November 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the November newsletter from This month we’ll be bringing you more photos and features focused on life here in the islands.

If you’re visiting or planning a move then have a look at our monthly events preview, and if wildlife is your thing we take a look at what you can see here over the coming weeks. If you’re inspired by this newsletter to find out more, pay a visit to and

Busy October for Orkney

WWI events earmarked for Orkney

The Home Fleet in Scapa Flow during WWI - image courtesy of the Orkney Library and Archive

Orkney’s wartime heritage will come into focus with a series of events scheduled for the islands next year. St Magnus Cathedral and Lyness in Hoy will host national commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland on the 31st of May. The battle saw the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet steam from Scapa Flow in 1916. A special ceremony will also take place at Marwick Head and the renovated Kitchener Memorial at the start of June to mark the centenary of the sinking of HMS Hampshire. Orkney Islands Council is also putting together a range of events and activities to mark Orkney’s involvement in WWI.

New look for award winning brewery

The new look Swannay Brewery logo

The Orkney based Highland Brewing Company has re-launched its award winning range of craft beers under a new name. The company’s products, including Scapa Special and Island Hopping, will now be available under the Swannay Brewery brand, showcasing the brewery’s Orcadian heritage and the rich maritime history of the islands. New bottle labels and pump clips have been produced for the Brewery’s eight core brands, and the range will also include a number of innovative and modern beers in both keg and bottle, with a full release scheduled for 2016.

Local experts head east to share knowledge

Tidal testing underway in Orkney waters

Renewable energy expertise from Orkney will be used to help shape China’s marine energy future. The Orkney based European Marine Energy Centre has signed a deal with organisations in Qingdao to help develop a marine energy test site in the area. EMEC has more than a decade of unrivalled expertise in the renewable energy industry and is seen as a global leader in marine energy development. Find out more about Orkney’s renewable energy potential.

Sealcam shows off Sanday's new arrivals

One of the first seal pup arrivals of 2015 in Sanday

The fascinating Sanday Sealcam is up and running once again, documenting the grey seal pupping season around the island of Sanday. You can watch new born pups getting their bearings on the rocky shore from the comfort of your own home – and you might even get lucky and see a birth as it’s happening! Tune in via the Sanday Ranger website. Find out more about the island of Sanday and, if you fancy a trip, book your accommodation through the Visit Orkney website.

November in Orkney

The clocks might have gone back and the days are getting ever shorter, but that doesn’t mean Orkney folk retreat indoors for the rest of the year. On the contrary, there are plenty of events, activities and performances to enjoy as winter begins to roll in.

The harvest in Orkney is over - now it's time to celebrate!

Over recent weeks local farmers have been working hard to bring in their harvest, spending hours in fields, tractor cabs and combine harvesters across the islands. November is the month they get to celebrate the end of another season with a drink and a dance at Harvest Homes. These ceilidhs often last into the early hours and are a great way to experience the real Orkney. You can still get tickets for the Harvest Homes in Rendall and Harray – check with your accommodation provider for more details.

As you might have read earlier, Orkney’s seal pupping season is well underway. If you want to see the new born pups close up, then a trip with the Orkney Field Club provides the perfect chance. The Club will be leading a two to three hour cliff walk in South Ronaldsay on the 7th or 8th (depending on the weather) to count the grey seal pups on the shore below. Suitable clothing and walking boots will be required and binoculars would be useful too. It gets underway at ten o’clock from Burwick – contact Penny on 01856 761 168 or email for more details.

Papa Westray's unique nature event this month

If you fancy a trip to the isles this November, Papa Westray will be hosting the first in its series of wildlife holidays. You’ll be able to spend four days exploring Papay’s maritime heath, looking for fungi, lichens and other mosses. Accommodation will be provided at the island’s excellent Beltane House hostel. Get more information by contacting the island ranger, Jonathan Ford, at or on Facebook.

November, of course, brings bonfire night, with the biggest community event being held in Kirkwall at the Peedie Sea. There will be fireworks and a performance from the Kirkwall City Pipe Band on Saturday the 7th of November, with the action getting underway at seven o’clock.

The West Side Cinema in Stromness

​If you’d rather experience Orkney in November indoors then why not take a trip to the cinema? Aside from the excellent Pickaquoy Centre, which showcases new releases and live theatre performances in its modern Phoenix Cinema, here in Orkney we have a number of options for fans of the silver screen. The West Side Cinema in Stromness hosts showings monthly in Stromness Town Hall, with candlelit tables and folk encouraged to bring their own refreshments to enjoy. The Gable End Theatre in Hoy has a mix of modern and classic films in renovated school buildings, complete with old style velvet seating salvaged from the original Phoenix Cinema in Kirkwall! You can also take in a show at the Screen in the Square in St Margaret’s Hope, with the newly refurbished Cromarty Hall the perfect setting for a night at the movies.

The popular Pier Arts Centre in Orkney

Art enthusiasts have plenty to keep them occupied this month. The Pier Arts Centre will open its annual Christmas Open exhibition on the 21st of November. Visitors will be able to see work from artists across the islands, right up until Christmas Eve.

And, with Christmas just around the corner, why not get your festive shopping done nice and early in Orkney? The Kirkwall BID Festive Fun Day will be held on Sunday 29th November, with plenty of activities, events and special offers available throughout the town.

There’s lots more happening around Orkney – you can find out more by having a look at the Visit Orkney events page, and you can also pick up a copy of local newspaper ‘The Orcadian’ every Thursday. BBC Radio Orkney broadcasts a daily diary of events too, every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM, and on Facebook.

Wildlife delights await this month

November brings a different focus for wildlife enthusiasts across Orkney. On the shore, grey seals continue to deliver their pups, whilst the skies, trees, bushes and ponds can be full of interesting birdlife. RSPB Orkney's Alison Nimmo has been looking at November’s wildlife highlights…

Early November is the peak of the grey seal pupping period. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness life in their ‘rookeries’ – the cliffs of Windwick and Burwick both offer wonderful views from a safe distance, or for some armchair wildlife-watching you can’t beat the Sanday Ranger’s wonderful sealcam.

For a more ‘urban’ experience, do stop for a look at the Peedie Sea and its birdlife if you’re passing through Kirkwall. The long-tailed ducks have journeyed here after a summer on the Arctic tundra and are particularly snazzy, especially the males with their needle-like tails.

While in town it’s worth keeping an eye out for waxwings around now. These stunning birds breed in northern forests then head south for the winter, generally reaching Orkney around early November. As redwings and fieldfares have already eaten their fill of countryside berries by then, the waxwings suddenly appear in gardens and roadside trees and bushes in search of cotoneaster berries, rose hips and fuchsia pods.

Usually at least a handful of waxwings pass through Orkney but in some years there’s the excitement of an ‘irruption’, when a poor crop of rowan berries on the continent spurs thousands birds to cross the North Sea to Britain. Will we have one this year? The next month should tell.

Meanwhile as the nights draw in, hen harriers are drawing closer together to roost. We record the number of birds monthly as part of a national survey, with Durkadale one of the biggest roost sites in the UK with up to 25 birds – an atmospheric sight as they glide silently in, dusk falling across the hillside...

Scenery inspires local snapper

Everyone has a different take on Orkney’s beautiful scenery. That’s why, each month, we invite a local photographer to share some of their special images of the islands. This time, Ray Groundwater picks ten of his favourite photos…

Sunset over the Brough of Birsay in Orkney - image by Ray Groundwater

My interest in digital photography began in my early 20s when I was sold a camera at a ‘one day only’ price! I went for it and, although the camera wasn’t great, it did inspire me to go out and find photos to be taken. Being digital, I could see and delete photos straight away, so I tried loads of different ideas and angles, close-ups etc.

I had great fun with it, as well as learning to edit the photos on a computer. I was hooked! Later I upgraded to a Canon which offered more options, and the quality of the photos was great. After a few years, armed with a subscription to Digital Photo magazine, the time came for the DSLR purchase and a swap to Nikon.

Exposed burrows between Skaill and Marwick in Orkney - image by Ray Groundwater

I see photography as a way to showcase my creative side. I am far from professional and have picked up skills and tips from magazines and the Internet along the way. My Grandad was an artist and my mum is great at arts and crafts but I can’t draw or paint, so it looks like photography is my creative line.

My mum persuaded me to enter some photos in a local competition - I didn’t hold out much hope and I was very surprised to win the overall title for a couple of years in a row. It was a big boost to my confidence, knowing that others liked my images.

An aerial view of Waulkmill bay in Orkney - image by Ray Groundwater

I have always been keen on editing photos to get them the way I want. Some have very little done to them whilst others I will turn into a project and do more editing. For example, I was going to delete the photo of the Brough of Birsay as it didn’t come out the way I wanted at all, but I gave it a chance. With some editing, it turned out better than expected and is now one of my favourite photos.

Even though Orkney isn’t known for having the best weather, bright sunny days aren’t always what I look for when going out for a photo shoot. One location can be so different to another in the varied Orkney conditions. From blue sky and calm seas to dark clouds and storms battering the coast, from green fields to beautiful buildings such as St Magnus Cathedral, there is something for every photographer.

I keep my camera, tripod and a spare battery in the car as you never know when you may end up at the right place at the right time for the perfect shot.

You can see more of Ray’s photos on his website and his Facebook page.

Cross the barriers to brilliant Burray

Our monthly parish feature takes a trip across the Churchill Barriers to one of Orkney’s linked south isles. Burray is a beautiful place to stop, with plenty of attractions for anyone travelling over the causeways…

Burray and South Ronaldsay

The third Churchill Barrier, linking Glimps Holm and Burray - image by Iain Sarjeant

It’s one of the great drives in Orkney. Heading south from Kirkwall through Holm, you come to the Churchill Barriers, great rock causeways linking four islands, built during the Second World War to help with the defence of Scapa Flow.

The barriers changed the way of life in Burray and South Ronaldsay forever. Once only accessible by boat, they have now become extensions of the Orkney mainland – but they both maintain their unique island character.

Burray boasts some of the best beaches and views of Scapa Flow anywhere in Orkney. A special lay-by has been built into the verge just after you cross the third barrier, offering a stunning panoramic scene over the Flow for sunsets and stormy weather.

But when the weather is calmer, Burray offers the perfect chance to experience life beneath the waves. Scapa Scuba runs its Try a Dive course from the shallow shore on the west side of the third barrier. It’s a fully instructor led dive around wartime blockships, which lie on the seabed in-between Burray and Glimps Holm. It’s an incredible experience for anyone without diving qualifications keen to experience Orkney’s unrivalled wreck diving.

The beautiful beach at Weddell Sound - image by Iain Sarjeant

On the other side of the road is the beautiful beach at Weddell Sound. Although strictly still on the uninhabited Glimps Holm, at low tide the gently sloping sandy beach stretches along the coast between the second and third barrier, with lovely views across to Burray and the remains of the blockship Reginald. It’s a perfect spot to stop and take a wander – and the kids will love it.

Overlooking Weddell Sound is the imposing gun emplacement at Northfield. It was an important part of the defence of Scapa Flow during WW2 – but now it has a new lease of life. Orkan Adventures uses the site as a paintball arena, offering an energetic and fun activity for anyone aged twelve and over. The company also runs clay pigeon shooting, boat trips and lots more – plenty to keep visitors occupied.

For those looking for something slightly more relaxing, just a short drive away is the Burray Fossil and Heritage Centre. It hosts a fascinating collection of fossils from Orkney and around the world – some more than three hundred million years old. The Heritage Centre is full of local books, images and documents and a new exhibit focusing on the building of the barriers. There is also an excellent community café and gift shop, making it an essential stop during your trip to the island.

The causeway across to Hunda in Burray

On your way toward the Burray village, the Littlequoy road leads you on a picturesque drive along the coast, before bending to the south. There you first see the island of Hunda, linked to Burray by a man made concrete barrier – built as part of Scapa Flow’s defences against small surface craft during WW2. The island itself is uninhabited and used to graze sheep. You can take a walk around the island perimeter, but please note that there is no parking or access at Littlequoy Farm, which is still a working property. Please be sensible if you plan to visit and make sure you vehicle is not blocking access and all dogs are kept on leads.

The village of Burray itself has grown over recent years with new local authority housing and private plots helping sustain and increase the island’s population. Orkney Islands Council also built a brand new school on the outskirts of the village in 2006 and it provides a modern and spacious facility for local pupils. There is also nursery provision at the school, with the roll continuing to grow.

The village also has a well stocked shop, garage and a popular pub, restaurant and hotel – The Sands. A strong community spirit sees plenty of events in the area, with the inaugural ‘Glastonburray’ music festival held in the local hall earlier this year. Residents have also come together in recent months to raise funds for a brand new play park and crazy golf course in the middle of the village – work is continuing with an official opening soon.

There are excellent transport links with Kirkwall and Stromness – Burray sits on the main bus route with a regular service to and from the town and St Margaret’s Hope every day.

You can find out more about the island and its varied events and activities by visiting the Burray Community Association website. The BCA also has a Facebook page with the latest news. If you want to make Burray your destination during your visit to Orkney, have a look at your accommodation options and other hints and tips through the Visit Orkney website.

And finally...

Thank you for reading 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 or E-mail.

In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now. Newsletter

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