Aurora Borealis… The Northern lights… The Merry Dancers…
There’s no denying it… The long summer evenings are behind us and the nights are drawing in. The weather feels colder and we have already been battered by some nasty winds and heavy rain. However, there is an up side. Now we have some decent darkness, there is a chance to see that amazing natural phenomenon – the Aurora Borealis. Known to many as the Northern Lights, but called “The Merry Dancers” locally, the aurora can be spotted easily from Orkney. Obviously it is weather dependent and needs the right sort of solar activity to trigger a display, but many local photographers and enthusiasts are eagerly watching the skies and waiting. It can be a long and frustrating business, but worth it when you eventually get to see a good show.
There are several websites that offer aurora forecasts based on solar activity. They are useful but far from foolproof. A good forecast does not always translate into a good display and one of the most memorable displays in recent years was barely predicted at all. However, the sites are worth checking – I tend to use this one: www.aurora-service.eu
Even in Orkney, it is best to get away from the town to avoid any kind of light pollution. Having said that, even with the street lamps of Kirkwall to the north of us, we have been able to view displays from the doorstep of Highland Park House. seeing the aurora is a treat and an unpredictable one at that. We can’t guarantee that you will see anything and we were unable to help one guest who asked “what time will the Northern lights be?” If only we knew…
Orkney is rightly famous for its ancient monuments, but the history doesn’t stop there. There are many relics and reminders of both World War 1 and World War 2. These pictures show the remains of the Ness Battery. This was a substantial gun emplacement that guarded the Western approach to Scapa Flow during the dark days of WW2. Visits are by guided tour only, but well worth the effort. Our excellent guide, Andrew Hollinrake, led us around the site for about an hour. Most of the buildings are now shells and in poor condition. However, some of the original huts have been restored. The climax of the tour is the soldiers’ mess hut. Here you can still see a complex mural that covers most of the interior walls. Painted to cheer up the troops stationed far from home, the mural shows country scenes of villages, cottages and windmills. The locations have been identified as being in Kent. It is a strange counterpoint to the better known Italian Chapel. There, during the same period and with a different purpose in mind, prisoners of war also decorated their humble buildings.
Running Highland Park House in the Summer can feel like a round-the-clock operation. We were very lucky this weekend to have some brief and (we think) well deserved RnR. Our son agreed to mind the place for a few hours while we went and explored the beautiful Brough of Birsay. The Brough (pronounced “brock”) is a rugged island up in the Northwest corner of Orkney, accessed via a causeway at low tide. The North and West faces of the island are sheer cliffs, with stunning views. These cliffs harbour many seabirds and it is not uncommon to see seals, dolphins and even the odd whale. It’s a great place to see puffins, as my not very clear photograph shows, although they will be heading back out to sea by the end of July. The Brough of Birsay has been settled many times over the years and the remains of a complex Viking settlement are clearly laid out. This heady mix of history, wildlife and dramatic seascape is less than 40 minutes drive from Highland Park House.
Our Dream Hotel, featuring Highland Park House was broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK at 9pm (6th June). It is still available on the Channel 5 on demand internet service and can be found on Youtube. We know that the programme had been shown in Holland and will no doubt surface elsewhere around the world in due course. The programme generated significant media interest and was previewed in several national publications including the Daily Mail Online and Radio Times.
The response to the programme had been incredibly positive. We have had numerous messages, emails and letters of support and encouragement. We are very touched by these and sincerely thank all of our well-wishers. As we continue to develop the building, we will post up-dates on this site.
The filming took several months. It was, at times, both fun and infuriating. Many people agreed to appear, or rescheduled tasks or gave interviews for which we are very grateful. The film/production crew were highly professional (apart from the impromtu battle with Gerry’s Nerf guns) and spent many hours following us and filming in different Orkney locations. Inevitably much of the footage failed to make the final edit and we are a little disappointed that the programme did not have time to show all of the aspects of what we do at Highland Park House or show all of the contributions that so many people have made to our project. We had no control over the editorial process and we had no idea what the show would look like prior to the preview. However, we feel it is a fair reflection of the work we have put into the project. It also highlights the charm of these unique islands and the community here.
We now have a confirmed transmission date…
Highland Park House will feature in “Our Dream Hotel”. This will be broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK at 9pm on Tuesday 6th June.
We hope you enjoy the show!
The filming took several months. It was, at times, both fun and infuriating. Many people agreed to appear, or rescheduled tasks or gave interviews for which we are very grateful. The film/production crew were highly professional (apart from the impromtu battle with Gerry’s Nerf guns) and spent many hours following us and filming in different Orkney locations. Inevitably much of the footage failed to make the final edit and we are a little disappointed that the programme did not have time to show all of the aspects of what we do at Highland Park House or show all of the contributions that so many people have made to our project. We had no control over the editorial process and we had no idea what the show would look like prior to the preview.
That said, we think you will agree with us that it is an enjoyable piece of television that shows Orkney in a very good light.
We are delighted that guests are now able to use our largest room as a lounge and relaxation area.
Over the winter we have opened up the fireplace and installed luxurious chesterfield sofas to provide a perfect, but atmospheric relaxation space. Themed as a music room, there is a modern, good quality piano and an assortment of musical instruments. A few are purely decorative, but most are in good, playable condition.
This room is still equipped with a full lighting rig and can be configured for small performances and similar events.
We are proud to announce that we will be featured shortly in a new series on Channel 5 called “Our Dream Hotel”. This series will show six projects in the UK and Europe including our very own Highland Park House. You will be able to see how we have developed parts of the building and how we have got to where we are today. As soon as we have an exact UK transmission date, we will publish it.
In the meantime, if you are in the Netherlands, you can view it on Monday 15th may at 9.30 on RTL 4.
Thank you for all the positive and encouraging messages from Europe since this show was broadcast in Holland! We will be announcing the UK transmission date very soon…
The 2017 Folk Festival is almost upon us and tickets are on public sale from April 29th. The festival runs from 25-28 May.
The big names include BBC Folk Awards winner Kris Drever, Eddi Reader, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. There are a host of other performers from near and far with a range of events and concerts focused mainly around Stromness.
Once the folk festival is over, Orkney can look forward to the international St Magnus festival in June. Other future festivals include the Orkney Nature Festival, the Science Festival and both blues and rock festivals.
Orkney is rightly famous for its two whisky distilleries – our close neighbours at Highland Park and the lesser known but equally revered Scapa distillery just down the road.
Recently, Orkney has acquired not one, but two gin distilleries. By all accounts this has been a roaring success and these drinks are a great addition to the fantastic range of local produce that you can try during your visit. Naturally you may want to take some home too…
You can find out more about these new gins by following these links:
Orkney has featured in the Guardian this week as a possible relocation destination for those seeking an escape from city life. Obviously you would want to visit first before making such a move. Why not combine your fact-finding trip with a holiday and see what Orkney has to offer. To get the most realistic experience, it would be best to visit early or late in the year when there are fewer visitors and the weather is more likely to be showing its teeth (although Spring is Orkney is actually very beautiful).
Highand Park House is open from 1st April until mid October.
St. Magnus has been given a make over. Our local hero/Icon/poster boy is looking remarkably good for someone who was violently killed in the `12th Century. Using modern techniques, his face has been reconstructed from photographs taken of his remains. The bones were found during renovation work on the cathedral in the 1920s and have long since been reinterred in the building.
HIs monument is the magnificent cathedral in Kirkwall. This astonishing building never fails to impress our visitors and is a must for anyone coming to Orkney. A display in the cathedral explains who Magnus was and how he came to meet his grisly end, as well as why he was made a saint.
Orkney’s major international Arts festival in June is also named after St Magnus.
This exciting three part documentary featuring Orkney shows how much these islands have to offer in terms of ancient history. The programme focuses on the Ness of Brodgar, where exciting discoveries are rewriting the theories about Ancient Britain.
Orkney is rich in archaeology and most of the associated sites mentioned in the programmes, including the Ness of Brodgar, Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles are an easy drive from Highland Park House. Many of our guests are keen visitors to these sites and we also have archaeologists and volunteer helpers staying with us. This leads to many a lively discussion around the breakfast table.
We look forward to welcoming all visitors, experts and enthusiasts this year. The Summer of 2017 promises to yield exciting new discoveries as the dig progresses.
These dark winter days make us think of Summer. As we get to mid December, the sun barely rises more than a few degrees above the horizon and the light is gone well before four in the afternoon. Despite this, the maritime climate keeps us warmer than many places in the UK. However, these short days remind us that we we have next Summer to look forward to. By the time we get to the St Magnus Festival which falls on the Summer solstice, we will be enjoying days that never seem to end. Weather permitting, it will once again be possible to read by the light of the midnight sun which barely dips below the horizon. The long drawn out evenings bring us spectacular sunsets that change every minute, but seem to last for hours. It’s not hard to imagine how important these turning points must have been to our ancestors and it’s no wonder that they have left so many monuments behind that are designed to mark the passage of the sun and the seasons. We can’t wait!
We were honoured to have Gnoss play at Highland Park House a year or two back and it is great to see that they are doing so well. Currently Glasgow based, local boys Aidan Moodie and Graham Rorie play a mean guitar and fiddle, romping through traditional tunes and self written tunes with astonishing confidence and ability. They put a CD out a while back and it looks like they have been regrouping and recording new material. You can catch up with them here:
Things are quieter in Orkney now although we do still have rooms open for visitors until mid December. Our dedicated crew of chickens haven’t realised this yet and we are snowed under with fresh eggs.
We are taking advantage of this relative down time to make some exciting changes and alterations. The old theatre/rehearsal space will reopen in the Spring as a Music Room/ Sitting Room. Guests will be able to gather in the evening, sinking into sumptious Chesterfield furniture. There will be table space to work during the day too. The room will be decorated with musical instruments as well as a working wind-up gramaphone. However, these are not just for show. Along with the Challen piano, they are properly set up working instruments and the room will still host occasional intimate concerts and recitals.
We have also acquired more land around the building. This will give us opportunities to develop and expand the business in due course.
Needless to say, this magnificent, but old building requires plenty of upkeep and through the WInter we have a team of excellent tradesmen improving and developing the ground floor accommodation in the West wing.
On Saturday 9th. We have a Storytelling Event in the theatre at Highland Park House.
On Sunday 10th. also in the theatre we have the fabulous Jo Philby. As well as listening to her lovely music, you can book a vintage tea – Strawberries and cream and a range of teas served in authentic vintage china. What a great way to round off the weekend. Booking is essential.
The concert starts at 7.30 pm £8 pay on the door
Cream teas available between 6 and 7pm. £4.50 (please book in advance)
Booking is advised- call 01856 876077 or message Highland Park House
Beautiful Bed and breakfast accommodation in Orkney. This Kirkwall mansion also offers a stylish, period venue for small and medium events.