Hello and welcome to the April newsletter from Orkney.com
This month we have plenty of features all focused on life in Orkney this spring. We have a news round-up, our wildlife highlights take centre stage and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney is included in our monthly area focus.
Open doors for hidden gem in Orkney
One of Orkney’s most popular tourist attractions has opened its doors early this year. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness has newly installed displays and interpretation boards with extra information on the Battle of Jutland and the sinking of HMS Hampshire. The centenary of both will be marked in Orkney this year. The museum at Lyness is a treasure trove of artefacts from Orkney’s wartime past and there is even a special trail to follow – make sure you pay it a visit before it closes again on the 31st of October.
Eclectic mix planned for landmark Festival
The St Magnus International Festival will be celebrating its fortieth birthday this year with its usual fantastic range of concerts, recitals and performances. This year’s programme will be launched on the 6th of April with highlights including a world premiere from the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and a visit from Stockholm Chamber Brass. The festival will be held across Orkney between the 16th and 26th of June. Find out more from the festival website.
Iconic poppies heading for St Magnus Cathedral
Final preparations are being made to transport thousands of ceramic poppies to Orkney as part of the latest installation of ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’. The display by artist Paul Cummins, presented by 14-18 NOW, will be unveiled at St Magnus Cathedral on the 22nd of April. The poppies will spill out from a window on the west side of the Cathedral to the Kirk Green below. It will be on show until the 12th of June as part of Orkney’s role in hosting the national commemoration of the Battle of Jutland. The poppies are from the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, originally shown at the Tower of London in 2014.
Get hands on with craft in Orkney
Come and get crafty this April with the very first Orkney Craft Festival. Titled ‘Laldie Haans’, the three day event will showcase some of the very best talent in the islands and further afield with tours, talks and workshops all planned. In total there are nearly fifty events across Orkney with subjects covered including knitting, origami, knot-work, Neolithic pottery, digital photography and much more. It will all get underway on the 29th of April - find out more via the Orkney Crafts Association website and from the Festival’s Facebook page.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Our April prize draw will see one lucky entrant win a bag full of delicious goodies from Orkney based Stockans Oatcakes. All you have to do is sign up to our mailing list and your name will be automatically entered into the draw.
April in Orkney
Now that the clocks have gone forward Orkney is basking in beautiful, bright mornings and longer evenings – perfect conditions to get out and about and enjoy everything the islands have to offer.
One of our very special wildlife attractions is back for another season. Hoy’s two sea eagles have returned for another nesting attempt after they failed to produce a chick last year. If successful this time around it will be the first sea eagle bred in Orkney for around 150 years. You can see the two young birds near their eyrie at the Dwarfie Hammars high above the Dwarfie Stone in Hoy over the coming weeks. RSPB staff members will be on hand at the small car park between 11am and 4pm every day to help you spot them. Find out more via our blog.
Get your green fingers warmed up for spring and help plant 746 trees near Kirkwall Grammar School on Saturday 2nd April. The Woodland Trust will be creating the new woodland to commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of HMS Hampshire in the First World War. Bring a spade, gloves and refreshments between 11am and 4pm.
Live music fans will have the chance to enjoy visitors from the north this month. Shetland band ‘Rack n Ruin’ are heading to Orkney with their brand of traditional Shetland tunes, outlaw country and Americana. You can see them in the Sands Hotel in Burray on the 8th, in the Royal Hotel in Stromness on the 9th and the Auld Motor Hoose in Kirkwall on the 10th.
One of Ireland’s most popular entertainers will be returning to Orkney this month too. Nathan Carter and his band will perform at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 16th of April – tickets are available from the Centre on 01856 879900.
If you’re interested in Orkney’s historical finds then a special talk from the Orkney Archaeology Society might be for you. Dr Natasha Ferguson will host the event, titled ‘Recent discoveries and old stories from the archive: Treasure Trove in Orkney’, on the 14th of April at Orkney College at 7.30pm.
How do you fancy taking a walk across some of Orkney’s finest beaches and helping our natural environment at the same time? The annual ‘Bag the Bruck’ week could be just the thing for you. ‘Bruck’ is an Orcadian word for rubbish and the event sees volunteers comb beaches throughout the islands removing litter and other materials from our shorelines. The 2016 event takes place between the 16th and 24th of April. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to discover how you can get involved. Find out more about beachcombing in Orkney from our blog.
Orkney’s festival season gets underway this month with the annual Orkney Jazz Festival. Head through to the Stromness Hotel between the 22nd and 25th to hear from local jazz musicians as well as visiting artists from across the UK.
A very special event is sure to get taste buds tingling in Kirkwall later this month. The Great Orcadian Bake Off will see bakers of all ages showcase their talents on the 23rd of April, in aid of Maggie’s Centre in Aberdeen. It’s the first in a series of events being organised by local lass Emily Findlay, aimed at raising funds for charities that have supported her during her six year battle against a rare form of cancer. Head along to the King Street Halls on the 23rd from two o’clock to see some of the creations, taste some samples and listen to live music. You can also follow The Great Orcadian Bake Off on Facebook.
If you’re still in the Easter spirit then take a trip to the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope this month. The spring exhibition features a range of original and innovative handmade Easter bonnets. It’s all in aid of Syria Relief UK and is open until the 26th of April.
There are other exhibitions on display across Orkney. ‘All Stitched Up’ by Mal Cowtan is in the Northlight Gallery in Stromness until the 7th, the Pier Arts Centre is showing ‘Kirk-yard, shore and ship – images of the trawler MV Norholmen’ until the 9th and businesses in Kirkwall are taking part in an Open Windows Art Exhibition between the 16th and 30th of April.
Cinema lovers have plenty of options this month. The Pickaquoy Centre will be showing its usual range of new releases, including action remake Point Break, children’s favourite ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ and the latest from the Coen brothers ‘Hail, Caesar’.
In Stromness, the West Side Cinema has showings of the BAFTA nominated short films and animations on the 2nd of April, including a Q+A with director Callum Rice. The Cinema will host ‘Aferim!’ on the 16th and Icelandic film ‘Rams’ on the 30th.
The Gable End Theatre in Hoy will be showing ‘The Dressmaker’ on the 8th of April and ‘Theeb’ on the 22nd. The Screen in the Square in St Margaret’s Hope has ‘He Named Me Malala’ on the 23rd at 8pm.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during April. 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.
Where to watch Orkney's wildlife
We’re taking a different view with our regular nature and wildlife updates in 2016. Instead of focusing on what you can see, we’re going to concentrate on where to go for the best outdoor experiences in Orkney.
Last week I took a walk along the Old Post Road in Hoy for the first time. It’s a rough track of about 3 miles that winds its way through part of our Hoy nature reserve, connecting Rackwick with a road that leads to the Moaness pier (about another 1.5 miles). Both the wildlife and scenery are fantastic, with the valley flanked by Orkney’s two highest hills, Ward Hill to the east and Cuilags to the west.
Within minutes of starting off from Rackwick I’d watched a hen harrier glide over the hillside and a peregrine dash past, and then a stonechat flew in to sing from a bush right next to me.
Shortly afterwards it’s possible to take a detour to explore Berriedale, Britain’s most northerly native woodland. Stands of native trees - downy birch, rowan, aspen, willow and a couple of hazels – will soon be home to nesting willow warblers, with reed buntings in the outlying willows too. In autumn it’s a great place for fungi.
Back on the Old Post Road, juniper bushes grow alongside the track at points – crush a couple of the needle-like leaves for a sniff of gin. Keep an eye out for mountain hares on the higher slopes – they’re easiest to spot in their white winter coats but they’re present all year round – and, in summer, for dragonflies and damselflies along the Rackwick Burn.
Sandy Loch, as the track nears the Moaness end of the valley, is a top bathing and loafing spot for up to a hundred bonxies in summer. It’s also a good place to see red-throated divers and the common sandpipers that return to Hoy after a winter in West Africa.
All in all, it’s a spectacular and varied area to explore! If you’re planning a trip, bear in mind the track is rough and remote and that the weather can deteriorate quickly in the hills.
You can visit Hoy via ferries from Houton or Stromness – find out more on the Orkney Ferries website. Hoy was also the featured area in last month’s newsletter. Combine your visit with a chance to see the island’s two sea eagles – find out more via our blog.
Local photographer documents Orkney life
Every month we ask a talented local photographer to share their experiences of taking images in Orkney. This April, keen amateur Bruce Flett has picked ten of his favourite photos of the islands.
I first got into photography at the end of the seventies when Orkney was the site of a seal cull. I wanted to make sure some of the events were recorded and this initially sparked my interest in press photography. I spent some time doing press and documentary shoots and I still do this kind of work from time to time.
My first camera was a Praktica MTL5 before I moved on to a Nikon FM2. It was a great camera to learn with and I’ve stuck with Nikon ever since. I currently used a Nikon D300.
I really enjoy hiking and the outdoors so I started taking the camera with me – this made me take an interest in landscape and nature photography and helped combine two of my interests. Getting out and about with the camera around the coast of Orkney has given me the chance to discover places I would never have found otherwise.
The one downside over recent years is the number of wind turbines Orkney has. I’m not against them but I do wish there was more control over the building of them as it’s hard to get a landscape show without one in it these days!
Despite that, Orkney has some wonderful places to photograph and the islands are steeped in history so there is no shortage of subjects.
At times the light is awesome. I’m a bit of an early bird and have a lot of early morning starts in the summer with my job and there is nothing better than getting a photo of an Orkney sunrise.
Stenness is the main attraction for history hunters
Our latest area focus takes a look at Stenness, a small parish in Orkney’s west mainland. It’s the location of some of our most spectacular and popular attractions.
Thousands of visitors head to the area every year to see part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, with stone circles, Neolithic tombs and ongoing excavations enthralling tourists from around the world.
For many the first stop is Tormiston Mill, next to the main road linking Kirkwall and Stromness. The Mill itself is an imposing building more than 130 years old. But it now doubles as the visitor centre for a slightly older structure.
Across the field your eye is drawn to an alien bump on the otherwise flat landscape. Maeshowe is a chambered tomb, intricately built five thousand years ago, now covered with grass and – on occasion – sheep!
It’s seen as the finest Neolithic tomb in north-west Europe and is a masterpiece of construction. Visitors head inside through a low, narrow passage which opens up into the awe-inspiring central chamber, featuring enormous stone slabs and three side cells. It really is a special experience with the modern day world outside suddenly feeling a long way away. Your tour guide will highlight some of the tomb’s modern additions, including the largest collection of runic writing outside Scandinavia, scrawled onto the walls of Maeshowe by Norsemen around a thousand years ago. It also has a role to play at midwinter – find out more via our blog.
The Neolithic attractions in Stenness don’t end there. Continue down the road past Tormiston and take a right turn to head into the very heart of Orkney’s historical landscape. On your right you’ll see the imposing Standing Stones of Stenness. The four surviving stones are thought to be part of the earliest henge monument in the UK and could be around 5,400 years old. Nearby you’ll also find the remains of an Orcadian Stone Age settlement at Barnhouse.
Head past the monumental Watch Stone, guarding the entrance to the Brodgar peninsula, and – if you’ve timed your trip to Orkney correctly – you’ll be greeted by a very special patch of land. During much of July and August the secrets of the Neolithic complex at the Ness of Brodgar are unveiled as teams of experts excavate one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the country.
The sprawling six acre site has unveiled fantastic finds and helped archaeologists understand more about Orkney’s ancient communities – read more via our latest blog to see how you can visit the site for yourself this summer.
A matter of metres up the road and you’ll arrive at the Ring of Brodgar, described by Historic Scotland as ‘one of the most spectacular prehistoric monuments in the British Isles’. Thirty-six stones are still standing today in a near-perfect circle more than 100 metres in diameter. Walk around the Ring to take in the sheer scale of the site – it’s an incredible experience.
There are daily guided tours of Maeshowe and walking tours of the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Barnhouse village weekly – find out more from the Visit Orkney website.
Stenness isn’t all about the World Heritage Site though – there are plenty of other attractions in the parish to keep you off the well trodden historical trail.
Instead of turning right at the turn off towards the Standing Stones and the Ring of Brodgar, head left up the Bigswell Road and you’ll find a real hidden gem in the middle of the Stenness countryside.
Happy Valley was a labour of love by local man Edwin Harrold. He spent years cultivating the small patch of woodland and his home, the stone cottage at Bankburn. After his death a group was launched to maintain the beauty spot and ensure that locals and visitors can continue to enjoy the enchanting site. There are trees, wild flowers, a burn, a small waterfall and short walks through the woods – find your own spot to sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet!
En-route to Happy Valley you’ll find one of Orkney’s talented jewellery makers. Stewart Moar was born and brought up in the islands and produces a wide range of Scottish, Celtic, Norse and contemporary pieces, all with an Orcadian influence. You can visit his studio and workshop throughout the week – find out more from the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Stenness also has a busy village with all the amenities you’d expect – and one you might not! During the summer folk are encouraged to try and tackle a ‘Stenness Monster’ ice cream cone at Gerri’s Ice Cream Parlour. It opens at the start of April and stocks a wide range of Orkney ice cream as well as teas, coffees and homebakes. It’s the perfect stop-off after a busy day enjoying all the Stenness sights!
If you want to base yourself in the heart of Orkney’s prehistoric landscape during your visit to the islands, there are plenty of accommodation options in Stenness. The Standing Stones Hotel sits on the banks of the Stenness Loch and offers rooms, food and an relaxed bar area. There are also plenty of self-catering premises nearby – search for accommodation via the Visit Orkney website.
Stenness is certainly a parish on the up with a vibrant school, community rooms and new housing being built in the local village. It also features a well-stocked shop with petrol pumps and a post office. If you want to make your stay in Stenness more permanent, search our property listings for your perfect home.
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.