Hello and welcome to the May newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for our usual range of features all focused on life in the islands. There will be plenty of hints and tips on what to see and do in Orkney, as well as our regular news and events round-ups.
Cathedral poppy display opens to the public
St Magnus Cathedral has always been the jewel in Kirkwall’s crown but it has never looked quite as dramatic as it does at the moment. The ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’ art installation by Paul Cummins, presented by 14-18 NOW, is now open and features thousands of ceramic poppies pouring from the ancient building onto the ground in front of the Cathedral. The display is part of Orkney’s role in hosting the national Battle of Jutland commemorations later this month. You can see the poppies until the 12th of June.
Pack your putters and head for Orkney
The UK’s most northerly crazy golf course has been officially opened in Orkney. The 12-hole course in Burray depicts famous landmarks from the islands, including the Old Man of Hoy, Skara Brae and Scapa Flow. The opening marks the culmination of a year-long effort by the small community and the course sits alongside a play park, trim-track and barbecue area. Putters and balls can be rented from the local shop and it’s hoped the community park will encourage more visitors to head across the Churchill Barriers. See some more images of the new park and plan your own visit.
Get on the Craft Trail across the islands
Orkney’s unique craft trail is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Twenty-one Orkney Crafts Association businesses are featured in the new brochure, covering everything from jewellery, ceramics and artwork, to textiles, tapestry and traditional Orkney chair making. Follow the trail over the Churchill Barriers, through our World Heritage Site and into our islands to see inside the workshops, studios and shops of local artisans. Pick up your free copy of the Orkney Craft Trail brochure at outlets across Orkney and find out about life on the trail from one of its newest members.
All of this and more on Orkney.com
You can read more about these stories and much more in the ‘What’s New’ section of the Orkney.com website. All our latest blogs, features and articles are published there and you can even catch up with previous issues of our newsletter. We have special business focus items and local residents have been sharing some of their favourite haunts across the islands too. You can find out more about all the sites mentioned via the Visit Orkney website too.
Win prizes from Orkney!
This month’s prize draw offers free entry to one of Orkney’s finest museums, as well as a delicious lunch for the family! The Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray has donated a season ticket for a family of four, plus a soup and sandwich lunch. Sign up to our mailing list and your name will be automatically entered into the draw.
May in Orkney
It’s safe to say Orkney comes alive at this time of year. With spring in full bloom and visitors beginning to arrive, there are always plenty of events and activities to take advantage of.
Two of our main annual events are back and once again proving popular with both locals and visitors. The Orkney Nature Festival returns with its usual mix of activities between Monday 16th and Sunday 22nd. Where else can you enjoy snorkelling, art workshops, boat trips, walks, talks and a special wildlife ferry cruise as part of a festival?! Find out more from the official website.
Just four short days later the pubs, venues and streets of Stromness will be full of music as the 2016 Orkney Folk Festival gets underway. In total there are 35 ticketed events with 55 acts spread across four days. Some of the very best Orcadian acts will share the stage with performers from as far afield as the United States, Canada and Finland.
Highlights include Live Act of the Year at the 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards, RURA, Grammy nominated Liz Carroll and the voice of Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’, Julie Fowlis.
The core of the Festival though is still the informal pub sessions in and around Stromness. The advice is arrive early and arrange a taxi home! Find out more from the Orkney Folk Festival website.
If you can’t wait until the Festival starts later in the month for your folk music fix, you could take in a performance by Cornwall’s Stamp & Go. They’ll be showcasing their sea songs and shanties at The Reel in Kirkwall on Monday 2nd and in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret’s Hope on Tuesday 3rd.
A weekend of events will mark the 100th anniversary of the commissioning of HMS Royal Oak this month. On Friday 6th you can hear from expert speakers on the story of the Grand Fleet and the Royal Oak itself, before an open forum on Saturday 7th which includes underwater footage of the wreck of the vessel. Both events are at the King Street Halls in Kirkwall at 7pm.
Orkney’s wartime heritage will play a central part in a major national event at the end of the month too. The islands are hosting the UK’s national commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. Official services will be held at St Magnus Cathedral and at Lyness, with a special programme of events also arranged to mark the battle.
The Orkney Museum’s summer exhibition ‘The Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea’ is now open, Westray’s heritage centre will have a special exhibition and local schools will host a range of talks, walks and workshops throughout the week. There are also plans for tours of Royal Navy ships, concerts and performances during the first week of June.
Away from May’s main events and it’s worthwhile remembering some of Orkney’s other attractions are all open for business again, perfect for taking yourself away from the festival hubs and popular sites. Experience Orkney’s agricultural heritage at our two excellent farm museums, Corrigall and Kirbuster. Find out more from Orkney Islands Council’s listings.
The Orkney Wireless Museum in Kirkwall is open every day too and is a real treasure trove of objects and items from our audio and visual past.
Across the Churchill Barriers in Burray, the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre is open again, featuring fascinating collections of items from Orkney’s past as well as a shop and café – it’s well worth a stop.
Why not visit some of our islands this month too? The Sanday Ranger has an excellent series of events planned for May, including lighthouse tours, birdwatching workshops and walks. Westray will be taking part in the Orkney Folk Festival and the Nature Festival too.
If the spring weather isn’t doing you any favours, you can always retreat inside to see a film. The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual selection of big budget and indie showings, with the likes of ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Midnight Special’ all scheduled for May.
The West Side Cinema in Stromness will be showing ‘The Russian Woodpecker’ at 7.45pm on Saturday 14th too.
For art fans there are a number of exhibitions up and running. ‘Landscape and Stone’ by Diana Merrick and Julian Milner will be on display at the Waterfront Gallery in Stromness until the 14th of May. The Pier Arts Centre is currently featuring the work of younger designers in Orkney with ‘Form & Function – eight Orkney Makers’. It will be on show until the 4th of June.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during May 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
Nature is everywhere in Orkney. To help you find the best places to go to experience it at its very best, we're focusing on a different location with its own delights every month. For May Alison Nimmo from the local RSPB branch has been to Marwick Head...
I’m writing this fresh from a trip to Marwick Head, one of the best places to be on a blue-sky spring day like today. The cliffs are home to the Orkney Mainland’s largest seabird colony, the views up and down the west coast are spectacular and there’s always a variety of other wildlife to enjoy in the surrounding fields and bay.
The changeable weather in recent weeks has seen the number of birds on the cliffs varying wildly, as during the rougher spells the auks tend to head back out to sea, where they’ve so recently spent the winter. But over the next few weeks roughly 20,000 birds will be taking up residence and laying eggs on the weathered sandstone ledges and crevices the cliffs provide.
It’s an immersive experience - the voices of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars mingle in a raucous medley over the crashing waves below, while the smell of guano rises up to greet you on the cliff-top path! With a pair of binoculars you can pick out the odd puffin too, its orange feet standing out amongst the other birds.
Wheatears have flooded back into the county after a winter in sub-Saharan Africa, and right now the route up from the bay is ideal for spotting them flitting and bobbing amongst the rocks. Pink thift, purple spring squill and a host of other wildflowers colour this walk in summer – look out for the rare great yellow bumblebee - while down in the bay you can enjoy eiders, shelducks, oystercatchers, ringed plovers and flocks of bathing kittiwakes.
In winter, the low sun casts twisted shadows from the old rusting ship wreckage on the rocks beside the beach at Marwick Bay, while turnstones, dunlins and purple sandpipers peck among the seaweed. Rarer gulls like Iceland and glaucous gulls occasionally turn up here, perhaps to feed on a dead seal that’s been washed up.
Sadly, numbers of seabirds nesting at Marwick have dropped dramatically in recent years, with about nine out of ten kittiwakes having disappeared since the 1980s along with half the guillemots and razorbills. Find out more at rspb.org.uk/scotlandsealife.
Marwick Head will also have a special role to play in Orkney's Battle of Jutland commemorations next month. Not long after the battle 100 years ago, HMS Hampshire - with Lord Kitchener onboard - struck a mine off the Orkney coast and sank with the loss of more than 730 men. A memorial erected at Marwick Head has recently been refurbished and a new wall built, inscribed with the names of those who perished. A ceremony at the site will be held on the centenary of the sinking on the 5th of June.
Orkney's nature fills the frame for local photographer
Every month we ask a local photographer to share some of their own images of Orkney. For May Sanday resident Adam Hough has selected some of his favourites, showcasing the island’s incredible nature and wildlife.
I first held a camera on my 12th birthday when I was given a Pentax ME Super. It was a brilliant camera that used film. After leaving school and starting work it took me a while to reconnect with photography. A friend purchased a Digital SLR and, after a few trips out with him, I soon wanted a new camera and so my love of photography began.
I love nature so it was a natural progression that I would become a wildlife photographer. I have been influenced by many great wildlife photographers and one quote I always remember is ‘you have to go where the wildlife is'. Orkney is abundant with nature - the lands and seas are so fertile - and it provides a haven for many thousands of animals. I have worked around and near animals my whole life and I feel this gives me an advantage when getting to know them and photograph them.
My favourite subject is the fulmar. Although fairly common they can still be tricky to photograph but the more time I spend with them the more I love them, their behaviour towards one another, the way they interact with each other and how they effortlessly soar through the skies.
In Sanday there are infinite opportunities for photography including some other favourites of mine; otters, seals, shags and ravens.
I am privileged to live in Orkney exploring these beautiful islands.
Head east in Orkney for peace and tranquility
Although many of Orkney’s main attractions lie west of Kirkwall, those heading east will be rewarded by plenty of other special sites, away from the crowds. Find out more about St Andrews in this month's area focus.
St Andrews is actually made up of two separate areas, Tankerness and Toab. It’s also where thousands of visitors to Orkney first set foot in the islands as it hosts the slightly erroneously named Kirkwall Airport. In its former guise it was used by the RAF and the Royal Navy during the Second World War before becoming the main hub for flights to and from Orkney nearly 70 years ago.
The parish is made up mainly of rich agricultural ground. Farming is the main industry in the area, but there are still places to explore for any tourist keen to get off the beaten track.
The area’s wartime heritage is further on show at Rerwick Head. It’s a fascinating area to explore with gun emplacements, searchlight stations and watchtowers forming part of the defence of Orkney’s eastern approaches during WWII. Many of the buildings are still standing and provide a real glimpse into Orkney’s past. Visitor shouldn’t enter the buildings though as some have become increasingly unstable since they were constructed more than seven decades ago.
There is a signposted walk at Rerwick that takes you past the WWII remains and includes geos, low lying cliffs and grassland. In summer it can be a beautiful, flat stroll and a small parking area is available.
The nearby Tankerness Loch is a great place for bird watching and the coastline around the north of the parish can provide an excellent vantage point for spotting seals, dolphins and other marine life.
St Andrews is also the location of a very popular attraction, and one which is set to grow in the coming years. In Tankerness you can find the base of Sheila Fleet Jewellery, a local company at the forefront of Orkney’s jewellery industry. Sheila’s distinctive designs are influenced by the rich heritage of the islands and she set up her current hub in the parish in 1995.
Visitors can head to the workshop as part of the Orkney Craft Trail to watch beautiful rings, bracelets, brooches and much more being produced. Jewellers and enamellers work Mondays to Fridays – arrange a tour by phoning 01856 861 203.
A new visitor centre is also being built at the site, with a major project to renovate a disused church underway. When completed there will also be an extended workshop and special exhibitions on display.
St Andrews is home to several small but beautiful and quiet beaches. Explore the sands at the Hall of Tankerness and Mill Sands and you could see plenty of wildlife and nature. Dingieshowe is another popular beach in Orkney, bridging St Andrews and its neighbouring parish of Deerness. It’s a fantastic beach to explore with large dunes and spectacular views.
If you’re inspired to make St Andrews your port of call during your visit to Orkney you certainly won’t be short of accommodation options. There are high quality bed and breakfasts, guest houses and self catering properties to be found throughout the parish, with converted mills and new, purpose-built properties available. Find your perfect retreat via the Visit Orkney website.
In recent years St Andrews has also become one of the most popular areas in Orkney to live. Its proximity to Kirkwall and its transport links mean that more and more people are making the parish their home.
The local community school is also a jewel in the crown of the parish. It was built following the merger of smaller schools in the east mainland and continues to go from strength to strength. There is plenty on offer for young people at the school, with successes at youth football, rugby and netball in recent year.
There has also been a boom in housing development in St Andrews with many new build plots becoming available. Search our property pages to find your dream home in the parish.
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.