Hello and welcome to the September newsletter from Orkney.com.
Summer seems to be flying past this year and soon autumn will be knocking at the door. Thankfully we’ve had some beautiful weather to soak up over the last few months, and with local businesses rising to the challenge, we’ve been able to enjoy something close to normality recently.
Remember, if you’re planning a visit to Orkney then take a look at our COVID-19 section. You’ll find all the details you need if you’re heading to the islands in 2020.
In the meantime, keep reading for more local information, ideas and inspiration.
Take to the waves in Orkney
One new Orkney business has been facing up to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic armed with a paddle and plenty of positivity. Kristian Cooper launched Sea Kayak 59° North earlier this summer, giving people the change to experience the islands from a different point of view. He has already spent days at sea, showcasing cliffs, caves, wrecks and wildlife to clients, providing a perfect change of pace that is just the tonic at the moment.
Fabulous festivals move online
Normally, the organisers of the Orkney International Science Festival would just be putting the finishing touches to another eclectic programme of events, ready to mark the move towards autumn in September. But this is the new normal and, ever the innovators, the Festival this year is moving online, bringing an exciting series of walks, talks and other island experiences to the wider world. It’s also joining forces with Foraging Fortnight once again, helping send even more Orkney-related inspiration into the comfort of your own home.
Shop Orkney online
Did you know that you can still buy some of Orkney’s finest food, drink and crafts from the comfort of your own home? Many members of Orkney’s talented creative community have made sure their products are available online, giving you the chance to experience the islands without setting foot on a ferry or flight. Take a look at our shop food & drink and shop crafts pages to find something special.
Find your own space
With hundreds of miles of coastline, physical distancing isn’t a problem in Orkney. If you’re visiting the islands and want to find your own space on a coastal walk, we’ve picked some of our favourite routes that are well worth seeking out. Spread across four islands and featuring sea stacks, lighthouses and wide-open spaces as far as the eye can see, our recommendations will let you soak up some of the best scenery Orkney has to offer.
Join us on Instagram
We’re still posting images from the islands on Instagram, so if you want to see more from Orkney make sure you follow us. We publish shots every week and you can join in too. Tag your own images and use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
Join local wildlife filmmaker Raymond Besant to experience wild Orkney as summer slowly slides towards autumn.
We might be heading into autumn but that doesn’t mean there’s no colour around, or that the colour we do have is already completely faded. I found a clump of Oysterplant at the fourth barrier beach on the last day of August and whilst the flowers have gone, the green/blue fleshy leaves are interesting in themselves.
Colour can be found in the form of the exquisitely shaped flower heads of the Devil’s-bit scabious. Its small, gentle violet flowerheads form a larger ‘puffball’ of a flower. Far from being ‘over’, there are some really profuse displays of this common flower at the moment. Check out the clifftop walk from Burwick northwards on the South Ronaldsay coast, though it can be found almost anywhere in Orkney in suitable conditions. Those include heathland, clifftops and the wetter areas of heather moorland.
The curious name of this flower is said to have arisen when the Devil, jealous of the plant’s healing abilities, bit off the root (it has a short root stock) to render it less effective.
The many flowers that have ‘gone over’ and are shedding their seeds are a real late season bonanza for those little birds we often find tricky to identify. They are all of a similar size and, squinting into the light as they fly off, their silhouettes all look the same! But, we can almost narrow down the list of birds likely to be found feeding on seed heads as they are likely to be small finches - with one exception.
Thistle heads and Perennial Sow-thistle are everywhere just now and I’ve seen linnet, twite, redpoll and goldfinch feeding on them recently. I recognised the goldfinch by its call before I saw it and it’s worth checking out the RSPB’s A-Z bird identifier online – it’s a great resource to start learning bird song. I’ll often point out something to my daughter whilst driving and she’ll say “that’s miles away, how do you know it’s that?” It’s good practice to get into the habit of learning the characteristics of a bird that can help in its identification, be it flight style or its call. Snipe can be hard to spot when they do their ‘drumming’ display but you know it’s one by the unmistakable noise of the wind rushing over its stiff tail feathers.
Goldfinches are becoming something of a success story; once a scarce bird in Orkney, it now breeds here and adds a little something more of the exotic with its splashes of bright plumage.
As for autumn, well, we can all feel it with the coolness of the air. For me this is no bad thing - I prefer cooler temperatures, especially when lugging heavy kit around. But the main advantage photographically at this time of year are the misty mornings, with the warmer water of the sea and moisture on the warmed land rising to meet the cooler air. This is the perfect time to photograph spider webs, but you do need to be up early. The silk is often laden with dew, like tiny jewels sparkling in the first light of the day.
Usually this would mean using a macro lens to bring out the details, but my tip would be to put on a long telephoto lens, anything between 200 & 500mm is perfect. The difficult aspect of bringing out the shape of the web isn’t the web itself but the background, which is likely to be cluttered with vegetation. The compressing nature of the telephoto lens will help in this regard, diffusing distracting background shapes with its shorter depth of field.
It’s really just a case of driving around at first light and trying to find some, but wherever you are, try and shoot towards the sun - backlit spider webs are so much more appealing shot this way!
Over the last decade or so our seabirds have taken a real hammering, with poor food supplies (primarily sand eels) driven by climate change having a huge impact on population numbers. However, many species this year seem to have done well, though this is of course in the context of much lower breeding numbers. One good news story to emerge over the summer is the news that gannets have set up home on one of our most spectacular seabird breeding cliffs, Marwick Head on the northwest corner of the Orkney mainland.
They have however made it difficult to get good views of them, given where they have set up home. If the colony in Westray is anything to go by though, they should expand year on year and hopefully soon we will have a thriving gannetry at Marwick Head, with their ‘gurring’ calls added to the cacophony of guillemot, kittiwake and fulmar.
For the moment though, Noup Head in Westray is still the place to go for the full gannetry experience. Chicks are almost the size of the adults now - dark brown and spotted, with small white flecks. You catch them through September before they head for a life of ocean wandering.
His new book, 'Naturally Orkney Volume 2' is out now, focusing on Orkney's coastline and all the sights and species that can be found there. You can order your copy online.
Focus on photography
Our featured Orkney photographer of the month is Rachel Eunson, someone who is keen to showcase hidden local locations and provide a difference perspective of the islands.
For me, Orkney has always been an amazing place to find creative inspiration. I was gifted my first digital camera for my 13th birthday I couldn’t have been more excited. I remember spending my whole summer holidays running around in Orkney’s countryside snapping photos of anything and everything I possibly could, exploring new places and constantly trying to improve my skills.
However, as the years passed, exams began to take up much of my spare time and I then left Orkney to go travelling, and so photography was put on the back burner.
When I finally returned to Orkney during the lockdown at the beginning of the year I, like many people, had quite a lot of spare time on my hands. During this time, I began to really appreciate all the small details of life in Orkney and this fuelled my motivation to pick up the camera once again and try to capture all the things I love most about this special place. In June I took the plunge and started a new Instagram page from scratch, I have really enjoyed interacting with the incredibly supportive and friendly community of photographers like myself who use the platform.
At the moment I’m using a Canon M50 with an 18-150mm - f/3.5-6.3 lens which I have found to be very versatile and ideal for a beginner who wants to broaden their skills. My favourite piece of kit however, is my DJI Mavic Air 2 drone which I feel has really taken my photographic capabilities to the next level (literally!). It has been absolutely fantastic to be able to use the drone to see so many familiar Orkney locations from a totally new perspective. Although as you may know, Orkney has a habit of being fairly windy, so waiting for the right conditions to fly in can occasionally take some time!
I feel very lucky to call Orkney home and its unique, rugged natural beauty continues to be a main source of inspiration for my work. I particularly love the variety of light that can be captured from the ever-changing weather and cloudscapes, especially in the winter!
I have always considered Orkney to be a photographer’s paradise. The abundance of wildlife, history and dramatic landscapes provide endless subjects to catch the eye. Whether you’re a beginner photographer, professional, or you just enjoy taking in the views, Orkney has so much to offer!
You can see more of Rachel’s photography on her Instagram page
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest newsletter. We hope it has brought a small slice of island life to your inbox.
Remember, if you’re planning to visit Orkney soon, please check our website for the latest travel, visitor and health information.
In the meantime, it's cheerio from Orkney for now.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.