Many of our visitors come to see Orkney’s spectacular wildlife. However, this weekend, the wildlife came to us and stayed for a few hours.
We found a hedgehog on the back step in the middle of the afternoon. Normally hedgehogs should not be out and about in daylight and this one looked lethargic, so we decided to intervene.
We brought it indoors to a safe place and contacted Orkney Wildlife Rescue who came round very quickly to assess the little creature.
Using the neat trick of a warm shallow bath in a glass bowl, the hedgehog was persuaded to unroll so the underside could be safely inspected. It turned out to be a (probably) pregnant female with no obvious signs of injury or illness. After a feed of meaty cat food (NEVER bread and milk!!) we let her rest in a quiet spot for a few hours and then released her close to where we found it as night started to fall. By morning she was long gone…
Orkney has been lucky enough to have sea eagles nesting and breeding successfully on the island of Hoy for a few years now. It seems that they have now been joined by golden eagles – one of the most spectacular birds likely to be seen in UK skies and a rare sight indeed.
You can click on this link to read all about it from the RSPB:
The story of how we turned Highland Park House into a successful Bed and Breakfast was told a few years back in a TV programme. I have been delighted and honoured to retell and update our story for the Orkneyology Website, set up by Rhonda and Tom Muir. https://www.orkneyology.com/
Here, you will find all sorts of information related to Orkney, but with a particular emphasis on folklore and storytelling. Tom Muir is Orkney’s foremost storyteller as well as a font of knowledge and wisdom regarding all things Orkney.
Orkney is in the grip of one of the coldest winters we have experienced in recent years. Although it probably doesn’t seem much by Canadian or Scandinavian standards, it still presents problems. Even without guests, we have to heat the building to guard against frost damage and burst pipes. It also adds an extra challenge to all those routine outdoor maintenance tasks. The plus side is that the scenery is even more striking than usual. There are a number of paths that lead from the house into the surrounding countryside and as they run up the hill, they afford stunning views across the town. All of these photographs were taken during a short stroll from the house .
Highland Park House is now closed for the the Winter.
We will not pretend that it has been an easy year and we would like to thank our guests who have agreed to transfer bookings and those who came to stay later in the year despite potential difficulties. It has really made a difference.
We will open on April 1st 2021 and we look forward to welcoming guests old and new. The booking engine and calendar is already available to receive bookings.
At Highland Park House we are happy to be open again albeit with reduced rooms. We normally welcome local friends and family to visit guests by prior arrangement. However, at the present time, we need to have track and trace information in advance for anyone entering the building. Also, for the safety of all our guests, we must minimize the number of people moving around the building, so for now, entry should be restricted to the booked guests only.
Like many local businesses, we have worked very hard to adapt to the new safety measures that are required. Please bear in mind that these limits are in place to protect our guests and the wider community in Orkney.
August 14th. 2020
There are reports of a small number of CV19 cases in Orkney. As far as we are aware, these are linked to a fishing boat crew and are nothing to do with visitors or tourism. There are no additional local restrictions in place, just the general ones set nationally. However, as with all things related to CV19, travellers are advised to check on the latest situation before starting out on a long journey.
May we take this opportunity to draw your attention to our Coronavirus procedures and expectations.
Occasionally we host events at Highland Park House, including house concerts, performances etc. To facilitate this, in our music room we have a professional lighting rig. We took advantage of the lockdown to update and overhaul some of the lighting equipment. Our son Dylan (who just happens to be a Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained lighting designer) lent a hand. You can see him here using his technical knowledge (and his height) to work on the lighting bar.
In the background you can see our piano. It is a good quality, regularly tuned instrument which many of our guests enjoy playing or using for practice while they are with us.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
B and B accommodation in Orkney. This Kirkwall mansion also offers a stylish, period venue for small and medium events. B&B or BnB? Either way, you won't be disappointed.