Celebrating Orkney's island communities

A special project aimed at promoting and protecting the heritage of Orkney's north isles has been awarded more than £2.8m worth of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Orkney’s island communities form a vital part of life in this archipelago, with a history and tradition all of their own.

They’re vibrant and beautiful places, full of hard-working and forward-thinking people. Now our north isles – an area spanning 269 square kilometres – are set to benefit from a multi-million-pound project aimed at promoting and protecting the built, natural and cultural heritage of the area.

Heading to the isles with Orkney Ferries - image by Colin Keldie

The North Isles Landscape Partnership scheme has just been awarded £2.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with additional funding from a range of other public bodies bringing the total pot to £4.5m.

Four full-time jobs will be created to run the project, which will be carried out between 2018 and 2023. “This is great news for the north isles,” said Councillor Graham Sinclair, who represents the area on Orkney Islands Council. “As well as supporting jobs, the scheme will raise the profile of the isles and the diverse landscapes and communities. We want to make heritage more accessible and encourage the involvement of young people, and the sharing of heritage between generations.”

Balfour village, Shapinsay - image by Colin Keldie

The scheme will cover the islands to the north of the mainland of Orkney, including Rousay, Egilsay, Wyre, Shapinsay, Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray, North Ronaldsay, Gairsay and Auskerry as well as 11 uninhabited islands.

Although they’re all relatively close together, each island is distinctive in terms of scenery, history and the stories that have been passed through generations. Islanders are also fiercely proud of their communities, and it’s this spirit that will hopefully make the project a success.

The sand dunes at Tresness, Sanday - image by Colin Keldie

It’s well worth taking the time to explore our islands. You can see the oldest standing houses in north-west Europe at the Knap of Howar in Papa Westray; climb to the top of the UK’s tallest land-based lighthouse in North Ronaldsay; taste-test the finest fish, crab, bread, chutney and cheese from the island of Westray; and explore thousands of years of history on one stretch of coastline in Rousay.

North Ronaldsay lighthouse, Orkney - image by Colin Keldie

The islands face challenges too, including depopulation and the need for improved transport links, but this project hopes to promote them to a whole new audience. Ultimately the aim is to encourage young people to say and work in the isles and to support the communities to celebrate their history and heritage.

There are also plans for a new heritage trail and interpretation to encourage new visitors to take their own island-hopping adventure.

2018 looks set to be the start of an exciting era for Orkney’s north isles – come and be part of it.

Find out more about the North Isles Landscape Partnership scheme via the Orkney Islands Council website.

Plan your visit to Orkney's islands with the Visit Orkney website.

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