May 2017 Newsletter

Hello and welcome to the May newsletter from

We’ve had sun, wind, rain and even snow so far this spring – always expect the unexpected in Orkney! In this month’s newsletter we’ll be bringing you all our usual features on life in Orkney, including photos, articles and much more.

Remember, if you’d like to find out more about Orkney, visit the and Visit Orkney websites, and follow us via social media.

May headlines

Meet our makers on the 2017 Craft Trail

The 2017 Orkney Craft Trail brochure - out now

The latest edition of Orkney’s unique craft trail brochure, which highlights the workshops, studios and shops of local artisans, has been launched. Twenty-one businesses - covering everything from jewellery, ceramics and artwork, to textiles, tapestry and traditional Orkney chair making - are participating in this year’s trail. It’s the perfect chance to see our sights and meet some of our talented makers at the same time. Find out more and download your own copy via the Orkney Crafts Association website.

Eclectic mix for St Magnus Festival

Festival Director Alasdair Nicolson with the 2017 programme

The full programme for the centrepiece of the Orcadian summer, the St Magnus International Festival, has been published. This year’s event, to be held between the 16th and 24th of June, will focus on Orkney’s links with Norway and Scandinavia, with performances by the likes of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the Trondheim Soloists and the Bergen Cathedral Choir. Come and join us during midsummer for inspiration and entertainment – visit the St Magnus Festival website for all the information you need.

Orkney top of the table for quality of life

With views like this it's no wonder Orkney is top of the table - image by Iain Sarjeant

Did you know that Orkney has the best quality of life in any rural area in the UK? A new study from the Bank of Scotland shows the islands out in front once again. The report highlighted our high employment rate, our happiness levels, our low level of anxiety and the low crime rates here as reasons why we’re at the top of the tree. We had some of our own ideas too – take a look at our list and let us know if you agree! If you want to try the Orkney lifestyle for yourself, visit for all the information you need.

New lease of life for Royal Navy oil tanks?

Inside the access tunnel of the Lyness Oil Tank complex

Plans that could see the largest structure in Orkney brought back into use are being investigated. A huge underground oil tank complex was built above Lyness in Hoy during World War Two as a fuel depot for the Royal Navy, now the cavernous tunnels and tanks are being considered as a new storage facility. There are six tanks in total, nine metres wide and 237m long. It’s a fascinating part of Orkney’s wartime heritage and one of the greatest engineering feats ever seen in the islands. Watch our short film from inside the tunnels and find out more via our special blog.

Join us on Instagram

Follow @visitorkney 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.

Win prizes from Orkney!

Win a selection of fabulous coffees, roasted in the islands by the Orkney Roastery. Sign up to enter via

Bolero, part of the Aria range from the Orkney Roastery

May in Orkney

May is a month when the Orkney events calendar really begins to take shape. There is so much to see and do across the islands in the coming weeks.

Let’s turn our attention towards the end of the month first and the welcome return of the Orkney Nature Festival and the Orkney Folk Festival.

Now in its fifth year, the Orkney Nature Festival has become one of the most popular events of the year. The 2017 version will be held between the 15th and 21st of May and features a packed programme. On offer this year are boat trips to the Holms of Copinsay and into Orkney’s famous collapsed sea cave, the Gloup. You can go on a snorkelling safari or try a dive in Scapa Flow and there are walks, talks and bike rides too.

The Nature Cruise is a highlight of the Orkney Nature Festival - image courtesy of NorthLink Ferries

The whole week is rounded off with the Nature Festival Cruise – step aboard with NorthLink Ferries for a special trip up the coastline of Orkney’s west mainland for spectacular scenery, local music, food and some wildlife highlights too. Find out more about the Festival and book your tickets via the official website.

The following week sees the very best in folk music return to the streets of Stromness. The Orkney Folk Festival will be marking its 35th birthday in style with performances from the likes of Eddi Reader, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. They’ll be joined by talented musicians from across the UK and Orkney, including Kris Drever, Saltfishforty, Blazin Fiddles and Flook.

Eddi Reader will return to the Orkney Folk Festival this year - image by Sean Purser

It all runs between the 25th and 28th of May, with performances around the islands. The Festival’s heart is very much in Stromness though - don’t miss the famous impromptu pub sessions that take place throughout the day (and often into the early hours)!

General sale tickets are available now – visit the official website to book your seats.

Earlier in the month a new festival will be launched too. The John Rae Society has its inaugural event between the 5th and 8th of May to celebrate the man and the Society’s plans for the restoration of his former childhood home at the Hall of Clestrain. Find out more via the John Rae Society website.

Some delicious food and drink products all made with the finest Orkney ingredients will be on show this month with the return of the Homemade in the Parish event. Organised by Orkney Food and Drink, the competition sees parish teams from across Orkney go head-to-head.

The popular Homemade in the Parish homebaking event is back for 2017

Teams submit products across a wide range of categories, from jams, chutneys and cakes, to home-brew, cheeses and pies. Then a panel of judges sample the products to see which areas come out on top. It’s a fiercely contested competition, but for us spectators it’s a chance to taste some of the finest home produce to be found anywhere! Head along to Kirkwall Grammar School on the 6th from 11.30am to see what’s on offer. Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.

So what else is happening in Orkney this month? Aside from the Folk Festival, there is plenty to see and do in Stromness in May. Visit the town’s museum to see its ‘Per Mare’ exhibition, celebrating the 200th anniversary of Stromness beginning to look after its own affairs. The Museum is open daily between 10am and 5pm. You can also visit the Pier Arts Centre for an exhibition of work by Scottish artist Katy Dove. ‘Movement & Light’ is on display until the 3rd of June.

Pay a visit to the town of Stromness this month

The Budapest Café Orchestra returns to Orkney with three performances, in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret’s Hope on the 12th, the Gable End Theatre in Hoy on the 13th and the Stromness Town Hall on the 14th. Times are still to be confirmed but tickets are available on the door.

Staying with music and The Reel in Kirkwall has an Orcadian Summer Concert at 8pm on the 16th and on the 30th, featuring a variety of performers. Tickets are £6 and all proceeds go to local charities.

Enjoy a summer concert with local musicians at The Reel in Kirkwall this month

Grab yourself a ticket for a tour of the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral. You’ll get to see all the nooks and crannies of the beautiful old building, including the clock winding mechanism, before enjoying stunning views over the town from the base of the spire. Find out more via the Orkney Islands Council website.

It’s the time of year for the return of other organised tours across the islands too. See the former Naval Base at Lyness with a guided walk every Tuesday from 11am. Phone 01856 791 300 to book. Meanwhile the Papay Peedie Tours return from the 10th of May. Join a full day tour of Papa Westray, including the Neolithic Knap of Howar and the RSPB reserve at North Hill. Advance booking is essential for the tours, which run every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday until the 30th of August. Tickets are £50 for adults and £25 for under 16s. Phone 07931 235 213 or email for more information.

One of Papa Westray's beautiful and deserted beaches

Also starting again on the 10th are Sanday Experience Tours, which run every Wednesday throughout the summer. Get picked up from the ferry terminal for a tour of Sanday’s historic and natural heritage sites. Lunch, tea and cakes are provided. Tickets are £35 for adults and £20 for under 16s. Phone 01857 600 438 or 07513 084 777 to get your spot.

Guided walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness are held every Wednesday at 10am, with Ring of Brodgar tours at 1pm on Thursdays too. They’re free and there is no need to book – phone 01856 841 732 for more details.

Orkney’s new long-distance walking route, the St Magnus Way, was launched last month as part of this year’s Magnus 900 commemorations. Walkers will be able to help open the second part of the route, between Birsay and Dounby, on the 27th of May. Keep an eye on the St Magnus Way website for more details.

Take in some spectacular Orkney scenery on the St Magnus Way in May

There is plenty to enjoy at Orkney’s cinema showings this month. The Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre has films such as ‘Get Out’ and ‘Power Rangers’ in May, along with an excellent selection of National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company live broadcasts.

The West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing Oscar winning ‘Moonlight’ on the 6th in Stromness Town Hall at 7.45pm. They’re also teaming up with the Orkney Wine Festival on the 20th with a showing of ‘Neruda’, where there will be a pop-up wine bar and deli treats on offer. Find out more from the official Facebook page.

There are always some excellent art exhibitions on throughout the year in Orkney. See ‘Growth’, a display of stitched textiles by Emma Fraser, Jean Malone & Morag Tweedie, at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 23rd of May. Meanwhile, ‘Changing Places, Changing Faces’ is on display in the Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray until the 30th of September. It’s an exhibition of photos about the island and local characters.

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

Our regular wildlife feature takes us around the islands to highlight some of the very best nature hotspots. Join Alison Nimmo from the RSPB Orkney at May’s location.

You can see how jagged the south coast of South Walls is just from the map; in real life, it’s even more spectacular. The Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve here, Hill of White Hamars, boasts caves, arches, stacks, geos (narrow inlets) and some impressive gloups (blowholes).

The craggy coastline of the Hill of White Hamars nature reserve

Thousands of seabirds return each spring to nest amongst the rocky ledges and crevices provided by the cliffs. There’s a constant coming and going which I find mesmerising - countless guillemots and razorbills streaming low over the waves, fulmars rising and turning on the up-draughts where sea meets cliff - what’s more, the geos offer close-ups of the individual dramas being enacted below. You can look across at the birds on the rock face opposite as they preen, squabble, guard eggs from marauding skuas and later – if they’re lucky - feed their chicks.

Seabirds are always present on the coastline

Hill of White Hamars is a working sheep farm, and the careful grazing supports an incredible display of wildflowers in summer (over 180 species). Most sought-after are perhaps the rare and tiny Scottish primroses which flower in May and July, but it’s wonderful to just take a stroll and enjoy being surrounded by eyebright, wild thyme, white campion, grass of Parnassus, heath spotted-orchids and north marsh-orchids, to name just a few. For insects it’s a feast, so look out for butterflies such as green-veined whites, common blues and meadow browns, or even the scarce great yellow bumblebee.

Primula scotica at the Hill of White Hamars reserve in Orkney - image by Mark Foxwell

Gazing out over the Pentland Firth, you may be lucky enough to spot passing whales or dolphins, and when autumn rolls around again the geos shelter pupping grey seals. Winter storms are predictably wild along this exposed stretch but here’s one sight you might not have expected - up to 2,000 barnacle geese graze the nearby fields having travelled here all the way from Greenland.

The reserve is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust

Find out more about this beautiful location via the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.

Island life perfect for Papay photographer

For May’s photography focus it’s over to new Papa Westray resident Ross Jamieson. He’s quickly adapting to seeing island life through his lens.

When I moved to Orkney in January, I was itching to get out and explore this new landscape with my camera. The rolling dales of Yorkshire, lovely though they were, are relatively static to shoot. In the frame there is basically land and sky.

Stormy seas on the west coast of Papa Westray - image by Ross Jamieson

Here, however, there is land, sky and water, with the latter two frequently moving erratically, so that the landscape can be continually changing. This offers exciting challenges and opportunities for budding photographers like myself.

Sunrise over the island - image by Ross Jamieson

Photographers have a tendency to produce tricksy shots to add drama to their pictures, often with striking results. But in the few months I have been here, I have learned that often there is no need – this fantastic landscape takes care of everything. The number of usable pictures after an excursion is always plentiful.

The view towards the Holm of Papa - image by Ross Jamieson

I live in Papa Westray, so most of my photographs are based here. For a small island, I am amazed how it offers endless inspiration. The ever-changing light and weather always create fresh angles on previous shots. No two pictures from the same location are ever the same.

And if all this is available on just one island, then I can’t wait to explore the rest of Orkney.

Keep up to date with the latest images from Ross via his Facebook and Twitter accounts

Explore uncovered Orkney

Every month we concentrate on a different attraction in Orkney, something a bit ‘out of the way’. For May, we take a look at a site full of history and wartime heritage.

Orkney’s wartime heritage is all around you. You can see old anti-aircraft batteries dotted around the coast, with the Churchill Barriers and the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum in Lyness more obvious reminders of our military past.

But out in the middle of Orkney’s West Mainland lies another site with a rich history. HMS Tern was one of four airfields in the islands during WWII and was part of the Royal Navy’s presence here during the conflict.

How HMS Tern looked during WWII, with its network of runways

Lying halfway between the village of Dounby and the Birsay coastline, all you’ll see from the roadside is a cluster of buildings. An aerial view, however, shows the clear outline of a network of runways.

HMS Tern was part of Orkney’s air defences during the war but it was also used for training facilities for the Navy. From 1941 until the end of the war it housed many squadrons, flying planes including Swordfish, Skua and Seafires, before being sold off in 1957.

The site is full of old wartime structures and stories

Now, thanks to the hard work of the Birsay Heritage Trust and the Aviation Reseach Group Orkney & Shetland (ARGOS), the site has been cleaned up and some of the remaining buildings have been opened to the public for official guided tours.

Joining your expert guide at the site, you’ll pass through the former entrance gates and get exclusive access inside the iconic Control Tower as well as the chance to learn about the Cinema and the Fire Station buildings. More than that though, you’ll hear all about the history of the site and the men that were based there. The tours are a great chance to get a feel for what life there would have been like during WWII in Orkney, with thousands of men and tonnes of machinery passing through on a daily basis.

See inside the lower floors of the former HMS Tern Control Tower with a guided tour

There are big plans for the future at HMS Tern too, and it’s another hidden gem in Orkney, just perfect for getting off the beaten track.

Join military historian Andy Hollinrake for a guided tour of the fascinating HMS Tern site

Booking isn’t required – just turn up at the start of a tour to join in. Find all the information you need, including tour times, access and cost, via the new HMS Tern website. You can also follow HMS Tern on Facebook and Twitter.

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. Newsletter

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