Hello and welcome to the May newsletter from Orkney.com.
We’ll be bringing you our usual range of features and photos from the islands as spring gets into full flow. Keep reading for a look at our monthly events calendar, a focus on wildlife and a visit to another hidden Orkney attraction, plus much more.
Remember, you can always head over to the Visit Orkney website for extra information, and you can follow us on social media too.
New visitor centre for Orkney jewellery firm
Sheila Fleet Jewellery has opened the doors to its brand new visitor centre and cafe in Orkney's east mainland. The former St Andrew's Kirk has been restored to house a new gallery and jewellery showroom with a large and bright cafe next door, serving delicious lunches, light bites and teas and coffees. Work began on the project in 2015 and marks a huge step forward for the 25-year-old business. Find out more on the Visit Orkney website.
Come and dig Orkney!
With the summer on the horizon Orkney’s archaeological community begins to stir – it’s nearly time for another dig season! Archaeologists will soon be out at locations around the islands, excavating fascinating structures and hoping to unearth more incredible insights into life in Orkney thousands of years ago. You can visit all the digs, including the Ness of Brodgar, the Cairns in South Ronaldsay, beach excavations in Sanday and at Swandro in Rousay. There will be open days, activities and workshops throughout the summer too – find out more from our special blog.
May is the month Orkney’s events calendar really begins to come alive. The Orkney Nature Festival starts on the 14th and features a packed programme, including wildlife walks, a snorkelling safari and the always popular Nature Festival cruise with NorthLink Ferries. Then the last weekend of the month sees the return of the Orkney Folk Festival, one of the finest events of its kind in Scotland. Stromness is the hub with concerts and informal pub sessions taking place throughout the town. May really is a month where you’ll always find something to keep you entertained. Find out more about these fantastic festivals and our other annual events on the Visit Orkney website.
Get on the Craft Trail
If you’re looking for a different way to see Orkney then a trip on the Orkney Craft Trail could be the perfect thing for you. With 21 stops at the workshops and galleries of our talented makers, spread from South Ronaldsay to Sanday, you’ll be able to see our fantastic scenery and watch artists, textile and furniture makers, potters and jewellers at work. The trail gives a fascinating insight into Orkney’s craft heritage - take a look at the Orkney Crafts Association website for more information and download your own copy of the 2018 Craft Trail brochure.
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 on social media. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
May in Orkney
This is the month when the Orkney events calendar really begins to get busy. Come and find out what's happening across the islands in May!
As you’ll have noticed in our news section, May brings two of our main events. The Orkney Nature Festival will be held across the islands between the 14th and 20th and is the best way to experience wild Orkney. Activities range from photography workshops to kayak trips, and wildlife walks to the chance to snorkel and dive in Scapa Flow.
The annual Orkney Nature Festival cruise with NorthLink Ferries will offer the chance to see the spectacular sea cliffs of Hoy too – definitely not a trip to be missed! Find out more from the official website.
Later in the month the streets of Stromness will come alive to the sound of fiddles, guitars and accordions with the return of the Orkney Folk Festival. Catch performances in the town and further afield between the 24th and 27th, including local talent like The Chair, Saltfishforty and Fara, as well as visiting acts such as Dougie MacLean, Findlay Napier and Le Vent du Nord. Visit the Orkney Folk Festival website for full programme details.
Turning back to the start of the month and May begins with the Orkney Rugby Sevens weekend – one of the biggest sporting events in the local calendar. Visiting teams join local sides for the main event on the 5th with spectators welcome at the Pickaquoy playing fields. There is a dance at night before a hockey tournament on the following Sunday and another disco – luckily Monday is a bank holiday!
The same weekend brings the return of the John Rae Festival. This year sees author Ken McGoogan host a talk and there will be open days at the Hall of Clestrain, the famous Arctic explorer’s childhood home, too. There will also be a special showing of the 2008 documentary ‘Passage’, about John Rae’s search for the ill-fated Franklin expedition. It’s all held between the 4th and 6th of May, find out more on the John Rae Society website.
Orkney’s strong links with Norway will be celebrated on the 17th, marking Norwegian Constitution Day. There will be a colourful parade through the streets in Kirkwall, part of a series of events throughout the day.
There are plenty of indoor events to keep you occupied too. The Pier Arts Centre has its Jerwood Makers Open exhibition until the 8th of June and the 80th annual exhibition from the Society of Wood Engravers from the 5th of May until the 16th of June. The event includes a wood-engraving exhibition on the 17th and a family drop-in between 2pm and 4pm on the 19th.
Elsewhere in Stromness, the Waterfront Gallery has an exhibition of paintings and prints from Diana Merrick and Julian Milner – it’s open until the 5th. Meanwhile in Kirkwall you can catch an exhibition of photographs from Tomas Hermoso at For Arts Sake on Bridge Street until the 12th.
The Stromness Museum is a fantastic place to visit at any time of the year. The 2018 summer exhibition focuses on Skara Brae and some of the incredible finds from the Neolithic village. There is also a special exhibition of arts and crafts inspired by the Ness of Brodgar.
For cinema fans there is the usual selection of movies at the Pickaquoy Centre, including ‘Ready Player One’, ‘A Quiet Place’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Human Capital’ this month.
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.
Orkney wildlife watch
Join local expert Alison Nimmo to uncover more hints and tips on Orkney's nature and wildlife highlights.
That shout, heard on clifftop or shoreline, brings an instant thrill.
Last May a friend’s call made me look up from the beach at Warebeth, near Stromness, to see two orcas powering through the tidal race in Hoy Sound. It was a joyous few moments as they plunged in and out of the standing waves. Spotting several from a kayak somewhere off Head of Holland is another vivid memory!
Orcas are well-known for their intelligence and complex social structures, as well as their striking appearance. Would you recognise Orkney’s other likely cetaceans, though? Risso’s dolphins, minke whales, harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins…if some of those are less familiar, you may appreciate (as I do) the Sea Watch Foundation’s ID guides which include videos of the species in action. The charity also has a run-down of which typically occur in Orkney waters.
Many people have already enjoyed the unexpected appearance of fins this spring. Personally I find the Orkney Cetacean Sightings Facebook page helpful for hearing what might be about. There’s no replacement for just being outside, and a lot of luck, though. Ferry journeys and cliffs walks make good opportunities, and spots to enjoy a rich range of wildlife – while keeping an eye out to sea – include Cantick Head (South Walls), Marwick Head (West Mainland), Mull Head (Deerness) and Noup Head (Westray), amongst many others.
And fingers will be crossed for sure on this year’s Orkney Nature Festival cruise circumnavigating Hoy on 20th May.
Orkney odyssey for Shetland-based photographer
Our featured photographer for May is Graham Duffin, a Shetland resident who makes regular trips to Orkney with his camera.
My interest in photography came through my love of getting out walking and discovering new places. As I visited remote parts of Shetland I decided to start taking my camera so I could show off the beauty of these places to the world. Social media was still in its infancy back then but it was, and still is, a good way to get your photos out there.
My early cameras varied from the old disposable Kodaks to a film-loading Olympus before I made the upgrade to my first digital camera. After that I had a Fuji Finepix bridge camera for a couple of years but I always found myself wanting more, so the decision was made to upgrade to my first DSLR. Since then there have been new lenses, filters, tripods and a further camera upgrade!
I managed to find myself an Orcadian lass a few years ago and I took this opportunity to start discovering the sights of Orkney with my camera too. As I'm based in Burray when I’m here I love to catch a summer sunrise from Glimps Holm, and in the short winter days I would recommend a sunset from the Sands O'Wright. I have discovered quite a lot of South Ronaldsay on my trips, including the Clett of Crura sea-stack at Windwick, the wartime buildings at Hoxa Head and also the coastal walk from Sandwick to Burwick, which gives you views across to Hoy and the Scottish mainland.
Other places I regularly visit include Dingieshowe and Rerwick in the east mainland and the stunning cliffs at Yesnaby, the bay of Skaill and Marwick bay in the west.
Most of my images are of seascapes, sunsets and sunrises so this gets me out of bed in the early hours and in all kinds of weather, including winter storms. It can be really tricky to keep your lenses and camera dry so I would recommend a good weather-proof bag and protection - but the rewards can be great when you capture that one clean image!
During the summer months I sometimes find myself in a photography lull due to the long hours of bright light, but you will be rewarded at the end of the day with the long golden hours at sunset.
I would encourage anyone to come and photograph Orkney as it’s so rich in ancient and modern history, and there is such easy access to stunning sea views. You’re never far away from anything and Orkney itself is closer than you think.
See more of Graham's images on his Instagram page.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Our uncovered Orkney attraction for May takes us across three Churchill Barriers to the island of Burray, and a trip back through millions of years of Orcadian history.
Orkney’s Neolithic attractions are well documented, with some of our sites thought to be more than 5000 years old. Of course, there was life in these islands for millennia before that too, and that’s exactly what the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray aims to highlight.
Housed in renovated farm buildings overlooking Scapa Flow, the Centre is a real hidden gem. It contains fossils from ancient Orkney and around the world, including some incredibly rare and beautifully preserved specimens from 385 million years ago.
The Centre also tells the story of Orkney’s geology and how the islands were formed. It’s always a good idea to visit the Fossil Centre before heading to places like Yesnaby to see the geology of the cliffs and coastline for yourself.
As well as fascinating fossils, the Centre has developed a fantastic collection of heritage attractions, including objects used by local folk over generations. You can see furniture, china, equipment and tools, all of which have played a part in the lives of Orcadian residents. Wartime Orkney also comes into focus with an excellent exhibition on the construction of the Churchill Barriers and life in Orkney during two World Wars.
After absorbing so much history you’ll be ready for a cuppa, and there’s no need to go far. The Centre’s Heritage Tearoom is run by the local community and offers homemade food and snacks, all served with a heritage theme, including décor and old-fashioned uniforms. There is also a well-stocked gift shop at the main entrance with books, gemstones, local jewellery and much more.
The Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre is well worth a stop on your road trip over the Churchill Barriers and is sure to help you understand and appreciate Orkney’s ancient and enthralling history.
Explore our ‘Uncovered Orkney’ map for more hints and tips on some of our favourite hidden attractions across the islands.
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.
The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.