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  • Orkney Folk Festival - image by Sean Purser

Festivals

Orkney is famed for its fabulous array of festivals.

They’re a key part of life here and give the local community a chance to join with visitors to celebrate all aspects of our rich island culture. These events are held throughout the year, changing with the seasons but remaining a constant in Orkney’s busy festival calendar.

The season traditionally kicks off in May with the Orkney Folk Festival, which brings four days of fantastic music and merriment to the streets and venues of Stromness. Performers from around the world travel here to be part of it, and often take to the stage with their Orcadian counterparts.

The Orkney Nature Festival is also held in May, showcasing the incredible range of nature and wildlife on offer across the islands. Events often include snorkelling safaris, photography workshops and nature cruises.

June brings the St Magnus International Festival, which features orchestras, operas, dance, theatre and more. This wide-ranging celebration of the arts is held during the long, lingering light of midsummer in Orkney, with performances organised across the islands.

Summer also hosts Stromness Shopping Week, one of Orkney’s longest established festivals, which attracts local folk and visitors to the town for a fun-filled week of community events. A unique newcomer to the scene, the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival, is held during the summer months too, with the aim of promoting and safeguarding the island’s native flock of seaweed-eating sheep. Visitors are encouraged to help rebuild the sheep dyke that encircles the island in exchange for a series of events and activities and the opportunity to become part of this special community, if only for a week or two.

As the summer slides into autumn, the week-long Orkney International Science Festival welcomes visitors and presenters from around the world for a series of talks, walks, exhibitions and more. September also brings plenty of entertainment for music fans, with the annual Blues and Rock Festivals usually held in venues across the islands.

The Orkney Storytelling Festival rounds things off in October as the days get shorter. Storytellers come together to celebrate the oral tradition and Orcadian folklore with a special weekend of performances.

As action-packed as all these events are, they’re positively sedate compared to some of Orkney’s festive traditions. The Ba’ is a mass street football game played on the flagstones of Kirkwall every Christmas and New Year’s Day, with games for both men and boys. Players are split into the uppies and doonies and battle for control of a handcrafted leather ball, with the ultimate aim of delivering it to their goal at either end of the town centre. It’s quite the spectacle, with its tradition rooted in Orkney’s medieval past.

Not to be outdone, Stromness also celebrates Hogmanay with a special event of its own. The Yule Log Pull has been revived over recent years and sees teams from the north and south ends of the town struggle to pull a large tree trunk through the town to their respective territories. Along with the junior event, you’re guaranteed an action-packed afternoon before the bells.