Hello and welcome to the June newsletter from Orkney.com.
As summer arrives we’ll be bringing you the latest on life here in the islands, including our wildlife watch, another featured attraction and a round-up of all the monthly events.
Festival time to kick off summer
The St Magnus International Festival will get underway later this month, marking the start to summer here in Orkney. It all begins on the 16th of June and will feature performances and concerts across the islands before it comes to a close on the 24th. Orkney’s links with Scandinavia will be celebrated this year, and the focus will also be on the story of St Magnus too. There are still tickets available – visit the official website to plan your trip.
New gin hits the shelves
The first handcrafted spirits from Orkney’s newest distillery have been launched. The Deerness Distillery has started selling its ‘Sea Glass Gin’ and ‘Into the Wild Vodka’ locally, with both products earning rave reviews. The distillery is based in Orkney’s east mainland and the entire operation is carried out by husband and wife team Stuart and Adelle Brown. Plans are already in place to expand the range with new spirits and liqueurs. It’s hoped the bottles will soon be on sale across Scotland and online via the company’s new website, which will be launched in the coming weeks.
Energy of Orkney takes centre stage
Orkney’s marine energy industry will welcome representatives from the European Commission later this month to highlight the scale of developments in the islands. The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Stromness will host two days of events in association with Ocean Energy Europe, which will include a public open day on 28th June with access to a number of onshore marine energy sites. Seminars and exhibitions, showcasing the local supply chain and projects, will also be held. Find out more about the plans as they develop via the EMEC website.
Homecoming for iconic island company
Orkney jewellery brand, Ortak, is relocating back home to its former premises in Kirkwall. The move from its current workshop to the much larger building at Hatston will allow the company to continue with plans to expand production and its range of trade services. The Hatston factory and visitor centre were mothballed after the original Ortak business fell into administration in 2013, before a group of investors bought the brand the following year. Since then, the new company has steadily worked towards regaining its share of the UK jewellery market. Find out more via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
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June in Orkney
The summer is here and that means there is a packed calendar of events and activities to enjoy across Orkney this month.
The main focus is on the St Magnus International Festival between the 16th and 21st of June. The midsummer celebration of the arts will have a distinctly Scandinavian theme this year, marking Orkney’s Norse heritage and the story of St Magnus, 900 years after his martyrdom. There will be world premieres, specially commissioned works and performances from local and visiting acts alike. There really is so much to see and do. Take a look at the official website for programme information.
Another special event gets underway on the 17th of June. The first Orkney Garden Festival will celebrate some of the beautiful gardens to be found across the islands, as well as the hard work that has gone into creating them! Twenty-eight local gardens will be open to the public during the festival, which runs until the 25th. There will be four garden trails and a host of other events, including plant sales, live music and lots of afternoon teas. Profits from the festival will be donated to charity. Tickets are available from Scapa Travel in Kirkwall - find out more via the Visit Orkney website.
There is plenty of action for archaeology fans in Orkney this month. The first main excavation of the season gets underway at The Cairns in South Ronaldsay, near Windwick bay, in June. It’s an impressive Iron Age settlement and features a large broch with surrounding buildings. It’s a fascinating chance to see archaeology in action – it’s open between the 12th of June and the 7th of July, 10am to 4pm, with an open day on the 30th of June. Follow the project on Facebook for regular updates.
The site will also be hosting a Field Archaeology short course between the 21st and 23rd of June, providing basic training and understanding of the practices and processes of field archaeology. It costs £190 and you can find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staying with archaeology, and although the Ness of Brodgar excavation doesn’t open again until the 3rd of July, you can hear all about the project at a special talk on the 15th of June. Dig Director Nick Card will be talking about ‘Structure 10: A Neolithic Cathedral’ at the Orkney Theatre from 7pm.
In Rousay you can view the investigations of a Viking/Norse farm mound at Skaill on the 16th of June. There will be an open afternoon at the site before further excavations continue in July. The following day you can take a guided walk through Hoy’s valleys with archaeologist Dan Lee to Peter Maxwell Davis’ former home in Rackwick. Meet at the Moaness Pier at 10am on the 17th (ferry travel not included).
There’s a real treat for comedy fans on the 9th of June. Jeremy Hardy will be performing at the Stromness Town Hall, bringing his new tour to Orkney for the first time. He’s a veteran of BBC Radio 4 as well as television programmes including QI and Mock the Week. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start and tickets are on sale now from Beyond Presents, Ticketmaster and from Stromness Books & Prints.
Even though the Orkney Folk Festival is over for another year, music fans can still catch what is sure to be an excellent performance on Sunday 11th June in the Burray Hall. Jenny Sturgeon and Jonny Hardie will be taking to the stage at 7pm – tickets can be bought at the door or at Seaview Stores in Burray, The Trading Post in St Margaret’s Hope or The Reel in Kirkwall.
Then on Tuesday 13th, The Reel will be hosting another Orcadian Summer Concert, featuring a variety of local artists. Booking is recommended on 01856 871 000. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. There will be another concert on Tuesday 27th too.
Take the chance to explore the island of Stronsay this month in the company of experts from the Orkney Field Club. The trip on the 18th of June will include the chance to see local wildflowers and some spectacular coastline, including the Vat of Kirbister. The boat leaves Kirkwall at 0840 and you can email email@example.com for more details.
More events to mark the 900th anniversary of the death of St Magnus will be held on Saturday 24th. The St Magnus Day of Dance will see afternoon dance workshops at the St Magnus Centre between 2pm and 4pm. Then an evening dance will be held in the Birsay Hall from 7pm with buses leaving Palace Road in Kirkwall at 6pm. To book your seat on the bus phone 01856 873 534.
There are plenty of guided tours available across Orkney during the summer. One of our favourites is at Lyness in Hoy, where you can take a walk around the remains of the former Lyness Naval Base. It takes around two hours and is held every Tuesday at 11am. Spaces are limited so phone to book on 01856 791 300.
If the summer weather doesn’t play ball there are plenty of indoor events to enjoy in June. You can listen to stories from Orkney and enjoy a complimentary Orkney drink around a peat fire with Island Tales and Ales throughout the summer. Hear about Orcadian folklore and legends at the Still Room in the Stromness Hotel every Wednesday and Sunday until the end of September at 8pm. It costs £10 and booking is essential – contact Lynn on 01856 841 207 for more details.
The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has a range of showings, including ‘Whisky Galore!’ and ‘Aline: Covenant’. In Stromness, the West Side Cinema has ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ showing on the 3rd at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start in the Stromness Town Hall. Meanwhile the ‘Screen in the Square’ in St Margaret’s Hope will show ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ in the Cromarty Hall on the 3rd at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm start.
There are always exciting artistic exhibitions on throughout the year in Orkney and the summer months are no different. The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness has 'Movement & Light' by Katy Dove until the 3rd of June and ‘Walking the Sound’ by Orkney ‘Artist in Residence’ Anne Bevan until the 10th. On the 17th a special exhibition held across three venues - the Pier Arts Centre, the Stromness Museum and the Orkney Museum will open. 'Conversations with Magic Stones' focuses on the prehistoric stone tools of Orkney.
The Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope has ‘Expressions of tranquillity, landscape and migration’ on display until the 4th of July, with ‘7 Waves’, the Magnus 900 art installation, in the St Magnus Church in Birsay until the end of August. You can also see 14 painted sails hanging in St Magnus Cathedral this summer. They were created by a group of artists in 1993 and feature specially commissioned poetry by George Mackay Brown.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during June. 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
Our monthly wildlife feature highlights some of Orkney’s nature and wildlife hotspots. Alison Nimmo from RSPB Orkney has taken to the high seas for June.
Travelling to or from Orkney by sea can be a treat in itself – a chance to enjoy the county’s spectacular coastal scenery from a different angle, and to surround yourself with marine wildlife. A variety of routes are on offer depending on where you’re coming from and the ferry operator, so I’ll keep this neutral!
You’ll find birdlife all around, with gannets arrowing into the water to catch fish and streams of auks flying to and from their cliff-face colonies. Look down from the side of the ferry and you may see guillemots, razorbills and puffins sitting on the water, sometimes surprisingly close – they often only bother to move when the ship is nearly upon them, little wings whirring in a hasty take-off.
Fulmars skim the surface constantly, master gliders in any weather, and bonxies (great skuas) flap heavily past on the look-out for their next victim or an easy meal to pirate. A gathering of screeching terns means rich feeding, the birds dipping gracefully to the water to rise up again with a shining morsel in their bill. You may spot the more acrobatic Arctic skuas in attendance here, chasing the terns to force them to regurgitate their catch.
Look out for seals basking along harbour shores or on rocky islets, if the tide is right, and on the uninhabited islands of Stroma and Swona if you pass close enough (on Swona you may also glimpse the island’s feral cattle). Common seals will be giving birth to their pups around June and July, with the pups able to swim from just a few hours old.
Finally, if you’re keen to see cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – here’s a helpful guide to likely species and hotspots put together by the Sea Watch Foundation. There have been some wonderful sightings in recent weeks. For once I’ve even been in the right place at the right time to enjoy some myself, including a pod of Risso’s dolphins during the Orkney Nature Festival cruise and orcas passing through Hoy Sound a couple of days later. There’s something special about encountering these creatures, if only for a few seconds, that stays with you – so do take advantage of any calm seas to keep watch on deck, and I hope your patience is rewarded.
Find out more about ferry travel to Orkney with the Visit Orkney website.
Landscape and light provide inspiration for local photographer
For June’s photography focus it’s over to Paul Wards, a keen Orkney Instagram user who has been sharing his snaps of the islands over recent years.
All over Orkney you can find many possibilities to show the islands off to their full potential, with the changing of the seasons bringing new opportunities to depict different landscapes and buildings in all their glory. From the freshness and new beginnings of spring, to the harsh darkness of winter - and all days in between - there is always something happening in Orkney to give a photographer an opportunity to capture something special.
I enjoy all aspects of photography, in particular landscapes and seascapes. Landscapes can vary dramatically at different times of the year or just by the changing of the day, so I try to take every opportunity to capture these varying moments.
I also like to experiment with different lenses to create different effects. I also enjoy changing exposure levels to capture different subjects in their full brilliance – a great example of this is when northern lights are on show.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we take a look at one of Orkney’s hidden attractions – for June we explore one of our smallest but most fascinating museums.
There are two types of museum. You can visit the big, beautiful structures, full of glass, modern exhibition cases and cafes. Then there are the old buildings with creaky floorboards and exhibits crammed into every available space.
Orkney excels at the later, and the Orkney Wireless Museum is one of those very special places.
The museum began in South Ronaldsay and was originally set-up to display some of the equipment used by servicemen and women in Orkney during WWII. Local folk also donated their old wireless sets as well, and the collection quickly grew.
The museum was eventually moved to Kirkwall, appropriately enough to the former radio dealership of John T Miller – some of the sets on display in the museum nowadays would have been sold by the shop in the past.
Nowadays the building is packed with nostalgia. You can browse hundreds of radios from over the years, from a 100 year old crystal set to the designs of the 1930s, right up to transistor radios from today. The museum is also full of wartime memorabilia, including displays focusing on the importance of communication across Orkney during WWII and radios from a Spitfire, U-Boat and much more.
It’s a real trip back in time, but it also provides a hands-on experience too. An early version of famous computer game ‘Pong’ is available to play (who needs VR!) and the more experienced visitor can take a trip down memory lane by switching on and tuning a 1950s valve set too.
Some of the sets on display are from people looking for a home for their treasured old radios, others have been handed down through generations by family members.
It’s well worth heading in through the doors to one of the secret gems of Orkney’s history and heritage attractions.
Find out how you can visit the Orkney Wireless Museum via the Visit Orkney 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.