March 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the March newsletter from

Keep reading for our usual photos and features, all focused on life here in the islands, as we head into the spring months.

Catch up on the latest news from Orkney, see what’s coming up in the March events calendar and explore another hidden Orkney attraction too. Remember you can always keep up to date on social media too – just follow the links at the top of the page.

March's headlines

Explore the Orkney events calendar

The Orkney Folk Festival, just one of our fantastic events in 2019 - image by Sean Purser

It’s still relatively early in the year but attention in the islands is already turning to the rest of 2019 and all the special events the coming months bring. From music, nature and science, to art, archaeology and agriculture, there is always something for everyone in Orkney’s annual calendar. We’ve picked out just some of the activities taking place across the islands this year. Take a look and let us know if you’re inspired to pay Orkney a visit in 2019!

New tidal turbine installed in Orkney

The ATIR device being installed in Orkney - image courtesy Colin Keldie/Ocean_2G

Orkney's reputation as a centre of excellence for the marine renewables industry continues to grow after another innovative tidal energy device was successfully installed in local waters. The 2MW tidal platform ‘ATIR’ from Spanish developers Magallanes Renovables has been put in place at the European Marine Energy Centre's tidal test site. The device was taken to Orkney from its home base in Spain and will now undergo testing in the coming months. See some images from the installation work in our blog.

Get your Orkney fix on YouTube

Subscribe to the YouTube channel to see more from Orkney

Have you checked out our YouTube channel yet? We’ve been busy adding new videos over recent months showcasing some of the finest attractions and things to do across the islands. You can watch short films on our Viking and wartime heritage, as well as seeing some of our landscape & seascape, wildlife and seasonal highlights. Subscribe to keep up to date with life in the islands.

Orkney Food & Drink Awards open for voting

Just some of the fantastic Orkney Food & Drink products on offer in the islands - image by Colin Keldie

If you’ve got a favourite Orkney food and drink product or retailer, or if you’ve enjoyed a great meal in the islands, the organisers of the 2019/2020 Orkney Food and Drink Awards want to hear from you. Public voting is now open for the awards, which will be held next year. There are twelve categories in total, covering everything from the best bar and takeaway meals, to the finest bakery, fish, drink and dairy products. Voters can also nominate their favourite café, tearoom, or local food retailer too.

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.

March in Orkney

Spring is almost here and that means the Orkney events calendar begins to get that little bit busier. There are always plenty of things to see and do here during March.

The Pickaquoy Centre hosts one of the main events of the month. Comedian Jason Manford will be bringing his Muddle Class tour to Kirkwall on the 16th, promising plenty of laughs. Find out more and get your tickets via the Picky Centre website.

See Jason Manford in Orkney this month

There’s plenty of opportunity to get out and about and breathe in the spring air this month. The local RSPB branch has two special events for folk to enjoy. Join the warden at the Barnhouse Hide, close to the Standing Stones of Stenness, to have a look at some of the beautiful wildlife that lives on the nearby Harray Loch. On a good day you might see teal, wigeon, swans and much more. Just drop in anytime between 10am and 12pm on the 12th.

Then, on the 23rd, visit the Loons Hide near Marwick in Birsay to catch a glimpse of a whole host of wildfowl in the nearby wetlands. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife in Orkney, so join the experts between 10am and 12pm.

See some of Orkney's beautiful birdlife with the RSPB drop-in events in March

Orkney Field Club marks its 60th anniversary this year with a 2-4 mile walk at Brodgar on the 10th. Meet at the Ring of Brodgar car park at 1.30pm and remember to bring waterproofs, boots and warm clothing!

March is great time to take a tour of some of our finest historical sites, too. You can beat the summer crowds with a spring visit to the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am. There you’ll be met by one of our World Heritage Site Rangers who will tell you all about this ancient attraction.

The Rangers also lead walks at the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. Again, these tours are free, and they’re a fantastic way to find out more about these impressive and iconic locations. Other sites well worth seeing include wartime tours at Ness Battery and HMS Tern, a former WWII airfield in Orkney’s west mainland. Click on the links to find out how you can arrange a visit.

Take a guided tour of the Standing Stones of Stenness with our Historic Environment Scotland Rangers - image by Sveta Damiani

If you’d prefer to stay indoors then the St Magnus Cathedral custodians offer tours of the upper levels of the stunning building every Thursday and Saturday at 11am and 2pm – phone 01856 874 894 to book.

You’ll have to be quick to take in the current exhibition at the Orkney Museum this month. ‘Not Just Concrete’, which focuses on photography of some of the former wartime buildings found across the islands, closes on the 2nd. Meanwhile, the Stromness Museum’s ‘From the Trowel’s Edge’ highlights some of the recent finds from the incredible excavations at the Ness of Brodgar archaeological excavation. The museum also has a display of curios from the past. Both exhibitions are open until the end of the month.

The Stromness Museum is a real treasure-trove of items from Orkney's past

No trip to Stromness would be complete without a visit to the Pier Arts Centre. The Centre’s current exhibition, ‘Delineations’, showcases the work of the latest group of Orkney artists to have graduated from art schools and universities around the country. You can see it alongside the PAC Permanent Collection until the 23rd. The Centre also has 'Flow: Transitions of Shape and Form', featuring work by six artists from the Pier Arts Centre permanent collection selected by Orkney College UHI Level 3 BA Fine Art degree students. It's on display between the 9th and the 23rd of March.

Music lovers have plenty of options this month. Orkney Arts Society has a concert in St Magnus Cathedral with pianist Jack Westwell, featuring local children too. That's at 2.30pm on the 9th. The King Street Halls in Kirkwall hosts a performance of Faure's Requiem by the Winter Choice and Friends at 7pm on the 24th, too.

Fans of the silver screen will have plenty to keep them occupied this month. The Pickaquoy Centre has the likes of ‘Vice’, ‘The Lego Movie 2’ and ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ on its schedule for March. The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘Assunta Spina’, complete with live score by The Badwills, on the 9th, and ‘The Guilty’ on the 23rd. Find out more on Facebook.

The new Orkney Free Fringe Festival has 15 minute 'Toe in the Water' taster slots planned on the 23rd. Expect comedy, songs and spoken word performances at venues including the Kirkwall Hotel, Helgis and the Sunbean Coffeehouse. Admission to all the events is free.

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 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.

Wild Orkney

Orkney is full of wildlife highlights and there are so many different species to see. To help narrow it down, we asked local nature cameraman, Raymond Besant, to pick five of his favourite wild Orkney residents.

Hen Harrier

Hen harrier in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

Orkney is undoubtedly the best place in the UK to see this magnificent bird of prey. With plentiful prey and undisturbed nest sites, the moors of Orkney are a real stronghold. You have a great chance of seeing a hen harrier anywhere in mainland Orkney as they hunt the roadside verges, but for something truly special head to the RSPB Cottascarth reserve in Rendall. On fine spring days in mid-April, male hen harriers carry out a beautiful undulating display know as 'skydancing'. The silver-grey male rises high in the sky, making a 'yikkering' call to catch the attention of a female, and then tumbles towards the ground before rising and carrying out the manoeuvre again and again.

Grey Seal

Grey seals on an Orkney beach - image by Raymond Besant

The Grey Seal or 'selkie' as we call it is deeply rooted in Orkney folklore, with tales of transformation from seal kind to human form. It's possible to see these charismatic mammals almost anywhere in Orkney and a walk along any secluded beach is sure to be rewarded with a curious selkie following you along the tide line. However, one of Orkney's most dramatic spectacles are the thousands of Grey Seals that come ashore to breed each October. With crashing waves, fighting males and cute white pups, it's a fantastic sight. The really big numbers tend to be on uninhabited islands in the north isles but you can safely watch the drama without disturbing the seals from cliff tops on both the east and west coasts of South Ronaldsay.

Emerald Damselfly

An Emerald Damselfly in Hoy, Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

The Emerald Damselfy is a recent coloniser in Orkney and currently can only be found in the island of Hoy. Head to Rackwick and behind the car park lies a large boggy pool perfect for dragon and damselflies. These metallic green damselflies are surprisingly small and dainty and you'll need to 'get your eye in' before spotting one. Luckily, they like to return to the same spot they were sitting on so you have a great chance of seeing one, especially on warm sunny days in July and August.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle geese during their winter in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

Most folk are now accustomed to seeing geese in Orkney's fields all year round, with a large population of Greylags now resident here. For a real migratory treat though it's worth hopping across to Hoy on the ferry and driving down to South Walls to see the beautiful Barnacle Goose. Most of the Barnacle Geese which breed in Greenland head to Islay for the winter but around 1500 of these black and white birds feed in the fields of South Walls from late October until April. Once dusk descends, they rise as one across Cantick Sound to spend the night on the safety of uninhabited Switha.

Brown Hare

Brown hare in an Orkney field - image by Raymond Besant

The Brown Hare is an introduced species to Orkney but is now very much part of the landscape. It has thrived in Orkney's farmland recently and so it's possible to see it almost anywhere in the lush fields of the east and west mainland. They are much more relaxed early morning so close views are possible. You might even be lucky enough to see 'boxing' hares; once thought to be competing males, these fighting hares are actually females not yet ready to breed, fending off males. April into May is the best time to see them before the grass grows too long covering up all but their big ears!

Visit Raymond's website to see more of his work. Find out where you can see some of these species via our special Spring Wildlife Trail.

Focus on photography

Orkney has many talented photographers, so every month we ask one to share some of their favourite images of the islands. For March, the man behind the lens is Graham Campbell.

I have always been interested in photography and remember as a young boy my parents owning an instamatic camera. I would watch as the photo appeared in front of you as if by magic! Then there was the 35mm film camera and, when I was a teenager, my parents bought me a new disc camera from Woolworths, or ‘Woolies’, as we called it, to take to Germany with me on a TA camp. I still have some of the photos that I took with that camera. I soon started buying SLR cameras and lenses, and when the digital took over I upgraded again to some more expensive Canon camera equipment.

View from Yesnaby, Orkney - image by Graham Campbell

Having lived in Orkney all my life, I just love being outside in the open spaces and fresh air that surrounds us. I enjoy walking on the coast and beaches and, of course, being out on the water fishing and taking some photos from the boat. You get so many different views from sea level. Orkney also has plenty of wildlife which I photograph all year round as well.

Orca in Scapa Flow, Orkney - image by Graham Campbell

When you can capture its beauty in photos, it’s only really then that you fully appreciate how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful place. I'm happiest when I am out with my camera taking photos of the different views, sunrises and sunsets - they are all spectacular. I have managed to capture the Northern Lights too, and sometimes I stay out until the small hours, just watching them, amazed. I even heard them singing once during a spectacular display in Aith, Shetland, at 2am in the morning.

Sunset over the Stenness Loch in Orkney - image by Graham Campbell

My camera is never far from my side, whether it be lying in the car next to me or in the boat as I’m out on the water. I manage to capture some amazing images from the sea that you can't really get from the shore, so I am really lucky, I guess. I share some of these images on various sites such as Facebook and I enjoy viewing everyone else's photos too.

Anyone wishing to view my photos is welcome to view them on Facebook at Graham Campbell.

Explore hidden Orkney

Our featured ‘hidden’ Orkney attraction of the month can be found tucked away on the east coast of the islands, across the Churchill Barriers in South Ronaldsay.

There are many fine beaches in Orkney, and most can be seen or are signposted from the main roads. Venture further, though, and you can find special spots like the beach at Eastside in South Ronaldsay.

The beach at Eastside, South Ronaldsay

It’s a long, snaking expanse of sand that stretches from the Pool of Cletts towards Newark Bay in the south, with the beach overlooked by St Peter’s Kirk, an old church and kirkyard on the headland. The coast here can be spectacular during easterly gales, and there are beautiful walks both north and south to enjoy when the sun is shining.

Coastal views at Eastside in South Ronaldsay

There is plenty of history here, too. An old Pictish symbol stone was found during building work at the Kirk, and nearby you can find the remains of an old windmill – Orkney’s reputation for energy innovation isn’t a new thing, obviously!

A more modern addition to the area is the hand-carved Millennium Stone, installed to celebrate the Millennium by a local resident. A short walk away you’ll find the impressive 4m high Sorquoy Stone, an ancient standing stone thought to be around 5000-years-old.

The Millennium stone at Eastside

The Eastside is one of those places that really makes you feel like you’re off the beaten track. Often, you’ll be the only person there, with the sand under your feet and the waves rolling into shore.

See our other hidden Orkney attractions for more travel inspiration.

And finally...

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.

We’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

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 Newsletter

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