Hello and welcome to the March newsletter from Orkney.com.
We’ll be bringing you plenty of interesting features focused on life in Orkney this month, including the latest news, our new featured area and the work of a talented local photographer.
Orkney’s Battle of Jutland events begin to take shape
Preparations for the national commemorations of the Battle of Jutland in Orkney later this year are continuing. A special week of cultural events is being put together which will include talks, walks and tours of Royal Navy ships. There will be exhibitions at the Orkney Museum and the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum throughout the summer, with other displays and events in Birsay and Sanday too. No matter when you’re planning your trip to Orkney this year, you’ll be able to take part in the commemorations. Keep up to date with developments via the dedicated page on the Visit Orkney website.
Food fans encouraged to get voting
If you’re planning on sampling some of Orkney’s famous food and drink during your visit to the islands this year, make sure you share your experiences with us! Voting has opened for the 2016 Orkney Food and Drink Awards with fifteen categories up for grabs, including best breakfast, best bakery and best new product. The event is all aimed at recognising the huge range of quality produce on offer in Orkney. Make your vote count by visiting the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Orkney’s energy islands reputation enhanced
It has been a very positive and busy month for Orkney’s tidal energy industry. A £2.4m project to develop new cable laying techniques featuring Orkney’s highly skilled supply chain was completed, and local company Scotrenewables Tidal Power Ltd was awarded €10m of European Commission funding to help commercialise its tidal energy devices. Meanwhile the European Marine Energy Centre has signed a 20-year testing agreement with developers Tocardo, which will see eight turbines deployed in Orkney waters. EMEC also hosted a special open day in the islands to showcase our testing facilities and services to visitors from the industry.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Our March prize draw gives you the chance to look stylish and stay warm as spring approaches. To win this beautiful headband, designed in Orkney by Hilary Grant Knitwear & Textiles, all you have to do is sign up to our mailing list to be automatically entered into the draw. [now closed]
March in Orkney
March is a great time to visit Orkney. The days are already getting longer and the weather is still fresh enough to give your senses a good blast! There are also plenty of events and activities to take advantage of during the month.
You can get up close and personal with Orkney's archaeology at the start of the month with a project to assess a Bronze Age settlement uncovered in the island of Sanday. The joint Orkney College UHI and SCAPE event will run from Tuesday the 1st until Sunday the 6th of March at Cata Sands - if you want to volunteer just head to the car park at Cata at ten o'clock any day.
Fans of the silver screen are in for a treat in Orkney this month. Halls and theatres across Orkney double as cinemas with regular showings in local communities. The Gable End Theatre in Hoy will be featuring ‘The Lady in the Van’ starring Maggie Smith on Friday 11th March, before showing ‘Brooklyn’ with Saoirse Ronan on the 25th.
‘The Lady in the Van’ will also be making an appearance at the Screen in the Square at the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret’s Hope on the 19th of March.
Meanwhile the West Side Cinema in Stromness has two events. Highly rated ‘The Lobster’ starring Colin Farrell will be showing on the 5th of March before a special screening of ‘From Scotland With Love’, made entirely of Scottish film archive with a beautiful score by King Creosote, on the 13th. The screening is to raise funds for equipment for the Kirkwall Grammar School Film Club. There will also be a showing of Wim Wenders’ ‘The Salt of the Earth’ on the 19th.
There is something for everyone at the Phoenix Cinema in Kirkwall this month. Oscar nominated ‘The Danish Girl’, ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Spotlight’ all make an appearance alongside the likes of ‘Deadpool’, ‘Dad’s Army’ and Zoolander 2 – something for everyone! The National Theatre production of ‘Hangmen’ will be beamed live to the cinema on the 3rd, with ‘The Railway Children’ taking centre stage from the York Theatre Royal on the 28th.
You can find out all about excavation work at the Cairns in South Ronaldsay at Orkney Archaeology Society’s first event of 2016. Hear from Orkney College UHI’s Martin Carruthers in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret’s Hope at 7.30pm on the 10th of March.
The very best in Orkney’s Spring fashion offerings will go on display at a special charity event in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall on the 18th of March. Local businesses, including Kirsteen Stewart and Aurora Orkney, will be taking part in the fashion show with proceeds going to the Orkney Rotary Club. There will also be some tasty treats on offer from the Brig Larder. Get your tickets from the Studio Shop or Starlings in Kirkwall.
Art lovers will enjoy a trip to the Pier Arts Centre this month. ‘Kirk-yard, shore and ship – Images of the trawler M.V Norholmen’ features paintings, prints and drawings by artists including Sylvia Wishart and Ian MacInnes. They were all inspired by the wreck of a Norwegian fishing vessel in Hoy Sound in 1966. The exhibition is open until the 9th of April.
You can get your dancing shoes on in Orkney during March. There is Scottish and ceilidh dancing to live music in the St Magnus Centre every Monday night at 7.30pm. There’s also ceilidh dancing in Longhope on Monday nights at 8pm. Go on, get into the swing of things during your time in Orkney!
If you want to enjoy traditional music in a more relaxed setting, the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club practice on Wednesday evenings in The Reel in Kirkwall – head along for 7.30pm and pull up a chair. The Reel also hosts an informal folk music session on Saturday nights at 8pm, and the Bothy Bar in Kirkwall hosts a session at 9pm on Sundays too. Orkney is the perfect place for a pint and tune!
If archaeology is your thing why not head along to Orkney College UHI on Friday the 4th for the Archaeology Institute’s Open Day? You can find out about studying the subject in the islands, speak to current staff and students and take part in workshops on practical archaeology too. It’s aimed at those planning to study here or taking part in a short course. Find out more from the Institute’s blog.
This month you also have the chance to see inside Orkney’s finest mansion house for free! Skaill House will be hosting an open day on the 26th of March so visitors can see the 17th Century building in all its glory. You’ll be able to explore the rooms, collections and grounds with plenty of other activities planned. Refreshments will be available and you can find out more from the Skaill House website.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during March. 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's wildlife locations come into focus
This month’s wildlife watch is very much focused on the skies above Orkney. The breeding season is almost upon us and Orkney’s resident birds are getting ready for spring…
March in Orkney is a wonderful time to get out and about looking at various bird species across the islands. Very soon the hen harriers will start their sky dancing, but in the meantime the county will still be full of wintering birds, with special finds always a possibility.
All round the county, fulmars cackle at each other, as the pairs renew their bond and find their favoured nest site for the year. On still days the guillemots can throng the cliffs at places like Marwick Head in West Mainland and Noup Cliffs on Westray. However, it will be weeks before eggs are laid, so the next day cliffs can be completely empty.
We already have the first flowers out too, with one or two marsh marigolds coming into bloom, with the yellow flowers of lesser celandine and colt’s-foot in one or two other favoured spots.
Active Orkney takes centre stage for local photographer
Every month we ask a talented local photographer to share their experiences of documenting life in Orkney. For March, Scott Johnston has picked ten of his favourite images of the islands – often taken from slightly different perspectives…
I got into photography as a teenager when I would borrow my parents cameras, until they got me a 35mm SLR for my birthday. It has stuck with me ever since and I still use 35mm film cameras as well as a digital SLR.
As I do what most people consider adventure sports it was a natural progression to take my camera with me which only adds to the challenge of getting the images I want.
Orkney has some amazing locations for surfing and free-diving/snorkelling and I have yet to fail to find somewhere new to explore and challenging environments to shoot in - whether its free-diving shipwrecks in Scapa Flow or trying to avoid being in the wrong place in the surf, I always enjoy it.
Photography in Orkney always brings something new - whether it’s a blood red sunset, moody dark storm clouds or the visually stunning Aurora Borealis, there is always something to point your camera at.
You can see more of Scott's work and purchase images and prints via his Facebook page.
Head to Hoy for a unique Orkney experience
For March we’re taking a trip on the ferry to our largest island, Hoy. It’s one of the most popular destinations in Orkney with spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, wonderful wildlife and plenty of tourist haunts and attractions...
Hoy is an island that dominates the Orkney skyline. If you look towards the islands from mainland Scotland, your eyes are drawn to the imposing hills and sheer cliff faces of ‘the high island’. It’s a similar story from the air – Hoy is like nowhere else in Orkney, and it’s that reputation that keeps visitors heading over on the ferry from Houton and Stromness all year round.
Where else can you enjoy pristine beaches and an iconic sea-stack, unspoilt wilderness and unrivalled wartime heritage in just once place? Hoy can tick all those boxes, and much more.
Your Hoy experience begins on the ferry. You can travel with a car via Houton in Orphir or as a passenger only on the MV Graemsay from Stromness. If you’re travelling from Houton, you’ll arrive at Lyness, formerly the hub of Royal Navy activity in Orkney during WWII.
There you’ll find the wonderful Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, a treasure trove of artefacts and exhibits relating to Orkney’s role in WWI and WWII. The displays will be refreshed this year ahead of the commemoration of the Battle of Jutland. You can take a guided tour of the site a former naval base littered with buildings and foundations that all played a part in the war effort, and the nearby Royal Navy Cemetery.
Travelling south from Lyness takes you past the Gable End Theatre, a hub for community events with regular cinema evenings and concert from visiting performers, and the island’s excellent community school, which also includes a nine metre swimming pool and healthy living centre.
As you head towards South Walls across The Ayre, a thin strip of road linking Hoy’s two parishes, you’ll come across the Longhope Lifeboat Museum at Brims. It tells the tragic story of the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster in 1969, when the entire crew of eight men onboard the T.G.B lost their lives as the lifeboat capsized en-route to a call-out. You can arrange to view the Museum by contacting the Longhope Lifeboat Museum Trust.
The village of Longhope has a busy shop, petrol pumps, post office and pub and there are also public toilets and showers on the pier. You can also catch the passenger and cycle ferry from the village to Lyness, Flotta and onto Houton. The Stromabank Hotel is also nearby.
Other attractions in South Walls include the Martello Towers, built in the early 1800s for protection from the United States Navy and American privateers. You can tour the tower and battery at Hackness for a fascinating view of military life more than two hundred years ago. The island is also a nature and wildlife hotspot – the Hill of White Hamars in Walls is a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, established to protect the Scottish primrose, better known as the Primula Scotica. It features cliffs, caves, natural arches and lots more.
Back at Lyness, the road north takes you in to a very special place, one that not only attracts visitors but also locals looking for a short break or a day trip. The hills of Hoy have long held attractions for walks, wildlife lovers and folk just looking to get away from it all.
Spectacular views abound and there are too many sites to mention. Just follow the road to Rackwick and stop at the many lay-bys. Some of the highlights include the Pegal Burn picnic area, Betty Corrigall’s Grave and the wartime sites and viewpoint at Lyrawa.
You’ll eventually arrive at Moaness, where the passenger ferry arrives from Stromness. Here you’ll find the Beneth’hill Café which is open during the summer months. You can also walk from the pier to Rackwick bay along a single track road, which takes you past Ward Hill, Orkney’s highest point. If you’re feeling energetic the views from the top are incredible, especially on a sunny summer’s day. The walk also takes you through Berriedale, the most northerly area of natural woodland in the UK.
The Dwarfie Stone sits in the middle of the Rackwick valley and is thought to be the oldest rock-cut tomb in the UK. Climb inside and try and get comfortable in the 5000 year old structure! There is a slightly newer attraction in the area too. Two juvenile sea eagles have been making a nest in the cliffs above the Dwarfie Stone in recent years. They were regularly visible in 2015 as they attempted to breed, with bird watchers flocking to the nearby car park to catch a glimpse of the magnificent birds. Although the breeding attempt failed, it’s hoped they’ll return this year to try again.
If you’re walking or driving, you’ll eventually come to the remote and wonderful Rackwick bay. With its boulder strewn beach of golden sand and crashing waves, surrounded by sheer cliffs, it is a place like no other in Orkney. There is a car park and public toilets and a small bothy and campsite too.
The valley used to be a thriving small community full of fishermen and farmers, but now the majority of the houses are holiday homes and self catering properties. A night at Rackwick is a must in Orkney.
It’s also the starting point for the walk to the iconic Old Man of Hoy, the 450 foot sea-stack is the tallest in the UK and rises proudly from the Atlantic. The walk to the Old Man is well worth the effort as you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of the stack and back towards Rackwick. You can also carry on to St John’s Head, the highest vertical sea cliff in the country.
There are so many other walks in the area to enjoy – if hill walking is your thing then Hoy is the place to be. Ward Hill, the Cuilags and the Knap of Trowieglen make up the Hoy Hills and there is also a lengthy but rewarding route along the west coast of the island.
The RSPB Hoy Nature Reserve is also in the area and occupies a large part of uncultivated land in the north of the island. You can see everything here, from mountain hares to great skuas, red-throated divers to beautiful plants and other flowers and fauna.
The hilly road between Rackwick and the Community School past Lyness is an excellent drive – but how do you fancy travelling it on foot? That’s what more than a hundred brave runners and walkers do every year in the challenging Hoy Half Marathon. The route takes you up – and down – some of Orkney’s most challenging roads – entry is now open for the 2016 event, but be quick as folk keep coming back to take on the route year after year!
The sites and activities listed here are just part of what’s on offer in Hoy and Walls – there really are too many to list! Needless to say it’s a must see destination for visitors to Orkney.
It also holds many rewards for residents too. Life in Hoy is rich and rewarding. The majority of the population lives in and around the main settlements of Lyness and Longhope, in the south of the island. You’ll find the majority of services in these areas and there is a Health Centre with a general practice and community nursing service.
There is a regular community bus and the ferry service is quick and reliable. It also meets the service bus at Houton, allowing residents to work in Kirkwall and return home to Hoy every night. There is a local development trust which works to promote the island and economic activity.
Find out more about Hoy from our dedicated page on Orkney.com and the excellent Hoy Orkney website. If you want to make the island your destination of choice during a trip to Orkney, book your accommodation through the Visit Orkney website.
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.