All posts by Antony

Island Hopping – Reach for the Sky

The inter-islands air service is rightly famous in Orkney and beyond. For fifty years, these eight seater BN Islander planes have been providing an essential lifeline service for the outer islands. Operated on fixed timetable by Loganair, these busy aircraft fly in most weathers and carry farmers, teachers, residents, vets and just about everyone else (and their dog, sometimes…).

Rarely climbing above a few hundred feet, the flights are exhilarating and, while not exactly comfortable or luxurious, are a great way to see the land and seascapes of Orkney and beyond. A clear day will offer glimpses of Fair Isle and Shetland to the North and the massive Scottish mountains to the South.

Perhaps best known is the short hop between Westray and Papa Westray. This is claimed to be the shortest scheduled airline flight in the world. It is a believable claim – when the wind is right it can be done in well under two minutes.

You can experience all this for yourself. It is a great way to visit the north isles if you are short of time. If there is an empty seat, you can even do a round trip just for the ride. Generally, advanced booking for all flights is essential – this is a well used service. Flights leave from Kirkwall airport which is just a few minutes drive from Highland Park House and go to Sanday, Stronsay, Eday, North Ronaldsay, Westray and Papa Westray. Extra flights can be chartered by arrangement.

Contact details for Loganair are on the transport links page of this website.

 

You can view a film of the Westray flight here:

https://www.facebook.com/orkneycom/videos/vb.153439031389667/2348640552049176/?type=2&theater

 

 

Cathedral Graffiti – better than it sounds!

Although much of the archaeological attention focuses on Orkney’s magnificent neolithic sites, that is not the whole story.

St. Magnus Cathedral in the centre of Kirkwall is coming under close scrutiny with this fascinating new study and investigation.

Over its 800+ year history, many people have left their mark in this building. Sometimes officially, but often not so officially. This project aims to investigate and record the marks, scratches and scribbling that can reveal much about the people who left them.

A team of volunteers is being recruited and trained to help this project. If you would like to find out more – follow these links.

https://www.orkney.com/events/st-magnus-graffiti-project

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-46898421

Orkneyology – A great new Orkney website!

A new website has just been launched which gives a fresh perspective on Orkney for locals and visitors alike…

The site is called Orkneyology (the link is below) and has been compiled by Rhonda and Tom Muir.

Rhonda is an American writer who has settled here, immersing herself in the existing and developing culture of the islands. She gives this site a valuable outsider’s perspective. You can’t get much more Orcadian than Tom – he is a celebrated Orkney storyteller, author, folklorist and historian.

The site is a potent combination of local insight, history, folklore and news coupled with practical information. It is both informative and informal and will no doubt grow into a very valuable resource for all with an interest in these islands.

Practical tips, such as what to do on a rainy day (we do have one or two) and where to find a public convenience/bathroom/wc (not always obvious) are also covered – the sort of detail that is essential for visitors but often missed by information sites.

Have a look for yourself and share with anyone who has an interest in Orkney…  Click here:  Orkneyology.com

1918 -2018 Orkney commemorates the end of World War 1

Orkney has hosted several major events that have helped to commemorate (not celebrate, Mr Trump) the centenary of the end of the First World War.  From this comparatively small community, more than 500 men were lost in the conflict. Their names are remembered on the memorial gate close to the cathedral and on smaller memorials throughout the islands. Apart from the tragic and wasteful loss of these individuals, several incidents brought the effects of war close to home.

Scapa Flow became an important base for the Royal Navy. From here, many ships sailed to the Battle of Jutland in 1916, where a number of major vessels were lost along with thousands of crewmen. Just days later, Lord Kitchener, (he of the famous “You” recruitment posters) was lost along with over 700 crewmen when his ship struck a mine just off the west coast of Orkney. Although less well remembered, tragedy struck again when the battleship HMS Vanguard exploded at her moorings in Scapa Flow, killing more than 800. The misery continued in 1918 when two navy destroyers, HMS Opal and HMS Narborough were lost with all but one of their crews after smashing into the cliffs at South Ronaldsay. Even after the armistice, the drama continued with the internment of the German fleet in Scapa Flow. The defiant German admiral ordered the  scuttling of dozens of vessels to keep them out of allied hands. In the confusion that followed, there was further loss of life.

It was therefore fitting that Scapa beach was chosen as one of the sites for Danny Boyle’s Pages of the Sea event on Armistice Day. This large scale interactive event involved people creating a huge image of a lost Orkney soldier which was finally washed away by the incoming tide. Details of the project are here:

https://www.pagesofthesea.org.uk/

 

At the same time the magnificent cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall took on the role of backdrop for a moving projected animation covering the theme of World War One. The film, featuring many aspects of the war and how it impacted on Orkney life, was created by the PlayDead company and attracted sizeable crowds as it was shown over a number of nights. You can see a report and more details about this event here:

https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/11/01/the-great-war-an-orkney-memorial-experience/

Fond memories of Summer

Like much of Europe, Orkney enjoyed a particularly good summer this year. We didn’t have the sweltering temperatures that were suffered in London, but we had many calm fine days. The summer days in Orkney are very long, with the sun barely dipping below the horizon at the end of June. Facing North West and in an elevated position, Highland Park House is ideally placed to enjoy these drawn out, spectacular sunsets.

One of our guests, Eric Bertrand from France, was kind enough to send some photographs that he took from his room window and the grounds of Highland Park House. These pictures were taken at the end of July. As well as the dramatic light, the nearby world famous Highland Park Distillery is clearly visible with its distinctive pagoda chimneys.

Eric Bertrand
Eric Bertrand
Eric Bertrand

We thank Eric for these fantastic images.

Orkney Science Festival 2018

The longest days may be past for another year and there is definitely an Autumnal feel to the place, but Orkney isn’t done with exciting events yet.

Coming up in early September, we have the Orkney International Science Festival. A series of events, displays and lectures from both local experts and international guest speakers will have something to interest everyone.

There will be the annual and ever popular displays of vintage cars and machines and a science activity day for children as well as a full programme of other events. (see the link below)

As with all events and festivals, accommodation is likely to book up fast, so we recommend making your arrangements early.

You can view the full details at:   http://oisf.org/

Out and About…

Puffins…

Guests have reported seeing small numbers of puffins at Birsay and  Mull Head with larger numbers on Westray.  They will become hard to see soon as they return to sea after their breeding season.

Orcas…

Several recent sightings in Orkney waters from South Ronaldsay to Birsay and close in at Yesnaby this week.

Archaeology…

The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar have been uncovered for the season and are open for visits. More discoveries are being made all the time as the site expands.

Weather…

After an amazingly dry and sunny June and early July, there has now been a little bit of rain, but temperatures are staying warm (by Orkney standards that is…)

Direct bookings – Late offers and cancellations

Although May through to September is busy for us, it is still possible to book with us.

Inevitably, plans change and some people have to cancel their reservations and sometimes we have odd gaps get left between longer bookings.

This means that we might just have a space, so it is worth checking on the booking calendar or calling us.

We may also offer late deals which will be considerably cheaper than the listed prices, so it is worth a try – you might just grab a bargain.

Don’t forget, it is always better for us and cheaper for you to book direct rather than through the big online sites, despite what they claim.

 

Midsummer

We’ve turned the corner again. Midsummer has passed and theoretically the nights will start to get longer.

That is quite a big deal here in Orkney, as in late June it never gets properly dark. For many years this period has been marked by the St, Magnus Festival – an internationally famous arts festival. Locally the midnight sun is known as the Simmer Dim – the light dims but does not disappear.

Although the days will start to shorten, we still have three months of the busy tourist season ahead of us and along the way, we will be treated to many spectacular, long sunsets. Highland Park House faces west and being on a hill overlooking Kirkwall, we are in a grandstand position to enjoy the view.

Come and see for yourself!

Norway Constitution Day

Norway Constitution Day

The strong ties between Orkney and Norway are celebrated every year with a parade and a service in the cathedral.

At one time, Orkney actually belonged to Norway and many of the place names and the old Orkney language are from Old Norse. There is a Centre for Nordic Studies in Kirkwall and Norway always sends a tree to the city  at Christmas.

Many Norwegians visit Orkney to help mark Norway’s Constitution Day. As in previous years,  we are hosting a number of them at Highland Park House.

This morning, they started the day in style with a champagne breakfast.

 

Orca Pod in Scapa Flow

Pod of whales spotted in Scapa Flow

A pod of orca whales have been spotted in Scapa Flow in Orkney.

Posted by BBC Scotland News on Monday, 7 May 2018

 

Much excitement in Orkney this week. A pod of at least three killer whales has been in Scapa Flow for a few days. At one point they were photographed close into the shore with the Scapa Whisky distillery behind them. This is less than two miles from the front door of Highland Park House. In fact, it is visible from the top of our tower.

Seals and dolphins are a regular sight in these waters, with occasional visits from a variety of whale species. Orcas normally pass through the area several times a year.

A Day Trip to Hoy

Last weekend, I took the ferry over to Hoy. Hoy is a large, southerly Island about  20 minutes drive  and then 30 minutes by ferry  from where we are at Highland Park House .  The north end of Hoy is dominated by dramatic and sharply rising hills that are visible from much of Orkney. Our excellent guide Steve from Island Tours Hoy took us from WW2 remains, through stunning wilderness and past ancient monuments to  secluded and picturesque bays and beaches. We even saw nesting sea eagles along the way!  Because our tour was only a few hours long, we did not have time to visit the famous rock stack known as the Old Man of Hoy (this requires a couple of hours walking) and there were many places we could have spent more time exploring. However, the purpose of this tour was to get a flavour of the place and we certainly did that. I would heartily recommend Hoy as a place to visit and I would suggest that Steve’s tours are an excellent way for a visitor who has limited time (or no car) to explore the island.  I nearly wore out my camera, so here is a small selection of the pictures that I took just to give you a sense of what to expect if you visit this spectacular place.

http://www.islandtourshoy.com

Walrus!!! An unusual visitor to Orkney…

Orkney is, of course, famous for its wildlife. Once in a while however, we have some really unusual visitors.   This week, a walrus has arrived on Sanday (one of Orkney’s North isles) and has already become quite a celebrity. It’s five years since the last walrus was spotted in the region, so this is  an exciting event.

We can’t expect you to see a walrus when you come to Orkney, but whales, including orcas are regularly sighted. Dolphins and seals are plentiful in these waters and it’s not too hard to spot an otter if you are patient and know where to look. (I actually saw one in the centre of Kirkwall one evening).

Huge flocks of geese are preparing to leave for the Summer and oyster-catchers and curlews have appeared in large numbers. A week ago, we were in the grip of the “Beast from the East” with unusually harsh and freezing conditions. Today, the sun is shining, the short winter days are already behind us and it really feels quite Spring-like in Orkney.

Things you need to book in advance!

People are often surprised at how busy Orkney can get in the Summer – it is after all a World Heritage Site.  Fortunately, you won’t get too crowded even at the busiest times and it is easy to get away from people completely. However, there are a couple of bottlenecks to be aware of which may require forward planning.

Maeshowe  Chambered Cairn

One of the most important monuments in Orkney and a must for those of you coming to look at the islands’ archaeology.

To visit Maeshowe in the Summer, BOOKING AT LEAST TWO WEEKS AHEAD is almost essential. This is because the tours only run once an hour with a strict limit on numbers. The good side is that it means it is never too crowded, but it can be frustrating if you just turn up hoping to get in – you probably won’t.

Booking is easy if you use the link to Historic Scotland here:

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/maeshowe-chambered-cairn/

 

Highland Park Distillery

The tours are fascinating and it is right on our doorstep. BUT it is popular and it is best to book ahead if you can.

The Visitor centre telephone number is (0)1856 874619

Alternatively, their website should tell you everything you need to know:

 

Home

 

Car Hire

We have said this before, but another reminder won’t do any harm:

Advance booking for car hire is essential.

Orkney Folk Festival 2018

The line up has been announced for the 2018 Folk festival which is happening 24-27 May.

To get up to date information and booking information, follow this link…

http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/

We would recommend advanced booking for all concerts as this festival is very popular and most of the events will sell out.

At highland Park House we follow the progress of Gnoss with great interest. We are proud to tell that they played one of their very first concerts  in this very building during one of our charity fundraising events. They are superb young musicians and richly deserve the attention that they are currently receiving.

http://gnossmusic.com/