Hello and welcome to the November newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for features and articles all focused on life in Orkney this month. We’ll be taking a look at our November wildlife attractions and highlighting some of the events taking place across the islands in the coming weeks.
Sanday’s sealcam switches on for the season
Orkney’s seal population is set to grow considerably over the coming months, and once again you can keep an eye on proceedings from the comfort of your own home. The Sanday Sealcam is up and running for another grey seal pupping season, giving viewers a real insight into the lives of newly born pups. The camera is focused on two seal-pupping beaches and things are getting busier and busier. Read our blog on the Visit Orkney website for more.
Orkney’s finest food and drink on display
Producers and retailers from Orkney’s thriving food and drink sector came together last month to celebrate another busy year for the industry. The biennial Orkney Food and Drink Awards saw guests enjoy a four-course meal made with the best local ingredients before 16 different awards were handed out. The public vote attracted 4,000 nominations – big winners on the night were the Brig Larder, which claimed three categories, and the Foveran Restaurant, which took home two titles. Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Collections and nominations for Orkney craft makers
Two of Orkney’s talented young craft producers are looking forward to a busy month. Jewellery designer Zoe Davidson has just launched her new ‘Barriers’ collection, inspired by Orkney’s Churchill Barriers. The collection features silver necklaces, earrings and rings and references the distinctive shapes of the huge concrete blocks used to build the barriers during the Second World War. Meanwhile, knitwear and textile designer Hilary Grant has received a number of nominations at The Herald Fashion.co.uk Awards. The Orkney-based business is up for a trio of titles, including the People’s Choice Award, voted for by the public. Find out how to vote via the Hilary Grant website.
Beremeal is best for local producer
Oatcakes from Orkney have claimed the title of Best New Product at a prestigious awards ceremony. Stockan’s Oatcakes new Beremeal range scooped the title at the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards last month. The oatcakes are baked using beremeal flour, made from an ancient grain milled here in the islands. You can read more about Stockan’s Oatcakes via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Join us on Instagram
Come and join us on Instagram where we’ll be sharing beautiful images from the islands via our Visit Orkney profile. Tag your own images with #VisitOrkney and we’ll be able to share your Orkney experiences with the rest of the world too.
Win prizes from Orkney!
This month you could win this beautiful gold pendant from one of Orkney’s most distinctive and talented makers, Sheila Fleet Jewellery. Sign up to enter via the Orkney.com prizes page. [now closed]
November in Orkney
November has arrived, bringing with it a busy calendar of events as Orkney prepares for the winter months.
Although you might think November is a month for closing the curtains and lighting the fire, there are plenty of reasons for getting out and enjoying everything Orkney has to offer over the coming weeks.
The Orkney Archaeology Society will be hosting a talk with Dr Antonia Thomas on the evening of the 2nd. The event will also see the launch of Antonia’s new book ‘Art & Architecture in Neolithic Orkney’. It takes place at Orkney College at 7.30pm.
One of the main attractions of the month is the launch of a special exhibition by a group of talented Orcadian artists. Moti, a new collective of former Orkney art students, will feature photography, painting, printmaking as well as textiles, sculpture and more. The exhibition is in the Orkney Museum between the 5th and 26th of November, with a tour and talks starting at 11.15am on the opening day. A closing event and tour will also be held on the 26th at 2pm.
November 5th will be a busy day in Orkney. Skaill House in Sandwick is hosting a post-Halloween ‘spooky open day’ with free admission to the reputedly haunted mansion. There will be children’s activities, face-painting and spooky tours on offer too. Fancy dress is optional, but encouraged! It all takes place between 10.30am and 3.30pm.
Later in the day, aside from the usual fireworks display and bonfire at Kirkwall's Peedie Sea at 7pm, more sparks will fly at a musical triple bill in the town. Local bands Bad Apple, Rocker and The Chair will perform at a concert in the town's Masonic Hall with doors opening at 8pm.
Comedian Mark Steel will bring his ‘Who Do I Think I Am’ tour to Stromness Academy on the 5th of November too. Mark is a regular contributor to BBC television and radio and previously appeared in Orkney as part of his ‘Mark Steel’s In Town’ tour. Tickets are available online.
The following day will see a very special event held in Kirkwall. As part of the BBC’s ‘Love to Read’ weekend, BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Cerys Matthews will be hosting her show live from the Orkney Library and Archive. The programme will have a distinctly Orcadian theme to it, featuring music, storytelling and interviews with local residents. You can listen live on 6Music between 10am and 1pm on Sunday 6th.
The Pier Arts Centre will be preparing for its Christmas exhibition this month – local artists and craft makers will be showcasing their work in the Centre from the 19th of November. The current exhibitions, ‘toandFRO’ by Neville Gabie and ‘Associations’, curated by the Pier Arts Centre’s study group, will close on the 5th at 5pm. Admission to the Centre is free.
Take advantage of a break in the weather and head out to explore part of Orkney’s UNESCO World Heritage Site this month. The Historic Environment Scotland Rangers host tours of the Barnhouse Village and Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday morning at 10am, with a walk around the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. The walks are free and take around an hour.
Explore wartime Orkney with a guided tour of the fascinating Ness Battery in Stromness this autumn. You can see the huge anti-aircraft gun emplacements as well as the beautiful mural painted on the wall of the wooden mess hut of the camp. Email email@example.com or phone 07759 857 298 to arrange a tour.
You can also see inside the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays with special tours at 11am and 2pm – booking is essential so phone 01856 874894 to find out more.
Take a trip to the cinema this month at the Pickaquoy Centre. Films including ‘Trolls’, ‘Doctor Strange’, ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ will be on show – see the full schedule for yourself via the Pickaquoy Centre website.
In Stromness the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘The Measure of a Man’ at 7.45pm in the Stromness Town Hall on the 12th of November.
Finally, make sure you head along to Orkney College for an exhibition of photographs from Joanne Coates, who has spent time in Orkney over recent years documenting life here. Some of her work will be on display until the end of the month.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during November. 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
Orkney is famous for its abundant nature and wildlife, but where are the best locations to see some of our main attractions? Every month Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney highlights her favourite places.
A walk along either of these exposed cliff-top paths may be bracing, but together with sweeping views out to sea the height allows you a great look down onto the pupping beaches, or ‘rookeries’, without disturbing the seals. (It’s very important not to get close enough to cause any alarm, as you could accidentally cause a pregnant female or pup much harm by prompting them to move, interrupting feeding or potentially separating them).
A note for those who’d prefer a warmer view indoors indoors - the wonderful Sanday Sealcam is up and running and offers a window onto the activity of two pupping beaches there!
In spring and autumn, both Windwick and Burwick are hot spots for migrant birds too, so look out for wheatears, wagtails, finches and warblers in bushes and ditches.
As we head into winter, purple sandpipers, turnstones and rock pipits will be prospecting for food along the rocky shorelines while in the bays you can enjoy rafts of eiders and the joyous whistles of wigeon. Grey herons roost on the cliffs at Windwick and it’s a good place to spot hunting peregrines and other raptors.
In summer, oysterplant flowers along the eastern shore at Burwick, and during calm spells it’s a great vantage point from which to look out for whales. Fulmars nest all around the coastline and at Windwick you’ll also find guillemots and razorbills raising their chicks on precarious-looking ledges, and the ever-popular puffins.
Island inspiration for local illustrator
We feature the work of a talented local photographer every month to showcase different takes on the stunning Orkney landscape. This month Neil Ford shares some of his favourite shots of the islands.
I’m Neil Ford, I’m a designer and illustrator living and working in Sandwick, with my wife Becky and daughter Alice. I got my first camera in 2005, a Nikon Coolpix 3100. I think it was on a sale on Amazon. I was hooked!
I’ve been taking photos of Orkney land and seascapes ever since. I now use a Nikon D610, Nikkor 20mm & 50mm lenses and the Lee filter system to attempt to capture the energy and beauty of Orkney.
I’m been interested in the sea and wave forms this summer, but I’m excited to be moving into the winter months to take advantage of dark skies for astrophotography, and of course the elusive Merry Dancers! It’s hard to beat standing on a deserted headland in the pitch dark, seals howling to one another, hoping to get a glimpse of the aurora.
The Orkney winter is my favourite time of year – brilliant for photography, great light all day (clouds permitting), dramatic sea and skies - I feel so lucky to have this amazing environment on my doorstep.
I’m excited to be developing what has been a passion into part of my existing design business with the launch of my new website. As well as detailing my web design services and art projects, you can now order prints of my photographic work.
Look west for walks, woodland and wonderful views
This month’s area focus takes a look at life in the parish of Firth, a thriving community with plenty of attractions for visitors.
The parish of Firth is centered around Orkney’s third largest settlement, the village of Finstown. It’s a picturesque place, lying on the Bay of Firth and surrounded on its south and west sides by rolling hills.
Finstown itself has what you would expect from a small village, including a well-stocked shop, a pub, numerous small businesses and a garage. There is also the newly re-opened Waterside Café with a menu full of local ingredients and stunning sea views.
In the heart of the village on the Heddle Road sits the Firth Community Garden, a beautiful, peaceful place to spend some time. It’s a quiet oasis full of plants, shrubs, flowers and trees with seating areas and grassy banks for everyone to enjoy.
You can continue up the road to the top of the steep Heddle Hill for panoramic views over the village and the Bay of Firth below you, including the Holm of Grimbister and the island of Damsay.
Head up Cuween Hill on the outskirts of the village and you’ll come across the Cuween Chambered Cairn, another fascinating Orkney archaeological highlight. The cairn is similar in design to Maeshowe and is thought to be around 5,000 years old. Be prepared to get your hands and knees dirty if visiting – the entrance passage is less than one metre high!
If you’re feeling fit enough you could take the long and fairly steep hike to the top of Keelylang Hill. Take the road past the Cruan Riding School and follow the track up. You won’t just be greeted by the large television and radio towers, you’ll also get wonderful views over the north isles and Scapa Flow to the south.
Carry on through the village to its western edge and you’ll see the largest patch of woodland to be found anywhere in Orkney. The trees at Binscarth were planted in the 19th Century and the area is a very special part of the islands. You can take a walk through the woods, exploring the burn that flows through it and the different routes and paths to be found. During the spring and summer expect wildflowers including bluebells and all kinds of wildlife. It’s also a haven for moss and lichen – perfect for enthusiasts!
The path through Binscarth also makes up part of a great waking route that leads you past the Wasdale Loch to Refuge Corner in the neighbouring parish of Harray. The loch is an ideal place to see wildfowl too.
On the other side of the main road to Stromness, opposite Binscarth, a curious structure sits on the ridgeline, silhouetted against the sky. Buckles Tower is a beautiful stone structure, hand-built in the late 1800s or early 1900s by local herd-boy, William Buckle. A number of smaller cairns have sprung up nearby and it’s a great walk – you can park at the small car park opposite the Heddle Hill Quarry. Then walk around 200 metres down the road and take the first track on your left.
Firth is a vibrant parish. It features a large, modern school catering for pupils from the village and the wider area. There is a play-park nearby too, and the school playing field is also the home of the local football team which competes in Orkney’s A-League and in the hotly contested Parish Cup.
The Firth Community Hall hosts regular events, including the annual ‘Firth Brew’, a homebrew competition. It’s also the centrepiece of the Firth Community Gala, a yearly celebration of the parish featuring dances, music, community events and the obligatory daft raft race and other fun sporting competitions.
The village has also seen a number of new public and private homes built in recent years, helping bring new life to the area and create a busy, sustainable community.
If you’d like to find out more the property available in Firth, take a look at our property listings for the latest updates from Orkney’s main estate agents. You can also investigate social housing options via Orkney Islands Council and Orkney Housing Association.
If you’d like to visit the area you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney.
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.