May 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the May newsletter from

This is the month when the islands really start to come alive with spring in full bloom. Keep reading for the latest on life in Orkney, including our May events preview, the latest news and much more.

As always, we’d love to hear from you too - stay in touch on social media by following the links at the top of the page.

May's headlines

Our favourite photos of Orkney

The Vat of Kirbister, Stronsay

We might be biased, but we think Orkney is one of the most beautiful places in the country to get out and about with a camera. From ever-changing light and all kinds of weather, to our green, fertile landscape and the blues and greys of the sea and sky, these islands provide the perfect inspiration. We've picked out some of our favourite images of Orkney by a very talented bunch of photographers - take a look and share your own with us on social media.

Project set to turn Orkney into 'smart energy islands'

A pioneering £28.5 million project to create a so-called virtual energy system in Orkney, digitally linking renewable generation with consumer demand, is set to get underway in the islands. The ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) initiative aims to make Orkney a ‘smart energy island’, eventually eliminating the need for fossil fuels. Watch our video to find out all about it.

Take a trip on the Creative Orkney Trail

Local potter Andrew Appleby

If you’re looking for an excuse to explore Orkney then grab a copy of the new 2019 Creative Orkney Trail and hit the open road. Follow the trail to meet some of our most talented makers, from potters and jewellers to knitwear designers, woodturners, artists and much more. This year the trail has 21 stops across six islands, giving you the chance to watch unique pieces being created, do some shopping and see stunning scenery en-route. Read our blog to find out more.

Come puffin-spotting in Orkney!

Puffin in Westray, Orkney

Over recent years Orkney has welcomed orcas, sea eagles and a walrus, highlighting just how special our nature and wildlife attractions are. And now the focus returns to an old favourite, as we welcome the return of our puffin population! These colourful clowns of the cliffs are already beginning to chatter away at various locations across Orkney, with many more arriving back onshore every day. Find out where you can see them this summer.

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. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.

May in Orkney

May is the month when the Orkney events calendar really begins to fill up, with some of our main events making a comeback.

The Orkney Nature Festival is definitely one of our annual highlights, with some exciting events showcasing wild Orkney at its very best. This year you’ll be able to take part in walks, talks, orca watches, snorkelling safaris and even some special nature cruises too. It really is a festival with something for everyone. It’s all held between the 13th and 19th of May – find out more via the official website, and read our blog for inspiration.

Take in views of Orkney's coastline on the Nature Festival Cruise

Later in the month, the streets of Stromness will once again be full of the sound of the finest folk music, with the return of the fantastic Orkney Folk Festival. This year’s special guests include Cara Dillon, Lau and The Poozies. The Festival will also celebrate the musical connections between three of Scotland’s island groups – Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides - with two collaborative concerts featuring musicians and singers from each of the areas.

As always, the finest local musical talent will be taking to the stage too, with concerts, ceilidhs and pub sessions to be found all around Stromness and further afield. This year’s Festival will be held between the 23rd and 26th of May, visit the official website to find out more.

The Orkney Folk Festival is back this May - image by Sean Purser

Remember too that the St Magnus International Festival will be back next month. Once again there is an incredible and eclectic programme of performances to enjoy during midsummer in Orkney. It’s all held between the 21st and 27th of June. Take a look at the Festival’s website for more information.

Back to the start of May now, another Festival returns to the May events calendar. The Orkney Wine Festival – the most northerly of its kind – is back, with a series of events planned between the 2nd and 12th. There are tastings, talks and even the chance to mix your own wine. Get all the programme and ticket information from the official website.

Orkney Rugby Club’s annual Rugby Sevens competition will be held on the 4th. One of the Orkney’s largest sports events, it’s conveniently held over the Bank Holiday weekend, and there’s always a festive atmosphere in Kirkwall. The playing fields at Pickaquoy will be full of excellent rugby featuring both local and visiting teams. You’ll be able to take in live music and local food too.

Orkney will celebrate its links with Norway on the 17th of May for Norwegian Constitution Day. There will be the annual ‘tog’ parade through the streets of Kirkwall to St Magnus Cathedral, featuring the Kirkwall City Pipe Band and visiting Norwegians, as well as a series of other concerts and events during the day.

The annual Norwegian Constitution Day parade in Kirkwall

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with new displays highlighting its rich history as a home for art in Orkney. As part of ‘Then Now When’, work from the Centre’s collection alongside letters, photographs, posters and artefacts will be on display throughout the year, with the exhibition set to grow over the summer months. Another new display, ‘Margaret Gardiner – A Life of Giving’, will focus on the life of founder of the Pier Arts Centre. Both exhibitions are open now. Find out more from the Centre’s website.

The Pier Arts Centre - image by Alistair Peebles

There’s plenty to keep fans of the silver screen entertained this month. The West Side Cinema in Stromness Town Hall has a special showing of Citizen Kane as part of the Orkney Wine Festival at 7pm on the 4th. Then, on the 18th, catch Oscar-nominated The Favourite at 7.45pm. Visit the Cinema’s Facebook page for more details.

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.

Wild Orkney

Local wildlife cameraman and photographer, Raymond Besant, has been out and about experiencing Orkney’s nature highlights once again.

The breeding season is in full swing now for Orkney’s birdlife with courtship underway, nests built and some species already with chicks. Orkney’s seabird cities are places full of drama and well worth a visit. You’re spoilt for choice in Orkney but the unfolding view northwards as you ascend the hill at the RSPB reserve at Marwick Head is hard to beat. Thousands of guillemots breed side by side on the towering cliffs whilst smaller numbers of razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars are easy to spot. Great and Arctic skuas patrol the cliff tops ready to rob unwary birds of their catch as they return to their nests.

But it’s a lesser known seabird that I really love seeing at this time of year. The black guillemot, or tystie as we call it, breeds between boulders at the tops of shorelines, crevices in cliffs and even man-made structures. In fact, one of the best places to see this dapper looking auk is the Stronsay ferry terminal in the village of Whitehall. No sooner have you driven off the ferry than you can see them sitting in pairs next to the road. The birds nest in holes in the pier and it’s easy to watch them as they display on the pier-top, or fly back and forth from fishing missions.

Black guillemots in Stronsay, Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

They can be trusting birds and a slow measured approach will allow you some excellent photo opportunities.

Our flora has been a little slower to get going but a real specialist should now be in flower. The tiny Scottish Primrose is quite fussy about its growing conditions so you’ll find it restricted to a few coastal sites in Orkney, including Papa Westray, Westray and Rousay. An easily accessible site is the popular coastal walk at Yesnaby. This beautiful little flower rarely exceeds 10cm in height so be mindful of where you put your boots! It is a real rarity and growing so close to the ground they can be hard to spot until you get your eye in.

Scottish primrose in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

Spend a day in the hills and you’ll come across another rarity, one you will probably hear before you see it - the red-throated diver. Keep your ears tuned for its haunting call as it rings out over the moorland. These stunning birds nest on the hilltop lochans, but don't be tempted to have a closer look, they are protected by law and disturbing them is an offence. Fortunately, there are several really good hides from which to observe them.

The RSPB Burgar Hill hide in Evie yields excellent views as well as the opportunity to see hen harriers and short-eared owls. This site is a real luxury as you can drive right up the hill to the hide, so no exertion necessary! If you’re feeling a little more adventurous then take the ferry to the island of Eday where several pairs of red-throated divers nest on Mill Loch. Again, they can be viewed without disturbing them from the comfort of a hide.

Red-throated diver at Burgar Hill in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

Follow Raymond on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and visit his official website.

Focus on photography

Our featured photographer this month is Andras Farkas, who takes an aerial view of Orkney with some absolutely stunning results.

My interest in photography probably began when our Physics teacher in primary school introduced us to photo-developing methods during the analogue era in the 1990s. We spent a lot of time developing black and white photos in the dark room, learning post-processing in a very different way to the techniques available these days.

When I’m out taking photos, I try to rely on my eyes and my brain first and foremost. I always try to visualise the image first – how it would look with specific settings and after processing. If I’m happy with that ‘virtual picture’ then I’ll go ahead and start taking shots, otherwise – more often than not – I don’t bother! In terms of actual equipment, I use a Leica Q and a DJI Mavic 2 Pro, as well as my iPhone 7, depending on the subject, mood, weather, location and regulations.

The subjects I focus on are constantly evolving during my journey in photography, from landscapes and street photos to portraits and boudoir photography, not to mention macro and astrophotos. There is always something new to learn based on the topic. At the moment, I am focusing on landscapes in Orkney as I want to show this unique place from a mostly unseen perspective - above. I recently launched my website where I showcase my finest images taken of Orkney. One of my photos, titled ‘On the edge’ taken at Yesnaby won this year’s ‘Essence of Orkney’ photo competition. I am very grateful, proud and feel lucky that I can be part of this community so full of art and craftsmanship.

In Orkney you’re always on the hunt for unique landscapes. The weather changes so quickly providing different atmospheres throughout the day. These rapidly altering conditions can be a challenge and you have to act quickly to find the right moment and make your move. Orkney is famous for its ‘light breeze’ that can actually be a gale force wind, so it’s crucial to find the right weather conditions to be able to fly my drone without being negligent, dangerous or even losing it!

I’ve been in Orkney since 2017 and have visited most of the more famous tourist sites on the mainland. My favourite is Yesnaby with its high cliffs. Less known locations like Olav’s Wood are a hidden gem. You have to see it with your own eyes – smell the scent of the trees, walk along the stream – it’s like meditation. I’m looking forward to visiting more of the islands too, especially Hoy to climb Ward Hill and see Orkney from above.

I would definitely encourage people to visit Orkney throughout the year depending on their preference, whether it’s hunting the Aurora Borealis in winter or enjoying the islands during the summer holidays. But don’t forget, Orkney is an archipelago, so go and explore the smaller islands too.

See more of Andras’s images via his website.

Explore Hidden Orkney

Every month we highlight another hidden Orkney attraction. For May, we take a trip back in time to Orkney’s agricultural past.

History fans are well catered for in Orkney. There are fascinating Neolithic sites to be found throughout the islands, not to mention plenty of Viking and wartime locations to be discovered too.

Corrigall Farm Museum, however, highlights a more recent part of Orkney’s history, and showcases how far one of our most important industries has come in a relatively short space of time.

Corrigall Farm Museum

Corrigall Farm is found in the heart of the parish of Harray and was a working farm in the Victorian/late 19th century. The traditional ‘but and ben’ building was actually lived in until the mid-20th century, with its surrounding steadings still in use until relatively recently too.

The living space at Corrigall Farm

Now it’s an atmospheric glimpse into Orkney’s agricultural past. The museum has a working barn, a kiln for drying grain for milling and malting and horse-drawn machinery for visitors to see. There is occasionally some livestock to say hello too as well!

For younger visitors, Corrigall offers a real glimpse into Orcadian life pre-electricity, with the house still heated by a peat fire. The flagstone-floored rooms are full of traditional furniture, with Orkney chairs and wooden box beds. The byre houses farming equipment and peat-cutting implements too.

Some of the old farming machinery on display

The museum is a very special place to visit and, along with its sister site at Kirbuster, offers a real reminder of Orkney’s rich farming heritage.

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.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Newsletter

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