CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

CORNAVIRUS PANDEMIC 2020

HIGHLAND PARK HOUSE UPDATE   23 March 2020

It is clear to us that it will not be safe, practical or appropriate for holiday visitors to  travel to Orkney in the near future. 

We invite all guests to rebook at any future available date, be it later this year or next year. All deposits will be automatically transferred to the revised booking and we guarantee that there will be no price increase to existing bookings other than any additional taxes imposed by local or national governments.

I am sure that you will appreciate the immense operating difficulty that we find ourselves in. Our absolute commitment is that, in the long run, we are here for everybody who has made a reservation with us. We know how much you have been looking forward to your visits with us and we are determined that this should still happen. We look forward to meeting you all, albeit a little later than we would all have wished.

To rebook, please use the booking engine on this website. If there is any price difference with your original booking just contact us by email and we will adjust accordingly.

Orkney Storytelling Festival

This annual October event in Orkney has gone from strength to strength. We are delighted to be involved and we have hosted a number of supporting events here at Highland Park House. Our very own Aine King is one of the regular performers.

We were delighted that the BBC Travel Show (available for 20 days or so from the date of this post) actually featured the Storytelling Festival recently, showing some of the events and interviewing some of the storytellers. Furthermore, it shows some lovely footage of Orkney scenery which will be of interest to anyone thinking of visiting these islands. It really does make this look like a great place to visit.

The main title of the programme (Travel Show Episode 9) is about Argentina, but you will find the Orkney section about 16-17 minutes in. It’s well worth a look if you can catch it.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000g2ky/the-travel-show-9-argentina-the-beasts-of-ibera

The Storytelling events are lively affairs with a truly international flavour, audience interaction and activities for all ages.

Orkney Library

Many of our guests come to Orkney to find out more about their relatives. This is a reminder of the fact that in the past when many Orcadians emigrated to other parts of the world through economic necessity. Although those were not always the happiest of times, it is clear that many Orcadians made successful lives for themselves in far-flung places. It is well documented that the Hudson Bay Company employed many Orcadian men (and the occasional woman) in Canada. However the Orcadians of the past also settled throughout the rest of the UK, Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

A good starting point for family research is the Orkney Library in Kirkwall. This very modern and well appointed library has an extensive archive on the first floor. Here, you can view old photographs, census returns, county records and many other documents that will help you to connect names to places. There are excellent, knowledgeable staff on hand to help too.

To check opening times and find out more about the library, follow this link to get you to their website:

http://www.orkneylibrary.org.uk/

Highland Park House Cat

One member of our household who is usually busy at night or behind the scenes is Millie.

Millie was a rescue cat when she came to us, but she has made herself very much at home at Highland Park House. You won’t see her anywhere near the guest areas of the house, but she may be spotted on patrol in the grounds.

Here is Millie at the front of the house with the Highland Park Distillery chimneys clearly visible behind her.

Driving in Scotland

Having a car will certainly help you to access many of Orkney’s sights quickly and comfortably. In our travel section there is a list of car hire companies and some important advice about hiring cars. However, some drivers are nervous about driving on our smaller roads. There is really nothing to worry about – it’s very easy, as long as you remember a few basic rules about how the traffic works.

Orkney is, of course, part of Scotland. The laws for driving in Scotland are mostly similar to the rest of the UK but there are a few important differences.

There are many narrow, single track roads. Unless it is exceptionally busy, these roads don’t get congested because of a system of passing places. It’s very simple and very easy, but may be confusing if you are not used to it.

This very helpful short video made by Visit Scotland explains everything that you need to know.

St. Magnus Cathedral: Upper Levels

Most of our visitors make time to see the magnificent cathedral in Kirkwall. Named after the Norse Earl Magnus who was martyred in the early 12th century.

The building was started in 1137 but was added to continuously for 400 years with updates and alterations going on to this very day.

However, not so many guests see above the ground level, which is a shame because there is so much more. You can be taken on an informative tour of the upper levels. Many historical artefacts are stored above ground level and the tour culminates in a breathtaking step outside – onto the balcony that runs around the base of the spire. From here you can look down on the whole of the town, across to the harbour and to the north isles beyond.

PLEASE NOTE:

The tours must be booked in advance and they don’t run everyday, so you must contact the cathedral directly to book. You will also have to be physically quite fit, with a good head for heights and no issues going through narrow passages and doorways.

Wild Weather

Like a lot of the UK, we have had some wild weather this week, coupled with unusually high tides.

Fortunately, the flood defences installed at Kirkwall harbour last year seem to have worked. Although some low lying roads were affected by flooding and debris, I have not heard of any homes being seriously affected.

Some low lying archaeological sites have had difficulties. In some cases teams are already racing against time because the sites will inevitably be consumed and destroyed by the rising seas.

Hopefully, that will be the last big storm of the winter but we have a fair way to go yet!

Here is some spectacular footage from Orkney.com

Wild weather in Orkney

It has been a wild couple of days in Orkney 🌊 😲What a way to start 2020 and Scotland's Year of Coasts & Waters 😍

Posted by orkney.com on Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Orkney Folk Festival 2020

21 -24 May 2020 are the dates for this year’s Orkney Folk Festival. This popular event attracts many people to the islands.

The main events tend to sell out early, so you are advised to familiarize yourself with the booking system and watch out for the dates when tickets go on sale. Accommodation and car hire can get scarce too, so if you are planning to come for the festival (or any other major Orkney event), it’s a good idea to make your arrangements as soon as possible.

Here is a link to the Folk Festival site:

https://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/
2020 Folk Festival
The popular band Talisk are a major attraction at this year’s festival.

EXPLOSION!

Just down the road from us…    a WW2 German torpedo has been blown up with a controlled explosion in Scapa Flow.

This torpedo was one of the ones fired at HMS Royal Oak in the first, failed attack run by the U47 in October 1939.  After re-positioning, the U-boat attacked again and this time sank the Royal Oak with the loss of 835 lives.

This is the second unexploded torpedo to be found and detonated in recent years near the Royal Oak. Great care was taken to move the torpedo away from the wreck (now a designated War Grave) before it was detonated by a Royal Navy team. Because the operation took place underneath the flight path to Kirkwall airport, flights had to be suspended for three hours.

You can see the explosion by clicking this link. Turn up the volume for the full effect…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlVYz0YyYgg

Orkney Seal Pups…

You are never far from a seal when you are in Orkney. The grey seals have their pups at the end of Autumn just as the weather is turning more stormy and temperatures are dropping.  I took these photographs in November from the cliffs near the southern tip of North Ronaldsay – about 30 minutes drive from Highland Park House.

Because the seals are in a cove, you can overlook them from the clifftop path without getting too close – the seals are not really aware that you are there but you can get a good view. You also hear the eerie cries of the pups and it is quite a trilling experience.

Amazingly, the pups only stay with their mothers for a couple of weeks while they fatten up. They go off to fend for themselves just as the winter storms start to batter the coasts. It is no coincidence that sightings of orca pods increase at this time of year. Orca (killer whales) are becoming more and more regular visitors to Orkney waters, but the presence of the young seals is obviously an extra temptation for them.

A Landscape of Tales…

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=457599638275758&id=272179900151067

It is sometimes easy to forget that Aine and Antony are both practicing artists. Keeping Highland Park House ticking over is hugely demanding in terms of time and energy but we were both invited to contribute to this new exhibition in Orkney and we each managed to produce some new work for the show.

A Landscape of Tales is an exhibition curated by an archaeologist and illustrator Nela Scholma-Mason, with contributions from a wide range of local artists including ourselves.

This intriguing exhibition runs until February. On one hand it reminds us of the rich culture of folklore and story telling that exists in Orkney. On the other, it is yet another demonstration of the wealth and variety of artists and illustrators, many of them professional, living and working in these islands. Well worth a look.

October Tradfest at The Reel

Once again, The Reel in Kirkwall has put together an exciting and varied programme of traditional music events in October. This Autumn festival has become a regular feature of the Orkney calendar and is a reminder that cultural events happen here all the year round, not just at peak tourist times.

This event is a mixture of concerts and workshops where learners and players of all ages have the opportunity to be taught by and play alongside world class musicians.

Well done to the Wrigley sisters and their staff for making this happen.

For details of events and activities, follow this link:

https://www.wegottickets.com/wrigleyandthereel

TOUR GUIDING SERVICE – NEW FOR 2019

Antony has now become a qualified tourist guide for the Orkney Islands Area.

He is  a holder of the coveted Green Badge showing that he is a regional affiliate of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association. The Green badge is only awarded after months of intensive theoretical and practical training followed by a formal examination.

The examination tests candidates on their ability to plan a detailed tour as well as their knowledge of Orkney. The practical test involves two real tours to see how the candidates manage groups of visitors and how well they understand and communicate information with their guests.

Crucially, STGA Affiliates are fully insured when guiding.

You can learn more about the Scottish Tourist Guides Association and what they do here…      http://www.stga.co.uk

 

New Orkney Folklore App…

We are excited that our friends at Orkneyology  (see previous post) have now created an Orkney Folklore Trail App. This is available from the Google Playstore and is FREE.  See details below…

 

 

We are delighted to announce the launch of the #OrkneyFolkloreTrail! You can download the app for FREE on the Google Playstore – just search for ‘Orkney Folklore Trails’. The trail is a pilot and part of a funded research project collaboration between Orkneyology.com and Robert Gordon University. We would love to hear your feedback – please do fill in the survey on the app, and let us know your thoughts here!

No photo description available.

Sprout Lands -William Bryant Logan

One of the joys of running a bed and breakfast is meeting so many interesting people from around the world. A surprising number of writers pass through our doors and last week, we hosted William Bryant Logan, who has just published his new book Sprout Lands.  

Sprout Lands (subtitled Tending the Endless Gift of Trees) explores the relationship between people and trees, which is something particularly relevant to the Orkney landscape.

Logan’s books are receiving considerable attention and the review below is taken from none other than the New York Times.

We wish William Logan all the best with his work and we are proud to add a signed copy to our collection of author autographed books at Highland Park House.

The book is available in the UK and  the author was signing copies at  The Orcadian bookshop in Kirkwall.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sprout-Lands-Tending-Endless-Trees/dp/0393609413/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Sprout+lands&qid=1559684781&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/books/summer-reading.html#the_great_outdoors

I would never have guessed that someone could write an entire book about the coppicing of trees, much less that I’d find myself pleasurably immersed in what I (wrongly) thought was arcana, but, then again, any subject the poetical William Bryant Logan tackles is guaranteed to be rich and surprising. All serious gardeners should own my personal favorite (until now), “Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. SPROUT LANDS: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees (Norton, $27.95) is a memoir of Logan’s rediscovery of an ancient way of pruning trees — long out of favor, though in the rarefied circles of landscape designers, that is thankfully changing.

It all started with a job. Logan is an arborist, and his firm was hired to pollard new trees in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He wasn’t really sure how to proceed with this highly visible task; both pollarding and coppicing involve heavy but selective regular cutting of major branches so they sprout thick new growth the next spring. May is “the time when the coppice springs,” hence our term “springtime.”

People once lived with nature in “creative engagement,” Logan writes, and this method preserved trees while giving people all they needed to make kindling, baskets, fences and other important tools. “In coppice and pollard, both people and trees were reciprocally active.” Entire forests were once coppiced, and coppicing was practiced around the globe. Logan sought out experts to learn these pruning techniques in Spain, Japan and California.

In Japan, he visits a small factory where every year four square kilometers of woodland are cut to make about 20,000 tons of charcoal. The University of California, Berkeley, is, he reports, “awash in pollarded London planes.” Archaeologists have studied Neolithic settlements in what are now France, Switzerland and Germany and have deduced that coppicing led to the invention of streets. Because it’s a way of harvesting that leaves root in the ground, coppicing protects wildlife and prevents soil erosion. In ancient days, Logan notes with characteristically wry profundity, people “knew what was good for them better than we do.”

 

 

Medieval goings on at Highland Park House…

Highland Park House hosted an unusual party this weekend. Local historian  Ragi chose our spectacular rooms and grounds for a medieval themed birthday party. A piper was on hand to greet guests as they arrived and there were fun, music and games inside and out. We have hosted many events, but few as colourful as this one!

Whales, Whales and more Whales…

Much cetacean excitement in and around Orkney this week. A pod of orcas circled the islands several times, coming close in shore at several locations and giving plenty of people the opportunity to see and photograph them.

Orkney has also been visited by a pod of pilot whales. The caused a bit of concern by being very close in to the shore and there were fears that they might beach themselves and become stranded. Teams of wildlife specialists and volunteers in small boats monitored the pod very closely and gently coaxed them back towards deeper water. But then…

The pod of pilot whales reappeared right in the harbour at Kirkwall, close to the boats and close enough for the people standing on the quaysides and slips to smell their breath. This is very unusual behaviour for these creatures who normally feed in deep water.

Once again, the whales were persuaded to head for deeper waters, but at the time of writing, they are still within sight of land, having moved around the headland towards Inganess Bay. They seem to be heading further off shore and their progress continues to be monitored.

https://www.orcadian.co.uk/whales-make-a-splash-at-hatston-pier/

Broch of Gurness

Orkney is quite rightly famous for its magnificent neolithic sites. As well as Skara brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones at Stenness, the landscape is littered with less well known stones , burial mounds and features. The recent discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar are quite literally re-defining our knowledge and understanding of the period.

However, Orkney’s archaeology doesn’t end with the neolithic.  The landscape is also peppered with Brochs. These are distinctive round forts and date back to the Iron age, making them about 2000 years old or thereabouts. Brochs feature all over northern Scotland with very well preserved examples at Caithness and Shetland.

Among many minor sites, Orkney’s finest example is the Broch of Gurness. This is a magnificent monument with spectacular views out to sea and the neighbouring islands. As well as the central round structure, (which you can walk right inside), there is a network of settlement dwellings and ditches surrounding the site. Less well known than its neolithic cousins, and a little further out of the way, Gurness is never very busy. We always recommend it to our guests as a visiting point and they are never disappointed. Gurness is also a great place to watch seals and seabirds – and who knows, perhaps even the occasional passing orca…

https://www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/broch-of-gurness-p248081

Wildlife Updates:

An Orca pod (killer whales) has been active in Orkney waters this week. Several people photographed them today in Kirkwall Bay.

Otters have been spotted out and about. There are even otters active on the streets in the centre of Kirkwall late at night.

Hares are very active at the moment and easily spotted in the fields all over Mainland . (Mainland is actually the name of the biggest island in the group).

Short -eared owls can be seen, active by day.

Grey seals and harbour seals are easily spotted at low tide in many locations.

Large flocks of Greylag geese are still present and can be spotted in fields by the roadside. Many of these will be moving off for the summer, but a number will remain. It is always spectacular to watch them flying over and the noise is amazing. Their numbers have increased in recent years and they cause considerable damage to the grass crop.

Not such good news – stoats are everywhere. They are cute little things, easily spotted darting about. Most turn white (ermine) in the winter months but they are now returning to their distinctive red-brown colour. They are even appearing in urban gardens now. However,  they are ferocious killers of other species, especially  Orkney voles and ground nesting birds. Because the stoat has been introduced accidentally to Orkney in recent years, it poses a serious threat to the owls that also rely on the voles for food. There is a programme of monitoring and humane trapping to try and control the problem, but it may be too late. In less than a decade, the stoats appear to have become very well established.

Beautiful Bed and breakfast accommodation in Orkney. This Kirkwall mansion also offers a stylish, period venue for small and medium events.