Hello and welcome to the September newsletter from Orkney.com.
Memories of a stunning summer are sadly starting to fade but there is still lots to look forward to in the weeks to come. Keep reading to find out all about island life during September, including our events preview, wildlife watch and photos and features from across Orkney.
Remember, you can always take a look at the Visit Orkney website for extra information, and you can also follow us on social media.
Production begins at new Orkney Distillery
The new home of Kirkjuvagr Gin has officially opened its doors, creating a major new attraction on Kirkwall’s historic harbourfront. Orkney Distilling’s two-storey distillery and visitor centre features a gin and coffee bar, a retail outlet and events venue. Visitors can also take a tour to see the company’s three gins – Kirkjuvagr, Arkh-Angell and Harpa – being produced and to learn more about the process and stories behind the brand. Plan your visit via the official Orkney Distilling website.
Get your career online in Orkney
Orkney-based international software company Kyloe celebrated a significant milestone recently after opening its new base in the centre of Kirkwall. The business, which focuses on the recruitment industry, was launched three years ago and is in the midst of a rapid expansion to meet demand. It currently has clients from as far afield as the United States and New Zealand and is aiming to double its workforce in the coming months. Technology positions and other roles that are relatively unique to the islands are available – find out more from our blog.
Set a course for your own island paradise
Have you ever dreamt of owning your own island? How about buying two islands, or even three? If you’re interested then there is a property portfolio in Orkney that might be just the thing for you. The tiny, uninhabited islands of Faray, the Holm of Faray and Red Holm in Orkney’s north isles are all up for sale for a combined £200,000. They come with stunning sea views and big blue skies as standard. If you want to get away from it all then this might be your chance! Explore these islands for yourself with our special blog.
Low carbon future for Orkney
Orkney’s reputation for innovation in the energy sector is set to continue thanks to plans to launch a unique low carbon project in the islands. A grant of nearly £700,000 from the European Regional Development Fund will be used in Stromness to supply green power from local renewable energy for the NorthLink Ferries vessel MV Hamnavoe when it is in port. A new electric bus charger, electric vehicle charging points and new electric bicycles will also be installed for use by members of the public and visitors. Find out more on Orkney.com.
Successful summer for local food and drink producers
Orkney’s larder is full of awards after a season of success for some of our food and drink businesses. August saw five businesses, the Orkney Creamery, Orkney Craft Vinegar, Orkney Gin Company, Deerness Distillery and Donaldsons of Orkney, claim Great Taste 2018 awards. The Orkney Brewery’s Red MacGregor won gold in the Bitter Category at the Great British Beer Festival in London, and J.Gow Rum has made it to the shortlist in the Distilled Drinks category of the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards. Read more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.
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 on social media. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
September in Orkney
Think the Orkney calendar takes a rest as autumn approaches? Think again! There is a packed programme of events and activities for you to enjoy in the islands this month.
Get September underway in style with the Orkney Rock Festival, a celebration of the very best live and loud music! Visiting bands will join local acts in pubs and venues across Kirkwall between the 31st of August and the 2nd of September for the event, now in its fifth year. The majority of performances are free but there is also a ticket-only event in The Neuk, with live music from the early afternoon until the early morning! Find out more via the Orkney Live Wire Facebook page.
There is more live music planned towards the end of the month as the annual Orkney Blues Festival returns. Held in venues across Stromness between the 28th and 30th of September, the Festival sees local and national artists take to the stage, bringing the best of the blues to the islands. Visit the official website for more information.
One of the main events of the island calendar is also held in September. The Orkney International Science Festival is back with its unique programme of activities between the 6th and 12th of September. More than 70 events are planned, focusing on subjects as diverse as black holes to boatbuilding, and bubbles to Bach. Check out the official website to see the full programme.
There are always smaller events held across the islands as part of the Festival too. One of the most spectacular will see an amazing art installation by Luke Jerram on display in Stromness Academy between the 6th and 16th of September. The ‘Museum of the Moon’ measures seven metres in diameter and features 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface. It’s an incredible spectacle – visit the website to find out more! The opening times in Orkney will be Monday to Friday between 4pm and 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 7pm.
Broad Street in Kirkwall will be full of old cars, tractors, motorbikes and much more on Saturday 8th as part of the Science Festival, thanks to a special Orkney Vintage Club Rally. Join the fun between 1pm and 5pm when you can also get a taste of Orkney thanks to Orkney Food and Drink stalls on the street.
Also on the 8th, the West Side Cinema in Stromness has a special screening of ‘Moonwalk One: The Directors Cut’ as part of the Science Festival. The documentary was commissioned by NASA to cover the mission to the moon in 1969. This showing will be attended by producer Christopher Riley who will share his memories of working on the film. See it in the Stromness Town Hall at 7.45pm – doors open at 7.15pm.
Later in the month the West Side Cinema will be showing Oscar-nominated ‘Lady Bird’. It’s on in the Stromness Town Hall on Saturday 22nd with doors opening at 7.15pm. Find out more about all the events via the West Side Cinema Facebook page.
There will also be outdoor performances from Oceanallover as part of the Science Festival, bringing theatre, live music and sculptural costume design to proceedings. The performances are inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s landscape paintings and humankind’s relationship with mountains. See the show in Hoy on Friday 7th September at 6.15pm (the ferry leaves Stromness at 5.45pm and returns at 10pm), and in Stromness on Saturday 8th September for a walk up Brinkie’s Brae at 11am. There will also be a talk with Artistic Director Alex Rigg at Stromness Academy at 5pm on the 8th.
Back to the start of the month now and September brings your last chance to catch a glimpse of Orkney’s newly hatched white-tailed eagle chicks in Hoy. The duo fledged last month and RSPB Orkney’s ‘Eaglewatch’ will be on-site at the Dwarfie Stone car-park on the 1st and 2nd of September to help you spot them. Join them between 11am and 4pm.
There’s more music to enjoy early in the month with the debut Orkney performance of popular UK country act The Shires. Fresh from three Top 10 albums, the duo will be taking to the stage at the Pickaquoy Centre on Saturday 1st September. Tickets can be ordered at the Pickaquoy Centre on 01856 879900, with doors opening at 6.45pm for an 8pm start.
There’s also another Orcadian Summer Concert at The Reel in Kirkwall on Tuesday 4th September, featuring a variety of local musicians. It can be really busy so buy your tickets in advance if possible. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Find out more from the official website. Then, on the 8th, join Kirkwall City Pipe Band as they host a parade on Broad Street in Kirkwall from 7pm.
There are plenty of wildlife highlights to enjoy in September. There’s an Orkney Field Club walk on Saturday 15th that will look at how the wildlife has changed since the summer. Join the walkers at the Orkneyinga Saga Centre in Orphir at 10am – waterproof clothing and sturdy footwear is recommended, and you should bring a snack and a drink too.
If you’re feeling fit the you could also take part in the Great British Beach Clean on the same day. Join RSPB Scotland and Orkney Field Club members at Marwick Bay to give the beach a makeover between 2pm and 4pm.
The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has plenty to keep you entertained this month. Catch showings of films like ‘The Meg’ and ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’. Check out the full schedule via the website.
If you’re still interested in a guided tour in Orkney this month then there are a number of excellent options. Join the Historic Scotland World Heritage Site Rangers at the Standing Stones of Stenness on Wednesdays at 10am, and then at the Ring of Brodgar car-park on Thursdays at 1pm. On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can get a guided walk around the former Royal Navy base at Lyness in Hoy at 11am. Booking is recommended on 01856 791 300 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also get a behind the scenes look at the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 11am and 2pm. Book by phoning 01856 874 894.
There are a number of excellent exhibitions on this month too. You can see ‘It’s Not All About Hexagons’, an exhibition of quilts and wall hangings by Barbara Morrison, in the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 4th of September. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday between 10am and 5pm.
The Pier Arts Centre has ‘Margaret Tait Film & Poems’ and ‘Tam MacPhail & Paul MacPhail Sculpture and Photographs’ on display until the 8th. The Centre is open Monday to Saturday between 10.30am and 5pm. Staying in Stromness and the Northlight Gallery has ‘Kind of Blue’ by local potter Elaine Henderson until the 6th, and the Waterfront Gallery has ‘Orkney Mix’, a collection of Orkney-inspired craftwork and exhibits, until the 22nd. The town’s museum is showing its ‘Skara Brae Rediscovered’ exhibition until the end of October.
In Kirkwall, the Orkney Museum has ‘Tracing the Lines: Pots and People in the late Neolithic’ until the end of September.
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.
Orkney Wildlife Watch
Local wildlife enthusiast Alison Nimmo has been out and about enjoying everything wild Orkney has to offer – catch up on her latest blog to find out more.
Orkney’s otters keep a low profile – the county doesn’t have Shetland’s reputation for sightings - but these wonderful animals make their presence known in a number of ways. Once you’ve got your eye in you may find you’ve been crossing paths for years.
Near water is the best place to look, either around the coast or freshwater. Perhaps the most likely clue is otter droppings or ‘spraint’. Black when fresh, drying to grey, spraint is usually deposited in a prominent spot such as the top of a stone, where the scent acts as a territory marker for other otters.
The contents distinguish spraint from most bird droppings: packed full of prey remains such as fish bones, scales, tiny shells and crustaceans, they’re a fantastic record of what’s been on the menu lately. And if you’re still in any doubt, give it a sniff. Fresh spraint has a curious aroma, hard to pin down – fishy but slightly sweet, almost perfume-like according to some.
Otters are creatures of habit, so once you’ve found some spraint, keep an eye on the same area and you may well find it refreshed frequently.
Another sign to look out for is otter tracks. Adult prints are about 5-7 cm in width and perfect impressions display five toes, in contrast to the four toes of a dog. Claws and webbing may also show. Ground conditions can make a big difference though – the fifth toe may not always be apparent, and beware overlying prints. I’ll admit to being excited by a muddled dog track more than once. But if you find a clear five-toed print by itself in soft sand or mud, you know who’s passed that way recently – an added pleasure to any walk, though you may never meet in person.
(For children interested in a bit of outdoors detective work, a rewarding activity is to make plaster casts of any prints you can find, whether otter, dog or different bird species.)
As for spotting otters themselves…the truth is there’s usually a lot of luck involved. One place known for sightings is the Brig o’Waithe, just out of Stromness on the A965, where the Loch of Stenness meets the sea. But otters frequent many spots around the islands and I’ve always found the best way to pick up local otter-spotting tips is simply to ask around, particularly amongst those so familiar with regular early morning walks - dog owners!
Wildlife in focus for local photographer
Our featured photographer for September is Martin Lever, who has a keen eye for Orkney’s landscapes and abundant wildlife.
I moved to Orkney from Manchester in May of this year. My first camera was a gift, an old Russian Zenit 35mm film camera which I still use for portraiture commissions. I’m a trained ecologist by education so my love of the eco-systems, natural landscapes and wildlife is deep-rooted.
Moving to Orkney was an easy decision to make. I had become tired of urban living in Manchester and London. I like northern latitudes as they offer photographers both opportunities and challenges in equal measure.
Photographers are masters of light. I take inspiration from very simple compositions and the craft of manipulating a camera so that the camera sensor is a reflection both of the imagination and the subject.
I am a minimalist. I am naturally inspired by the curves and contours of the land, the seasons and the subtle variations and reflections that natural light and daylength present in Orkney. What strikes me most about Orkney is the unique character of each of the islands. I’ve visited eight islands to date with multiple trips to Hoy, Westray, North Ronaldsay and Papa Westray.
On the mainland I have been working intensively in the area between Stenness and the Ring of Brogdar on a project re-imagining the Neolithic landscape, represented through the seasons, wildlife, landscape and memory.
I have a passion for bird photography – simple, uncomplicated compositions. Moving to Orkney has given me access to a whole new world of seabirds and passage migrants. I am happy and grateful to be here and to use the camera sensor as a medium to artistically express what is around me.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we turn our attention to a hidden attraction in Orkney, somewhere that deserves that extra little bit of publicity. For September we’re heading to a hillside just outside Kirkwall.
Wideford Hill overlooks Kirkwall from its position a few miles to the west of the town. It’s always been a popular vantage point for locals and visitors, with stunning 360-degree views from the top. But on the western flank of the hill, as often happens in Orkney, you’ll find something a little different.
The Wideford Hill Chambered Cairn was built around 5000 years ago and can be reached by a trail that begins from a small car park before you turn off to the top of the hill. The scenery from the walk to the cairn is breathtaking, with views west over Finstown and the Bay of Firth, and out to Orkney’s north isles.
Once you reach the cairn itself you’ll find it’s a prime example of Neolithic construction in Orkney with a narrow entranceway, a high central chamber and three cells leading off from it. The tomb highlights the incredible building and architectural ability of these early island residents – it has walls up to 3m high and part of original roof is still in place.
It’s similar in style to Maeshowe and many other chambered cairns found across Orkney. Nowadays, though, it’s accessed by a hatch in the roof rather than the long and narrow passage at the front.
Inside, archaeologists have uncovered examples of Neolithic scratch art, similar to etchings found at Skara Brae and other locations.
In the distance you can see Cuween Cairn, and below the cairn to the south you’ll see evidence of archaeological excavations at Smerquoy, featuring the remains of a contemporary settlement. Could all three sites be part of a 5000-year-old society, with close links to each other? At the very least, it shows that ancient Orcadians probably didn’t live in isolation.
he trek back up the hill to the car-park can be tough on the legs, but remember to stop at regular intervals to soak up the scenery and think about your trip back in time before you get going again.
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.