Hello and welcome to the October newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading this month for features and photos all focused on life in Orkney as autumn officially begins to take hold across the islands.
Get some Orkney inspiration this autumn
Autumn is officially here and Orkney is a very special place to visit over the coming months. The landscape, skies and seas begin to change as the days get shorter, and there is still so much to see and do across the islands. We’ve put together some of our favourite autumn activities in Orkney to provide some inspiration – from Northern Light displays to wildlife watching, it covers it all! Take a look at our blog and share your own ideas with us on social media.
New island Master Chef crowned
Orkney’s new culinary king has been found! Colin Luke won Orkney Amateur Master Chef 2017 last week. The Orkney Food and Drink event promotes the finest Orcadian produce and Colin’s winning menu included cullen skink soup, Orkney fillet steak stuffed with cheese and a chocolate surprise dessert. The competition saw four talented chefs cook their three-course meals in-front of a live audience, showcasing Orkney's fantastic larder.
Join Orkney’s Aurora Hunters this autumn
If you’ve ever wanted to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis then a trip to Orkney this autumn could be just the thing for you. There have already been some beautiful displays of the Northern Lights across the islands over recent weeks, and we’ve put together the perfect guide to seeing them for yourself (weather permitting!). Take a look for location ideas, photography advice and where to go to get all the information you need to predict a display of the ‘Mirrie Dancers’!
World first for marine energy in Orkney
Orkney has been breaking boundaries in the marine energy sector once again. The European Marine Energy Centre in Stromness has produced hydrogen gas using electricity generated from tidal energy at one of its test sites – the first time hydrogen has been created from tidal energy anywhere in the world. Two prototype tidal energy convertors fed power from the Orkney tides into an on-shore electrolyser to produce the hydrogen. It’s part of a wider range of projects that will see hydrogen used to provide power for use across Orkney. Find out more from our blog.
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.
Win prizes from Orkney!
October in Orkney
October sees the days start to get that little bit shorter, but there is still plenty to see and do throughout the month.
The weather can be wild and wonderful so being inside might be a sensible suggestion. That’s where the Orkney Storytelling Festival comes in. This unique event will be held between the 26th and 29th of the month and brings folk tales from the islands and further afield to life.
Local and visiting storytellers take to the stage in a variety of venues for a real celebration of oral tradition. This year there is a loose theme on the story of Orkney’s saint, St Magnus, and – as always – plenty of opportunity to get involved, with the famed ‘open mic’ night making a return. Read more via our special preview, and visit the Orkney Storytelling Festival website for more details.
Earlier in the month there is still the opportunity to get out and about in the fresh autumn air as part of the Magnus 900 commemorations. The Archaeology Institute UHI is carrying out excavations in Palace Village in Birsay until the 6th and everyone is welcome to come along. Learn survey techniques and map and record features related to the St Magnus story. It all takes place between 10am and 3pm every day – phone 01856 569229 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
You can take a tour of the birthplace of Orkney's Arctic explorer, John Rae, on the 1st of October. The Hall of Clestrain will be open to the public as part of the John Rae Society's weekend of celebrations, marking the 204th anniversary of Rae's birthday. It's open between 1pm and 4pm and visitors will get the chance to hear about the Society's plans for the building too. Find out more via our special blog.
If you’re after some live music in Orkney in October then you’ll be spoilt for choice. The Sound Archive in Kirkwall hosts ‘The Howl & The Hum’ on the 2nd at 7.30pm, ‘Little Eye’, supported by Calum Frame, on the 14th at 8pm and Lucy Spraggan on the 24th at 7.30pm. Tickets for all the gigs can be bought from Grooves on Laing Street in Kirkwall or via the See Tickets website.
The Reel in Kirkwall will be the centre of the annual Wrigley Sisters’ Winter School & Tradfest – a full week of artist-led classes and concerts. Guests including Karen Tweed, Eamonn Coyne and Gavin Marwick will join local artists throughout the week – find out more at the Wrigley and the Reel website.
Meanwhile, on the 23rd, Andy Fairweather-Low and the Low Riders will be performing in the Stromness Town Hall. Fairweather-Low has performed with the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Elton John during his career. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start – tickets are available from The Reel in Kirkwall, Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness or by phoning 01856 851063.
Fans of the silver screen can take in films at the Pickaquoy Cinema, including American Made, Wind River and The Jungle Bunch this month. View the full schedule at the official website. The West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing ‘The Black Hen’ in the local town hall at 7.45pm on the 7th.
The Pier Arts Centre will be hosting exhibitions by two talented Orkney artists during October. ‘Constellations’ by Nick Gordon and ‘Shaping the Void’ by Louise Barrington are on display until the 4th of November at the Centre in Stromness. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday between 10.30am and 5pm and admission is free. Nick and Louise will also be giving free tours of their exhibitions at 3pm on Saturday, October 14th.
There is still time to see the Stromness Museum exhibition about the town’s 200 years as a Burgh of Barony. ‘Per Mare: Stromness 200’ runs until the end of the month. The Museum is open 10am – 5pm daily and entry costs £5 for adults.
If you’re interested in seeing some of our most popular sites then you can still take advantage of guided tours during October. See the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2pm – tours cost £7.75, phone 01856 87894 to book. Read our blog about the tours for inspiration!
Find out more about the Standing Stones of Stenness with a guided walk at the site every Wednesday at 10am. You can also get a tour of the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm.
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
This month sees the wild side of Orkney really come alive as we welcome migrant birds and seal pups on our shoreline. Join Alison Nimmo as she explores our latest wildlife hotspot.
The old wartime signal station sits atop low cliffs here at the island’s south-east tip. The headland commands sweeping views of the surrounding islands and Scapa Flow, and its opening south to the Pentland Firth.
It’s a strange landscape of shattered quarries, murky pools and surreal remnants of what was clearly once a vital place. Now plants grow amongst the ruins and orange lichen echoes the rusting machinery. It was rather eerie on a grey autumn day, but I could imagine how it must change in spring, when birdsong returns and freshwater plants like water crowfoot raise hundreds of little white flowers above the surface of the flooded quarries.
I picnicked next to a sea cave that boomed and sloshed as the tide rose and fulmars patrolled the cliffs. A great pillar had fallen across its base, and the lines and layers in the rock made me resolve to learn more about geology, not for the first time. The pretty sea spleenwort fern somehow finds a foothold here to grow on the sheer faces.
As we head into autumn, birds such as great northern divers, Slavonian grebes and long-tailed ducks gather in the waters of Scapa Flow below to pass the winter. When spring rolls around again and our winter visitors head north, other seabirds will return to the cliffs - guillemots, razorbills, shags and puffins, and skuas raiding from their moorland nests on West Hill and Golta.
In calm weather the headland makes a superb look-out for marine mammals, with harbour porpoises often spotted in Hoxa Sound. I didn’t see any during my visit, but on the ferry home there they were – a couple of fins slicked through the water, suddenly there and as suddenly gone again.
Wild Orkney provides image inspiration
Our featured photographer for October is Debbie Sutherland, who is drawn to Orkney's coastline during wild and stormy weather.
Although I’ve lived in Orkney for most of my life, I’m a relative newcomer to photography and have only really been taking photographs regularly for the past two years or so. My interest in landscape, and in particular seascape, photography was sparked by the acquisition of a Nikon DSLR camera and a few different lenses.
What I love about photographing the Orkney landscape are the myriad tones and ever-changing light; the wide-open skies; the shorelines - and always the incredible sea! I much prefer to go out and take photos when the weather is wild!
For me, the best winter waves and dramatic seas are to be seen in and around the Brough of Birsay, the cliffs at Northside and at the bay of Skaill. I also love to be around Yesnaby on a stormy day, especially when you can hear the boom and roar of the waves as they hit the base of the cliffs. South Ronaldsay also has many special places, and the bay at Windwick is also one of my favourite places to go.
The views in Orkney are often breath-taking but, for me, it is often about what is not there in the picture that makes it special – all those wide-open spaces, vast skies and endless seascape horizons. Living close beside the sea means that people in Orkney really can’t escape its effects: its tidal push and pull, its many moods, colours and natural rhythms. We are all so intrinsically connected to this, our landscape.
Getting outdoors to photograph is very therapeutic because it keeps you – quite literally - focusing upon what is right there in front of you and it’s a great way of taking your mind off of work or the general stresses of the day.
Follow Debbie on Instagram to see more of her images from Orkney.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Our monthly look at an ‘off the beaten track’ local attraction takes us to the west coast of the Orkney mainland and an example of the islands’ connection with the sea.
Orcadians have historically been described as ‘farmers with fishing boats’, highlighting the fact that agriculture has been the dominant industry here throughout the generations. But our coastal communities have always had a close relationship with the sea, and that is especially evident in the parish of Birsay in the West Mainland.
Fantastic archive photographs show local fishermen with all their gear, ready to tackle the Atlantic. You won’t see a similar scene nowadays, but there are still very visible reminders of the fishing days on the coast in the parish.
Park at Marwick bay and head south along the coastal path and you’ll soon come to a beautiful sheltered area called Sand Geo. There, high above the stone and shingle beach, you’ll see three old fishermen’s huts, built to house boats, equipment and provide shelter from the elements for the old fishing community of the parish.
The stone huts almost blend into the landscape and feature tiny windows and driftwood beams at the doorways, with the remains of boat nousts used to store vessels during the winter months nearby too.
Sand Geo came into use after a shipwreck at Marwick in the late 1800s forced the local fishermen to find another launch and landing spot. The huts themselves are thought to have been built between 1898 and 1913 and were restored in 1984.
Nowadays they’re empty but you can get a real feel for how busy this little bay could have been when fishing was a vital part of life in the area.
The walk is over a gentle grass path with lovely sea views. It continues south along the coastline too, or you can head north on your return to tackle the climb up to Marwick Head. This tiny part of the dramatic Orkney coastline is full of history, stories and stunning scenery – well worth taking the time to visit.
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.