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Making the most of Orkney's festivals

Orkney's festivals have a reputation which stretches far beyond our shores. Local musician Fionn McArthur has picked out just some of the things you could experience at this year's events.

Orkney's festivals have a reputation which stretches far beyond our North Atlantic shores.

And the reason the islands attract some of the biggest names in their various fields is quite simple; they want to come here. The magic of Orkney is a powerful weapon in the armoury of the festival organiser.

But while the events may attract some of the big names, it’s often the little things about each festival which leaves the lasting impression on visitors. Fionn McArthur is a musician and former presenter of BBC Radio Orkney’s arts programme, Tullimentan. He’s picked out just some of the things that you should be looking to experience at this year’s festivals.


Orkney Nature Festival - 14th - 20th May

Red-throated diver in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant


One of the more recent additions to the annual events calendar, this festival has quickly established itself as a firm favourite. Whether you fancy the fabulous nature cruise, immersing yourself in a snorkelling safari, or simply appreciating the unique soundscape of Orkney's wetlands, there's bound to be something to take your interest. But whatever activity you choose, one of the great joys is to head out into the Orkney landscape afterwards, with a deeper knowledge and new understandings of the wonders that surround you.


Orkney Folk Festival - 24th – 27th May

The Orkney Folk Festival in full swing - image by Sean Purser


While the festival is primarily based around the beautiful town of Stromness, filling its historic streets with four days of music, it also aims to reach all parts of the islands. For a real sense of a proper ‘Orkney night out’ head for one of the concerts or ceilidhs held in one of the parish community centres. While you feast your ears on some of the finest music, your hosts – the community itself – will be busy in the kitchen preparing a supper of fine local produce. With a head full of tunes and a belly full of bannock, you are guaranteed to leave satisfied.


St Magnus International Festival - 22nd – 27th June

Inside Orkney's great St Magnus Cathedral, home of the St Magnus International Festival


You’ll probably find many little moments of reverie at the St Magnus Festival – perhaps a little detail in the architecture of the St Magnus Cathedral will catch your eye during a recital, letting your sight follow the sound as it soars high among the sandstone arches and pillars of this historic building. But for many visitors it’s the sensation of leaving a late-night concert – perhaps in some kirk by a quiet shoreline – and experiencing the incomparable stillness of Orkney’s midsummer twilight.


Orkney International Science Festival - 6th – 12th September

Fun for all the family at the Orkney International Science Festival


Over the years this event has attracted some of the greatest minds in contemporary science. But its greatest strength is its ability, not only to make the subject matter accessible, but also to really engage with the needs, interests and traditions of Orkney. These elements and more come together in the nightly festival club, where atoms bounce around the room to music sessions, and the conversation might range from big bang to boat-building, and all the universe between.


Orkney Storytelling Festival - 25th – 28th October

Expect plenty of entertaining tall tales at the Orkney Storytelling Festival


What better way to mark the drawing in of the longer winter evenings than gathering together for the ancient art of storytelling. This festival brings together some of the finest storytellers from around the world and presents them in wonderfully atmospheric locations across Orkney. There's usually a strong contingent from our Scandinavian cousins too. With an international line-up one of the things we love to do is spot the little connections – stories and themes that cross borders and appear in the storytelling traditions of multiple cultures. Universal tales around an Orkney fireplace.


But these are just some of the experiences to look out for, at some of our many and varied festivals.

Why don’t you come and find your own? Find out more from our website.

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