Hello and welcome to the June newsletter from Orkney.com.
The long days and light nights of summer are almost here, and the islands are a real hive of activity at the moment. Keep reading to find out what’s happening across Orkney with our usual range of features and photos.
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.
Get diggy with it in Orkney
Come and see ancient secrets being uncovered in the islands this summer as our annual archaeology season gets underway. Two excavations will begin this month, with experts about to go on-site at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay and at Swandro in Rousay. Both digs are open to the public and the archaeologists are more than happy to give guided tours to visitors. Check out our blog for more information on how you can visit all our archaeology attractions this year.
Innovative Orkney on the silver screen
A major documentary on climate change, featuring Orkney’s pioneering marine energy work, was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month. ‘Ice on Fire’ has been produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and is also narrated by the actor, who has a strong interest in climate change and ecological issues. Orkney’s Orbital Marine Power and the European Marine Energy Centre are included in the film, which will air on HBO in the United States this month.
Scapa Flow takes centre stage
A programme of special events to mark the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow will be held across Orkney this month. Featuring a mix of local and international contributors, the events will look at the significance of the scuttling and highlight its legacy here in the islands. Exhibitions, talks, musical performances and a special theatre piece are all planned. Find out more from the Orkney Islands Council website.
Orkney through the lens
Orkney was a location on landscape photographer Marc Pickering’s bucket list for some time, and he finally managed to make a trip to the islands earlier in the spring. He explored our finest historical sites and caught some spectacular sunrises and sunsets during his visit. Check out his blog to discover his favourite images and moments from his 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.
June in Orkney
Finding something to do in Orkney in June isn’t the problem, it’s finding the time to do it all! Take a look at what’s coming up across the islands this month.
The main event over the coming weeks is definitely the return of the St Magnus International Festival. This midsummer celebration of the arts will be held between the 21st and 27th and features a packed programme of events, including orchestras, string quartets, the spoken word, comedy, theatre and much, much more. The Festival is a real magical mix - find out how you can be a part of it via the official website.
As you read in our news section, the Scapa 100 commemorations will play a major part in the June events calendar. A programme of events has been put together to mark the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at the end of the First World War. It all gets underway on the 15th and runs right through until the 27th, featuring exhibitions, talks, theatre performances, cinema nights and more. Find out more online and keep up to date with the Scapa 100 Facebook page.
With Orkney’s archaeology season kicking off this month, it seems like the perfect time to remind you of the annual Ness of Brodgar talk, before that particular excavation starts again in July. Dig director, Nick Card, will take to the stage in the Orkney Theatre on the 20th with his talk, titled ‘The Appliance of Science’. It all gets underway at 7.30pm – make sure to arrive early as this event is always very popular.
Looking even further ahead, the annual North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival will return between the 29th of July and the 9th of August. The event is aimed at raising awareness and the conservation of the island’s unique breed of seaweed-eating sheep, as well as maintaining the ancient sheep dyke the encircles the North Ronaldsay shoreline.
The festival welcomes volunteers who spend their time helping to rebuild part of the dyke, and enjoying dances, workshops, talks and tours in their spare time. It’s a real community event and a holiday with a difference. Find out more via the official website.
Staying with a wildlife theme, why not take a trip to Hoy this month and try and catch a glimpse of the island’s white-tailed eagles? The pair successfully hatched Orkney’s first sea eagle chicks for around 150 years last year, and it’s thought there is at least one new chick in the nest this time around. Join RSPB experts at the Dwarfie Stane car-park between 11am and 4pm every day.
There are always plenty of live music options to help you fill your days in Orkney during the summer months. The Pickaquoy Centre welcomes ‘The Legends of American Country’ on the 2nd, with tribute acts to the likes of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette and Kenny Rogers taking to the stage. Tickets are available from the Pickaquoy Centre on 01856 879900.
The Sound Archive at The Old Library will host Adelaide-based sisters Germein towards the end of the month. The trio will be bringing their brand of indie pop and rock to Kirkwall on the 28th. Tickets can be bought at The Old Library or online.
The Reel in Kirkwall has its regular Orcadian Summer Concerts throughout the season, with two in June. Take in some fantastic live music on the 11th and 25th from 8pm (doors open at 7.30pm). The best bet is to buy your tickets in advance! The Reel also has legendary Orcadian musician Ivan Drever in concert on the 28th. Tickets cost £12 and are available at The Reel.
Spice up your summer with Hardeep Singh Kohli in Stromness Academy this month, as the celebrity chef arrives to host some cooking masterclasses. He'll be taking part in a spice masterclass on the 13th at 5.30pm, and cookery classes on the 14th and 15th. Tickets are available online.
If the summer weather isn’t up to much, you can still take advantage of some exciting cinematic experiences in Orkney during June. The Pickaquoy Centre has blockbusters including Hellboy, Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Tolkien, as well as a live broadcast of Take That’s Greatest Hits Tour. Through in Stromness, the West Side Cinema will be showing Foxtrot on the 1st at 7.45pm.
There are plenty of interesting exhibitions to take in this month. ‘Mainland Mainland’ is on in the Northlight Gallery in Stromness until the 12th, featuring work by artists from Orkney, Caithness and Sutherland. The Stromness Museum has two exhibitions – ‘Scapa 100 – Salvaging Our Heritage: The Wrecks of Scapa Flow’ is open until the 2nd of November, and you can also take in ‘Living Wrecks: The Marine Life of Scapa Flow’ at the same time. The Orkney Museum’s summer exhibition is also focused on Scapa Flow. See ‘The Scuttling of the German Fleet’ until the 2nd of November.
Take advantage of some expert knowledge this summer and grab a spot on a guided tour. Head north to Papa Westray for a trip around fantastic natural and historical attractions with the island’s ranger on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays until the end of August.
Our Historic Environment Scotland Rangers host free guided walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm, throughout the summer.
You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the Upper Levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays between April and September. Tours start at 11am and 2pm during the week and at 2pm and 3.45pm on Sundays. There is a charge and they must be booked by phoning 01856 874894. You can also join a guided walk 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 a very special event planned at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness this month. Orkney artist Alan Watson and local composer Gemma McGregor will take part in 'Triptych - a day of New Art and Music by The Experimental Music Project' on the 8th from 11am. Together they'll collaborate on three new works in an open studio at the Centre, creating three paintings linked with accompanying music on the theme of 'storm'. Then, at 3pm, they'll display the finished works and host a talk about the process, including live music. It's a fantastic chance to see some very talented Orcadians in action in a beautiful setting.
Start your summer as you mean to go on by tackling Rousay’s ‘Peedie Lap’. This 5K race is back for its second year on the 8th at midday and is free to enter for both adults and children. Running or walking is allowed at this fun event – email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01856 821229 before the 5th of June for an entry form, or jump on the ferry and register before the race on the day.
Finally, some advance warning for anyone looking for a slightly more challenging race. The UK’s most northerly marathon, the St Magnus Marathon, is back on the 7th of July, along with a relay event and the St Magnus 10k. It’s a brilliant chance to get involved in an excellent community event, and take in some spectacular Orkney scenery while you’re running! Find out more online.
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 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.
There are always plenty of wildlife highlights to seek out in Orkney during June. Find out where local wildlife filmmaker Raymond Besant suggests visiting this summer.
From mid-May into June, Orkney’s coastal flowers are in full bloom, adding bright splashes of colour to our already dramatic cliffs and shorelines. The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Hill of White Hamars reserve in South Walls is the perfect place to see this flora at its very best as the fields here are specifically grazed to encourage wild flower growth.
The clifftop walk is a gentle one and there’s no need to rush, take your time to really study the flowers and the insect life they attract, such as the Common blue butterfly. Amongst the great swathes of buttercups are the beautiful Lady’s Smock and closer inspection reveals a little gem, the fabulously named Grass of Parnassus. It’s not a grass at all but rather a delicate little white flower found on many Orkney coastlines.
Lady’s Bedstraw adds a burst of yellow, contrasting beautifully with cushions of pink thrift and the white flowers of Sea campion. The view isn't bad here either with Longhope Bay and Switha to the north, the entrance to Scapa Flow to the east and the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth to the south.
By this point of the year, you have a good chance of seeing one of the most thrilling sights in the Orkney wildlife calendar. Take a packed lunch and get yourself set for the day at Burwick or Hoxa Head in South Ronaldsay. These headlands provide excellent views across the Pentland Firth and you might just be lucky enough to see the massive black sailboard of a fin break the surface.
Pods of orca are regularly seen in Orkney throughout the summer and whilst you’ll need to keep your fingers crossed, you’ll never forget the sight of a family pod cruising past the cliffs on the hunt for seals.
Other good viewing spots include the Brough of Birsay and the Point of Ness at Stromness.
One of the most sought-after species but not always the easiest to spot is the puffin or ‘Tammie-Norrie’. These colourful little auks are always full of character and a delight to watch. They can be found in small numbers in many places in Orkney, including the RSPB reserve at Marwick Head, the Brough of Birsay and Papa Westray. Your best chance of a close encounter however is at the Castle o’Burrian in Westray.
A short walk along some beautiful cliffs brings you to a squat offshore stack. Sit on the cliffs opposite and watch the puffins come and go to their burrows on the ‘castle’. Time of day can be important, with your chances of seeing this colourful little characters improved with a visit in the morning or evening.
Focus on photography
Our featured photographer of the month is Christine Hall, who has spent her recent years in Orkney training her lens on our wonderful range of wildlife.
I came to Orkney for contract work that was only meant to be for six months but I’m still here three years later. I mainly photograph wildlife and Orkney is an amazing place wherever you go, from guillemots and razorbills on the cliffs to hen harriers and golden plover on the moors, or wintering wildfowl on the lochs. Most of my photographs are ‘right place, right time’ scenarios as I tend to carry my camera wherever I go and I’m always on the lookout for my next subject - and not just birds!
When I was younger, I had a little point and shoot camera, then I went onto an SLR before going digital. I now shoot with a Canon 70D with a 100-400L lens with no post-production other than cropping.
Last year when walking up at RSPB Marwick Head there was an astonishing 242 Great Yellow Bumblebees. It’s a species of bee that’s only found in Orkney, Western Isles and the North of Scotland and you don’t usually see as many as that all at once. I enjoy exploring other islands as well and was lucky enough to have a young otter come within a couple of feet from me in Westray, and I watched a Short-eared owl catch a vole in Eday before we had to run for the ferry.
At RSPB Onziebust in Egilsay there’s an abundance of wader species, including redshanks, curlews and lapwings to photograph. Being able to go to uninhabited islands such as Copinsay to see the wildlife there is always a bonus too. From time to time I swap lenses and focus on the landscapes. Orkney has some dramatic coastlines, bonnie sunrises and sunsets, and in the winter months you can capture amazing aurora borealis displays.
Explore hidden Orkney
Every month we take a closer look at an Orkney site or attraction that is a touch off the beaten track. For June we’re taking a ferry trip to the island of Eday.
Orkney is famous for its standing stones. Our most iconic ones are found in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, with the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness attracting thousands of visitors every year.
But you’ll find ancient monoliths dotted throughout the landscape of these islands. One of the most impressive, and most rarely visited, is the magnificent Stone o’Setter in Eday, the island at the heart of our north isles.
This huge stone towers over the surrounding farmland at 4.5 metres high. It’s without doubt one of the tallest in Orkney, and is around seven feet wide at its base. It sits towards the north of the island in an area littered with burial cairns, suggesting this part of Eday was important to prehistoric inhabitants.
The stone has certainly endured its fair share of wild weather, helping shape it into something resembling a giant hand. It’s covered in moss and lichen too, adding extra character to this historical gem.
It’s just one attraction in Eday, an island this is definitely worth visiting for its scenery, beaches and incredible wildlife.
See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.
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