Hello and welcome to the April newsletter from Orkney.com.
Spring is here and we’ve got plenty of photos and features focused on things to do across the islands in the coming months. There’s a look at the Orkney events calendar and you can find out about our new prize draw too.
Explore Orkney this spring
Spring is a brilliant time to visit Orkney. The islands come alive again after the winter months, with longer days and colour beginning to creep back into the countryside. We’ve put together a short film focusing on some of our favourite things to do in Orkney in the coming months – take a look below and read our special blog.
Nature Festival plans begin to take shape
If you’re a wildlife fan then a trip to the islands for the Orkney Nature Festival might be the perfect thing for you. The event, to be held between the 15th and 21st of May, is now in its fifth year and showcases the very best of wild Orkney. Expect snorkelling safaris, photography workshops, walks, talks and the famous festival wildlife cruise around the cliffs of Hoy too. The full programme will be launched soon – keep your eye on the official website and the Visit Orkney events calendar for more details.
Focus on food and drink
It has been a busy few weeks for Orkney’s food and drink sector. Six local companies represented the islands at the International Food and Drink Event 2017 in London recently, promoting their products to new customers and markets. Meanwhile, the Swannay Brewery claimed a number of awards at two prestigious brewing events, and Orkney Food and Drink gained a new member too. The Orkney Roastery is the first coffee micro-roastery in the islands and will be producing whole bean, cafetiere and espresso grinds from its base in Kirkwall. Watch our short Business Focus video for more.
Celebrate Orkney’s saint in 2017
The story of St Magnus is an important part of Orcadian history and 2017 will see a series of special events celebrate his life. This year is the 900th anniversary of his martyrdom and a programme of cultural activities has been put together to mark the occasion. Art installations, performances, the 2nd St Magnus Marathon and the launch of a new walking route – the St Magnus Way – will all form part of the commemorations. It will also be the main theme of the 2017 St Magnus International Festival too. Find out more about the Magnus 900 events from the Visit Orkney website.
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram to see some beautiful images of the islands. We share 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.
Win prizes from Orkney!
Win a box of delicious flavoured butter from the Orkney based Island Smokery. Sign up to enter via Orkney.com. [now closed]
April in Orkney
Dive into spring in Orkney as we take a look at our busy events calendar for the coming weeks. Find out what’s happening across the islands this April.
Spring is a perfect time to get out and about in Orkney. Now that the clocks have gone forward we can enjoy longer days – just the thing for cramming in all the activities on offer in Orkney over the next few months.
The main event in April sees the launch of the Magnus 900 commemorations. The year-long programme will celebrate St Magnus, bringing his story to life for visitors and future generations. It all gets underway with a dramatic re-enactment of his martyrdom in Egilsay on the 15th of April.
Also on the 15th, new artwork will be unveiled in the St Magnus Church in Birsay, with a newly commissioned St Magnus Foy to be performed in the Birsay Hall, rounded off with a traditional Orkney supper and music.
On Easter Sunday the St Magnus Way will be officially launched. It follows the 51 mile route St Magnus’s body took 900 years ago, with the launch day giving people the chance to walk a short 4.4 mile leg of the journey. Easter Monday will see the full first leg of the Way launched, from the Broch of Gurness to Birsay, along with ‘The Inspiration of Magnus’, a special visual arts, music and literature programme, in the St Magnus Church.
Find out more about all the events and what else is happening throughout the year via the official Magnus 900 website.
April also sees the official launch of the 2017 Orkney Craft Trail. Explore the islands by visiting some of our most talented arts and crafts producers and watch them create beautiful jewellery, furniture and artwork. The trail is a great way to see Orkney, with a friendly face guaranteed at all the stops. Find out more from the Orkney Crafts Association website, which will host the new map when it’s published later this month.
Take a closer look at Orkney's wartime history with a guided walk around the former Royal Naval Base at Lyness. Tours from the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum being again on Tuesday 4th April at 11am. Follow the wartime trail to experience what the sprawling site would have been like more than seventy years ago. The tour costs £5 and booking is advisable – phone 01856 791 300 for more details.
Also on the 4th of April, regular Orkney.com contributor Richard Clubley will be signing copies of his new book, 'Orkney: A Special Place' in Stromness Books & Prints. Head along between 1pm and 3pm to meet Richard and browse the fantastic selection available at the bookshop too.
April also sees the doors at a number of historical sites across Orkney open once again. Several Historic Environment Scotland properties operate on a seasonal basis, so from April you can visit the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces in Kirkwall, the Broch of Gurness in Evie and the Hackness Martello Tower and Battery in Hoy. They’re all fantastic sites to explore so get out and about this spring!
Onto some of the other events taking place this month now. The Kirkwall BID team marks the changing of the seasons with its Spring Fling on April 1st, featuring plenty of Easter activities throughout the town. Through in Stromness there will be a ‘Super Saturday Shopping Event’, celebrating more than 200 years of trade with Hudson’s Bay in Canada. The event will see local shops open and other activities held, coinciding with the launch of the summer exhibition at the Stromness Museum, ‘Per Mare: Stromness 200 years as a Burgh of Barony’.
Kirkwall’s King Street Halls will be home to a special concert on the 5th of April. Canadian singer/songwriter Devon Sproule will be performing as part of her UK tour, supported by local favourites Saltfishforty, who will be playing tunes from their new album ‘Bere’. Tickets cost £15 and are available from Grooves in Kirkwall or online. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.
Shetland party band ‘Rack & Ruin’ will be playing two gigs in Orkney this month as well. Catch their lively performances at the Royal Hotel in Stromness on the 8th and in the Auld Motorhoose in Kirkwall on the 9th. Staying with music and the Orkney Jazz Festival returns to Stromness later this month. See local musicians as well as visiting acts at the Stromness Hotel between the 21st and 23rd of April.
Help raise money for charity by buying a ticket for the Big Fat Orkney Quiz of The Year on the 8th. Expect lots of laughs and music at the Orkney Theatre - doors open at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm start and tickets are available from Scholes on Albert Street & at the Pickaquoy Centre, Kirkwall, JS Allan's in Stromness and the Dounby Post Office.
The Pickaquoy Centre will be hosting the popular Irish musician Nathan Carter once again on the 22nd. Expect a variety of country, Irish and pop songs, as well as some ballads. Get your tickets from the Centre on 01856 879900.
Meanwhile the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness will be showing ‘Endeavour – A Creative Collaboration’. It brings together work developed as part of a joint project involving South African artist Neville Gabie, the Centre’s Piergroup and students from Orkney College UHI’s Art and Design Department. It’s open until the 17th of April.
You can still catch ‘Sun and Snowdrops – Linocuts’, an exhibition by Kay Driver, at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope too. It’s open until the 18th.
Catch one of the UK's most unique performers at Stromness Town Hall on Friday 14th. John Shuttleworth with be performing as part of his 'My Last Will and Tasty Mint' UK Tour at 7:30pm. Advance tickets are available from Kirkness and Gorie in Kirkwall & Stromness Books & Prints. Unreserved balcony tickets are available at the door.
The RSPB has a special event planned on the 15th. Head along to the Rendall Community Centre at 9.30am and head to the Birsay Moors reserve to see Orkney's hen harriers sky dancing. Book your place with Graham and Kathie Brown on 01856 841 390.
The pace will quicken slightly at the end of the month with the 2017 Orkney Rugby Sevens tournament. It has become a mainstay of the Orkney events calendar, with visiting teams from south taking on a collection of local squads at the Pickaquoy playing fields. The main tournament always attracts some very talented players and will be held on the 29th of April, with refreshments available all day and a dance at night. Sunday sees a hockey competition with another dance at night – perfect for celebrating the bank holiday weekend!
The Pickaquoy Centre will be the place to be for wrestling fans on the 29th too as Caithness Pro Wrestling comes to the islands. ‘Invasion’ sees some of Scotland’s top wrestlers descend on the Centre for a fun night of action. Tickets can be bought from the Picky Centre or buy phoning 01856 879900. Find out more from the Caithness Pro Wrestling Facebook page.
‘Next of Kin’, a travelling exhibition from National Museums Scotland of items kept by families of those serving during WWI, is open at the Orkney Museum until the 28th of May.
There is plenty to keep cinema-goers happy this month. The Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre will be showing films including Beauty and the Beast and John Wick: Chapter 2. There are also live broadcasts from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House too. See the full schedule via the Pickaquoy Centre website. In Stromness, the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘Paterson’ on the 8th and ‘Cameraperson’ on the 22nd at the Stromness Town Hall too. Find out more from the official Facebook page.
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
Every month we explore a new wildlife location in Orkney, perfect for catching up with nature all year round. Join Alison Nimmo from the local branch of the RSPB to find out where we are in April.
I’ve saved writing about Trumland until now as the next few months see the reserve at its very best. Its steep slopes may have you pausing to rest your legs but keep going, it’s worth it! The hilltop trail takes in some of Orkney’s most spectacular views, with sublime birdsong in spring including bubbling curlews, skylarks and the occasional cuckoo calling.
Knitchen Hill, at 227m, commands a panorama over almost all the surrounding islands. Look north on a clear day and you might even glimpse Fair Isle. An exposed ridge, scattered with small patches of Arctic bearberry, leads to the slightly higher Blotchnie Fiold. Here the views stretch far away to the west, including two of Rousay’s lochans, Muckle Water and Peerie Water.
These slopes are an excellent vantage point from which to enjoy the activity of different raptors. Kestrels hover, merlins zip past and short-eared owls glide silently over the hillside hunting Orkney voles. April in particular is the prime time for watching hen harriers ‘sky dance’, rising and plunging through the air to attract a mate. The female birds then nestle into patches of deep heather to lay eggs, their streaky brown backs providing good camouflage. Keep an ear out for the guttural screeching of peregrines too.
As spring turns into summer you might pick up the deep ‘gok-gok-gok’ call of a red-throated diver flying from its breeding lochan to the sea to fish, or the faint, mournful whistle of golden plovers repeating on still days. Although easily overlooked, these birds have stunning golden backs and black bellies during the breeding season – look out for them running in short bursts over open areas as they search for worms, beetles, berries and seeds.
Interesting plants grow in the boggy, nutrient-poor soil. Butterworts, for example, have evolved sticky leaves to trap and digest insects to supplement their diet, and the bogs themselves couldn’t exist without sphagnum mosses that form a living carpet able to hold eight times its own weight in water. Golden bog asphodel and bright white cottongrass brighten wet areas in summer, while the foot of the Trumland trail passes through a sea of gorse – prickly, but always worth sniffing for that magical aroma of coconut.
Find out more about the RSPB Trumland reserve via the RSPB website.
Orkney inspiration for ex-pat photographer
April’s photography focus turns to an exiled Orcadian. Ewan Dunsmuir lives in New Zealand now but trips back to the islands continue to inspire him.
An Orcadian brought up in Stromness, my photographic journey started at 16 when I bought my first camera, a 35mm Praktica MTL5B, complete with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lenses. It took me some years to realise the significance of this brand!
Prior to moving to Australia in 1989, I studied photography in college which 'formalised' my casual interest. I then began a business in Melbourne, entitled EOS photography (EOS for Ewan, Orkney, Scotland) and went onto form a business relationship with Canon to utilise their EOS equipment.
I worked professionally upon returning to Scotland, where I qualified with the Royal Photographic Society of London' (LRPS).
I have worked through various cameras, ending up with Hasselblad and 645 Medium Format, where I took several 'Society events' and a Royal Wedding. I also completed two exhibitions for Lady Judy and Sir David Steel, comprising black and white portraits of well known subjects, which both featured on Scottish Television (STV).
I then moved to New Zealand with a young family in 2004 and finally succumbed to the digital age, trading my Medium Format equipment for a Canon EOS DSLR-C and a version of Adobe Photoshop - what had the world come to?!
More recently, I decided to get serious about my photography again, sold a kidney, a few teeth, and the bottom half of my left leg - and bought a Digital Medium Format set up, which allows me to capture 200 megapixels in a single image. This has slowed my workflow down which I'm really enjoying. Aperture priority and autofocus are both dead to me (for now at least), and I have gone back to basics.....manual, manual, manual.
What this has also done however is re-energise the reason I got into photography in the first place. This slowed down process makes me more observant and vigilant of my surroundings, as it takes so darn long to do the maths and the set up. But every day I take the camera out makes me realise just how beautiful this planet is - the colours, the light quality, the mood, the drama! Despite the challenges with mathematics with manually 'metering to the right'/ND reductions and 'hyperfocal' distance calculations, the process and the results are often very rewarding!
On my travels, the most spectacular thing I have ever witnessed was a sunset at Mount Ruapehu, NZ. It took an hour to build and compose itself, and 1/6th of a second to take!
Sometimes, you create your own luck!
Orkney too, is one of these places in which the light quality is almost unmatched anywhere else in the world, and the colour palette in the skies above Orkney are absolutely unique. It took years, as well as a move away 'south', to realise just how special the islands are and just how good the canvas is for taking 'snaps' or for creating more formal works.
Whilst New Zealand is a stunning playground, and one which I am very lucky to enjoy, such is the pull of the islands, I yearn for a more permanent move back to these windswept shores.
I have just completed building an e-commerce website to display and sell my work, as well as a social media profile which will allow me to do VLOG tutorials on YouTube about how I take my photos and post process them. Watch out for my channel, coming soon.
I’m also keen to fly the Orkney flag as high as I can and I have just secured the services of Martin Findlay's Photo Shop in Kirkwall to do all my large format 330DPi printing, wherever in the world they end up - and they shall all be proudly advertised as "printed in the Orkney Islands"!
I try to provide 'The highest quality images possible, of special moments in time'. I'll let you be the judge. Orkney is what makes me, me. It is what makes us, who we are. Orkney - I am humbled.
Explore uncovered Orkney
We continue our look at some of Orkney’s ‘off the beaten track’ attractions with a trip back in time to an old island farmhouse. Find out more about this month’s fascinating site.
In Orkney, much of the historical focus is on the Neolithic and our Viking heritage. But there are plenty of sites that provide a glimpse into more recent history in the islands, and they are no less fascinating.
A visit to the Kirbuster Farm Museum in Birsay should make it onto the ‘must see’ list of any visitor to Orkney. Opened in 1986, it showcases how life on a traditional Orkney farm would have been in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, with peat smoke filling the stone building as shafts of light stream in from small nooks and crannies.
It’s also the last un-restored example of a traditional ‘firehoose’ in Northern Europe – the house is built around a central hearth, with a stone neuk bed that is very similar to the ones found in places like Skara Brae.
What makes Kirbuster unique is the fact that it was occupied until the 1960s. It was the home of the Spence and Hay families, and not much has changed in the intervening years. You can see old household implements and furniture, all arranged on the stone floor with the surrounding strong smell of peat.
The network of beautiful old stone buildings also includes a shed full of farming equipment and memorabilia, as well as an Edwardian parlour and Victorian gardens. Kirbuster is a real hidden gem in Orkney’s west mainland and can provide a welcome excuse to get off the well-trodden tourist trail at some of the more regularly visited sites in the islands.Visit this spring to enjoy the beautiful flowers and see the surrounding countryside come to life too.
The Kirbuster Museum is run by Orkney Islands Council and is free – find out more about visiting via the OIC website.
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.