• Brough of Birsay, Orkney - image by Robbie Thomson

Looking back at an Orkney summer

As is always the case during an Orkney summer, you never quite know what the weather will throw at you.

But when the sun is shining and the cloud cover is just right, you're guaranteed to get some beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the chance to see our land and seascapes covered in colour.

Local photographer Robbie Thomson spent much of the summer months out and about with his camera and his drone, capturing some stunning scenery from across the Orkney mainland. Now, as we slide into autumn, it seems like the perfect time to ask him to share the story of his summer.

Skara Brae and the Bay of Skaill always offer something special to photograph, be it the waves lapping onto the beach or the light casting shadows over the historic settlement. Skara Brae itself is such a unique subject, inspiring intrigue about its past.

Marwick Head is one of the more spectacular places to fly a drone in Orkney. The wide-angle lens combined with the height over the towering cliffs perfectly demonstrates the scale of the dramatic coastline, whether you’re looking south to Skaill, Yesnaby and Hoy, or north along the leading line of the cliff tops onto the Brough of Birsay, with the Kitchener & HMS Hampshire memorials and the lighthouse as focal points.

Golden hour light near the summer solstice shines on the cliffs and casts shadows across the caves and cracks in the rock, creating a beautiful texture in a way that isn’t seen during the rest of the year. The light, along with the bold colours of the blue sea and green landscape, contrasted with the vibrant flowering sea pinks, helps create a magical scene.

It can certainly be a challenging place to fly a drone though. The wind rising over the huge cliffs can cause a strong updraft, and as with anywhere else in Orkney, care of course has to be taken to avoid disturbing ground-nesting birds and the seabirds nesting on the cliffs.

The geology varies greatly across Orkney, with a variety of bold colours and distinct textures from the red and yellow sandstone and blue limestone. When the sun sets during the summer it casts warm light along the coastline, and Yesnaby is a classic place to visit. You can watch the waves hitting the rocks at the Brough of Bigging, walk south along the cliff-top path to Yesnaby Castle and North Gaulton sea stacks, or head north to the Broch of Borwick. When the deep red sandstone meets the soft light it reflects a vibrant orange tone, showcasing the rugged coastline and how the sea has shaped it.

The Churchill Barriers and the surrounding area have a very different and more minimalist landscape compared to other areas in the islands. The barriers themselves are very unique which makes them an interesting subject to photograph.

Capturing them all together is rather difficult given the sheer scale of the structures and the distance between them, but you can get glimpses of them along with the surrounding blockships, showcasing the winding road that links the islands together and their historical significance on the edge of Scapa Flow. When vehicles pass you can see just how large the barriers are too.

The Brough of Birsay is a very interesting place to visit. Time your visit to coincide with low tide and cross the causeway, then you can explore the ancient settlement or look along the coast to the north isles from the lighthouse.

If I had one piece of advice for photographers in Orkney it would be to always have a Plan B in mind. The weather here can be very changeable so it’s best to have a few options in mind for places that suit certain conditions and times of day. Ordnance Survey maps are an excellent way of finding the hidden and lesser-seen spots across the islands.

See more of Robbie's images on Instagram.

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