Hello and welcome to the June newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we have all our fantastic features focused on life in Orkney as midsummer approaches. Keep reading for a look at our monthly events calendar, our latest Orkney photographer and a visit to a special island attraction, plus much more.
Remember, you can always take a look at the Visit Orkney website for extra information, and you follow us on social media too.
Grab a glimpse of an Orkney puffin!
Orkney’s wildlife attractions have well and truly taken centre stage so far this year. We’ve already had orcas, sea eagles and a walrus, but now the attention turns to our puffin population! These colourful characters are back on cliffs and coastline around the county, chattering away as they build burrows and look after their young during the summer. We’ve picked some of the best places to spot puffins in Orkney – find out where you can see these beautiful birds.
Explore Orkney with our latest blogs
We’ve been busy over the past few weeks putting together even more information about Orkney to inspire you all to pay our islands a visit. We’ve asked local residents to help with some inside knowledge and you can read all about our finest festivals, fantastic food and drink and what makes Orkney so special over on the Visit Orkney website. Take a look and share your own opinions with us on social media!
New website for local craftsman
Orkney Crafts Association member Fraser Anderson has launched a brand-new website for his business, Orkney Hand Crafted Furniture. Fraser makes stunning traditional and contemporary Orcadian furniture from his workshop in Kirkwall, including the classic Orkney chair. His new website looks at the history of these famous chairs and showcases his full range of furniture, as well as featuring a news section to keep people up-to-date. You can also find Fraser on Facebook.
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.
June in Orkney
You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Orkney during June!
One of the main events of the year takes place this month. The St Magnus International Festival is a week-long celebration of the arts at midsummer in Orkney. The Festival is entering its 42nd year and shows no sign of slowing down.
This year’s eclectic mix of events between the 22nd and 28th of June includes choral groups, chamber music, opera and theatre. There is also the return of MagFest, the Festival’s wilder side, which will see Skaill House host an outdoor stage for a series of concerts and performances. Read our blog for more and visit the official website for full programme information.
Orkney’s archaeological season is back with a bang in June. You can visit a number of excavations across Orkney this summer, with work at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay and at Swandro in Rousay starting this month. Visitors are more than welcome and both sites offer a fascinating glimpse into Orkney’s ancient past. Find out more with our special blog.
Also this month, hear about the 'Mapping Magnus' community archaeology project in the Birsay Community Hall on the 6th of June from 7.30pm. The Orkney Archaeology Society hosts its annual Ness of Brodgar lecture this month too, ahead of the site reopening in July. Hear from dig director Nick Card at the Orkney Theatre in Kirkwall on June 21st at 7pm.
Music is very much at the heart of the Orcadian summer with plenty of concerts and performances to enjoy. Guitarist and composer Richard Durrant will get things underway with a performance in St Magnus Cathedral on the 1st at 7.30pm – visit the official website for ticket information. The following evening will see Kirkwall City Pipe Band parade on Broad Street, join them from 7.30pm, and again on the 30th.
Veteran entertainer Tony Christie will arrive in Orkney on the 2nd for a night full of songs and singalongs. He’ll be on stage at the Orkney Theatre from 8pm – tickets can be bought at The Reel or online. Meanwhile the Sound Archive in Kirkwall will host Scottish band ‘Rura’ on the 7th from 7.30pm.
Corner House, featuring Orkney musician Louise Bichan, have five gigs across the islands in June. Catch the trio in Hoy, Evie, Stronsay, Westray and Burray between the 8th and 14th – for full details and ticket information visit the band’s website and follow them on Facebook.
The Pickaquoy Centre will host an evening of music with its inaugural ‘T in the Haal’, featuring six live bands on the 16th. The music will start at 6pm and with a bar and food available throughout. Tickets cost £15 and can be bought at the Centre.
The Reel in Kirkwall is a great place to visit, with regular music sessions and concerts in the café. This month alone you can enjoy weekly Saturday Night Sessions, Jazz Nights and the popular Orcadian Summer Concert series. The next ones will be held on June 12th and 26th at 8pm – tickets are on sale from the venue now, with booking strongly recommended. Visit the official website for the full diary of events.
The Stromness Town Hall hosts an event with a difference on Sunday, 17th June. Comedy legend Bill Murray will be performing with New Worlds, bringing a mix of music, poetry and song from 7pm. Tickets are on sale from the 2nd at JB Roseys in Stromness and Ortak in Kirkwall.
The summer months are the perfect time to get fit and Orkney has plenty of options to help. The first annual Rousay Peedie Lap 5k will be held on the 9th of June from midday and the fun event is open to both adults and children. Registration is from 10am at the Rousay Heritage Centre. For more information visit the Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust website.
It is the warm-up to the main event, the Rousay Lap, on the 25th of August. This half marathon follows the main road around the islands and is celebrating its tenth year in 2018.
There is also still time to sign-up for the 3rd St Magnus Marathon, which will be held on the 1st of July. It’s the UK’s most northerly marathon and follows a beautiful route from Kirkwall to Birsay in the West Mainland. There is also a 10k too – find out more via the Entry Central website.
The summer months are great for getting out and about and taking a guided tour. Every Tuesday and Thursday you can get a behind-the-scenes look at St Magnus Cathedral with special tours of the upper levels, including the view of Kirkwall from the base of the spire. Tours are held at 11am and 2pm and booking is essential - phone 01856 874894 for more info. Watch our special video below for more details.
There are guided walks of the former Royal Navy base at Lyness every Tuesday and Thursday too. Tours leave from the Lyness ferry waiting room at 11am and booking is essential via 01856 791300 or by emailing email@example.com. Other wartime attractions that are open for guided tours are Ness Battery and HMS Tern.
There are also excellent free walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday from 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday from 1pm.
The circus comes to Kirkwall this summer too. Circus Montini will be at Pickaquoy with a mix of acrobatics, comedy, juggling and illusions between the 19th and 22nd at 7pm.
If the sun isn’t shining then you can retreat indoors for some action on the silver screen. The Pickaquoy Cinema has its usual mix of blockbuster and indie favourites, and the West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ on the 2nd at 7.45pm in Stromness Town Hall.
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.
Orkney wildlife watch
It has been a bumper year for wildlife sightings in Orkney so far with orcas, sea eagles and a walrus all making headlines. Alison Nimmo has been turning her eye to something slightly smaller this month though.
After the excitement of May’s orca sightings, I thought this month we could turn to one of the county’s less well-known wildlife species. They’re also black and white, and to be seen at sea – but have you ever heard of them?
Storm petrels are magical little birds, as insubstantial as a house martin. During the day they feed far out to sea on surface plankton and small fish. Dark, with a white rump, they flutter over the water with their wings held up in a ‘V’, tiny feet just pattering the surface.
Only under cover of night do they return to their breeding colonies on shore, mostly on remote islets such as Muckle Skerry or the Holm of Papay. Nests are tucked away in crevices in stone walls, or in chambers underground, often down a rabbit burrow. Here the partner bird has been waiting with eggs or chicks safely out of sight of skuas and gulls.
From these nest burrows at night comes a wonderful purring, described by my Collins Bird Guide as “like stomach-rumbling”!
It’s an intriguing portrait. And although storm petrels are difficult to spot, it feels valuable to know that they’re here, dancing at sea by day and purring away at night.
I did once have the chance to see storm petrels up close thanks to a nocturnal bird ringing session. A flick through the Orkney Bird Reports shows that ringing is where the vast majority of records come from, and such research adds much to our knowledge of their wanderings. Tim Dean’s Orkney Book of Birds – always a trove of information - mentions that records of ringed storm petrels show Orkney birds ranging as far afield as Norway, Portugal and South Africa.
With luck you might spot storm petrels from the coast or at sea over the summer, though, as a scattering of sea watching records each year shows. So, if you catch a glimpse of a tiny form pittering over the waves, don’t blink and think you imagined it – you may just have spotted one the most secretive of seabirds.
Documenting island life as a student in Orkney
Our featured photographer for June is Canadian student Nick Fraser, who arrived in Orkney to study in the marine energy sector.
I came to Orkney to do my Masters in Marine Renewable Energy at Heriot-Watt University on the recommendation of a company in Atlantic Canada. With the European Marine Energy Centre offices just upstairs, I knew I had made the right decision – Orkney is the perfect place to be immersed in the renewable energy sector.
My interest in photography began a year ago when my girlfriend at the time bought me a Canon 600D for our trip to Thailand. I was excited to be able to capture the experience on something a bit nicer than just my phone. As we travelled around South East Asia, she began showing me how to edit using Lightroom and needless to say I got pretty hooked. Back home I never really had the time to research techniques, editing skills and other programs such as Photoshop. Once in Orkney however, I had my evenings free to finally indulge myself and try out new techniques, buy new gear etc.
A lot of my interest in photography stems from my love of nature and travelling, so many of my photos are of the places I have been. Living in Orkney is ideal for nature photographers as there is so much to enjoy and shoot when you’re out enjoying the landscape.
I love going to Hoy and shooting while hiking up Ward Hill, but my favourite place is the hike between the Black Craig and Yesnaby. The views here are just superb - and actually very frustrating, as its nearly impossible to photograph the cliffs and do them justice! As a rather outdoorsy person I love being able to get up close and personal with the locations that I’m shooting, whether it be being inside a splash zone for waves or just on the cliff edge trying to get close up photos of the roosting gulls.
I’ve had my challenges taking photos in Orkney, namely getting around as I walk to most places, and lighting. When I first started I didn’t have the 17-35mm lens, which is much better in low light, and I struggled to get enough light in my photos. A lot of my shots were coming out grey and hazy and not what I was hoping for.
Not featured in this selection are any of my night time photographs. Being in Orkney challenged me to learn this new form of photography. Although I don’t claim to be an expert in any way of taking images of the stars or photos of the aurora, I would say that it’s nice to not feel constrained by only one type of photography. It has allowed me to be able to shoot at all times of the day and in all weather conditions.
See more of Nick's work in the gallery below (click on the photos to view them in the pop-out viewer).
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we visit a different Orkney site, one that perhaps doesn’t get the same showcase that some of our other locations do.
Unstan Chambered Cairn can be found on the shore of the Stenness Loch, just before you cross the Brig o’Waithe en-route to Stromness.
A small road leads up to a car-park before a path takes you to the entrance of the tomb. It’s thought to be around 5000 years old and is just one of hundreds of similar structures dotted around these islands.
From the outside the cairn resembles Maeshowe, which can be found just along the road. Inside, though, things are a bit different.
Visitors enter through a low, narrow passage. Inside you’ll find a long and slim main chamber. Now, there are usually two kinds of burial monuments in Orkney – the stalled cairn and those with central chambers and small cells leading off it.
Unstan boasts examples of both styles. It has five stalls in its central chamber, but there is also a small cell which leads off from the central stall. It’s also circular, again much like its larger cousin Maeshowe.
When it was first excavated, human bones were found throughout the stalls, with crouched skeletons discovered in the small cell. Animal bones were also discovered, along with a vast quantity of pottery. Around 30 Neolithic bowls were scattered across the floor – the style of the bowls, with a round-bottom and decoration, became known as ‘Unstan Ware’ and have been found at other settlements, including the Knap of Howar in Papa Westray.
Unstan also has one other unique attraction. It’s full of graffiti, possibly from marauding Norseman in a similar style to Maeshowe. Carved runes can be seen as well as a carving of a bird.
This chambered cairn is another special location in Orkney, and one that tends to be a lot quieter than other sites. Make sure you take that extra step out-with the Heart of Neolithic Orkney and explore it if you can.
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.