Hello and welcome to the March newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for the latest on life here in the islands. We have our monthly events preview, our regular wildlife focus and we showcase the work of another talented local photographer too.
You can always find out more about Orkney via the Visit Orkney website, and remember to follow us on social media too.
Ness of Brodgar dig dates announced
If you’re planning a visit to Orkney during the summer then a trip to the fascinating Ness of Brodgar excavation should be at the top of your list. The 2018 dig dates have been announced, with daily free tours available at the sprawling archaeological site between July 4th and August 22nd. The tours provide expert insight into the excavation, and you’ll get the chance to see archaeologists at work amongst the remains of the Neolithic complex too. Find out more via our blog.
Set sail for your own deserted island!
Island hopping is one of the best things about a trip to Orkney. Now you can tick another island off your list with a special boat trip to the uninhabited Holm of Papay, which comes complete with its own underground Neolithic tomb! Regular trips to the Holm from nearby Papa Westray give visitors the chance to see fantastic wildlife, beautiful scenery and explore the 5,000-year-old chambered cairn too. Watch our video and read all about it on the Visit Orkney website.
Meet Orkney’s creative collective
Some of the finest artistic talents in Orkney have come together to showcase their work and the importance of connections in island communities. MOTI, a collective of locally-based artists, has members from all artistic backgrounds and launched its first exhibition of 2018 in the Pier Arts Centre recently. The main aim of MOTI is to provide support and encouragement and create a shared platform for their work. Find out more about this unique group on Orkney.com.
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.
March in Orkney
It might not feel like it but spring is on the way! Find out what’s happening across Orkney this month as we hopefully wave goodbye to winter!
The charity has its annual Winter Bird Race on the 4th, when birdwatchers of all experience levels can get out and about to learn more about Orkney’s wildlife. Start counting birds at 9am and finish at 5.30pm before heading to a local hotel to compare notes and enjoy a bar meal. Find out more via the RSPB website.
There is more birdwatching in Sanday on the 8th – join the Sanday Ranger for a trip around the island to see what species are about. Meet at 11am at the Heritage Centre. You can find out more via the Sanday Ranger Facebook page.
With the excavation season approaching, the Orkney Archaeology Society kicks off its calendar of talks this month. Join Andrea Blendl for a discussion on Norse women in Scotland at Orkney College on the 14th at 7pm.
The Orkney Field Club has a talk on the landscape and natural heritage of Japan on the 23rd. Join members at the St Magnus Centre in Kirkwall at 7.30pm
Now, with the main visitor season just a few months away, spring is the perfect time to take a trip to Orkney. You can take in most of the local sites and attractions and you could have the majority of them to yourself. Some guided tours are available all year round too. Visit the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2pm to discover the history of the building and enjoy a panoramic view of Kirkwall from the base of the spire.
You can join our Historic Environment Scotland Rangers at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm, for excellent guided walks around the Neolithic sites.
Or how about a visit to one of our wartime locations? Both Ness Battery in Stromness and HMS Tern in the west mainland offer guided tours, giving visitors the chance to experience what life was like during WWI and WWII in the islands.
One final push for outdoor activities in Orkney, and some advance notice for all you runners out there. The 32nd Hoy Half Marathon will be held on the 17th of June this year and entry is open now! Be quick as interest in this unique and challenging route is always high.
If the weather is still relatively wintry then you can retreat indoors and see work from some of Orkney’s talented artists and makers. The Pier Arts Centre has two exhibitions at the moment – ‘A Window into their Worlds’ is a collection of drawings selected from the Pier’s own collection, curated by 3rd Year Fine Art Students at Orkney College. Also on show is ‘Drawing Routes’ by members of Orkney’s MOTI Collective. Find out more about the group with our special blog. Both exhibitions are open until the 10th of March.
Music fans are in for a treat in March. The Sound Archive at The Old Library has three excellent concerts planned. Ben Ottewell will take to the stage on the 1st, before Tide Lines arrive on the 15th. The following night will see King Creosote and Hamish Hawk perform. You can find out more about all the gigs and how to get tickets via Facebook. Stromness Town Hall will host Julie Felix this month too. With over 50-years-worth of experience in the music world, Julie will be performing on Sunday 25th from 7.30pm. Tickets are available from Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness.
The Old Library in Kirkwall has its ‘Out of the Wood’ exhibition, featuring wooden creations from 12 Orkney makers. It’s open until the 21st of March.
The Orkney Museum’s current display focuses on recent acquisitions that have been donated over the years. See the exhibition until the 12th of April.
On the big screen the Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has an excellent mix of films this month. See the likes of Downsizing and Early Man in March. View the full schedule via the Centre’s website. Meanwhile the West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘The Party’ on the 10th and ‘Letters from Baghdad’ on the 24th in Stromness Town Hall from 7.30pm. Find out more on Facebook.
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 wildlife watch
March is a fantastic time to get out and about and enjoy Orkney’s wildlife. Join local expert Alison Nimmo for her monthly update.
In the current weather it feels appropriate to look this month at Orkney's snow-white mountain hares, whose home is the exposed hills of Hoy. They're beautiful creatures - lean, strong, with that 'nobility' of features often attributed to hares over rabbits.
Whether brown in summer, or white in winter, they're fairly easily found: walk up into the hills and you'll likely soon spot a pair of ears alert amongst the scree and boulders, or a bounding dash disappearing over a heathery rise.
The plantlife up here demonstrates the harshness of the hares' home. Heather and dwarf willow cling low to the ground, giving way to shattered rock and wind-scarred banks at the summits. Arctic-alpine species like purple saxifrage and moss campion find what shelter they can.
Something about this environment fascinates me. Nothing is lush; everything pared back, just what it needs to be to survive. The mountain hares blend in perfectly, nibbling the ling and cotton grass, wary of the patrolling bonxies in summer, passing the long winter nights tucked into the lee of a bank or nestled in some shallow hollow.
I spent a couple of nights on Ward Hill last year, first in summer and then in October. I mainly wanted to see the sun set and rise over the islands from this highest vantage point, but also to try fitting myself to this landscape, moulding myself into the ground as the hares do.
Naturally I chose the best possible weather for those nights out, but wind is a near-constant presence on Ward Hill's domed summit. What a different perspective it is to be horizontal, though - nestled down amongst some rocks, I found myself in a little pocket of stillness while the wind continued to tear over just above my face. Snug in my bivvy bag, I passed as comfortable a night as any I've spent in a tent, and what a view overhead in the darkness of October: stars upon stars upon stars.
In the morning, I walked back down the slopes past bounding and nibbling hares with just a little more sense of what their life in the hills is like.
Light and landscape capture imagination of local photographer
Our featured photographer for March is Jenny Lindgren, who finds her camera drawn to the long, lingering daylight during Orkney’s summer months.
I remember being little and putting those disposable cameras in everyone’s faces! Getting older I took photos of friends on nights out or of things and people that were important to me at the time.
Although there have always been little breaks in-between, it’s something I’ve always gravitated back to. I think the turning point was about 10 years ago when I bought a second-hand Samsung compact from eBay and I wanted to try it out properly, so I took a walk around the Point of Ness in Stromness and really looked at my surroundings. When I came home to upload them I was shocked at what I had taken and thought they were actually good – more than just a quick snap.
I learned a lot with that little camera and loved taking macro photos with it. From there, a couple of years later, I was given a Canon 350d, and after I wore the limits out on that I went up to the Canon 450d and stayed with that one for a number of years, only varying the lenses until very recently when another upgrade came in the way of the Canon 60d – it’s still a learning curve but it’s a joy.
If I had to choose a favourite place for taking photos it would have to be the Brough of Birsay or Northside in late spring and summer when all the wildlife starts to come back inland and the flora is in bloom. Northside has also become a special place for me because I spotted my first sighting of an Orca pod off the cliffs there last year.
Orkney is such a wonderful place to be if you’re a photographer because every day you get something different, whether it be a rare bird, the light hitting the fields or hills in a magical way, or the smaller things like lichen growing on an old fence post or an old ruined croft.
There’s a niche here for everyone to find if they want to.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Our featured attraction this month takes us across the Churchill Barriers to South Ronaldsay, and a beautiful bay with a tragic past.
A drive over the Churchill Barriers to Orkney’s linked south isles of Burray and South Ronaldsay should be on the shortlist of things to see and do for any visitor to the islands. There are plenty of interesting attractions and activities to keep both young and old entertained, but the coastline of these communities is definitely one of the main draws.
There are beautiful beaches and cliff-top walks to enjoy, but one of the most spectacular spots is hidden away on the east coast of South Ronaldsay. Follow the signs for Windwick and you’ll find a stunning bay with a rocky shore and sea-stacks jutting out of the foaming surf.
It’s a special place and the different seasons bring different scenes. In summer you’ll see seabirds swirl around the cliffs at Hesta Head, which stretch up to around 90m high. In the autumn the beach becomes an important pupping spot for grey seals – you can see them from above so don’t venture down to the beach in-case you disturb the pups and their mothers. Winter, meanwhile, brings wild waves and sea spray, turning the small car park into a dramatic viewing point.
You can walk along a small path along the coast for a better view of the seabirds and the sea-stacks that sit just offshore. Take care as you go though as conditions can be slippy underfoot.
Windwick also has a tragic history. In January 1918, during blizzard conditions, two Royal Navy destroyers ran onto the rocks at Hesta. Both HMS Narborough and HMS Opal were wrecked in the stormy conditions, with the loss of 188 men. There was only one survivor. A special plaque is in place above the bay to pay tribute to the men who lost their lives that night. You can find out more via our blog, published on the centenary of that fateful night.
Windwick is like so many places in Orkney – beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife and plenty of history. It’s definitely somewhere you should experience for yourself.
Explore our ‘Uncovered Orkney’ map for more hints and tips on some of our favourite hidden attractions across the islands.
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.