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/

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre – Important News

The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre on Hoy will be closed next year (2018) while it undergoes exciting and extensive redevelopment. the newly refurbished facilities will reopen in 2019 which will be the centenary of the famous Scuttling of the German Fleet.

Many of you will know that after their surrender at the end of the First World War, most of the German Navy’s ships were kept in Scapa Flow with their crews on board. Unhappy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German commanders decided to sink their ships to stop them from being used by their former enemies. The scuttle was planned in secret and caught the Royal Navy by surprise. Many of the ships were sunk and in the confusion, some German sailors were shot by their captors.

Between the wars, a number of the wrecks were salvaged and for a time, this became an important industry for Orkney. The remaining wrecks are now popular with recreational divers, although it is strictly forbidden to harm the wrecks or remove anything from them.

The sinking of the German fleet is just one of the many fascinating and often tragic stories connected to Scapa Flow.

Full details of the proposed closure and redevelopment are set out below:

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum is currently preparing for a major redevelopment, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Orkney LEADER fund and Orkney Islands Council Capital Projects programme. All the existing buildings will be renovated, and a new building linked to the Pumphouse will provide a controlled exhibition environment and improved visitor facilities.

The museum closed, as usual, on 31 October 2017, and work to pack the collection and prepare the buildings for renovation work is now underway. It will remain closed until Spring 2019. Completion of the works is scheduled for the end of April 2019, with an official opening to coincide with the centenary of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet on 21 June 2019.

From January onwards, staff will be working on developing the new exhibition with a scriptwriter and exhibition design company Studio MB. This will involve a huge amount of input from the museum team.

Because of this, curatorial staff will be unable to accept any work or commitments over and above projects that have already been agreed and other staff may not be able to support research requests and enquiries until summer 2019.

2018 season

During the 2018 summer season we will have a ‘pop-up’ museum at Lyness, accommodated in 2 large portakabins adjacent to the ferry terminal. This will also become an office base for staff once they vacate the Pumphouse. The temporary exhibition space in The Orkney Museum will be used to display some of the wartime collection, including a 360 degree photo record of the former display.

The exhibition at Lyness will consist of information only, with no objects on show. This means that it will not necessarily be staffed at all times, although there will be a staff presence as often as possible. We hope there will be a small retail area in the office, and a local business hopes to be providing food and drink from mobile premises adjacent to the site.

Alongside the exhibition we will be delivering more frequent guided walks and we hope that this combined offer will still encourage visitors to come across to Lyness.

As work progresses, we intend to issue regular updates and please check our Facebook page and website for news of any special events. Meantime, if you have any questions or queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch and thank you for your patience and understanding.

https://www.facebook.com/OrkneyArtsMuseumsandHeritage/
http://www.orkney.gov.uk/Service-Directory/S/scapa-flow-visitor-centre-and-museum_2.htm

Jude Callister
Orkney Arts, Museums and Heritage Service
Visitor Services Team Leader
Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, Lyness, Orkney KW16 3NT
Tel; 01856 791300

Looking Ahead… Booking Ahead…

Just a quick reminder. Although we feature on several booking websites and OTAs, you will always get the best deal by contacting us direct. It is also a good opportunity to discuss any special requirements or general enquiries about your proposed visit to Orkney.

Orkney has become a popular visitor destination in the Summer months. Late bookers are always surprised at how little accommodation is available. To avoid disappointment, we recommend making your arrangements sooner rather than later. This also applies if you are planning to hire a car or visit a limited access site such as Maeshowe.

You can call us on 01856 876077

or email us: info@artistsholidaysorkney.co.uk

We look forward to hearing from you.

Aurora time again…

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…

The Ness Battery

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.

Puffins and glorious scenery – a trip to the Brough of Birsay…

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.

Highland Park House on National TV (Channel 5 in the UK)

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.

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