Hello and welcome to the September newsletter from Orkney.com.
This month we’ll aim to inspire you to visit the islands with all our usual features focused on life in Orkney. There is a round-up of September’s events calendar, our new area focus, our wildlife update and much more.
Dream destination for gin lovers
Orkney already has two quality breweries and a pair of world renowned whisky distilleries – now you can add three gin producers to the list! The Burray-based Orkney Gin Company has been producing its Johnsmas and Mikkelmas gins for a number of months now with bottles available across Orkney. Also on offer is the new Kirkjuvagr Gin from Orkney Distilling Ltd which was launched in August. The hand-crafted gin should be available online this month. Meanwhile a craft gin from Deerness Distilling Ltd, based in Orkney’s east mainland, is set to hit the shelves later this year. Both these companies are in the process of building purpose-built distilleries in the islands too. Find out more from the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Another season ends at the Ness
The covers are on at the Ness of Brodgar excavation in Orkney after two months of activity at the sprawling Neolithic site. Archaeologists from around the world have been working at the site over the summer, welcoming thousands of visitors during the dig period. This season has uncovered more decorated stones, a human bone and a mystery stone structure on a separate part of the site. Preparations are already in hand for next year’s activity – for more details visit the official Ness of Brodgar website.
Festival frenzy in Orkney
Even though the main part of the summer season is over, Orkney still has a busy few weeks of festivals coming up for people to enjoy. September brings three special events including the Orkney International Science Festival, the Orkney Rock Festival and the Orkney Blues Festival, each with a range of performances, concerts and activities for all ages. Whether you want to hear about the mysteries of the universe or headbang with the best of them, Orkney has you covered this month! Our monthly events round-up has all the information you need.
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram if you want to see some beautiful images of Orkney. We’ve been sharing shots taken by locals and visitors over recent months, all with the aim of inspiring you to come and visit our islands.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Our September prize draw offers the chance to win a very special, one-of-a-kind, handmade bowl from Orkney-based Elaine Henderson at Scapa Studios. Your name will be automatically entered into the draw by signing up to our mailing list. [now closed]
September in Orkney
Even though the summer season is beginning to draw to a close, the Orkney events calendar is still packed with activities to keep you entertained.
It might come as a surprise but September is rapidly becoming Orkney’s ‘festival month’. It all gets underway at the start of the month with the Orkney International Science Festival. Running between the Thursday 1st and Wednesday 7th, this year’s programme is full of events and talks, with subjects including the Northern Lights, Antarctic explorations, dolphin communication and the story of Orkney’s herring industry. Find out more via the official website.
Things continue with a bang on the 2nd with the third Orkney Rock Festival. Over the weekend there will be a series of pub gigs in Kirkwall featuring local and visiting acts, with a ticketed event for all ages in Matchmakers on Saturday 3rd. Go on, start your September off in style – find Orkney Live Wire on Facebook for more details.
The music continues with the popular Orkney Blues Festival in Stromness between Thursday 15th and Sunday 18th September. Headliners this year include the Gerry Jablonski Band. Keep up to date with the latest news via the Festival’s Facebook page and the official website.
If you fancy getting active in September then the island of Westray might be the perfect destination for you on the 3rd of September. The annual Bisgeos Charity Run has become a real fixture in the Orkney events calendar and lets folk combine a challenging run with some of the finest island hospitality anywhere. Tackle the 12 mile run/walk and then enjoy a barbecue, and buffet dance until the early hours. There’s also time to see some of the stunning island scenery too! Visit the Bisgeos Run website for registration information.
There are interesting exhibitions across Orkney this month too. The Pier Arts Centre has two – ‘Scotstyle – Building the Century’ celebrates the top 100 buildings from 1916-2015, as nominated by the Scottish public. It runs from the start of September until Wednesday 14th.
Between September 3rd and November 5th the Centre will feature ‘toandFRO’ by Neville Gabie. His work reflects time spent in locations as diverse as Antarctica, South Africa and Achiltibuie.
The Orcadian Bookshop Gallery on Albert Street in Kirkwall will be showcasing the winners from the 2015 Scottish Nature Photography Awards until the 17th – see the amazing images between 9am and 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays. Elsewhere, the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope will be showcasing work by Anna Meadows until the 27th.
The West Side Cinema in Stromness always has a keen eye for some different events. This month ‘Following the Fleet: Drifters’ will see a silent film from 1929, focusing on Scotland’s herring fishing fleet ports, accompanied by beatboxer Jason Singh’s live vocal score. The evening will also include local storyteller Tom Muir and live music from James Watson. It’s sure to be a special evening – head along to Stromness Town Hall at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start on Saturday 3rd. Entry is £5 or £3 for under 16s.
Some of the highlights at the Pickaquoy Cinema this month include Jason Bourne, War Dogs and Swallows and Amazons. See the full schedule on the Pickaquoy Centre website.
If you want to get out and about in the isles this month then why not pay a visit to Hoy. Aside from some spectacular views and scenery, you can take advantage of a free guided walk at the former Royal Navy Base at Lyness. The two hour trail around the site is a fascinating look at Orkney’s wartime heritage. The tour starts at 11am daily from the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre at Lyness. Phone 01856 791 300 for more information.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during September. 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
Every month we focus on some of Orkney's nature and wildlife hotspots. For September, Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney has taken a look at autumn and winter at the Mill Dam Reserve in Shapinsay.
Autumn brings many birds to Orkney, some arriving here for the winter while others pass through on their way further south. Mill Dam in Shapinsay - a great wetland to enjoy wildlife at any time of year - will soon be welcoming wildfowl from across northern Europe.
The nature reserve sits a mile (1.5 km) north-east of Balfour village. The southern end of a marsh here was dammed in Victorian times in order to provide a reliable water supply for Elwick Mill, and the flooding created areas of open water perfect for these birds.
It’s a fantastic spot to discover this autumn and winter, if you haven’t already. Whooper swans will be arriving from Iceland along with geese and lively flocks of wigeons, teals and mallards with their chorus of whistles, bleeps and quacks. Grey herons stalk the edges while water rails, unseen amongst the vegetation, let out their piercing pig-like squeals.
As more and more birds gather you can also spot raptors joining in the activity - hen harriers, short-eared owls, peregrines, sparrowhawks and merlins are frequent visitors.
If a winter visit isn’t your cup of tea the spot is certainly one to remember for spring and summer too, when the air is full of squabbling black-headed gulls, bubbling curlews, drumming snipe and piping redshanks. Up to nine species of duck breed here, including shovelers and shelducks, and by early summer you can enjoy wader, gull and wildfowl chicks wandering among the flowers of bogbean, marsh marigold, cuckooflower, northern marsh-orchid and marsh cinquefoil.
Find out more about Mill Dam via the RSPB website.
Orkney life through a lens
September’s featured photographer is also a talented Orcadian artist and musician. Louise Bichan has travelled the world taking images but the Orkney landscape remains a special subject for her.
I was lucky enough to be able to do a short course in photography at the KGS with Marie Montgomery where we learned how to develop our films. I always loved art and music at school and when it came to leaving, I decided to study for a year at Orkney College to prepare a portfolio ready to apply to art schools. I then got into the Glasgow School of Art to study Visual Communications, focusing on photography.
I really enjoyed the more hands-on projects we undertook there; we made pinhole cameras, had the chance to work with large format cameras, had access to the dark room and learned about alternative printing processes including cyanotype photography.
Orkney has always been such an inspiring place to me, I focused on the nature and landscape throughout school and I can’t help but get out and take photos every time I return home. Even in bad weather it can look beautiful and has so much character. I could photograph the same view time and time again and not get bored of it.
It doesn’t matter how far and wide I travel (and I have been so lucky to do so, mostly through playing music), Orkney will always be the most inspiring and beautiful place in the world for me!
Spend time in Orkney's bustling capital
In recent months we’ve been taking a look at life in our island communities. For September we’re staying on the Orkney mainland, focusing on the capital of Kirkwall and the surrounding area.
A City and Royal Burgh, the old Viking port of Kirkwall is now the bustling heart of Orkney and home to more than 7,000 people. The town has grown greatly over recent years, expanding onto the hills to the east and west of the historic centre, and it has become a modern hub for business, commerce and enterprise.
Kirkwall has been Orkney’s capital since Norse times. Its name comes from ‘Kirkjuvagr’, meaning ‘Church of the bay’. It has changed much since those times, but take a walk through the flagstone streets, past St Magnus Cathedral to the harbour, and you can still sense the history of the place.
There is so much to see and do in Kirkwall it would be impossible to highlight it all here, plus half the fun is exploring on foot to uncover your own secrets.
Broad Street is a good place to start. The beautiful sandstone St Magnus Cathedral dominates the town and is a fantastic building to visit. The interior is full of intriguing artefacts from Kirkwall’s past and there are excellent tours of the upper levels of the Cathedral, which includes the chance to view the town from the bottom of the spire, available every Tuesday and Thursday. Don’t forget the Kirkyard surrounding the Cathedral too – it’s a quiet and peaceful part of the town.
Close-by you’ll see the remains of two old palaces. The Bishop’s Palace was built in the mid-12th Century, before work began on the Earl’s Palace in 1600. Both properties are run by Historic Environment Scotland and are fascinating places to visit, full of history and stories.
Back to Broad Street and the Orkney Museum occupies Tankerness House, an old town house in the centre of town. It is a real treasure-trove of artefacts telling the story of Orkney from the Neolithic, through the Picts and Norse rule, right up to the present day. Entry is free but be sure to schedule plenty of time to walk the halls of the old house – there is something eye-catching around every corner! Remember to take time to relax in Tankerness House Gardens, right behind the Museum, too – perfect for a spot of lunch.
The Kirk Green in front of St Magnus Cathedral is a great meeting place too. During the summer expect to see locals and visitors soaking up the sun, watching the town go about its daily business. In the centre you’ll see the Mercat Cross. Every Christmas and New Years Day, the Cross becomes the starting point for an ancient Kirkwall tradition – the Ba’. This huge game of street football sees men from two sides of the town – Uppies and Doonies – compete to bring a handmade leather ball to their respective goals. Games can last for hours and there are no rules – anything goes. It’s a spectacular sight, and it all gets underway from that Cross on the Kirk Green. A small plaque contains details of the game – get a taste of it for yourself with this short film…
There are other places to explore too. The Orkney Wireless Museum is full of radio and electronic items from Orkney’s past, along with an extensive wartime collection. The town is full of galleries too – the Custom House Gallery on Albert Street has regular exhibitions, as does For Arts Sake on Bridge Street.
For shoppers there is far more on offer in Kirkwall than souvenirs. The main shopping streets of Victoria Street, Broad Street, Albert Street and Bridge Street boast a wealth of independent stores, selling everything from high quality and handmade jewellery to local knitwear, textiles and fashions. There are also the high street shops you’d expect.
Food lovers will find that Kirkwall is the dream destination. The town centre is full of fantastic restaurants, cafes and hotels, all serving the very best local produce across their extensive menus. There are plenty of local shops offering the chance to get your hands on our quality food and drink products too. One stroll through the street and you’ll be able to buy fresh fish, beef and cheese as well as beer, whisky, wine and more – all made here in the islands. Find out more with the Orkney Food and Drink website.
Despite all the history, Kirkwall is still thriving city with world class facilities. A new Grammar School was recently built with sports pitches, fitness facilities and a community theatre. It complements the Pickaquoy Centre, Orkney’s main sports hub with pitches, a swimming pool, fitness classes, arena, squash courts and a modern cinema. The Centre also boasts a campsite and is a real focal point for local and visitors keen to get active.
The Orkney Library and Archive has achieved fame through its excellent Twitter feed, but it’s also full of interesting material on Orkney and its history, as well as an extensive collection of books, DVDs, and CDs. There is also internet access for anyone keen to get online. 4G has recently arrived in Kirkwall too with many parts of the town connected.
The beauty of Orkney is that you’re never far from a beach. Even in the heart of Kirkwall, that’s still the case. The area immediately surrounding the town is known as the parish of St Ola. Head south and you’ll come to Scapa beach, with the famous natural harbour of Scapa Flow expanding from its shore. Nearby is the Scapa Distillery, now open for tours and tastings. Don’t forget Highland Park Distillery either, the most northerly whisky distillery in the UK. Tours and tastings are available here too where you can hear about traditional techniques, and there is an extensive distillery shop too.
On the east side of the town you can discover Inganess bay, a beautiful beach with the remains of a wartime blockship rusting away in the shallows. There are also excellent signposted walks around the coast or back through marshland towards Scapa.
To the west lies Orkney Golf Club, an eighteen-hole course that features sweeping views over the town and Kirkwall Bay. Visitors are more than welcome at the Club – find out more from the official website.
Because of its proximity to both the north and south, Kirkwall has always been a transport hub. Kirkwall harbour hosts Orkney Ferries sailings to our North Isles and there is an excellent marina for visiting yachts and cruisers too.
Kirkwall also has Scotland’s largest deepwater berth at Hatston Pier, which is busy during the summer months with cruise ships. Throughout the year it is the port for Orkney’s ferry links with Shetland and Aberdeen.
The Travel Centre is the main bus station with routes stretching out across Orkney’s mainland. The building also hosts Visit Scotland’s Kirkwall Visitor Information Centre with helpful staff on hand to answer any queries from tourists.
If you’d like to visit Kirkwall you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney. If you’re interested in making a more permanent move to the town, search for your ideal home with our dedicated property feed.
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.