Hello and welcome to the October newsletter from Orkney.com.
Autumn is here! It’s one of our favourite times of year in the islands, with a real mix of exciting events, wild weather and some wonderful wildlife highlights.
Keep reading to find out more about life in Orkney in October. As well as our events preview, we’ll bring you another hidden attraction, some incredible aerial images from our latest featured photographer 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.
Top tips for autumn in Orkney
Autumn in Orkney is a special time of year. It's a season full of dramatic light, stunning sunsets, wild weather and so much more. Things slow down too after the whirlwind summer, giving you the perfect chance to visit some of our sites in solitude. We’ve picked out a few of our favourite things to see and do during autumn across Orkney. Check out our blog and share your suggestions with us on social media!
Celebrity chefs and seaweed
It has been quite the year for one of Orkney’s newest food and drink companies. During the spring, Orkney Craft Vinegar was featured on two nationwide television programmes hosted by James Martin, leading to an explosion of interest in the business’s range and a rapid expansion. Now things have settled down, we’ve managed to catch up with the man behind it all to hear about his journey.
Tall tales return for autumn
The Orkney Storytelling Festival returns later this month to celebrate its tenth anniversary in style. Dubbed ‘the little festival with the big heart’, the event sees international and professional storytellers join local favourites for a packed programme of folklore, walks, talks and more. Tickets are also available to buy online for the first time, so you can make sure you won’t miss a thing.
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.
October in Orkney
October brings plenty of events and activities to take advantage of across Orkney.
As you might have read in the news, the Orkney Storytelling Festival takes top billing when it returns this month. It’s fast becoming a real favourite on the local festival circuit, featuring a wide range of inspirational and engaging storytellers from Orkney and around the world.
This year’s festival runs between the 24th and 27th, with tours and trips all included in the programme. Find out more from our blog or visit the official website, where tickets can be bought online for the first time.
The Vikings are coming in October! Orktoberfest is a celebration of Orkney’s Norse heritage and the finest ales, along with live music and plenty of fun and games too. The 2019 Orkney Ale Festival will be at the centre of the weekend, which starts on the 24th and will be held in and around Stromness. The programme includes traditional music, a Viking feast, a torch-lit procession and a galley burning, a BBQ and much more.
Stromness is also the home of a special event this month as part of the Scapa 100 commemorations. ‘Scapa 100: The Orkney Story’ is a community conference that will see four days of talks and activities surrounding the legacy of the scuttling of the German Fleet in Scapa Flow a century ago. It's all happening between the 17th and 20th - find out more via the official website.
Orkney’s wartime connection to the sea also continues this month with ‘Remembering HMS Royal Oak’, a special display of objects from HMS Royal Oak and her crew. The exhibition at the Orkney Museum marks the 80th anniversary of its sinking in Scapa Flow. It’s on display until the 26th and entry is free.
There’s plenty for music fans to enjoy in Orkney this month. The Pickaquoy Centre has an Abba Party Night on the 5th, featuring the 1974 Abba Tribute Show. Dig out your dancing shoes and find out how to get your tickets via the Pickaquoy Centre website.
The Reel in Kirkwall will be hosting its annual Traditional Music Festival in October between the 14th and 19th. The Reel Orkney Tradfest will see six days of artist-led classes, workshops, sessions and concerts, hosted by Orkney’s own Wrigley Sisters. Tickets for all Tradfest events are on sale now via The Reel’s website.
Later in the month you can catch up with Gnoss, ‘a dynamic four-piece of fiddle, flute, guitar and percussion’. The band will be onstage at the Sound Archive in Kirkwall as part of their autumn tour on the 25th. Find out more from the Old Library Facebook page.
Right at the end of October you can see ‘Elvis – performed by Johnny Lee Memphis’. He’ll be bringing all of Elvis’s hits to the stage on the 31st – find out how you can get your tickets.
The Pier Arts Centre has a couple of exhibitions open to enjoy. The Centre is hosting ‘Beyond Landscape’ until the 9th of November, featuring works by artists with special engagements with landscape. It also has ‘Then Now When’, a collection of items focused on the life and legacy of Margaret Gardiner. You can also catch ‘Wrong on Every Level’ by Martin Laird at the Northlight Gallery in Stromness until the 9th.
The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has its usual selection of movies this month, including ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Ad Astra’ and ‘Rambo: Last Blood’. There’s a wide range of theatre and ballet live broadcasts too. See the full schedule online.
The West Side Cinema has three showings this month. See ‘The Boy Friend’ in the Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre on the 4th. There are also screenings of ‘Woman At War’ and ‘Last Breath’ in Stromness Town Hall on the 5th and 19th. Find out more on Facebook.
If you’re keen to get out and about this autumn then we’d always recommend taking advantage of a guided tour of some of Orkney’s World Heritage Site locations. You can join the Ranger team at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm. Both walks are free and there’s no need to book. Call 01856 841 732 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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.
Autumn is a wonderful time to experience wildlife across Orkney. Join local nature cameraman and photographer Raymond Besant to find out more about some of the highlights available this month.
Everyone has a favourite beach, but with so many different ones to choose from, an absolute favourite can be hard to pick. October is the perfect time to get out and explore some new stretches of coastline; the weather has cooled and there’s a good chance the cobwebs will be well and truly blown away!
I could spend all day talking about the coast but I’ll stick to sandy beaches. The fourth barrier beach in South Ronaldsay is a popular choice and easily accessible. A fantastic dune system has built up here over the last three decades and when the wind is blowing hard, a stroll through the extensive marram grass down to the beach is a lovely way to start this walk. You're unlikely to have this beach to yourself though, so if you’re looking for something a little bigger head to Waulkmill in Orphir.
Waukmill has a good claim to be Orkney’s favourite beach. It’s certainly impressive in size at around 500-metres-wide and is slightly unusual in that it’s sheltered on either side by sloping moorland and 20-metre-high cliffs. Keep an eye out for stonechat and wren on the walk down the path through the heather. Fulmar cruise the cliffs and oystercatchers look for molluscs to feed on in the sandy ridges Beautiful pools form as the tide flows in over the sand bars. Something to look out for is the delicate-looking case of the sea-mouse or sea-potato – it’s fantastically detailed but very brittle and often hard to get home in one piece. When alive they are covered in bristles that help them move through the sand. Again, Waukmill is popular but big enough never to feel crowded.
If it’s solitude you want then head for the north isles. Grobust in Westray has a charm all of its own and has fossils for you to hunt, whilst Rothiesholm in Stronsay is widely accepted as being one of the best beaches in Orkney to look for more unusual shells.
There’s only one winner in my eyes though - Tresness in Sanday. Even choosing a beach in Sanday is like asking what your favourite chocolate is! Running down the east coast of the island is a dynamic sand dune system with an impressive mound at the end. This high ridge of sand and marram grass is forever changing - built up and often shifting in stormy weather. You can park your car on the main road and walk around Cata Sand, a massive intertidal sandy area. Don't be tempted to walk across the sands - although safe, it’s muddy in parts and you’re better off keeping to the edge until you reach the ridge. Here you have a choice, cut across and walk along the sea edge or continue along Cata Sand.
Cata Sand is heavily colonised by lugworms and so is a particularly good place to see wading birds like curlew and bar-tailed godwit, Large flocks of golden plover and knot can also be seen wheeling over the sands. Standing on the high dune promontory gives you an amazing vista of the turquoise waters looking out to the North Sea, one of the most stunning views in Orkney.
Orkney is a real migration hotspot; it’s often the place windblown rarities make their first landfall. Any bush or scrub is well worth a scan with your binoculars in the hope of finding a yellow-browed warbler or red-breasted flycatcher. But it’s the migrants that come here on purpose that I have more of an interest in.
Orkney’s greylag goose population and some of the problems they cause have been well-documented, but there is another species of goose that arrives in autumn and calls Orkney home for the winter - the barnacle goose. You may have already seen some barnacle geese in Orkney during September; these are likely to be birds from Svalbard and are just passing through on their way to over-winter on the Solway Firth.
Our birds however come from Greenland. The majority of that population head to Islay but around 1500 arrive in Orkney. They spend the vast majority of their time grazing the fields in South Walls. They really are a delight to look at with their stunning black and white plumage and slightly creamy-coloured faces.
For me they stand out as something slightly different and add real character to Orkney’s natural history landscape. You would think 1500 birds would be easy to find but you might have to do a little searching. Fortunately, the area isn't that big, but a good place to start is by driving through Longhope, taking the road towards the Hackness Martello Tower. Continue towards the graveyard and they are often in the fields to the left here. If you don’t have any luck, carry on to the T-junction and take a right, scanning the fields to the left. They could be anywhere from here to the Ayre!
Geese can be difficult to make a close approach to so I’ve found the best technique here is to use the laziest method of wildlife photography - pointing your lens out of the car window! Birds generally don't see vehicles as a threat, plus you have the added bonus of the car heater if it’s freezing outside!
Focus on photography
Our featured photographer for October is actually Shetland-based, but Nick McCaffrey’s regular visits to Orkney have yielded some incredible aerial images.
I have always been interested in images. I find wildlife and landscapes particularly interesting, and I grew up in South Africa so there’s something about the raw beauty of Orkney and Shetland that connects with me. Being surrounded by stunning scenery and wildlife can be stressful because I can’t blame a lack of subjects for poor work!
I got started in photography & videography in my late teens. I’ve always been involved in adventure sports and as cameras got smaller and more compact it got easier to carry them with me while I was doing the sports I enjoyed. Rather fortunately, I have always been a remote-controlled aircraft enthusiast too. With technology improving and cameras shrinking, I started mounting them to my aircraft. I also built drones to mount cameras onto because they could hold a position at height and were far easier to fly than remote-controlled helicopters.
Eventually my interests came together and I work nearly exclusively with drones to capture images now. I personally feel they better enable me to tell the stories and capture the images I want to share. Drones for me are especially good at showing you the same thing you’ve been looking at for years, but from a completely different perspective.
Being into outdoor hobbies gets me to places few people have managed and using drones has helped me capture quite unique animal behaviours and images. I find it incredibly satisfying when I hear people say “I’ve never seen it like that before”.
Platforms like YouTube and Instagram allowed me to share my work and I started to get approached by production companies who were looking to use my images for their projects. The requests kept coming so I decided two years ago to become commercially certified, and now I fly drones professionally as a part-time business.
While visiting Orkney I can always rely on the beautiful archaeological sites. For me, the Broch of Gurness is an absolute favourite - the overhead view you get from a drone gives you a very clear idea of how intricate and considered the building of the Broch must have been. The Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar at sunrise or sunset are classic shots too, as are the Churchill Barriers.
Orkney really is a feast for the eyes - the lush, rolling green fields and wildflowers can make anyone look like a decent landscape photographer. All of that is before I get started on the wildlife!
I live in Shetland and I don’t plan on going anywhere, but I fell in love with Orkney on my first visit. I think both locations offer incredible experiences and opportunities for visitors, but they are both quite different in character, which makes me feel very spoiled for choice.
Explore hidden Orkney
Every month we pick out a special site in Orkney that’s off the beaten track. For October we’re heading to the location of one of the finest archaeological finds ever discovered in the islands.
Some local residents could be hard pushed to tell you where to find this site, or even what it is, such is the mystery surrounding it. The Knowes of Trotty is actually one of the largest Bronze Age cemeteries in the UK, with 16 barrows – mounds built over burials – in total.
The site is found in the west mainland parish of Harray and is thought to have seen its first barrows built around 2000BC. You can still see their outlines in the landscape and they could have been even more conspicuous when originally constructed. The first barrow was excavated in 2005 and featured a stone burial cist, flanked by standing stones, surrounded by a stone cairn and then covered in earth. It was also built on a natural mound, quite possibly to make the effect even grander. Erosion means they're less noticeable now, though.
As far as archaeological discoveries go, excavators at the Knowes of Trotty quite literally struck gold more than 160 years ago. In 1858, four beautiful gold ‘sun’ discs were found in the largest barrow, along with amber beads and burnt human bones. The discs were made from paper-thin sheets of gold and decorated with lines, possibly influenced by similar finds in southern England.
Like much of Orkney’s archaeology, there are many unanswered questions. Who was buried in the largest cist? Was it someone of high status? Why was the site chosen in the first place, and what was so special about it?
For us, these mysteries are one of the main attractions of investigating Orkney’s archaeological attractions. It's best to just take some time to soak up the atmosphere and make your own mind up. And the Knowes of Trotty is the perfect place to do just that.
Thanks to the fantastic Orkneyjar website for information on the site.
See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.
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.
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