Hello and welcome to the November newsletter from Orkney.com.
Keep reading for articles, features and photos all focused on life in Orkney this month. There is a packed programme of events, a look at another hidden attraction and our regular wildlife round-up too.
You can also find out more about the islands by taking a look at the Visit Orkney website, and you can follow us on social media via the links at the top of this page too.
Celebrations for Orkney’s jewellery trailblazer
Local jewellery pioneer Ola Gorie marked her 80th birthday last month, giving Orkney’s busy and diverse crafts sector the chance to reflect on the impact she has had on the industry. Ola was the first Orkney-based jewellery designer and manufacturer, using Orcadian influences – including Norse heritage and wildlife – to inspire her. Since setting up her own business in the 1960s, Ola has seen Orkney become known around the world for the quality of its jewellery producers. We’ve been taking a look back at Ola’s fascinating story.
Island food and drink on show in Glasgow
Three of Orkney’s finest food and drink companies showcased their products at the BBC Good Food Show in Glasgow in October. The Orkney Bakery (Argo’s), the Island Smokery and the Westray Bakehouse all brought a taste of the islands to the SEC for the event, which welcomed thousands of visitors over the course of its three days. The show puts a large emphasis on local cuisine and products, and it gave the island visitors a chance to reach new customers and markets across the country.
Join the Orkney Beachcomber
Orkney’s beaches are fantastic places to explore, especially at this time of year when the weather can be wild and the wind is blowing. The islands have a dedicated beachcombing community, all keen to brave the conditions to explore the shore to see what they can find. Items from as far afield as North America and the Caribbean can wash up on local shores. We joined Martin Gray, who runs the popular Orkney Beachcombing Facebook page, for an afternoon of scanning the sand at the Bay of Skaill – watch our video and read all about it via the Orkney.com website.
Wildlife wonders this autumn and winter
Orkney’s wildlife attractions continue to take centre stage as autumn arrives and winter approaches. Coastlines around the islands are currently full of grey seal pups as the breeding season gets underway – you can even watch these beautiful new arrivals live on the excellent Sanday Seal Cam. Elsewhere you can experience hen-harriers roosting, mountain hares on Ward Hill in Hoy and thousands of returning wildfowl and noisy greylag geese. Find out what you can see and where with Visit Orkney's special wildlife blog.
Join us on Instagram
Follow Visit Orkney on Instagram to see some beautiful images of the islands. We publish 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!
November in Orkney
November is quickly becoming a busy month in the Orkney events calendar thanks to the arrival of a number of new festivals and activities.
The island of Papa Westray hosts one of Orkney’s most unique events this month. The ØY Festival between the 17th and 19th of November features film screenings, exhibitions and performance art, all based in and around this beautiful island.
The programme this year includes a focus on islands and island life, walks, talks and musical performances. There is also the annual Muckle Supper, Papay’s traditional island dance and meal, and plenty of workshops with visiting artists too. Find out more from the ØY Festival Facebook page.
Earlier in the month, the silver screen and community cinema will be celebrated with the inaugural Orkney Film Fortnight. It’s all taking place across the islands between the 2nd and 18th of November, with film screenings and events to be held in thirteen different islands and parishes. The Screen Machine will be in Orkney and there will be film nights at the West Side Cinema, The Gable End Theatre, the Screen in the Square and the Phoenix Cinema too.
In total there will be more than ninety screenings, talks and workshops in Orkney over the course of the event – find out more via the Film Fortnight website.
The Phoenix Cinema will also be hosting its regular schedule of blockbusters, including ‘American Assassin’ and ‘Kingsman – The Golden Circle’ – view the full schedule on the official website.
One special showing at the Phoenix Cinema this month is ‘The Spy in Black’. Based on the book by J. Storer Clouston, who lived in Orkney, the 1930s film was shot on location in the islands with a number of Orcadians playing extras in the film. You can see it on the big screen at 7.30pm on Friday 10th November.
From cinema to the written word, later in the month the Orkney Book Festival will be held between the 9th and 12th. Organised by the George Mackay Brown Fellowship, the Festival will feature workshops, talks and readings with local and visiting writers. There will also be open mic events for everyone to get involved. View the full programme by clicking on the image to enlarge it.
Elsewhere, November brings a real mix of events. Catch up with local storyteller and historian Tom Muir as he describes his journey through the north-west passage in Canada earlier this year. ‘Following John Rae’ will be at the Stromness Golf Club at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1st November.
Bonfire Night will be marked in Kirkwall with a spectacular fireworks display at the Peedie Sea on the 4th of November. There will be a huge bonfire lit at 6.45pm before a performance by the Kirkwall City Pipe Band, with the fireworks due to begin at 7.15pm.
The following evening will see the Orkney Theatre at Kirkwall Grammar School host a very special event. ‘Make a HOO’ is a visual performance by Sita Pieraccini, inspired by an artist residency in Sri Lanka, featuring songs and poetry. You can see it on Sunday 5th November at 7.30pm – tickets can be bought online or at the door.
There are a number of interesting talks to take in this November. Kieron Hatton from Diving in Depth will present an illustrated talk titled ‘From Jutland to Scapa Flow’, for the Orkney Archaeology Society, focusing on recent discoveries in the seas around Orkney. It’s in the Stenness school hall at 7.30pm on Monday 6th November and entry is free.
The Scottish Ornithologists Club will be hosting a talk by RSPB Scotland on ‘Curlews in crisis’ at the St Magnus Centre in Kirkwall on Thursday 9th November at 7.30pm – entry is by donation.
The Orkney Field Club also has a talk this month. ‘A Garden and Beyond’ will see Alasdair Forsyth look at the range of species he has discovered on his own doorstep in the parish of Harray. That’s in the St Magnus Centre too, at 7.30pm on Friday 17th November. Admission for non-members is £2.
Take a trip to Egilsay this month as part of the Magnus 900 commemorations. Join archaeologists from the UHI Archaeology Institute for a walk and talk and the chance to learn more about the St Magnus story. It all takes place between 10am and 3pm on the 14th of November.
Traditional music fans are in for a treat this month with a brace of performances from up and coming fiddler Graham MacKenzie. His album, ‘Crossing Borders’, was longlisted for Scots Trad Album of the Year and he’ll be on stage in The Ferry Inn in Stromness on Friday 10th November at 9pm, then at the Burray Hall on the 11th at 7.30pm.
Meanwhile local duo Brian Cromarty and Jenny Keldie will be on stage in the Sound Archive in Kirkwall on the 11th from 10pm – tickets are £8 and can be bought from Grooves or online.
The Orkney Museum will host ‘For the Journey and Return’, an exhibition from Beatrice Searle, who was involved in the Orkney Boat project earlier this year. Find out about her journey between the 4th and 25th of November at the Museum, which is open Monday – Saturday between 10.30 and 5pm (closed for lunch between 12.30 and 1.30pm).
You’ll have to be quick to see exhibitions by local artists Louise Barrington and Nick Gordon at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness this month though. Both ‘Shaping the Void’ and ‘Constellations’ will close at 5pm on the 4th of November. Don’t despair, though. The Centre’s annual Christmas Open exhibition will go on display from the 18th of November.
Meanwhile ‘Tales on the Tide’, an exhibition from Orkney artists Sheena Graham George and Angelica Kroeger, will be open at the Waterfront Gallery in Stromness until the 11th of November.
There are still plenty of opportunities to get out and about this month too, despite the potential for wintry weather. You can take a tour of the Upper Levels of St Magnus Cathedral every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am and 2pm. Admission is £8 – phone 01856 874 894 to book.
Take advantage of a guided walk at the Standing Stones of Stenness at 10am on Wednesdays, and at the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. Both walks are free – phone 01856 841 732 for more information.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during November. 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.
Orkney wildlife watch
Autumn is such a great time to be out amongst Orkney's wildlife. Join local expert Alison Nimmo as she visits a very special nature hotspot in the islands.
Last week, late one afternoon, I went out to sit in the hide at The Loons. I did bring a pair of binoculars but what I was really looking for was just somewhere peaceful to listen to the sounds as dusk fell.
The sun was already low when I got there, breaking through heavy-looking clouds to turn the reedbed a magnificent rusty gold. Four or five pairs of gadwall were dabbling in the pool overlooked by the hide while a moorhen chugged around them busily. Scanning the edges I spotted both a reed bunting and eventually a snipe nestled amongst broken stems low to the water, its own tawny stripes a perfect disguise.
On land, mallards moved slowly along the edge of the pool and a pheasant disappeared and reappeared amongst the low growth. An arriving flock of curlew absolutely glowed in the last intense light of the day as they came down to join them, calls muted but clear.
As the sky faded more and more birds were on the move across it: skeins of geese, small and large, wheeling and dropping towards fields chosen for the night across the west mainland. Some, both raucous greylags and gentler pink-feets, settled on the rising ground to my right. Best of all was a mass of golden plover that came over the hide like a cloud with faint, bell-like voices matching their fluttering flight.
The air through the open hide window brought also the smell of chill water, reeds, fields. The place felt so different to the busy wetland I know from spring and summers - no less alive, but with a different quality.
As I’ve mentioned quite a few bird calls this month, I thought I’d just share a really useful website. It’s a collective effort in gathering recordings of bird sounds from all around the world, covering a huge number of species and call variations at different times of year. Very handy if you want to remind yourself what different flocks of geese or other birds sound like.
Read Alison's Visit Orkney guide to Orkney's wildlife attractions this autumn and winter.
Papa Westray comes into focus
This month’s featured photographer is Papa Westray’s resident Ranger, Jonathan Ford – a man who spends his summer months out and about in his island’s beautiful natural environment.
I first moved to Papay in April 2015 and I have been taking photographs of the island ever since. In my role as the Papay Ranger I am out and about for most of the time, so I have ample opportunity to capture the wonderful skies and landscapes of this northern island.
I carry at least three cameras with me all the time but I never really go out intending to take photographs - I like to let things happen and to be there to capture those moments I never thought would happen.
I have no idea how many photos I have taken in Papay and across Orkney in general, thousands I would think. There are certain places where I will always take photographs, the Old Pier on Papay is probably my favourite spot. When I first visited the island in 2013, the end of the pier was the only place on the island where there was phone signal. I have been attached to this place ever since.
When you live in a place year-long you get to see the ever-changing landscape and two days are never the same. There are days with Caribbean-like sea, and days when you are close to being washed away or blown off the pier. In my time in Orkney I have found myself looking at the sky more than I have ever done - the cloud formations and the huge skies can sometimes leave me with neck ache!
Often my photographs are really just documentation of a special time or event, and I don't think traditionally good photographs. I am lucky enough to have had many memorable times in Papay, encounters with wonderful people, birds, weather and landscapes.
Facebook and Instagram are where most of my photographs end up, they are sent out into the world to give folk a taste of what it is like to live on a remote island with 90 other people, and all the exciting things that living here mean. Travel and transport figure a lot in my photographs. Having come from a very land-locked place, the adventure of the 8-seater Islander plane or the ferries to Westray and Kirkwall have lost none of their novelty for me yet. I feel very lucky to have lived on a special island in a very special place.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we take a look at those hidden parts of Orkney that are well worth a visit. For November we head east on the Orkney mainland to a very poignant site.
Perched on the edge of cliff, on the north coast of the Orkney mainland parish of Deerness, you’ll find a simple stone tower peering over the seas below. It was built in 1888 to commemorate two hundred people who died in a shipwreck, a few hundred yards off-shore, more than two centuries earlier.
It wasn’t as simple as that though. Those that perished were Covenanters, prisoners from the Battle of Bothwell Brig, being transported to plantations in North America to serve as slaves as a punishment.
The ship taking them to their fate was the ‘Crown of London’, under the command of Captain Patterson. He locked the prisoners below decks to make sure none could escape during the voyage. Caught in a storm off the head of Scarvataing on the 10th of December 1679, the vessel’s anchor chain broke and she was driven onto the rocks. The Captain and crew escaped, but the majority of Covenantors, trapped in the hold, were killed.
Nowadays, the memorial built to remember those who lost their lives forms part of a beautiful walk and offers the chance for quiet reflection as the waves crash onto the rocks below. It sits just off a grassy path which can, if you’re feeling fit, lead on to the Mull Head Nature Reserve, the Brough of Deerness and the Gloup, a collapsed sea cave.
The full track takes in some of the best coastal scenery in Orkney and is well worth the extra effort. There are some stunning wildlife attractions to spot at Mull Head too.
Even if you don’t fancy tackling the longer route, the short version is a fantastic round-trip and gives you the chance to explore a relatively undocumented area of the Orkney mainland. It’s also a fascinating insight into another part of Orcadian history.
Explore uncovered Orkney with our interactive map, featuring all our previous locations.
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.