March 2015 Newsletter

Every month will bring you a newsletter highlighting what's happening in the islands. From the latest news to local photographers, information for wildlife watchers to a monthly parish focus, keep reading for the March update from Orkney.

Hello, and welcome to the new monthly newsletter.

I’m Andrew, and hopefully you’ll find this, and the website itself, useful for learning more about Orkney - its people, places and products – over the coming months.

This newsletter will help you find out what’s happening locally over the next few weeks, and bring you a look at our ‘parish of the month’, what wildlife enthusiasts can expect to see in March and plenty more.

If there is anything, anyone or anywhere you’d like to see featured, or if you want advice and recommendations about visiting or moving to Orkney, just get in touch through the contact details at the end of this newsletter and we’ll do our best to help.

But let’s kick things off with a look back at what was making the headlines locally last month.

Focus on February

Kirkwall connected for superfast surfing

Kirkwall's roll out of superfast broadband is underway

The first homes in Orkney to be able to access superfast broadband were connected at the start of the month. More than 1200 households and businesses in Kirkwall can now get online with fibre broadband, thanks to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise led project. Other areas, including Burray, Finstown and Harray, are next on the list, alongside the already announced work for Stromness. Orkney Islands Council Convener, Steven Heddle, welcomed the roll-out and said he hoped future programmes would help close the digital divide, most severely felt in Orkney’s island communities.

Local firms look to move into new markets

Two local companies both announced expansion plans in February. Pentland Ferries has purchased the former Caledonian MacBrayne vessel MV Saturn to operate on its Pentland Firth route between St Margaret’s Hope and Gills Bay in Caithness. The company plans to use it as a dedicated freight vessel, which should free up more space on the Pentlania for visitors travelling to and from Orkney. Meanwhile local jewellery firm Aurora Orkney is to set up a shop in Shetland. The company already has a base in Caithness, as well as its outlet on Albert Street in Kirkwall. The expansion to Lerwick has been put down to the success of the current shops.

Strictly Orkney takes to the dancefloor

Orkney’s brave volunteer ballroom dancers took to the stage last weekend, helping to raise thousands of pounds for charity. The island’s second ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ competition saw six local men pair up with experienced dancers to waltz, salsa and jive in front of more than a thousand people in the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall. Local headteacher Neil McIntosh and his partner Penny Aberdein were declared the overall winners, and more than £12k was raised for the Orkney Blide Trust. You can see photos of the event here.

New tour guides get set to show the way

Eighteen tour guides of the future continue their training at Orkney's iconic Italian Chapel.
Eighteen tour guides of the future continue their training at Orkney's iconic Italian Chapel.

Pictured at the Italian Chapel are the next potential crop of local tour guides. Eighteen residents braved the cold weather at the weekend to continue the course, which will eventually see them become official Scottish Tourist Guides Association Green Badge holders. Their final assessements are in April, which includes an interview and on-site tests – from full coach tours to walking guides. It’s an intensive process, but it does mean that Orkney is fully prepared for the busy tourist season and the many cruise ships that make the islands an essential port of call.

March Madness

So, what does March have in store for us?

Well, local folk are already looking longingly to the end of the month and the clocks going forward. Although the days are beginning to get longer, the clock change seems to have a real positive effect on residents, as thoughts turn to getting outdoors and even the garden. Bulbs are starting to show, the grass is thinking about growing – all we need now are a decent few days of dry weather!

So, what does March have in store for us? Well, local folk are already looking longingly to the end of the month and the clocks going forward. Although the days are beginning to get longer, the clock change seems to have a real positive effect on residents, as thoughts turn to getting outdoors and even the garden. Bulbs are starting to show, the grass is thinking about growing – all we need now are a decent few days of dry weather!

Some folk will be taking the plunge, quite literally, in March, into the freezing depths of Scapa Flow. Orkney College UHI has special courses in Martime Archaeology this month, starting with Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology over the next three weekends. The courses are being run by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, and will give folk the chance to learn the basic skills needed. You can find out more by contacting Annalisa Christie at the College on 01856 569 223. See the gallery below for images from the course when it was run in Orkney last year, with the survey work being carried out on the wreck of the Monarch, at Herston in South Ronaldsay.

Plans for the Orkney Folk Festival continue to take shape, with new acts being announced regularly in the run-up to the event in May. Musicians of all skills, shapes and sizes take over Stromness every May for the Festival, which has become one of the most popular of its kind in Scotland. Already confirmed acts include irish accordionist Sharon Shannon, Mercury award nominated singer/songwriter Seth Lakeman and rising stars of the UK country scene, Ward Thomas. All that, plus some homegrown favourites too – including the continually mighty The Chair. The Festival will run between the 21st and 24th of May and tickets go on sale earlier that month.

Now, if you’re a bit of a stargazer and have some spare time later in March, perhaps a trip to Orkney would be worth looking into. The islands could have a ring side seat for the next total solar eclipse – the last one visible in the UK until 2090. At around half past nine in the morning on the 20th of March, the first total eclipse for more than ten years will occur across the north of Europe. If – and everyone at has their fingers crossed – it’s a clear morning, Orkney will be one of the best locations to view it. Local accommodation providers have been quick to highlight the benefit of heading north – if you want to make a booking, have a look at the Discover Orkney part of the website.

March also marks the start of Orkney’s cruise ship season. The industry has become a major part of the islands economy in recent years – it’s estimated it brought in more than £4m last year - and 2015 is set to be a record breaker. Eighty two vessels are currently booked to arrive between the 18th of March and the start of October, potentially bringing more than eighty four thousand visitors to local streets and sites. Highlights this year include a number of port calls by the 333 metre long MSC Splendida, the visit of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and the arrival of the Disney Magic from Disney Cruise Lines, which is visiting the UK for the first time and making Kirkwall her only port of call. You can find out more about this year’s cruise ship itinerary on the Orkney Harbours website.

Focus On Wildlife

Orkney’s wildlife puts on a year-round display for enthusiasts, but what can visitors expect to see in March, just before Spring makes its presence felt? We’ve asked Julian Branscombe from the RSPB’s Enjoy Wild Orkney project to highlight some of his favourites that could be making an appearance over the coming weeks.

Fulmar in flight - photo by Derren Fox.
Fulmar in flight - photo by Derren Fox.

With the breeding season almost upon us, Orkney’s resident birds are getting ready for spring. Very soon the hen harriers will start their sky dancing, but in the meantime the county will be full of wintering birds. At present these include a number of vagrant American ducks, with a drake blue-winged teal near Dounby, and a ring-necked duck and a green-winged teal not far away at Loch of Skaill.

Marsh Marigolds on the Holms of Ire in Sanday - photo by Rod Thorne
Marsh Marigolds on the Holms of Ire in Sanday - photo by Rod Thorne

All around 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, 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.

Proud Of Papay – Local Islanders Make Their Mark

Every month, we’re going to take a different parish of Orkney and have a look at what it has to offer visitors, potential residents and, of course, the folk who make the community their home. This month, the focus is on Papa Westray, known locally as Papay, and it’s an island that can really make a big impression, despite its relatively small size. Community Development Officer, Jennifer Foley, has been sharing some of her special Papay surprises...

One of Papay's attractive beaches - photo by Anne Hourston
One of Papay's attractive beaches - photo by Anne Hourston

Papay offers the best of Orkney in one small island. There is no need for a car during a visit, at 4.5 miles long by 1 mile wide everything is within walking distance. The landscape varies from dramatic cliffs, coastal wetlands and sweeping white beaches, to great shelves of flagstone and boulders. We also have a community managed RSPB Nature Reserve, rich in seabirds, maritime heath and the largest colony of Scottish Primrose in Scotland.

Papay is also famous for its amazing historic and archaeological sites - especially the Neolithic farm steading at the Knap of Howar, which is even older than Skara Brae.

Loganair's Islander plane coming in to land at Papay's airfield - photo by Anne Hourston
Loganair's Islander plane coming in to land at Papay's airfield - photo by Anne Hourston

The 8-seater Loganair Islander plane, which takes in the ‘World’s Shortest Scheduled Flight’ between Papa Westray and Westray in under 2 minutes, is possibly one of Papa Westray’s best known claims to fame, and offers a unique experience for island visitors. It also provides a vital lifeline transport service for islanders getting to and from Kirkwall for all those routine appointments, school trips or shopping expeditions.

We have great walks and beautiful landscapes, but at its heart, Papay is a friendly, vibrant and forward looking small community of around eighty folk.

The Papay Development Trust is currently working on a series of projects to increase the benefits of tourism for local businesses and crafts people, and to provide more opportunities for people to live and work in the island. A new heritage project, funded by the Coastal Communities Fund, to develop new facilities for tourists will provide a boat service to take visitors to the Holm of Papay and around the island coast, a replacement minibus for island tours and a new craft and heritage centre.

The Kelp Store at night - photo by Douglas Hourston
The Kelp Store at night - photo by Douglas Hourston

The Trust is also currently recruiting for a new Heritage Ranger to lead tours and co-ordinate an exciting programme of activities for visitors and islanders during 2015/16. Orkney Islands Council is also recruiting at the moment for a part-time Link Officer to work with the island’s Community Council. See the Papay Development Trust Facebook page for more.

The Morven gateway house in Papa Westray
The Morven gateway house in Papa Westray

The Trust has an island gateway house for people looking to take up employment or to try out island life before taking the plunge full time. Papay Community Co-operative has also recently acquired Aalsker, a furnished 3-bedroomed house close to the shop, which will be available to rent on a short-assured tenancy from June 2015. These properties and any other new opportunities will be advertised through the island website on the Papay Facebook pages and on Twitter @papaydev

The annual Papay Gyro Nights International Contemporary Arts Festival in February offers a week of experimental film, video and live arts events drawing an exciting mix of people to the island during the winter season.

The quickest way to get to Papa Westray is with the Loganair islander plane service which serves the island twice most days in the winter and at least twice a day in summer. A subsidised fare (currently £21 return) is available for visitors staying overnight in Papay or North Ronaldsay to encourage folk to stay a bit longer.

Papay Community Co-operative offers twice weekly tours throughout the summer on Wednesday and Saturdays including visits to the Knap of Howar, St Boniface Kirk and Holland Farm in the morning and a guided walk with the RSPB Warden in the afternoon taking in the beach, shoreline and the cliff tops of the North Hill Nature Reserve.

An traditional Papay croft - photo by Mark Prince
An traditional Papay croft - photo by Mark Prince

It is possible to get from Kirkwall to Papa Westray on Tuesdays or Fridays with Orkney Ferries, and, from May to September, there is also a twice daily ferry service from Kirkwall to Westray which offers a direct link to Papay using the Orkney Ferries passenger ferry ‘Golden Mariana’.

The Papay Community Shop is well-stocked with a wide variety of groceries including fresh, frozen and local food. It is a licensed premises run by Papay Community Co-operative which also operates the 6 bedroom hostel next door, where most of the island social events take place, and island tours throughout the summer.

Fresh local produce is always available in Papay
Fresh local produce is always available in Papay

Local Holland Farm beef, Westray fish and Westray bakery products are often kept in stock (fresh or frozen) at the Papay Community Shop. The shop also stocks a wide range of Orkney food and drink and Fairtrade goods. Fresh, dressed crab is available to order from the shop ot try asking the local creel boat for live crab or lobster if you’re staying for a few days. Delicious homebakes are available at the weekly coffee morning and in the summer at the community hostel offers self service tea and coffee with cakes baked fresh daily. Look out for notices about local Papay farmers markets where you can pick up a range of local food and produce.

Papa Westray Hostel is located right at the centre of the isle offering quality, private en-suite rooms at cheap hostel prices and social spaces either to meet up with other people or to retreat to with a good book. Holm View provides a modern, comfortable self catering cottage with 2 en-suite bedrooms near the old pier and Peatwell is a traditional cottage offering self-catering accommodation with a large open plan living room and sunlounge/second bedroom. Details of all the island visitor accommodation can be found on the Papay website or in the Islands of Orkney Brochure.

For more information about working or developing enterprising opportunities in Papa Westray, contact Papay Community Development Officer, Jennifer Foley on

Papay Development Trust, Quarryhoose, Papa Westray KW17 2BU. Email Find us on Facebook or Twitter @papaydevtrust

You can book the hostel by phoning 01857 644224/321.

Local Photographer Of The Month

Orkney is lucky in that not only does it have a wealth of fabulous scenery, but also a very talented group of local photographers who are taking the time to travel across the islands, collecting images of whatever catches their eye.

Aerial view of Kirkwall
Aerial view of Kirkwall

This month, local journalist and photographer, Craig Taylor, has agreed to share some of his work with us. Here he is to tell us more...

In this modern day age with camera attached to drones, I prefer a much more down to earth version of aerial photography....simply by attaching a camera to a kite line, which sometimes comes up with fantastic results! My native Orkney has been photographed so many times over the years, and I just wanted to try something different. It is a bit like fishing, as you are never really sure what you are going to catch, in fact flying the camera over water can be a bit too much like fishing except I don't want anything to land in the water, that’s for sure!

There are no video downlinks or remote controls involved, just me, the camera and the kite. There is never a shortage of wind in Orkney, although sometimes it can blow too much.

The Churchill Barriers
The Churchill Barriers

I got the idea after reading about this method of aerial photography on the internet, around 10 years ago, known simply as ‘kite aerial photography’, or ‘KAP’ for short. Since then, I’ve managed to capture unique images of Orkney from above, including famous landmarks on the islands such as the Standing Stones, Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel, as well as landscapes from numerous locations around the islands.

The cliffs at Yesnaby
The cliffs at Yesnaby

I thought I would give it a go, and I have been pleased with the results so far, although sometimes passers-by do wonder what I am doing. When I tell them that I am actually taking pictures, they can be impressed by the simplicity of the idea.

The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney's World Heritage Site.
The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney's World Heritage Site.

Many of my kite aerial images feature - along with a selection of aerial views of Orkney he has taken from aircraft - in a glossy magazine style publication he has produced, entitled 'Aerial Orkney', copies of which can be ordered online for just £10.


That’s about it for this month, we hope whether you’re visiting, moving or buying from Orkney this March, your experience is a good one! This is just the first in a monthly series of newsletters to be published on, so we’re always looking for comments and opinions.

Likewise, if you’d like to offer blogs, images, ideas, or just want to share your own Orkney experiences, then get in touch on email - - or via our social media pages - Facebook or Twitter @orkneycom

In the meantime – thanks for taking the time to read this, and cheerio. Newsletter

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