and further on the trail you’ll come by old kirks, ruined crofts and other ancient sites, all full of their own stories and history. If you visit the island during July you’ll be able to see an excavation in action – the work at the Knowe of Swandro starts again on the 4th of July as the team battles coastal erosion at the site. Open days and tours will be held before the project shuts down again on the 29th of July.
Rousay is full of other interesting sites and the 13-mile road that circles the island ensures visitors won’t miss a thing. The Rousay Heritage Centre at the Ferry Terminal will give you a special insight into the islands history too.
The island is a haven for birdlife with oystercatchers, reed buntings, hen harriers and red-throated divers all regular visitors. There is also an RSPB reserve at Trumland.
Rousay also boasts spectacular cliffs and coastal scenery – Faraclett Head, Sacquoy Head and Saviskaill Head are all perfect places to experience the elements and see arctic skuas, puffins and other seabirds.
It’s isn’t all about sights and scenery in Rousay though. The island hosts the Crafthub co-operative, featuring quality handmade arts and crafts produced by more than sixty different ‘crafters’ from Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre. Full of fantastic items and the host of many events and activities, you can visit the Crafthub as part of the Orkney Craft Trail.
Rousay has its own shop, bars and restaurants too – perfect for a day trip or a longer stay. There is no shortage of community events either, with the annual Rousay Regatta and the Rousay Lap, offering walkers, runners the chance to brave the hilly route around the island
There is a thriving community in the island with a very dynamic local development trust, covering the neighbouring Egilsay and Wyre too. The island’s school also features a healthy living centre with the latest gym equipment.
Despite being smaller relatives of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are great places to visit too.
Egilsay is an iconic location in Orkney history. The island was where Saint Magnus was murdered by his cousin, Earl Haakon in 1117. The 12th Century Norse church with its unique round tower is named in honour of Magnus.
Much of Egilsay is a nature reserve and is a haven for the elusive corncrake. You can also expect to see eiders, lapwings, skylarks and snype throughout the island. The RSPB Onziebust Reserve is a fantastic place to visit to spot all these species and more.
Despite being a small community with a population of around twenty, there is a post office, community hall and a busy community association, committed to encouraging folk to visit and move to the island.
Wyre is even smaller than Egilsay but is still home to a number of attractions. Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built around 1150 by, according to legend, a fearsome Viking giant!
All three islands benefit from a regular and relatively short ferry service, maintaining vital links to Orkney’s mainland and ensuring people can have all the benefits of island life, but with access to jobs and facilities in the likes of Kirkwall and Stromness. View timetables online with Orkney Ferries.
If you want to visit Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, search for accommodation via the Visit Orkney website. If you’d like to make a move to one of the islands you can keep your eye on potential properties via our dedicated property page.
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.