Hello and welcome to the October newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for features and articles all focused on life in Orkney this autumn. From the northern lights to our wildlife watch, the finest food and drink to festivals and events, this month’s newsletter has it all.
United States on the horizon for local business
Orkney based speciality cheese producer, The Island Smokery, will soon be showcasing its products in the United States. The Stromness company is supplying 600kg of its Orkney Smoked Red Cheddar to a key US importer and distributor. That means the delicious smoked cheese will hit the shelves across the States in the coming months. It’s hoped the order is the first of many for The Island Smokery, which is also set to move into larger premises in Stromness later this year.
Aurora hunting in Orkney
Orkney is one of the best places in the UK to see the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. There have already been a number of displays of the beautiful phenomenon in the skies above the islands in recent weeks, much to the delight of Orkney’s dedicated band of aurora watchers. We’ve put together a blog with all the information you need to capture your own merry dancers moment and to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Orkney’s larder on display
The very best of Orkney’s food and drink will take centre stage at a special industry event this month. The 2016 Orkney Food and Drink Awards will see the finest products, producers and suppliers come together to celebrate another successful year for the local sector. Following a public vote that attracted 4,000 nominations, 36 businesses are in the running for 16 different awards. The categories cover everything from the best breakfasts, lunches and evening meals, to the finest bakery, drink, meat, fish and dairy products. See the full shortlist via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Autumn has arrived in the islands
Are you still on the lookout for an ideal October holiday destination? How about heading north to Orkney? Autumn in the islands can be a really special time and there are plenty of things to see and do before winter arrives. We’ve highlighted some of our recommendations for the autumn months – read more via the Visit Orkney website.
Join us on Instagram
Did you know that Orkney is now on Instagram? Follow our Visit Orkney profile to see some stunning images from the islands. 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!
Our October prize draw gives you the chance to quench your thirst with a drop of one of Orkney’s newest products. Sign up to be in with a shout of winning this trio of bottles of Kirkjuvagr Gin from Orkney Distilling Ltd. Competition is open to over 18s and UK residents only. Visit Orkney.com to enter. [now closed]
October in Orkney
Autumn is officially here and there are plenty of special events to enjoy across Orkney in the coming months.
October can often be a month to wrap up warm and stay inside next to the fire. That’s why the Orkney Storytelling Festival is such a popular event during the autumn here in the islands. Expert storytellers from Orkney and further afield entertain audiences in various venues with traditional tales from the past.
This year’s theme is Dreams and the busy programme includes talks, tours and children’s sessions. It’s a very special festival with plenty on offer for all ages, and it all takes place between the 27th and 30th of October. Find out more via the official Orkney Storytelling Festival website.
The middle of October will be all about food, glorious food. As you might have read in our news section, the 2016 Orkney Food and Drink Awards will be held in Stromness on the 15th of October.
It’s a chance for local producers, retailers and suppliers to come together to celebrate another busy year in the world of Orkney’s burgeoning food and drink sector. This year there are 16 awards up for grabs, and those attending will also enjoy a four-course meal, made with the finest of Orcadian ingredients. Tickets are available for anyone wanting to attend the event – read more about the awards via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Music is the focus of another major event in the islands this month. The Wrigley Sisters will be hosting a Fiddle and Guitar Festival between the 24th and 28th of October with plenty of performances and workshops. Find out more from the official website.
The month gets underway with a special performance from Danish band Himmerland in Hoy on the 1st of October. The group will perform a beautiful blend of old Danish ballads at the Gable End Theatre from 8pm. On the mainland, the Kirkwall BID Girls’ Day Out on Sunday 2nd October is a great chance for local ladies to enjoy some special deals and activities throughout the town centre. Visit the Kirkwall BID website for more details. The BID team also has a Halloween 'Spooktacular' planned on Saturday 29th of October.
On the 8th of October you can join the Orkney Field Club on its latest ‘fungus foray’. Julian Branscombe will lead an exploration of the woods at Berstane House on the outskirts of Kirkwall at 10 o’clock.
Orkney will be the focus of the annual Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) Conference this year. Hosted by the UHI Archaeology Institute, the three day event between the 21st and 23rd of October will take a closer look at rural issues and archaeology across the islands. There will also be field trips, exhibitions and a film night. Members of the public are welcome to attend – book your place via the official website.
October is the month when many of Orkney’s summer exhibitions and displays come to a close. Here’s a rundown of what you can see and where:
- The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the Death of Lord Kitchener, marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hampshire, at Stromness Museum until the 31st of October.
- On the North Russian Front - the story of the 11th Laird of Breckness and his part in the Allied Intervention in North Russia, at Skaill House until the 31st of October
- B-98 and U-70 Exhibition at the Sanday Heritage Centre Time, open daily.
- Vikings! – the story of Westray and Papa Westray between 800 AD and 1400 AD, at Westray Heritage Centre.
There’s a busy programme for cinema fans over the coming weeks. The Pickaquoy Centre will be showing its usual range of popular releases including The Magnificent Seven, Deepwater Horizon, Bridget Jones’s Baby and (just in time for Halloween) Blair Witch.
You can still take advantage of a number of tours during October too. There are free guided walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness at 10am on Wednesdays and at the Ring of Brodgar at 1pm on Thursdays.
If the October weather isn’t kind then you can still tour the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2pm – contact 01856 874894 to book your place.
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 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's abundant nature and wildlife is an all-year-round attraction. We've asked Alison Nimmo from the local branch of the RSPB to highlight her favourite places to see 'wild Orkney' at its best.
October will see the area’s hen harriers start to draw closer together to roost. Nestled in the Rendall hills, you can spot at first maybe just a few birds gliding in at dusk to drop silently into the heather, then by late November perhaps as many as ten. It’s a likely haunt for short-eared owls too, and just now you can often hear pink-footed geese with their characteristic ‘wink-wink’ calls flying overhead to spend the night around the hill-top lochans. A wonderful experience, and even more so with a flask of something warm.
When spring comes around you’ll find the reserve in a totally different mood, with bubbling curlews and swooping, twisting lapwings. For me it was where I heard the first skylark this year, and many comments in the visitor book recorded a cuckoo heard and even spotted in the tree by the burn. The moorland brightens with flowers and brown hares sprint across the fields nearby. The hen harriers start to ‘sky dance’ to attract a mate, soaring and plunging in the air.
Summer sees the heather busy with meadow pipits, bright-eyed with insects squashed in beaks as they feed their families. Red-throated divers grunt as they fly over, heading for the coast to fish, while green-veined white butterflies flicker over the dark heather...
It's a special place at all times of the year, so don’t be put off by the wind and rain in getting to know it if you don’t already! (Wellies recommended over the winter months, as the last section of the track can get very muddy.)
Find out more about the Cottascarth Reserve via the RSPB website.
Italian artist draws inspiration from Orkney
October’s featured photographer is a restoration artist from Italy that has fallen in love with Orkney and its wildlife. Antonella Papa regularly travels to the islands to work at the Italian Chapel and to visit her favourite sites.
Photography has always been a passion of mine since I studied it at school. My first camera was a 1963 Russian Zenit E, which was entirely manual. It was so exciting waiting a week to see the result of my efforts - and what a thrill it was to see the images appearing slowly when I learnt to develop black and white photos on my own.
I discovered Orkney and its wildlife seven years ago and quickly realised I could combine my passions of photography and nature and animals. I bought a Pentax K20D for my first trip in Orkney and, three years ago, a Nikon D5200, both with 70-300mm zoom lenses. I can spend hours looking at the wonders of wildlife, especially the puffins and seals.
You never know when a great photo chance can come. The animals always do something special for me, such as offering a flower or posing as a star! Every picture has a special message and I would love to tell many stories with my photographs someday.
I can’t wait to be with my lovely little Puffin friends soon to see how they will surprise me next time!
See more of Antonella’s photos via her Facebook page.
Head west for cliffs, coastline and more
Every month we pick a different area of Orkney and take a look at life in the parish. For October we go into the west mainland and focus on Evie and Rendall.
The neighbouring parishes of Evie and Rendall are two of the smaller and more sparsely populated areas of the Orkney mainland, but they share a rich heritage with numerous historical sites and a vibrant community spirit.
They sit towards the north west of Orkney’s mainland, with plenty of coastal scenery and stunning views towards Orkney’s north isles. There’s much for visitors to enjoy aside from the landscape though. One of the main attractions in Evie, and indeed in Orkney as a whole, is the spectacular Iron-age Broch of Gurness. It was discovered in 1929 and is thought to date back to around 200BC. It also has connections to the Pictish and Viking eras in Orkney.
The main broch building is surrounded by a series of small stone dwellings and they’re fascinating to explore. The site is under the management of Historic Environment Scotland and the small visitor centre is open between April and September.
The broch is perched on the shoreline with views towards Rousay and the uninhabited island of Eynhallow. You can get a real feel for the importance of the location for Orkney’s inhabitants over the centuries.
Evie is a haven for wildlife too. En-route to the Broch of Gurness you’ll pass the beautiful beach at Aikerness. Expect to see seals and otters in the area as well as wading birds. Birdlife is also the main attraction of the RSPB’s Birsay Moors Reserve, which sneaks over the Evie parish boundary. During the autumn months you can see hen-harriers hunting, or climb the old peat cutter tracks for panoramic views of the mainland and north isles.
There is also a hide at the top of Burgar Hill overlooking Lowrie’s Water, a popular nesting area for Red-throated divers.
The north-western tip of the Orkney mainland features Costa Head, with dramatic cliffs and the stunning sea-stack known as The Standard. A walking trip to the coast is highly recommended but remember to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code as it involves travelling over private land.
Another stopping point in Evie is Orkney Crafts Association member The Woolshed. Fleece from North Ronaldsay sheep is used to produce handmade felt and knitwear and there is a wide range of products to browse. The Woolshed is also on the Orkney Craft Trail – find out more from the official website.
The parish of Rendall is next door to Evie. Although it doesn’t have the same number of attractions as the rest of the West Mainland, like many parts of Orkney there is always something to catch your eye.
There are beautiful views of the north isles and towards Kirkwall from its easternmost point at Gorseness, with a hill or two to climb too. The parish also has a unique doocot, a 17th Century pigeon house! Found at the Hall of Rendall, the recently restored building is the only one of its kind in Orkney.
The small ferry terminal at Tingwall is an important hub for both locals and visitors too. The Eynhallow ferry serves the islands of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre on a daily basis and all are worth a visit – see our recent parish focus on the area. There is a small inshore fishing fleet based at Tingwall too so expect to see plenty of activity in the area early in the morning and again later in the day, as creel boats come and go with their daily catch.
One of the jewels in the crown of Rendall is the fantastic RSPB Cottascarth Reserve. Perched high in the Rendall hills, the newly refurbished hide offers stunning views over the surrounding heather and moorland. It’s arguably the best place in Orkney to see hen-harriers, and you can expect to catch a glimpse of the likes of curlews, kestrel, merlin and short-eared owls too.
Evie and Rendall are busy and proactive communities with plenty to offer anyone keen to make their stay in the area a longer one. Local community associations arrange regular events and the Rendall Hall is the focal point for various activities, including the annual harvest home celebrations, whist drives and sports nights. The parish also has its own football team and a newly laid pitch at the hall. It’s also the base for the recently established Rendall Pipe Band, which is always keen on welcoming new members.
Younger residents will soon have a new school to enjoy – work is continuing on a brand new building in Evie, with the first pupils expected to start classes there next year.
There is also a wide range of property available in the two parishes, from farms and old crofts to newly built homes available for rent and purchase – check our property listings for the latest updates from Orkney’s main estate agents.
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.