Hello and welcome to the October newsletter from Orkney.com.
Autumn has arrived and the days are starting to get shorter here in the islands, but that just means you have to work harder to pack everything in! Find out all about October in Orkney with our events preview, news round-up, wildlife watch and much more.
For more island inspiration you can take a look at the Visit Orkney website and follow us on social media too.
Autumn advice for an Orcadian getaway
Autumn is a season full of dramatic light, stunning sunsets and wild weather in Orkney. After a busy summer, the coming weeks and months can be the perfect time to visit the islands, with quiet sites and the chance to experience all the autumnal elements. We’ve picked some of our favourite things to do in Orkney at this point of the year – check out our ideas and share your own suggestions with us.
Orkney's Viking grain is back in demand
Bere, an ancient form of barley grown in Orkney since the time of the Vikings, is becoming an increasingly important ingredient in a range of food and drink products from the islands. The crop was historically used for malting, producing flour and animal feed, but now it can be found in everything from biscuits and craft vinegar, to gin, whisky and beer. You can even see beremeal, the flour made from bere, being produced at the water-powered Barony Mill in Birsay. Find out more about bere’s renaissance via our special blog.
Climbing an Orkney landmark
Most people travel to Orkney to enjoy the sights, the scenery and the peaceful pace of life. Some, however come for a completely different reason – like attempting to climb the 449-foot-high Old Man of Hoy! Pete Colledge and Alex Hale were just two of the climbers who completed the challenge this summer and they shared their story with us. Take a look to see more images from their trip of a lifetime.
Finalists revealed for Orkney Food and Drink Awards
Thirty-one local businesses are in the running for prestigious prizes at the 2018 Orkney Food and Drink Awards, which will be held in Kirkwall later this month. The shortlist for the twelve categories has been announced and includes categories for Best Bar Meal, Best Café or Tearoom and Best Dairy-Based Product. More than 8,000 nominations were received from members of the public for the awards. See the full shortlist via the Orkney Food and Drink website. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 13 October.
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 on social media. Use #VisitOrkney and #LoveOrkney to keep in touch.
October in Orkney
There are still plenty of things to see and do across Orkney in October, even as the days begin to get shorter.
The main event of the month sees the return of the Orkney Storytelling Festival. It brings four days of tall tales, folk stories and fine examples of the oral tradition, passed down through the generations. The Festival features a range of events held across the islands, with performances from both local and visiting storytellers.
This year’s Festival runs between the 25th and 28th of October – visit the official website for more information.
There’s plenty on offer for music fans this month. Catch a performance by blues maestro Lightnin’ Wille and the Poorboys in the Stromness Town Hall on the 21st of October at 7.30pm. He’s played alongside the likes of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Robert Cray so it’s a show not to be missed. Tickets are available from Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness on 01856 850 163.
The following week, Orkney will welcome veteran country star Charlie Landsborough to the islands. He’ll be performing his hits, including ‘All My Life’, 'What Colour is the Wind’ and ‘Shine Your Light’ at the Orkney Theatre on the 27th of October from 7.30pm. Tickets are available from The Reel in Kirkwall on 01856 871 000, Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness on 01856 850 163 or online via the WeGotTickets website.
Back to the start of the month and the Stromness Town Hall will host a special talk focusing on the work of Ghost Fishing, a campaign launched to recover lost equipment from the marine environment around the world. Ghost Fishing UK carries out an annual clean-up of the wartime wrecks in Scapa Flow. Trustees from the organisation and other local experts will host a talk on the project at Stromness Town Hall on the 2nd of October from 7.30pm. Find out more about Ghost Fishing via the official website.
If you’re keen to get out and about in October then there are plenty of guided tours still available across Orkney. Join a ranger walk at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar every Thursday at 1pm.
The upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral are open for tours every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am and 2pm – book by phoning the Cathedral on 01856 874 894. There is also a two-hour guided walk around the former Royal Navy base at Lyness in Hoy on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It starts at 11am and booking is advised on 01856 791 300 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
October’s weather can sometimes be rather challenging, but fear not – there are plenty of indoor options available too this month! The Pier Arts Centre has two exhibitions that run until the 10th of November. ‘Voice and Vision; the Poetry and Art of W.S. Graham’ marks the centenary of the artist’s birth and includes illuminated manuscripts, decorative letters, watercolours and oils.
The Centre also has ‘Barbara Rae: The Northwest Passage’, a body of work from the internationally-renowned artist, focusing on the Arctic and following in the footsteps of her namesake, Orcadian explorer Dr John Rae. The Pier Arts Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday between 10.30am and 5pm and admission is free.
Local artists also have their work on display throughout Orkney in October. You can see ‘Edge’, the latest from the Soulisquoy Printers, in the Northlight Gallery in Stromness until the 3rd of October. ‘Paintings and Photographs from Kim McEwan & Graham Anderton’ is on display in the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 9th of October, and ‘Flowers and Fruit by Kathy Pickles’ can be seen in the Exhibition Room at the Old Library in Kirkwall until the 13th of October.
You can still catch the ‘Skara Brae Rediscovered’ exhibition at the Stromness Museum until the end of October too.
There’s plenty of action on the silver screen this month. The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has its usual mix of movies, including 'The Children Act' and ‘Blackkklansman’, as well as live-streamed performances from the Royal Opera House and the West End.
The West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing ‘Sweet Country’ on the 6th of October and ‘The Heiresses’ on the 20th, both in Stromness Town Hall from 7.15pm.
Finally, some advance notice about a very special event happening in Orkney next month. The unique ØY Festival is a three-day celebration of islands, held every November at the Kelp Store in Papa Westray. This year’s theme is ‘Space Station ØY’, which will see visiting artists, scientists, makers, performers and local islanders gather together to re-imagine themselves as pioneers of far and distant planets. It’s a very special experience, full of the island hospitality you’d expect.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during October. 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 in Orkney is an exciting time for wildlife enthusiasts. Join local expert Alison Nimmo to find out what you can see over the coming months.
The weather over the last few weeks has really helped it hit home that autumn is here, especially after such a beautiful and bright summer. I thought it would be a good idea to mark the changing of the seasons with a look at some of my wildlife highlights at this time of year.
With the wild winds and big seas recently, there are huge piles of kelp all along the Orkney coast. At Warebeth I’ve found some sections as long as I am tall, uprooted from the great seaweed forests that sway offshore.
Different ‘trees’ grow there - furbelows, cuvie, dabberlocks – and many other forms of life nestle or hunt amongst the fronds and anchoring holdfasts.
Tossed ashore, the detritus is full of curiosities. The holdfasts themselves are amazing sculptural forms to turn round in your hands. Sea sponges grow in the shelter of their folds. Amongst the tangle you can find the electric flecks of unlucky blue-rayed limpets that were grazing the kelp, and some fronds sparkle in the sun, encrusted with the remains of tiny colonial bryozoans.
In the water might be a great northern diver fishing, or perhaps a flock of long-tailed ducks or eiders. And you may find that you yourself are watched the dark grey eyes of a curious seal.
Grey seals give birth to their pups at this time of year, gathering in colonies called ‘rookeries’ on secluded beaches, with the peak of activity perhaps early November. Thanks to cliff-top paths at places like Windwick and Burwick on South Ronaldsay, you can look down on the mothers with their pale pups without disturbing them.
Moving inland, some of the most evocative sounds of autumn and winter for me are to be found amongst the fields and lochs. A walk can take you past great flocks of lapwings and curlews, or golden plovers that gleam as they take off in the low winter sun with bell-like, mournful calls.
Feeding alongside are noisy greylag geese, pink-footed geese, even whooper swans. In South Walls barnacle geese bark shrilly amongst themselves during the day, crossing back to uninhabited Switha for the night.
Thousands of wildfowl returning from Iceland and Russia add their voices, from bleeping teal to joyfully whistling wigeon. When a peregrine or hen harrier flies past somewhere like The Loons or Mill Dam on Shapinsay the medley of calls as all take to the air is magical.
Up on the hillsides, the harriers are starting to draw together to roost at dusk. At first just a few birds glide in as the light fails, dropping silently into the heather, but as winter sets in more will join – perhaps as many as 25 at Durkadale, making it one of the largest roost sites in the UK. Tucked into the hillside myself with a flask, it’s a special place to watch and listen to the night arrive.
Higher still, here’s a sight I’d love to see again this winter: snow-white hares bounding across the top of Ward Hill on a cold, clear day, the whole of the archipelago spread out in the distance.
Spending most of the year camouflaged in a brown coat, these mountain hares start to turn white from around now, with the transformation complete by January.
They only live in Hoy and can be spotted from lower paths like the Post Road or from the road through to Rackwick, but if you don’t mind a steep climb then the view even part way up Ward Hill is stunning.
Finally, Waxwings, which generally reach Orkney around early November, can suddenly pop up right outside the window wherever there are berries and rosehips to be found.
Ancient Orkney captured on camera by local photographer
Our featured Orkney photographer for October is Sigurd Towrie, who has a keen eye for the ancient history of these islands.
My photographic journey began in the late 1980s with a manual Pentax SLR camera in the good old days of film. I must admit I miss film photography (I kept all my cameras but, alas, have yet to return to them) and the care devoted to each individual frame. With no way of checking what you had taken, you paid particular attention to making sure that when the shutter button was pressed, what you had captured was as close to what you were seeing as possible.
The switch to digital was around 2000 and saw the purchase of a 1.2 megapixel Fuji - a lovely little device that fulfilled the old adage that the best camera is the one you've got with you.
Pocket-sized, I carried it everywhere and as a result the number of pictures taken increased exponentially. On saying that, looking back through my archives, the quality, particularly compared to today's smartphones, leaves a lot to be desired.
Pressures of work and family life meant photography took a back seat for a long time, other than sporadic trips to my favourite haunts such as the Ring of Brodgar, Stromness's west shore and Birsay.
It was working with National Geographic photographer Jim Richarson at the Ness of Brodgar in 2012 that rekindled my interest, but it was only recently that I dusted off my gear and got back out and about regularly.
My photos tend to be of historical sites and monuments, with the odd landscape thrown in for good measure. At the moment I'm somewhat restricted by my antiquated cameras, but some day, when finances allow, the plan is to get a new DSLR to let me branch out into fields such as star and nature photography.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Our uncovered Orkney attraction of the month takes us across Eynhallow Sound to Rousay, an island rich with archaeological discoveries.
Rousay is sometimes known as ‘the Egypt of the north’ thanks to its incredible array of archaeology, with more than a hundred sites found throughout the island. There are tombs, cairns and settlements to be explored, many of them in a one-mile stretch of coastline.
Midhowe Broch is one of Rousay’s most famous attractions. This Iron Age site is just one of at least nine similar structures found in the immediate area. It’s probably no coincidence that the brochs at Midhowe and Gurness on the Orkney mainland were visible from each other, highlighting the importance of these stretches of shore in the past.
At around 2000-years-old, the Broch is still in remarkable condition. You can see fittings including a water tank, hearth and stone partitions to divide the rooms. The main tower stands at around five metres high, potentially just half of what it was when it was first built.
Brochs were essentially defensive structures from which grew surrounding settlements. Midhowe was constructed on a raised piece of land jutting out towards the sea. Its landward side was surrounded by a stone barrier and ditch, with the rest of the building protected by the coast.
The smaller buildings were probably dwellings but it appears they were also used as workshops. Excavations over the years have revealed a variety of stone and bone tools, moulds that indicate bronze-working and even a small piece from a Roman bronze vessel.
Midhowe is possibly the most impressive of all brochs in Orkney and is well worth taking the short ferry hop from Tingwall to visit. Remember to keep the rest of your day free too, as there is so much more to see and do in Rousay.
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.