Hello and welcome to the May edition of the orkney.com newsletter. Here in the islands we’ve just enjoyed a relatively sunny April – although the sleet and hail showers of the past few days were not so welcome! Fingers crossed the coming weeks bring more in the way of blue skies as we head towards longer nights and the summer.
Looking ahead to this month, we’ll continue our wildlife and local photographer features and the parish spotlight heads east, to Deerness. There is also a round-up of just some of the events planned for both visitors and locals in May.
Remember, we’re always keen to hear your comments and suggestions about the newsletter and the website itself. Get in touch via email, Facebook or Twitter, and we’d love to see your images of Orkney and share some of your stories too.
To get things underway, let’s look back at what has been happening in Orkney over the last few weeks.
Spring sunshine during a busy April
Craft enthusiasts encouraged to get on the trail
The latest edition of Orkney’s unique craft trail brochure, which highlights the workshops, studios and shops of local producers, was launched in April. Eighteen businesses - covering everything from jewellery, ceramics and artwork, to textiles and traditional Orkney chair making – are included on the trail, with an accompanying brochure acting as a guidebook for visitors. The trail was set up by Orkney Crafts Association in 1996 to showcase the work of its members and give visitors the opportunity to see crafts being made first hand. Special roadside signposts also mark the trail throughout Orkney. Copies are available across the islands, or you can download one from the OCA website.
Orkney strengthens its role as energy centre of the north
From electric vehicles to oil transfers in Scapa Flow, hydrogen capture projects to new tidal technologies, it was certainly a busy month for Orkney’s energy sector. EMEC announced plans for an innovative scheme to overcome local grid constraints, which will see hydrogen fuel created from tidal energy produced in the islands. The organisation also signed an agreement with Sustainable Marine Energy (SME) Ltd, which will see five PLAT-O systems deployed at the Fall of Warness tidal test site over the next two years. Actor, presenter and electric vehicle advocate, Robert Llewellyn, hosted Orkney’s first EV show, with test drives and talks on the technology, which is becoming increasingly popular here. And to cap it all, Scapa Flow played host to a number of ship to ship transfers of crude oil for the first time in many months, bringing with it economic benefits and hopes of more business into the future.
Helping hand at the Italian Chapel
Both locals and visitors have been delighted to see restoration work carried out at the much loved Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm over the past month. Artist Antonella Papa spent April at the site, repairing damage caused by water ingress, the elements and more than seventy years of history. She is a restoration specialist with experience of working at the Sistine Chapel, and travelled from her home in Italy to work here. The Italian Chapel was built by prisoners of war in the Second World War and is one of Orkney’s most iconic attractions, welcoming thousands of tourists from around the world every year.
May marks the start of Orkney’s busy season
This is the month when Orkney really opens its doors. Visitors begin arriving in their droves and our festival season gets underway in earnest.
Kicking things off next week is the very first ‘Homemade in the Parish’ event. Organised by Orkney Food and Drink, the competition will see local parishes face off to see who can produce the very best products, from shortbread to sausages and home brew to beef burgers. It promises to be quite an event!
The third Orkney Nature Festival dominates the middle of May for local folk and tourists. It’s managed by RSPB Scotland and this year includes boat trips, kayaking, rockpooling and plenty of walks and talks, taking in Orkney’s wildlife and landscapes. It’s all held between the 13th and 17th of May, and tickets can be booked from the Festival’s website, where the programme is also available to view. Remember to have a look at the Visit Orkney website to plan your trip.
Then, just a few days later, some of the very best musicians and acts from across the world will head to the islands for the annual Orkney Folk Festival. From local favourites including The Chair and Fara, to major names like Ward Thomas, Seth Lakeman and Sharon Shannon, the programme is full of fantastic concerts. At the Festival’s heart are the various laid back, informal pub sessions in and around the host town of Stromness - so arrive early and arrange a taxi home! Visit the Folk Festival website for ticket information.
If you’re visiting for either or both of the Festivals, there are plenty of other activities to keep you occupied in-between concerts and events. The excavation work at the Ness of Brodgar might still be two months away, but you can see some of the incredible discoveries from the site over recent years at a special exhibition. ‘Ness of Brodgar – Art and Artefacts’ is open at the Stromness Museum until the end of the summer.
Keeping the focus on Orkney’s World Heritage Site, why not take advantage of free guided walks with our Ranger Service to experience thousands of years of history? Elaine Clarke and Sandra Miller lead tours at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm. For more information, have a look at our five special reasons to visit the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
And, looking ahead, if you’re of the green fingered persuasion – or just want to see the beautiful results of plenty of hard work – you might want to plan a visit for the Orkney Garden Trail. There are three separate trails, with the first featuring five gardens, and it all gets underway on the 7th of June. Visit the website for more details.
This just scratches the surface of Orkney's events over the coming months - have a look at the Visit Orkney page for a more detailed list of everything happening here in May.
Out and about with May's wildlife
As the weather improves, more and more folk are getting the chance to enjoy Orkney's nature and wildlife. Alison Nimmo from the Orkney branch of the RSPB has been sharing some of her favourite May moments...
May is full of the bustling activity of another breeding season - a fantastic time to explore Orkney.
Step outside almost anywhere to enjoy the natural music of curlews, lapwings and skylarks, and keep an ear out for the wonderful rasping calls of the first corncrakes returned from Africa. Their voices are starting to emerge from the fields where they’ll soon be nesting unseen.
Early in the month it’s well worth pausing at the Churchill Barriers to spot lingering winter visitors, like great northern divers and long-tailed ducks – they’re now in their breeding finery and ready to return to their own Arctic breeding grounds.
Later on you may come across the rare and tiny Scottish primrose, Primula scotica, during its spring flowering. Two reliable spots are Yesnaby, West Mainland, and RSPB Scotland’s North Hill nature reserve on Papa Westray.
The cliffs are my favourite place for walk at this time of year, particularly at spots where you can peer down on raucous breeding seabirds and catch the distinctive tang in the air that surrounds a colony! Don’t forget to scan the sea in calm weather for orcas too – they start appearing in Orkney waters more often in May, hunting for the resident seals and porpoises.
Finally, please keep your fingers crossed for Orkney’s first nesting sea eagles in nearly 150 years. It’s been about a month now and the young pair on Hoy still seem to be doing well...maybe we’ll have some exciting news to report next month...
Orkney's landscape rewards local photographer
Every month we ask a local photographer to share some of their images of Orkney with us. This time, local Camera Club Chairman, Steve Henderson, has delved into his photo archive and tells us why the islands provide so much inspiration...
Orkney is full of photographic possibilities, but I find its landscape full of interesting challenges too. The sky and the sea, separately or in combination, can be stunning and the light for photography can be beautiful in subtle and unique ways.
However, Orkney is a small place with a huge landscape – it is so open, there is nothing in the way, few trees, no tall buildings, not many big hills. Sometimes you will find views that are beautiful to look at but far too big to squeeze into that little rectangle!
Orkney’s landscape has also been worked for centuries and is “unmanicured” – houses and farm buildings of all styles and ages, fences, walls and power lines are scattered over the land. This is part of its unique character, but it does not always fit the orthodox definition of “beauty spot”.
Orkney will reward the photographer who walks and who ventures off the beaten path and the changing light and weather can suddenly lift views from the mundane to the inspiring. That means many of my photos are completely unplanned, but, if I were to compile a photography shopping list, then it would include: the Ring of Brodgar, St Magnus Cathedral, the cliffs and beaches of West Mainland, Rackwick, the Old Man of Hoy and the huddled streets of Stromness. Less specifically, I find many of the wartime sites can be rewarding, especially Hoxa, Stanger Head and Rinnigill.
So open eyes and an open mind are required! And, finally - this might count as good or bad news – Orkney can often look fantastic in bad weather!
The Orkney Camera Club meets from September to April and also has a Photographic Guide to Orkney for visitors looking for the perfect shot.
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Head east for cliffs, coastlines and quiet calm
For many visitors to Orkney, much of the focus is on the west mainland, with its Neolithic sites and iconic coastline. But, those venturing east are rewarded with stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and the peace and quiet folk often associate with our countryside. So, this month, we’re turning the spotlight onto the Orkney mainland’s easternmost parish, Deerness.
Ten years ago, the Deerness Social History Group published a book about their community called ‘Almost an Island’, and it’s a name that sums up the parish perfectly. It’s connected to the rest of the mainland by a thin spit of land at Dingieshowe, which is also one of Orkney’s most popular beaches.
It could be that near-island mentality that gives Deerness such a strong community spirit, with various groups, events and activities all working together to help locals and visitors take advantage of life in the parish.
The Community Hall plays a major part in this, hosting thriving groups like the local WRI, Drama Club and Deerness Community Association. Next door is a popular caravan and campsite, complete with children’s play area. Nearby is the local shop, Deerness Stores and Post Office. It’s one of those great rural shops where you can pick up almost everything you need – and some things that you don’t!
Like much of Orkney, Deerness has fantastic agricultural land, with the green fields full of cows and sheep during the summer months. Look closer at the animals at Schoolhouse Farm though and you might get a surprise. It’s the base of Orkney Buffalo and the only herd of water buffalo in the islands. The home run company sells buffalo meat throughout Orkney and further afield, adding to our already lengthy list of local delicacies.
Along with many areas of Orkney, the sea plays an important part in life in Deerness. There are four spectacular beaches in the parish – at Dingieshowe, Halley, Sandside and Newark. The latter also features a superb small boat slipway at the Geo, perfect for heading out for a spot of fishing. It’s a great location for a family day out too, with picnic tables, benches and beautiful views out to the uninhabited island of Copinsay.
Another Deerness walk takes you to the Covenanters’ Memorial, built by local folk in 1888. It commemorates the loss of around two hundred religious prisoners being transported to the American colonies in 1679. The Covenanters were imprisoned below decks onboard the ship ‘Crown of London’ when it struck rocks off Deerness in rough seas. Although nearly fifty prisoners escaped, the rest lost their lives in horrific circumstances.
Head further east and you’ll reach the Gloup. It’s an impressive sea cave, made all the more spectacular on a windy day! There are viewing platforms available so you can safely see inside. If you want a closer look, then the 2015 Orkney Nature Festival will be running special boat trips into the Gloup – find out more from the event’s website.
If you continue around the coastline you’ll reach the Mull Head nature reserve, which features beautiful and rare heathland, birdlife, cliff scenery and lovely views north to some of Orkney’s other isles. There is also an interpretation centre and toilets for visitors to use after the long walk along the coast.
The area also hosts yet another iconic Orkney archaeological treasure – the Brough of Deerness. Surrounded by steep cliffs, the rocky outcrop juts north into the sea. Perched on top are the remains of a Norse chapel, and more mysteries of the Brough continue to be uncovered by ongoing excavations. You can walk to the top of the Brough of Deerness, but it can be a steep and slippery path, so do remember to take care.
Life in the parish, like so much of Orkney, is relaxed, safe and fulfilling. There is a regular bus service into Kirkwall and back, and the airport is nearby. Children head to nearby St Andrews for school, at one of Orkney’s best primaries. If you want to make Deerness your permanent destination, view our property pages.
For visitors, there are plenty of bed and breakfast and self catering options in the parish, catering for all needs. Plan your stay by having a look at the Visit Orkney website.
That’s all from us for this month. Hopefully you’ve found the May newsletter interesting and it has inspired you to find out more about Orkney, or even book a trip. The newsletter is now being sent out monthly via our mailing list, so remember to sign up if you want regular updates from the islands.
As always, feel free to get in touch with us if you have any queries or suggestions, and especially if you want to share your experiences of Orkney.
For now, though, thanks for reading and cheerio from Orkney.