• The road towards Marwick Head, Orkney

September 2019 Newsletter

Find out all about life in Orkney this month.

Hello and welcome to the September newsletter from Orkney.com.

It feels like the summer has gone by in a flash! We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for some more sunshine in September before autumn returns. Read on to find out all about life in Orkney this month, including our events preview, hidden attraction focus and the work of another talented local photographer.

As always, we’d love to hear from you too - stay in touch on social media by following the links at the top of the page.

September's headlines

Foraging Fortnight comes to Orkney

Foraging for seaweed in Orkney

A brand-new festival comes to the islands this month. Foraging Fortnight is taking place across five different regions of Scotland in September, and the local element will be included as part of the annual Orkney International Science Festival. In Orkney, the programme includes foraging walks, food workshops and a look at the health and nutrition benefits of seaweed, with events planned until the 15th of September. Find out more via Orkney.com.

HBO documentary on the silver screen

EMEC's Neil Kermode being filmed by the documentary crew

A major documentary on climate change, featuring Orkney’s pioneering marine energy work, will be shown in the islands for the first time this month. HBO’s ‘Ice on Fire’, which was produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, includes Orkney’s Orbital Marine Power and the European Marine Energy Centre. It will be shown in Kirkwall on September 6 and in Stromness the following evening. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Skara Brae is unmissable!

Skara Brae, Orkney - image by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Skara Brae has always been one of Orkney's most popular attractions, now this ancient collection of stone-age dwellings could be set to attract a whole new generation of visitors, thanks to Lonely Planet. Orkney's Neolithic village is included in the travel guidebook brand’s new ultimate UK travel hitlist, which features 500 of the most unmissable experiences and hidden gems in the UK. Skara Brae has reached the lofty heights of 22nd on the list. Scapa Flow and its unique WWI wreck-diving has also made the cut, coming in at 312th.

New guide to Orkney’s finest food

Some of the delicious food and drink available in Orkney - image by Colin Keldie

The latest version of the ‘Peedie Orkney Foodies Guide’ is out now, full of information on the finest producers, restaurants and retailers to be found in the islands. The pocket-sized booklet features a number of Orkney Food & Drink members and highlights the incredible range of quality products available here. There are also sections showcasing the hotels, cafes, restaurants, shops and delicatessens where you can sample Orkney’s larder for yourself. Pick up your booklet at locations throughout Orkney, or download one from the Orkney Food & 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. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.

September in Orkney

The main months of the summer might be over but the Orkney calendar is still full of interesting activities.

In fact, September brings some of our most popular events. Things get underway with a blast right at the beginning of the month with the annual Orkney Rock Festival. Although it begins in August, you can still enjoy a whole day of live music on the 1st, with gigs in Helgi's, The Sound Archive and The Auld Motorhoose in Kirkwall. See the Orkney Live Wire Facebook page for more information.

The Orkney Rock Festival returns this August and September


Things return to a slightly more sedate pace with the Orkney International Science Festival. One of the main fixtures on the annual island schedule, the festival always features a unique programme, full of talks, workshops and hands-on events. Exploration, wildlife and adventure will be at the heart of things this time around, with it all taking place between the 5th and 11th of September. Visit the official website for ticket information.

The family day at the Orkney International Science Festival is always a favourite


Don’t miss the Orkney Vintage Club Rally on the 7th. Kirkwall’s Broad Street will be full of vintage cars, motorbikes, tractors and stationary engines as part of the festival, with some of Orkney Food & Drink’s members offering street food on the day too. Head along between 1pm and 4pm. As you read in the news, Foraging Fortnight will also make up part of the Science Festival programme. There are some really fascinating events planned so make sure you check out the official website to get involved.

The festival-fun doesn’t end there, though. The Orkney Blues Festival is back this September, with its usual weekend of live music between the 27th and 29th. Held in and around the bars and venues of Stromness, this year’s programme includes performances from Gregg Wright, Dave Arcari and First Foot Soldiers. Visit the festival’s website for more details.

Back to the start of the month now, and one of the summer’s most special activities comes to an end on the 1st. RSPB Orkney’s Eaglewatch in Hoy will host its last day, offering a final chance to glimpse the island’s white-tailed eagles and their new chick, which fledged in August. There are scopes available to see them and plenty of expert information available too. Stop off at the Dwarfie Stone car park between 11am and 4pm.

Eaglewatch in Hoy, with some spectacular island scenery


There’s another unique event on the 1st, this time in Westray. The island will host an open-air concert as part of its Westray Connections weekend, featuring live music from the Kirkwall City Pipe Band and plenty of other local acts. Take in the action at the school playing fields in Pierowall from 1pm.

The Orkney Aviation Festival gives fans of flight the chance to take part in a number of activities this month. There’s an illustrated talk in the King Street Halls on the 12th on Faroe Airways, Orkney’s first scheduled international air service. The festival also has a showing of ‘Airplane II: The Sequel’ at the Picky Centre at 7.30pm on the 13th, and another talk, titled ‘The First Flight Around the World – via Orphir’ in the King Street Halls on the 14th.

Doors Open Day returns this month, and in Orkney you can get the chance to visit some special locations on the 21st and 22nd. Stromness Museum, Deerness Distillery, Orkney Wireless Museum and the Orkney Fossil & Heritage Centre will be open on both days, with Kirkwall East Church, BBC Radio Orkney and the Orkney Museum welcoming visitors on the 21st. Find out more via the official website.

The Deerness Distillery will be taking part in Doors Open Day this month


If you want to explore Orkney’s Neolithic sites this September then guided walks are still available. The Rangers will be on hand at the Ring of Brodgar every weekday at 1pm until the 13th. From then, the tours will be available every Thursday at 1pm. You can also join the Rangers at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10am until the 13th. The walks will then be on offer every Wednesday at 10am.

There’s plenty to see at the cinema this month. The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘Ash is Purest White’ on the 21st at 7.45pm in the local Town Hall, with doors opening at 7.15pm. Meanwhile, the Pickaquoy Centre has showings of ‘Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw’, ‘Blinded by the Light’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’, amongst others, this month. See the full schedule on the Centre’s website.

The Pier Arts Centre is hosting ‘Beyond Landscape’ until the 9th of November. It also has ‘Then Now When’, a collection of items focusing on the life and legacy of Margaret Gardiner, on show. The Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope has ‘Holm Sweet Holm’ by Guiliana Criscuolo until the 21st. Meanwhile the Waterfront Gallery in Stromness is showing ‘An Orkney Mix’ until the 28th. You can also see ‘Shoreline Birds’, an exhibition by Adele Pound, at the Beach Gallery in Hoy until the end of the month.

Pay a visit to the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness this September


The Beach Gallery in Hoy also has ‘Fire and Ice: A Winter on North Ronaldsay’, a collection of photographs from Sue Mara, documenting her six-month stay in the island. It's on display until the 11th.

You can still see ‘Scapa 100 – Salvaging our Heritage: The Wrecks of Scapa Flow’ and ‘Living Wrecks: The Marine Life of Scapa Flow’ at Stromness Museum this month. The Orkney Museum’s ‘1919 – The Scuttling of the German Fleet’ is on display in September too.

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 our 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.

Wild Orkney

Join local wildlife cameraman and photographer Raymond Besant as he picks out some of his favourite 'Wild Orkney' highlights in September.

Most of the seabirds visiting our cliffs in order to breed like puffins and razorbills have long since gone back to sea for the winter. However, one of our most impressive seabirds - and a real success story - can still be seen through September, as the last of this year’s ‘chicks’ are fledged. I say chicks, but by the time this year’s gannets leave the nest, they are as big as the adults!

Young gannets are dark brown and gradually, over five or six years, they take on the white plumage and stunning yellow head of the adults. You’ll need to visit the impressive cliffs of Noup Head in Westray to see the last of this year’s seabird spectaculars. Park at the Lighthouse (taking notice of the sign that says ‘Dangerous Cliffs’!) and head south until you reach a small headland of black rocks that allows you to look back along the length of the cliffs for some fantastic views.

Gannet at Noup Head in Westray - image by Raymond Besant


This is a relatively new colony that started in 2003 but is now booming with over 1100 nests. The ‘guurrr-guurr-guurr’ call of hundreds of gannets above the crashing waves at this site is truly special. Look out for bonxies harassing the adults as they return to the cliffs to feed their chick, and the ever-present fulmars will check you out as you walk along the clifftop.

Luckily, gannets can also be seen along our coasts in smaller numbers during and autumn and winter. There are not many more impressive sights than one of these powerful birds falling from the sky, folding its wings at the last second and plunging into the sea in pursuit of prey. I love watching them on stormy days, in their brilliant white plumage they really stand out against the dark skies and raging seas. Head to the Brough of Birsay car park, Marwick Bay, Yesnaby and Hoxa Head in South Ronaldsay for sightings.

Gannet colony at Noup Head in Westray, Orkney - image by Raymond Besant


September is a month where our summer migrants are thinking about heading back to their winter haunts. One of my favourites is the wheatear. This small passerine is such a welcome sight as one of the first spring arrivals of the year, so it’s slightly bittersweet seeing them leave again, knowing the onset of winter isn't too far away.

They seem to like broken down old dykes or ramshackle bits of coastline and maritime heath, but at this time of year you can encounter them almost anywhere, sometimes flitting along the road in front of you on a coastal walk. The flash of its bright white rump is a tell-tale sign it’s a wheatear. The females lack the black ‘robbers mask’ that the male has but she is beautiful none the less, with a soft grey back and delicate peach breast.

Wheatear in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant


Of course, many of the wheatears seen now are migrants from further north, passing through Orkney on their way back to Africa. But for those of you with a keen eye, just look a little longer. You may be lucky to see a Greenland wheatear. At first glance it will look similar to our ‘ordinary’ wheatear, but the birds that breed in Iceland and Greenland are slightly bigger and have stronger, more uniformed colour. It’s almost like taking a picture of our wheatear and turning the vibrance and saturation all the way to max in Photoshop!

One of the most thrilling wildlife encounters in Orkney is spotting an otter. Elusive at the best of times, the trick when you find one is to use some fieldcraft to follow it for better views, or to get close enough to photograph it. September and October will see the appearance of new otter families in Orkney, the female having kept new cubs below the surface in safe holts during the summer months.

Otter spraint - a sign otters might be nearby. Image by Raymond Besant


Luckily for us, the mum will now have two or maybe three new hungry mouths to feed and needs to be out fishing a lot more to provide for them. The cubs are also less wary, often intent on playing and less aware of the dangers of their surroundings. Otters are widespread in Orkney and found in most of the islands as well as the mainland. They require freshwater to clean their fur on a daily basis so its relatively easy to find signs of their presence if you know where to look. Burn mouths are often good places to start - look at the rocks on the shore next to the burn and the likelihood is you’ll find an otter’s calling card; its poo, or spraint, as it’s known. Full of fish bones and often tarry or jelly like in appearance, this lets other otters know this is its territory.

If an otter sees you before you see it, don’t worry as all is not lost. Stay still, preferably below the horizon, and just watch. If it carries on feeding then you’re good to start again. Its eyesight isn't the best but it has an incredible sense of smell and this will give you away if the wind is behind you. Try to get into a position where you can follow the otter with the wind in your face, which is easier said than done sometimes. The holy grail is to get into position on the shore whilst the otter is coming ashore with a fish, all the while trying to remaining undetected!

Otter in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant


The adrenaline can peak and the encounter can be an exciting one, but try not to be tempted to chase or keep following the otter if you have been well and truly discovered!

The Brig O’Waithe is often productive, as is the Barn Hide on the Harray loch near the Standing Stones of Stenness. Otters are also regularly seen in the islands of Stronsay, Sanday and Eday.

Find out more about Raymond’s work via his official website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Focus on photography

September’s featured photographer is Carol Leslie, who spends much of her time focusing her lens around one of Orkney’s north isles.

My interest in photography grew after my first son was born in 2009. I bought a Lumix FZ45 bridge camera and started taking photos, mainly of my children and Orkney's landscapes and seascapes to begin with. My first DSLR was a Canon EOS 700D, quickly followed by a Nikon D750. I also started investing in lenses - my favourite is my 28-300mm, which is great for close-ups and zooming in without changing lenses.

Orkney is a very inspirational place to be out and about with a camera, There are photo opportunities everywhere, whatever your interests are, including beautiful scenery, wonderful wildlife and spectacular seas.

I have a few favourite haunts. My 'go to' place in Orkney to take photos is Westray, where I grew up. The Castle of Burrian is the best place in the islands to capture close-ups of puffins - sometimes you can almost be within touching distance of them! There are usually plenty of posing selkies at the Broughton jetty and Pierowall bay is perfect for amazing sunsets.

I always find myself drawn to rough seas and big waves with my camera too, although shooting in windy conditions can be tricky, so a good tripod is a must. Birsay and Orkney's west coast are good places for these kinds of seascapes on a windy day.

My photography has helped me launch a small business too. I create Orkney memorabilia with landscape and seascape images, as well as taking family portrait photos. You can find me on Facebook at @Carol Leslie Designs or online.

Explore hidden Orkney

This month’s hidden Orkney attraction is a ferry trip away, and well worth seeking out.

There’s something about jumping on a ferry that gives you a real feeling of exploration. Even though you’re heading to vibrant islands that have shops, scenery, sites to visit and much more, there is a sense of stepping into the unknown.

Eday sits at the centre of our north isles. It’s well known for its wonderful wildlife, its renewable energy – the European Marine Energy Centre’s tidal test site is just offshore – its miles of peat banks and its stunning scenery. But there’s also plenty of archaeological sites to find, and one in particular that should be on everyone’s list.

The entrance to Vinquoy Cairn in Eday


Walk up Vinquoy Hill and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Orkney’s north isles and Calf Sound. You’ll also find the Vinquoy Chambered Cairn, a Neolithic structure similar in style to Maeshowe, and other cairns dotted around the Orkney landscape.

Vinquoy is around three metres high and was first excavated in the mid-1850s. Open the gate and you’ll be greeted by an entrance passage (be prepared to get dirty knees!) leading to a central chamber, with four small side-cells leading off it.

The long, low, entrance passage to the heart of the cairn


The cairn differs to others in the islands as it’s made from red Eday sandstone, something the island is famous for. Its location also makes it special, with the view over Carrick House, the Red Head and Calf Sound beyond worthy of the walk alone.

Vinquoy is one of those island locations that gives you the chance to experience a site at its best – you’ll almost certainly be the only person there, giving you plenty of time to take it all in and relax before heading back to island life, and the ferry home.

Inside the atmospheric Vinquoy Chambered Cairn


See more of our hidden Orkney attractions via our interactive map.

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, Orkney.com and your Orkney experiences with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or E-mail.

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

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