September 2017 Newsletter

Hello and welcome to the September newsletter from

It has been another busy summer in the islands, and things aren’t about to slow down with autumn around the corner. Keep reading for the latest news, events, features and photographs from Orkney.

You can also find out more about the islands by taking a look at the and Visit Orkney websites, and follow us via social media.

September headlines

The covers are on at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney

It’s a wrap at the Ness of Brodgar

After another record-breaking season at the Ness of Brodgar, the Neolithic excavation is now under cover for the year once again. More visitors than ever before took in the incredible site over the summer, enjoying free tours and seeing hundreds of archaeologists in action. It was another important few weeks for the team, with new discoveries made and yet more of the sprawling site revealed. Watch our video from earlier in the season and start to plan your visit for 2018!

Callum and Fiona MacInnes from the Island Smokery

Orkney butter on the menu in Dubai

Butter from Orkney has reached dizzying new heights, being served up in the world’s tallest restaurant, within the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The hand-wrapped artisanal butter, produced by The Island Smokery, has been chosen by top chef Christopher Graham for use in the exclusive At.mosphere restaurant, situated on the 122nd floor of the 828m skyscraper. So far, 60kg of The Island Smokery’s Orkney Butter have been supplied to the restaurant, with more set to be sent in the coming months. Find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.

Leo Kerr from Kerr Carpentry

Focus on local carpentry business

Another talented local craftsperson has been the subject of our special ‘Business Focus’ feature. Leo Kerr from Burray-based Kerr Carpentry launched his business in late 2014 and has seen it go from strength to strength ever since. From hand-designed furniture to bespoke kitchens and property maintenance, Leo and has talented team can tackle it all. Read all about Kerr Carpentry at our special page, and explore some of our other featured businesses too. You can also watch Leo in action via our YouTube page.

Graveyard tales will feature as part of the 2017 Orkney Storytelling Festival

Experience the art of storytelling in Orkney

If you’re looking for something different to do during the autumn months then we have the perfect suggestion for you. The 2017 Orkney Storytelling Festival returns on the 26th of October - it’s a real celebration of oral tradition and one of the most keenly anticipated events in the islands’ calendar. The festival has a worldwide reputation and welcomes local, national and international storytellers to Orkney during its four days of events. Find out more via the Visit Orkney website and plan your trip now!

Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram

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!

Our September prize draw gives you the chance to win this beautiful Ring of Brodgar glass curve, handmade in Orkney by Carrie Paxton. Sign up to enter via

Sign up to win this beautiful glass curve by Carrie Paxton

September in Orkney

The local events calendar still has plenty of life left in it yet, despite the summer season beginning to draw to a close.

Things get underway with a bang right at the start of the month. The Orkney Rock Festival is back for its fourth year, and it’s safe to say it has become a well-established and incredibly popular part of the annual calendar.

A real mix of local and visiting bands will be performing for free across Kirkwall’s pubs between the 1st and 3rd of September, with an all-ticket event on Saturday afternoon until the early hours of Sunday morning. The ticketed event is for 12 & overs, with under 12s going free. Tickets cost £15 and can be bought from Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness and The Orcadian Bookshop in Kirkwall. You can also buy them online via the We Got Tickets website.

The 4th Orkney Rock Festival gets underway across Kirkwall at the start of September

Find out more about the event and see the full running order via the Orkney Live Wire Facebook page.

At a slightly more sedate pace, but no less entertaining, the UHI Archaeology Institute is hosting a number of events as part of the Magnus 900 celebrations this month. The ‘Mapping Magnus’ programme includes plenty of activities, including research, surveying, and excavations.

Join in by helping research the history and archaeology of Birsay in the Orkney Library on the 1st and 2nd of September between 10am and 3pm. On the 6th, 7th and 8th of September you can help record eroding sites on the Birsay coast every day between 10am and 3pm.

Take part in some of the UHI Archaeology Institute 'Mapping Magnus' events this month

Then between the 25th of September and the 6th of October you can take part in excavations in Palace Village in Birsay. Learn survey techniques and map features relating to the Magnus story, again between 10am and 3pm every day. It’s a month of unique opportunities to combine history and archaeology, and one of Orkney’s most famous figures.

Email or phone 01856 569229 to book any of the events above. For more information on all the Mapping Magnus events visit the UHI Archaeology Institute website.

Another local festival gets underway on the 7th of September. The Orkney International Science Festival is back, celebrating its 27th birthday, with its usual mix of activities, events and talks. This year the theme is the sea, with topics ranging from ancient Norse navigation to tidal power. The always popular Family Day on the 9th of September gives young folk the chance to get hands on with science too – it’s at the King Street Halls in Kirkwall between 10am and 4pm. See the full programme via the official Orkney International Science Festival website.

September’s festival offering comes to a close with the Orkney Blues Festival between the 15th and 17th. The bars and venues throughout Stromness will host performances from local and visiting acts, with a grand finale at the Stromness Hotel rounding everything off. Visit the Orkney Blues Festival website for more details.

There are plenty of other events and activities to keep you occupied across Orkney this month. The local Vintage Club will have a display of machinery and vehicles on Broad Street on Saturday 9th of September.

If you’re looking for tours you can still take advantage of free guided walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. They’re free and there is no need to book. Visit the Upper Levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2pm – phone 01856 874894 to book your place. Guided tours of the former Royal Navy base at Lyness in Hoy are also available – they get underway at 11am every Wednesday until the end of October.

Take a guided tour of the Standing Stones of Stenness

If you can’t wait until the Orkney Storytelling Festival in October, why not head along to ‘Island Tales and Ales’ in the Stromness Hotel? Enjoy an evening of island folklore and legends with a complimentary Orkney drink every Wednesday and Sunday at 8pm until the end of the month. Phone 01856 841 207 to book.

See work from artists across the islands this month at a number of local exhibitions. The Northlight Gallery has ‘Borders’, woven tapestries from the British Tapestries Group, on display until the 6th of September between 10am and 5pm.

Find the Northlight Gallery in the heart of Stromness

Two other exhibitions run until the 16th of September. ‘Conversations with Magic Stones’, ‘Portrait of Stromness’ and ‘Our Town – My Place’ both finish in the Pier Arts Centre this month. Meanwhile ‘Portrait of Stromness’ in the Stromness Museum closes on the 16th too. The Stromness Museum’s ‘Stromness 200’ exhibition will remain open until the 31st of October.

The Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope is hosting ‘Sea, Weed and Wool’ by Teresa Probert until the 26th of September, with the nearby Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray showing ‘Changing Places, Changing Faces’ – display and photos about the Burray Harvest Home Song – until the end of the month.

There are a number of choices for cinema fans this month. The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual selection of films, including ‘The Emoji Movie’ and ‘The Dark Tower’. The cinema also hosts regular National Theatre Live and Royal Opera House performances.

In Stromness, the West Side Cinema is showing ‘On the Trail of the Far Fur Country’ on the 23rd at 7.45pm.

Take in the Pigeon Detectives performance in Orkney this month

Why not round the month off in style with a visit to Orkney’s newest venue, the Sound Archive at the Old Library in Kirkwall, for a concert by UK band The Pigeon Detectives. Doors open at 7.30pm on the 30th – tickets are available from Grooves on Laing Street in Kirkwall or via the Beyond Highlands website.

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

Local wildlife expert Alison Nimmo visits a different part of Orkney every month to explore its natural highlights. Find out where she has been this time.

I love to look out over Scapa Flow from the Hobbister cliffs, perhaps most of all at this time of year when the colours of the moorland and the changing quality of light speak of autumn. That may bring mixed feelings – personally I wouldn’t say no to another month or two of summer - but deep down I know I always look forward to hearing the first flock of pink-footed geese flying over.

The view down Hobbister brae in Orkney

The RSPB Hobbister nature reserve offers a fine circular walk taking in these views, starting at either the RSPB-signed car park or at Waulkmill Bay. It’s a rough path, so wellies recommended when it’s been wet. Enjoy the pinks and purples of the heathers, lasting well into September, and the purplish, late-flowering devil’s-bit scabious.

Black guillemots can be spotted at Hobbister - image by Antonella Papa

The 30m cliffs give a grandstand view of the Flow. Red-throated divers and black guillemots or tysties, soon to be in their winter plumage, fish here alongside the ever-present shags. As the weeks wear on, great northern divers and long-tailed ducks will return from northern breeding grounds to join them, and this is known as a good place for spotting Slavonian grebe in winter too.

Fulmars are still frequenting these cliffs where they so recently raised chicks, riding the updrafts effortlessly or skimming alongside this section of the walk. I’ve sometimes been lucky in witnessing a peregrine sweep past here – fleeting encounters, but ones that linger in the memory.

An Orkney fulmar soaring on the updrafts

Inland, stonechats announce their presence in the scrubby areas with a noise like two stones knocking together (hence their name) and it’s worth keeping an eye out for a short-eared owl or hen harrier hunting over the moorland.

Finally Waulkmill Bay, with its beautiful beach and saltmarsh, really deserves a description of its own – but it’s one of the prettiest beaches around and rewards the steep walk down from the cliffs.

The stunning shallow sands of Waulkmill beach

A decade of documenting island life

September’s featured photographer is David Bailey, a Westray resident who came to Orkney a decade ago before falling in love with island life.

Taking photographs is my way of talking about the world around me. I’ve never felt like an articulate person so the images I create are my way of saying what I need to in a way that words fail me. Other people need to talk: I need to take photographs. Without a camera or a sketchpad I feel like I’ve taken a vow of silence. How can I say what I’m thinking or feeling if I don’t have a camera?

Westray Regatta day - image by David Bailey

I came to Orkney for four days’ work for NHS Orkney ten years ago and immediately hated the place. I saw an ugly, featureless, windswept, industrial farming landscape without trees or redeeming features. Then I met the people and realised it was the best place I had ever been. After a few days acclimatisation, I began to understand the magic of the landscape and appreciate the liberation that comes from such wide horizons. Your whole life is transformed when you look around you and see the weather, the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life. It was when I began to understand how to photograph the Orkney landscape that I fell in love with it.

Shags on the cliffs in Westray - image by David Bailey

I recently got a telephoto lens and took up bird photography. Puffins fascinate me. They are an endangered species and at risk of global extinction because of global warming. I want everyone to feel how serious that is and take action to live different lives so we protect them and the rest of the natural world. I hope my photographs will help raise peoples' consciousness.

Puffins in Westray - image by David Bailey

I spend as much time as I can on Westray, cycling, taking photographs, eating fresh fish and blogging about my experiences at I’m acutely aware of how ridiculous life is and how precious the natural world is, so my blog is full of photographs and stories of tiny Orkney adventures. It would be a pleasure to have your company on the journey.

Keep up to date with David’s blog at the Hall of Einar website. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Explore uncovered Orkney

Every month we turn our attention to an ‘off the beaten track’ part of Orkney. For September we head to Westray and one of the most unique castles to be found in the north of Scotland.

Westray is an island full of attractions, with beautiful beaches, a puffin hotspot during the summer and a stunning lighthouse sitting on top of impressive sea-cliffs.

But Noltland Castle is another gem that it has to offer, and is well worth a visit when you’re island hopping. The imposing structure was built during the 16th century by Gilbert Balfour, a Fife man with links to a turbulent time of Scottish history. He was a Master of Mary Queen of Scots household, and sought refuge in Westray following her arrest in 1567.

The imposing Noltland Castle in Westray

Noltland Castle is the definition of a stronghold. The unfinished building follows the traditional ‘Z’ plan layout and features an oblong central block with two opposed square corner towers. It’s also heavily fortified, with 7ft thick stone walls and no less than 71 gun holes. Its position above Pierowall Bay would also have given those inside the building the perfect view of any potential attackers.

The Castle has an excellent vantage point, and 71 gun holes built into its walls

The Castle stretches to four storeys in places, and includes a hall, storerooms, a huge kitchen and a grand staircase, added during a later phase of the building’s life.

Orkney isn’t a place with too many castles, making Noltland a unique building to visit. It’s a chance to explore Scottish history as well as tales of Orkney’s Earls. Add to that the opportunity to explore Westray further, and Noltland Castle should be on everyone’s island list.

Inside Noltland Castle, a fascinating building to explore

Noltland Castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland – find out more about visiting via the official website.

Find out more about Westray via the Visit Orkney website and our own dedicated page.

And finally...

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.

We’re always keen to hear from you too - share your news, views and comments on the newsletter, and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

In the meantime, it’s cheerio from Orkney, for now. Newsletter

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