Welcome to the September newsletter from Orkney.com. Every month we bring you a snapshot of life here in Orkney, from events and activities to photos, features and a regular wildlife watch.
Busy August across the islands
Orkney’s ‘Old Man’ set to take centre stage
The Old Man of Hoy has always been one of Orkney’s most popular tourist attractions – and it appears he has now caught the eye of legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg! The sea stack and the surrounding area will feature in Spielberg’s new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. It will form part of the ‘Giant’s Land’ in the film, which is set to be released next year. A production crew filmed the Old Man of Hoy from two helicopters earlier this summer. Plan your trip for yourself with VisitOrkney.com.
Food and drink awards for island producers
It has been a summer of success for a number of Orkney’s food and drink companies. Both local breweries have claimed awards in recent weeks. The Orkney Brewery’s ‘Orkney Gold’ and ‘Skull Splitter’ scooped titles at two events, with the Highland Brewing Company’s ‘Scapa Special’ taking silver in its category at the Great British Beer Festival. Meanwhile, local butchers ‘Donaldsons of Orkney’ saw four of its products achieve 2015 Great Taste Award status. Find out more from the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Innovative Orkney sets the energy standard
Orkney’s pioneering role in renewable energy development will be highlighted at a series of events this month. A project aimed at creating hydrogen fuel from wind and tidal energy, to provide electricity for berthed ferries, will be the focus of a special session as part of the Orkney International Science Festival. The scheme, called ‘Surf and Turf’, is being led by a number of partners, including EMEC, Orkney Islands Council and Community Energy Scotland.
Skara Brae makes the travel wishlist
Skara Brae, Orkney’s 5000 year old Neolithic settlement, is one of the world’s top tourist sites, according to travel guide Lonely Planet. The ancient village has been named in the new Ultimate Travelist, put together by Lonely Planet staff and writers. It’s one of twelve Scottish locations on the list, which features the likes of The Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and Machu Picchu in Peru.
Packed calendar for September
There is certainly no slow down in Orkney as the summer begins to draw to a close. In fact, September brings four festivals, all focused on a different theme – from music to science and aviation. On top of that, our main tourist sites also being to quieten down, providing the ideal opportunity to enjoy Orkney in all its silent splendour.
Silence isn’t something you would associate with the first festival of September though! Orkney Live Wire’s ‘Orkney Rock Festival’ sees local and visiting bands play packed out pubs and venues in Kirkwall across the first weekend of the month. It’s the second annual event after the raucous success of 2014 - join in with the head-banging best of them and find out more on the Orkney Live Wire Facebook page.
You can expect a more sedate pace at the annual Orkney International Science Festival which, this year, includes features based around the International Year of Light. Highlights include a talk with Nobel prize-winner Professor Peter Higgs and events to mark the centenary of the birth of great Orkney scholar, Ernest Marwick. There are also plenty of activities for the family and food, drink and music events during the week-long Festival, which gets underway on the 3rd of September. More details are available on the official Orkney International Science Festival website.
The focus turns to the skies on between the 10th and 13th of September, with the second Orkney Aviation Festival. There will be lectures, film nights and exhibitions as part of the event, along with a very special visit from a Scillonia Airways Dragon Rapide! Seats onboard for memorable flights over Orkney will be available – keep your eye on www.aoproduction.co.uk for more details.
The Orkney Blues Festival is celebrating its tenth year of bringing the best in blues music to the islands. The bulk of the event is centred in and around the town of Stromness, with pub gigs, concerts and lots more to enjoy between the 17th and 20th of September. Visit the Orkney Blues Festival website for the latest news.
If you’re still after more music, two special performances will be held in Orkney in September. First up, Scottish folk group Rura will be playing the Stromness Town Hall for one night only on the 12th of September. They’ll be supported by local lads Gnoss – tickets are £12 and can be bought at JB Roseys in Stromness, at Grooves in Kirkwall or online.
A week later, one of the most popular Irish country singers, Mike Denver, will arrive in Orkney for a concert at the Pickaquoy Centre. Contact the Centre for ticket information.
Away from the music scene, the Pickaquoy Centre continues its line-up of theatrical events, broadcast live via satellite from stages in London’s West End. This month you can take in three performances – The Beaux’ Stratagem on the 3rd at 7pm, The Rocky Horror Show on the 17th at 7pm and Corialanus on the 24th at 7pm. You can book tickets via the Pickaquoy Centre website.
A very special event later in the month will give both locals and visitors alike the chance to learn all about the ancient ancestors of Papa Westray. ‘Life and Death on Neolithic Papay’ is a three day event, led by experts, which will look at some of the islands stone-age sites, including the Knap of Howar. There will be talks and film screenings and the chance to discuss the day’s events in the Papay Pub. Tickets cost £175 per person, which includes accommodation at the Beltane Hostel, lunches, meals and all transport when in Papay. It’s all held between the 17th and 19th of September – for more information contact the Papay Ranger on 01856 252 028 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
September will be rounded off by a food lover’s dream event! The 2015 Orkney Masterchef competition will be held in the Orkney Theatre on the 30th and will see four local amateurs put their culinary skills to the test in front of a live audience. They’ll be using the very best local produce to put their dishes together at the event. There will be plenty of peedie bites on offer from Orkney’s food producers too – for more information visit the Orkney Food and Drink website.
That’s just some of the special events on in Orkney in September - as always, though, there are plenty of smaller activities and exhibitions to take in across the islands. You can have a look at the Visit Orkney events page for more information, local newspaper The Orcadian is published every Thursday and features an Out and About section and BBC Radio Orkney also broadcasts a daily diary of events, every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM, and on Facebook.
September showcases wildlife delights
As we move towards the autumn, the wildlife focus turns to migrating birds, seal pups and the changing colour of Orkney's landscape. Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney is on hand to share some of the September highlights...
Skeins of geese will soon be honking overhead. Listen for the characteristic ‘wink-wink’ calls of the pink-footed geese with their little brown heads. On their way south from Iceland, most will be heading for the fields of mainland Scotland but some now stay here for the winter. Look out too for large flocks of curlews on fields and shores; as autumn sets in resident birds will be joined by arrivals from Scandinavia and Russia.
Meanwhile rooks and starlings are already gathering in large flocks at dusk to roost, always a sign that the year is heading for its close. Although they’re such familiar neighbours, their swirling patterns in the sky over Stromness harbour, for example, are mesmerising.
Turning to plants, the flowering period’s not over quite yet. Orkney’s three species of heather – ling, bell heather and cross-leaved heath – will all still be colouring the hillsides into September. You’ll find the purplish devil’s bit scabious in bloom along cliffs and hill tracks, while bog asphodel glows orange to peach as it dyes back in wet hollows.
Great yellow bumblebees are still on the wing too, which is why a good supply of wildflowers into September is crucial for these rare and declining bees. After mating, next year’s queens will be looking for places to hibernate, for example tucked just underground or in thick plant litter, from which they won’t emerge till next June.
People and places - the work of a talented local photographer
Orkney is a photographer’s paradise, with spectacular scenery and potential subjects all around. Every month we ask a local photographer to share some of their work to showcase Orkney at its very best. This time, Fiona Scott has selected ten of her favourite images…
I’ve had an interest in photography ever since I was peedie, staying at my Granny Birsay’s. She had a huge box of old photos which I spent hours looking through, and I used to play with her old Conway camera. I then got my first camera when I was nine and I had various others as I was growing up.
I became really passionate about photography after having my girls – I found myself wanting to capture every moment of them growing up.
When I got my first DSLR, it changed my photography. You’re able to take charge of the camera fully and this was exactly what I had been looking for. I often challenge myself to find views, angles and different takes on Orkney that folk don’t always see. I think of it as creating art.
Growing up in Birsay, looking over the Brough, I would have to say that I’m a sucker for a sunset. The sky in Orkney can be never-ending and it can change all the time. The sunsets are often breathtaking and trying to capture the clarity in our skies is tricky, but so rewarding when you get it right.
I came to realise, though, that my main passion is people. Over the last five years I have enjoyed doing mainly portrait based work, and there’s no better place to do this than at a traditional Orkney wedding. I love capturing the story of a couple’s day through my lens - special moments that are frozen in time forever for the next generation to look through in a box.
If I was asked to describe Orkney from a photographer’s perspective, I would say it’s ever changing, windswept, beautiful, and rugged, which means you can find a photo opportunity anywhere.
Island life in Orkney
This month’s parish feature heads north to the island of Eday – the heart of Orkney’s north isles. It has stunning scenery and a strong community, with renewable energy and social enterprise very much at the forefront of its plans for the future. To get the lowdown on life in Eday, we’ve asked local ranger Kate Townsend to tell us all about the island.
Eday is a beautiful island with many stunning sights and special, peaceful places. It’s approximately sixteen miles from Kirkwall, in the middle of the north isles of Orkney. It seems to have taken something special from each of its neighbours to form a microcosm of them all – from sandy beaches and dunes to heather-clad hills, dramatic cliffs, rocky shores and farmland.
Around one hundred and fifty folk call Eday home. We regularly welcome another 200 or so summer visitors every year, with most only staying a day or so - it never feels crowded!
There is so much to see and do within our ten square miles. Visitors can take in the fifteen foot high Stone of Setter – Orkney’s tallest single standing stone – and several archaeological sites. Carrick House sits at the north end of the island and was the location of the capture of the infamous Orkney pirate, John Gow – immortalised in Walter Scott’s ‘The Pirate’. There’s also the old estate Mill at London Bay and fantastic nautical displays – including the reconstructed control room of a submarine – at the North School.
Wildlife is Eday’s real attraction though. Mill Loch has breeding red-throated divers and there are acres of heath with breeding arctic and great skuas, short eared owls and hen harriers. Alongside the island’s sandy beaches and cliffs there are colonies of breeding birds during the summer and more than five hundred species of flora, including bog myrtle, which is unique to Eday.
The Eday Ranger post is a really good way to see the sights. I meet the mid morning boat from Kirkwall on Wednesdays and Fridays and run various events – for both locals and visitors – throughout the summer. I can also meet visitors for walks or for information during the rest of the year. Events are advertised on the Eday Scarfs Facebook page, or you can contact me on 01857 622 233 or email@example.com. There is also an Eday Ranger Facebook page with plenty of pictures of the island and our wildlife.
Several footpaths have also been developed in Eday over recent years to help visitors guide themselves across the island.
There are a number of privately run bed and breakfast establishments and self catering properties in Eday – you can find out more from the Visit Eday website. The Eday Community Association also runs our recently renovated hostel which has family and individual rooms, a well equipped kitchen, a comfortable lounge with free Wi-Fi as well as facilities for tents and camper vans.
The island has a long and successful history of community and social enterprise, and our newly refurbished and well stocked shop bears testament to this. It was established more than thirty years ago and has a great range of groceries and fresh produce, as well as gas, fuel and our local Post Office. A new café and sitting area has also been added.
Eday's most recent community addition is our Heritage and Visitor Centre. It contains a wealth of information about the island – including an excellent stock of photographs, a records section and reading area. It is a great all-weather facility for both visitors and locals.
We also have all the services you would expect in other parts of Orkney. Our community school serves our younger residents up until the age of twelve and features a small library. It’s also the main venue for community events.
We have a resident Nurse Practitioner and GP surgery and a wealth of other skills and services, as well as a team of retained Scottish Fire & Rescue Service Fire Fighters - and we always need more!
In 2004 the island launched the Eday Partnership to help sustain the island’s economic and social viability. It established a trading company to run our community-owned 900kW wind turbine, which generates funds for local projects. We have also worked with Orkney Islands Council to build and manage a ‘gateway house’ where prospective residents can try island life before they make the big move.
There are sometimes employment opportunities at the Community Shop & Post Office, Scottish Sea Farms, the European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney Micro-Renewables , Orkney Islands Council and various privately run farms and individual enterprises.
We hope you enjoyed our latest newsletter and have been inspired to find out more about Orkney.
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In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now.