• Earl's Palace, Kirkwall

November 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the November newsletter from Orkney.com.

Autumn in the islands has so far been made up of some beautiful sunshine and wild weather, just what you’d expect in Orkney at this time of year!

Keep reading to find out more about life here this month, including a round-up of the latest news, events 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.

November's headlines

Autumn inspiration in Orkney

Yesnaby Castle - image by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Are you still looking for something special to do this autumn? Orkney could be your ideal destination, with so much to see and do before the end of the year. We’ve been working with Visit Scotland to put together some of our favourite things to do across the islands at this time of year – featuring everything from wildlife-watching to wild walks on the coastline. Check out our recommendations and share your own with us.

Say hello to Alfred

MV Alfred arriving in Orkney

The latest vessel to link Orkney and the Scottish mainland via the Pentland Firth has arrived in local waters. MV Alfred, which joins the MV Pentalina in the Pentland Ferries fleet, is being hailed as the most environmentally-friendly ferry service of its kind in Scotland. The ship, which can carry up to 430 passengers and 98 cars, is currently undergoing its final fitting in Kirkwall, but is expected to enter service later this month.

Jobs and journey planning on Orkney.com

Use our new journey planner to plot your course to Orkney

We’re delighted to announce the launch of two brand-new features on Orkney.com. Our new jobs page brings together vacancies from a range of employers across the islands, making it easier to find the perfect role for you in Orkney. New jobs are uploaded by employers regularly, so make sure to check back often. Also, we know that planning a trip to Orkney can be daunting at times, with ferries, flights, buses and trains to consider. Hopefully our new interactive journey planner will help you get here faster. You can use the tool to discover how to get to Orkney from anywhere in the UK.

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.

November in Orkney

Autumn is in full swing and there is still so much to see and do across Orkney this month.

The main event runs throughout this month and celebrates the silver screen. Orkney’s Film Focus Festival is back once again, with a wide and varied programme of film events. This celebration of film will be found in 22 venues across 13 islands, so there’s certain to be something for everyone.

This year’s festival will welcome the mobile Screen Machine as well as hosting showings in Kirkwall, Stromness, Shapinsay and more. Local short films will accompany feature-length movies too. There’s a film quiz, film-themed disco, readings, special screenings and much, much more. Check out the official website for more details programme information.

A special art installation encompassing music and words will go on display at the Orkney Library in November. In 2013, one of Scotland’s leading authors, James Robertson, set himself the challenge of writing a short story every day for a year. Then, in 2016, Scottish fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke wrote a tune every day in response. The stories and music now form a touring installation which will be at Orkney Library this month.

Designed by inventor Yann Seznec, the installation is beautifully crafted from wood and brass, with no digital screens in sight, encasing the spoken-word recordings of all 365 stories. Up to six people at a time can browse through all the stories and listen through headphones. Catch it at the Orkney Library in Kirkwall between the 15th and 30th of November.

The team behind the 365 music and words project

The Orkney Library will also be hosting a number of events as part of the annual Book Week Scotland programme this month. Sue Lawrence will discuss her new cookbook - 'A Taste of Scotland's Islands' with local resident and fellow food writer, Rosemary Moon, on the 21st at 7pm. Rosemary will also be providing some tasters from the Orkney recipes in Sue's book, so don't miss it! Visit the Orkney Library website for ticket information. Earlier in the day, Sue will also be discussing her latest fiction title 'Down to the Sea'. This free event is at 2pm.

Orkney College will host a conversation with two young Orkney authors, Harry Josephine Giles and Shaun Gardiner, as part of the week's events too. This free event will start at 7pm.

The current exhibition at The Pier Arts Centre celebrates forty years of the gallery. ‘Then, Now, When’ features work from the Centre’s collection alongside archive material, including letters, photographs, posters and artefacts, relating to the life and legacy of Centre founder Margaret Gardiner. It’s on display until the 9th of November.

Later in the month the Centre will launch its annual Christmas Open Exhibition, showcasing work by artists from across the islands. It’s always an eclectic display featuring some truly fascinating pieces. It opens on the 23rd.

You’ll have to be quick to catch exhibitions in our local museums. Displays focused on Scapa Flow, its wrecks and the scuttling of the German Fleet come to a close at both the Orkney and Stromness Museums on the on the 2nd.

If you want to get out and about to experience the late-autumn elements then we’d highly recommend a walk around our two fabulous stone circles. Join our ranger team at the Standing Stones of Stenness on Wednesdays at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar at 1pm on Thursdays.

That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during October. There’s always lots more happening around the islands – keep up to date with our 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

Wildlife-watching in November is focused on one species in particular – Orkney’s grey seal population. Find out more from local wildlife cameraman, Raymond Besant.

Early November is a real highlight in my wildlife calendar. Grey seals come ashore giving birth to their pups on rocky shores, geos and uninhabited islands all around Orkney.

Some colonies or ‘rookeries’ as they are also known can be thousands strong. However, these tend to be on secluded, more remote islands such as Copinsay, Linga Holm and Faray. This doesn’t mean that there aren't really good places to see them. In fact, you’ll be doing the seals a favour if you restrict your observations to one or two well know accessible sites.

New mothers and their pups can be sensitive to disturbance and with many eyes on the lookout for danger, scaring these mammals can mean a stampede towards the sea and the possibility of mums behind split from their pups.

Grey seal pup suckling in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

Some grey seals gave birth in mid-October so by early November there are already plenty of them on the rocky foreshores. I’ve only ever seen a birth once but you can easily tell the newborn pups by their yellow colour and obvious umbilical cord. The yellow fades over the next few days leaving a beautiful white pelage.

Fortunately for us there are two fantastic sites where we can observe the wide range of behavior displayed at this time of year, both in South Ronaldsay. Seals and their pups can be seen right below the cliffs at the small car park at Windwick, but a better observation point lies a short walk further south. Lay in the small cleft that looks like it’s been cut out of the clifftop looking towards the pebble shore.

The wild coastline at Windwick, South Ronaldsay

An easterly or south easterly wind drives waves into the shore here so pups can be at risk of getting swept away. Grey seals feel threatened if they see people standing out on the skyline so try to keep a low profile if possible.

Perhaps the best place to sit and view them at close quarters are the small geos at Burwick on South Ronaldsay’s southernmost point. The seals here seem habituated to the presence of people on the clifftop. Pups will happily suckle from their mothers whilst you watch, disturbed only when the dominant bull on each shore starts throwing his weight around, and he’s got plenty to throw around! Males can weigh up to 300kg.

A bull seal keeping a close eye on the shore - image by Raymond Besant

If you’re lucky you’ll see pups taking their first swimming lessons in the shallows, but don't leave it too late. The mother’s milk is so full of fat that it only takes three weeks for the pups to be weaned and left to their own devices. Pick a stormy day, wrap up warm, take a flask and your camera of course and get comfy. There’s nothing quite like watching the waves hitting the seals, their mournful calls echoing around the cliffs.

The end of November is an important time for me personally as my new book is coming out! It’s with some relief that I’ve seen the pages being printed before they head off to get bound. ‘Naturally Orkney - Coastline’ is my second photography book focusing on the wildlife to be found here, but this time as the title suggests it looks specifically at those species that make the coast their home.

As well as dramatic cliffs and crashing waves I’ve ventured into the shallows photographing jellyfish, crabs, gobies and eelgrass that thrive in Orkney’s productive seas. Charismatic species like orca, otters and grey seals feature as well as stories about time spent lying in the seaweed and purpose-built hides waiting for elusive species and the light needed to create some special images.

Grey seal pup in the water in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

It’s really a celebration of the wildlife to be found around our coast during the year. You’ll find familiar species like puffins and black guillemot occupying the summer pages, but look out for super rare beetles and prolific flowers making an appearance too.

With four years-worth of work in the pages I hope that, if I’m fortunate enough that you’ve bought it, you’ll read it slowly, really soaking in the colour and details. Look out too for my talk in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall on the 28th of November where I’ll be launching the book – the time is still to be confirmed but keep an eye on the Orkney.com events page for more details.

Find out more about Raymond’s work via his official website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Focus on photography

Our featured photographer of the month is Tomas Hermoso, a Venezuelan-Scot living and working here in Orkney.

I’ve been in the photographic business for over ten years now, both as a freelance photographer and doing day to day work in our local photolab in Kirkwall.

Having studied photography at Glasgow Metropolitan College (where I usually ended up talking to the technicians about the finer details of cameras), I moved up to Orkney seven years ago and found a job at WHB Sutherlands where I’ve helped people print out their memories and, more often than not, fixed their cameras.

My first love has always been analogue photography - whether it’s hiking up Yosemite Falls with a tripod and a medium format camera, or on a night out with an early 90s point and shoot, you’ll always find me with a camera by my side. However, through work and college, I’ve found myself working more and more with digital cameras. I’m currently a big fan of the Fuji X range, using an Xpro1 and an XE3 with a myriad of native and vintage lenses. At the end of the day these are all tools that I can use to tell stories about my surrounding landscape and the people within it.

Orkney is an inspiring place for a photographer to be. I’ve always been interested in architecture and the fact that you have such a different range of architectures here, from buildings literally thousands of years old at Skara Brae, through to World War Two buildings and modern examples, makes it an incredibly exciting place to takes pictures.

The landscape of Orkney and the light throughout the seasons makes it quite an unpredictable and exciting place to shoot as well - you have to be well-prepared for all kinds of weather, but if you get that one perfect shot it is all definitely worthwhile.

See more of Tomas’s work via his official website, on Instagram and on Facebook.

Explore hidden Orkney

Every month we pick a hidden Orkney attraction, one that maybe doesn’t get the attention it deserves. For November we’re on the ferry to one of our smallest inhabited islands.

Wyre is perhaps the perfect place to talk about hidden or uncovered Orkney. This tiny island lies close to its larger cousins of Rousay and Egilsay and is only around two miles long by a mile wide. With a population of under thirty people, it’s a quiet place with its daily rhythm marked by the coming and going of the ferry.

But it’s also home to a fantastic historical site, one that’s well worth a spot of island-hopping to tick off your list.

Cubbie Roo's Castle in Wyre

Cubbie Roo’s Castle is one of the oldest examples of its type in Scotland. The stronghold was built around 1145 by a Norse chieftain named Kolbein Hruga, but its present-day name is derived from a giant of Orkney folklore fame.

In its heyday, the castle was probably around three storeys tall to provide a vantage point out over nearby Gairsay Sound. The simple stone tower is around eight metres square, with walls nearly two metres thick. There are ramparts, ditches and stone walls to be found outside the main building too, all highlight just how solid a defensive position the castle would have been.

The site is one of the finest of its kind in Orkney

You can still see examples of stepped window sills, and there’s a rock-cut water tank in the centre too. It’s thought Hruga never had to defend his castle, although it’s thought one of his descendants did survive a long siege there around a century after his death. It was abandoned for good in the early 16th century, but remains another tangible reminder of Orkney’s Viking heritage.

It's a fascinating site to explore

Wyre itself also has a small heritage centre to explore and plenty of beautiful walks, all with coastal views and plenty of wildlife to spot.

See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.

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, Orkney.com 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

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