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!

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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.

Archaeologists race against time and tide…

 

One for the Archaeologists…

A reminder that Summer is a busy time for archaeologists in Orkney. There are many sites under investigation – the most famous of course being the Ness of Brodgar. Often the working season is very short. Sometimes the sites have to be protected from Winter rain – for a lot of the year, the Ness site is hidden beneath tarpaulins weighted down with tyres. At the Swandro site, the teams are racing against the sea. They are investigating remains by the water’s edge. Each Winter,  vicious storms threaten to obliterate the evidence. These archaeologists really are racing against time.

To get a taster of the many projects going on around Orkney, click on this link:

Orkney Archaeology

Sad news from our neighbours…

Bird Observatory Fair Isle Fire
Bird Observatory at Fair Isle. Sadly destroyed by fire in March 2019

 

As many of you will have read, the world famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory has been lost to fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the building was completely destroyed and the residents have lost their home and possessions.

Fair Isle is administratively closer to Shetland than Orkney, but it can be seen from the hills above Kirkwall on a clear day and if visiting  North Ronaldsay (home  to another important bird observatory) it can look tantalisingly close.

The observatory building was assembled in sections and moved by barge from Orkney and a number of our visitors include Fair Isle on their tour itinerary. Fair Isle is not only famous for bird-watching – the wool products are distinctive and known internationally.

The loss of the observatory is obviously a great blow to the onithological community, but it will also have an impact on the tiny island’s economy. The building was the main provider of accommodation for visitors to Fair Isle, as well as an attraction in its own right.

We send the people of Fair Isle our best wishes and hope that they can recover as quickly as possible. Plans are already afoot to rebuild.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/11/quick-rebuild-planned-for-fair-isle-observatory-destroyed-by-fire

Not just for the visitors…

 

Orkney is beautiful. No one can argue with the scenery and the wildlife. Relics of the Neolithic, Viking and 20th. century wartime history of Orkney are everywhere and visitors are drawn to these fascinating sites, particularly in the summer months.

However, it is important to remember that Orkney has a thriving local economy too. Innovative renewable energy projects are all around us and the energy, shipping and oil industries are all served because of Orkney’s special location.  Farming, fishing, food production, brewing, distilling, jewellery and craft making all go on here too. This work continues all the year round. Unemployment is low and Orkney feels a real working community – not just a tourist attraction.

This short film gives you a flavour of Orkney’s more industrial  side:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oy9_EUGjAow&feature=share

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.

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