Hello and welcome to the March newsletter from Orkney.com.
Find out more about Orkney with our photos, features and articles, all focused on life in the islands. We also preview the March events calendar and we’ll bring you details of our new prize draw too.
Stromness celebrations underway
2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the town of Stromness becoming a Burgh of Barony – meaning it could begin to take control of its own affairs. A year of celebration is planned to highlight the history, heritage and vibrancy of this old maritime town. The main focus will be on the week following the traditional Shopping Week gala in mid-July but there will be plenty of other events and activities throughout the year. Find out more via our new blog and video.
Orkney food and drink companies join forces
A delicious new product from two Orkney Food and Drink members has been launched, combining the fabulous flavours of fresh local salmon and gin. Jollys of Orkney and Orkney Distilling Ltd have joined forces to create Kirkjuvagr Gin & Orange Smoked Salmon, and the range is already proving popular with customers. The product was unveiled at Scotland’s Speciality Food Show earlier this year, with sliced packs and full sides of salmon now available to buy locally and online.
Renewables companies take centre stage
Orkney had a strong presence at a major marine energy event in London last month. Nine locally-based businesses took part in Renewable UK’s Wave and Tidal 2017 conference and exhibition. It was aimed at highlighting the value of the industry to the UK and securing support for the sector. More wave and tidal energy devices have been tested in Orkney than anywhere else in the world and the event was seen as a great showcase of the skills and knowledge available to marine energy developers in the islands. Find out more about the companies attending via our blog.
Get digging in 2017!
Come to Orkney during this year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and see ancient sites uncovered right before your eyes. Dates for some important excavations in 2017 have been announced by the Archaeology Institute UHI. You can see work at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay, Swandro and Skaill in Rousay and at Cata Sand in Sanday, as well as the important work being carried out at the Ness of Brodgar, during the summer months. Find out more via the Archaeology Institute’s blog.
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram to experience some of the sights and scenes from the islands. You can also tag our own images so we can share your Orkney journey with us. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Win a beautiful set of stylish earrings from one of Orkney’s new and talented jewellery designers, Zoe Davidson Jewellery. Sign up to enter via Orkney.com. [now closed]
March in Orkney
Spring is on its way and the Orkney events calendar is starting to fill up! Find out what’s happening across the islands in March.
Local residents are starting to take advantage of the slightly longer days and there are plenty of opportunities to get out and about in Orkney this month. The local branch of the RSPB has a number of interesting events planned for March.
The Peedie Sea is a wildlife-watching gem, right in the heart of Kirkwall. Experts from the charity will be at the Model Yacht Club building at the Peedie Sea on the 4th of March between 10.30am and 12.30pm to help you spot long-tailed ducks, goldeneyes, swans and much more. Find out more about the Peedie Sea and its nature attractions via our recent wildlife focus.
There will also be a stroll around Hamnavoe in Stromness on the 19th of March, between 2pm and 4pm. Join the team for a gentle walk to see ducks, waders and all the other wildlife that shelter in the calm waters of the bay. Meet in the Stromness Primary School car park.
The final event of the month will see the focus turn to The Loons hide in Birsay. RSPB staff will be on hand to point out wildlife, with the chance to see hunting hen-harriers and short-eared owls. Binoculars and telescopes will be available to use, and there is free hot chocolate too! Meet at The Loons hide car park from 2pm on the 26th. Call 01856 850 176 for more information on all the RSPB events this month.
We’re well aware that the March weather might be changeable to say the least, so fear not, there are indoor events this month too!
The Orkney Museum is hosting a special exhibition at the moment. ‘Next of Kin’ has been created by National Museums Scotland and presents a picture of the country during the First World War. It uses treasured objects passed on by close relatives through generations. The Orkney Museum is the last of eight touring venues and includes two unique local stories. It’s open until the 20th of May.
The Pier Arts Centre is hosting two excellent exhibitions at the moment, featuring the work of some of Orkney’s talented young artists. ‘Innovators – Orkney’s Art Graduates 2015 & 2016’ showcases the work of the latest generation of Orkney artists to have graduated from schools around the country.
Also on display is ‘Peedie Pier – Primary and Junior Secondary School Artwork’, featuring the work of artists of the future. ‘Innovators’ is open until the 17th of April, with ‘Peedie Pier ‘ on show until the 18th of March.
Music fans might want to take a trip to Skaill House for an evening of singing and songs with Jo Philby on the 5th of March. Tickets are £10 with free entry for under 18s. Phone 01856 841 501 to book your place as space is limited.
Staying inside and the Orkney Archaeology Society has an event in the Stenness Hall on the 8th of March, focused on finds from field walking surveys in Orkney’s World Heritage Site. It all starts at 7.30pm and there should be plenty of interesting artefacts on display.
There are some excellent showings planned at the Pickaquoy Centre cinema this month. Oscar-nominated films ‘Manchester by the Sea’, ‘Lion’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ are all in the schedule, alongside the likes of ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ and ‘Fifty Shades Darker’.
Meanwhile, the West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘The Fencer’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ on its screen in the local Town Hall this month. Find out more via the official Facebook page.
Finally, some advance warning for anyone looking for a challenge this summer. The annual Hoy Half Marathon is now open for entries – book your space now to come and tackle one of the most challenging routes anywhere in the UK! Discover how you can enter via the Hoy Orkney 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.
Where to watch Orkney's wildlife
Join Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney as she highlights another special location in the islands, perfect for wildlife watching.
Living in Stromness, I sometimes catch myself thinking of anything east of Kirkwall as a trek. Nevertheless, the Mull Head nature reserve always draws me back. Its combination of wildlife, plantlife, interesting geological formations and fantastic views make any walk here a treat.
There are several options for exploring, which is ideal for the variable weather right now. First, well worth mentioning is the unmanned visitor centre and toilets – very handy! Next, a path leads straight from the car park to the cliff, running alongside the ‘Gloup’. This is a long sea cave whose roof has collapsed, meaning you can peer down into its chasm with the sea sloshing around at the bottom and rock doves and shags sitting mournfully on the damp ledges. Black guillemots sometimes sit on the water, and as they dive you can spot their bright red feet disappearing down into the murk.
Just beyond, the path opens out along the cliff edge and you don’t need to go further for superb views out to sea. It’s a prime spot for spotting cetaceans - whales, dophins and porpoises – take a look at this handy guide to which species are likely here.
Further around the coast, the Brough of Deerness is an almost-island that, with care, can be reached by a steep and narrow path. I love to stretch out on the huge grassy tussocks on top – so soft and springy you could fall asleep on warm day – and look up at the fulmars gliding overhead, riding the air near the cliff edges. Perched up here you’ll also find the remains of a small stone Norse chapel.
Carrying on takes you further on the 5.6 km loop around the whole reserve. To really stretch the legs, it’s possible to take in the Covenanter’s Memorial as well, giving a loop of 9.2 km.
However far you go, as spring and summer arrive, look out for the many birds that nest on the eroded ledges along the sandstone cliffs, including fulmars, shags, razorbills, guillemots and puffins. Great skuas and Arctic skuas both nest on the open heath of the headland and will cruise these seabird colonies looking for a meal. Thrift, spring squill, sea campion, grass of Parnassus, devil’s bit scabious, cottongrass, orchids and heathers and more all make for a wonderful display too as the months roll around.
Orkney life through the lens
This month’s photography focus is from Fiona Annal, a popular Instagram user with a talent for documenting the hidden, beautiful aspects of life in Orkney.
That interest in looking for a story behind each shot continues to this day. My first camera was a little fujifilm - a gift from my parents on my 16th birthday. I still have it. I bought my first SLR as I started earning and wages were spent on having reels developed. In my camera bag at the moment is a Canon MK iii with some Prime lenses - the 50mm, 70-200mm and a 24-70mm, a Canon 70d and a Canon G7X.
I'm a real nerd when it comes to finding out which equipment my favourite photographers use and which editing processes they go through. I spend many evenings once the children are asleep, in front of You Tube watching tutorials: I have notepads full of scribbled notes and ideas to try.
Today I am rarely without my camera. It allows me to capture the littlest of things, the moments that would otherwise be lost. For me, it is not about getting the 'best' picture, but about getting to the heart of the picture. And I simply strive to keep my eye open to what is already before me.
On a night when the house is being rocked by the weather, I drive down to Burwick the next day to capture the waves breaking on the pier. When the rain is too heavy to leave the house, the droplets are so beautiful on the kitchen window. Or in the summer months loading everyone into the car and heading west for the evening, the light fading on us we drive home, sleeping heads nodding in the back seat.
Our daily lives are worth curating. I am not a professional photographer; I am a mother with a camera, a few editing apps and a desire to tell her family’s story, all set against the beauty of the islands we are fortunate enough to call home.
See more of her work in the gallery below (click on the main photo for the pop-out album).
Explore uncovered Orkney
In a new feature we’ll be taking a look at some of Orkney’s special sites and attractions, especially those off the beaten track. Find out where we’ve been this month.
Orkney is full of hidden locations, places just waiting to be explored. One of our favourite locations is the Cuween Chambered Cairn, a Neolithic burial tomb perched high on the hillside above the Bay of Firth below.
There are numerous tombs of similar style throughout the islands but we think this one is particularly special because of its location and the stunning view across Orkney’s north isles.
The Chambered Cairn itself is thought to be around 5,000 years old and is very similar in design, if not size, to Maeshowe. Cuween Hill sits just east of the village of Finstown on the Old Finstown Road. Follow the signposts to a small car park, then a track leading you towards the gated cairn.
You’d better be prepared to get on your hands and knees when you arrive at the cairn – the entrance passage is less than one metre high! You might need a torch too, so you can see the beautiful stonework inside.
The cairn is made up of a spacious central chamber with four smaller chambers on each wall. When it was first excavated in 1901 a number of human and dog skulls were found inside. The animal finds suggest that the people who built the tomb held the dog as a symbol or totem.
Although it appears isolated now, the Cuween cairn could have played an important part in a significant Neolithic landscape. On the western edge of nearby Wideford Hill is the Wideford cairn, and there is evidence of a settlement below Cuween Hill too. It all adds the mystery of ancient Orkney.
When you’re back out from the cairn, remember to take a look over the Bay of Firth towards the islands of Damsay and the Holm of Grimbister. You’ll also see the antennas at the top of Keelylang Hill to the east – follow the ridge to the top for views over Orkney’s north and south isles.
You’ll also find newer cairns at the top of the hill above the Neolithic version. These precarious structures have been built over the years by visitors to the area - remember to add your own stone to one of them.
Find out how to visit the cairn via the Historic Environment Scotland 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.