Welcome to April in Orkney!

Spring is here and Orkney is beginning to enjoy bright mornings and longer evenings - just perfect for getting out and about to enjoy everything the islands have to offer.

If you're planning a trip to Orkney this month, we have all the information you need right here. We've been taking a look at the events and activities coming up over the next few weeks.

We also take a special look at the parish of Stenness, home to our UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What's on in April

April is great time to visit Orkney. During the Easter holidays there are plenty of events and some of our main tourist attractions open their doors for the summer season once again.

Welcome return for special guests

One of Hoy's sea eagles in flight

Local bird watchers have been delighted to welcome one of our very special wildlife attractions back to the islands for another season. Hoy's two sea eagles have returned for another nesting attempt after they failed to produce a chick last year. Fingers are crossed for the first sea eagle chick to be bred in Orkney for nearly 150 years. You can see the two young birds near their eyrie at the Dwarfie Hammars high above the Dwarfie Stone in Hoy over the coming weeks. RSPB staff members will be on hand at the small car park between 11am and 4pm every day to help you spot them. Find out more via this blog from Orkney.com.

Plenty in store for music lovers

Live music fans will have the chance to enjoy visitors from the north this month. Shetland band 'Rack n Ruin' are heading to Orkney with their brand of traditional Shetland tunes, outlaw country and Americana. You can see them in the Sands Hotel in Burray on the 8th, in the Royal Hotel in Stromness on the 9th and the Auld Motor Hoose in Kirkwall on the 10th.

One of Ireland's most popular entertainers will be returning to Orkney this month too. Nathan Carter and his band will perform at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 16th of April - tickets are available from the Centre on 01856 879900 or via the Centre's website.

Nathan Carter will be performing in Orkney this month

Orkney's festival season gets underway this month too with the annual Orkney Jazz Festival. Head through to the Stromness Hotel between the 22nd and 25th to hear from local jazz musicians as well as visiting artists from across the UK.

Ancient finds take centre stage

If you're interested in Orkney's historical finds then a special talk from the Orkney Archaeology Society might be for you. Dr Natasha Ferguson will host the event, titled 'Recent discoveries and old stories from the archive: Treasure Trove in Orkney', on the 14th of April at Orkney College at 7.30pm.

Beachcombing with a difference

How do you fancy taking a walk across some of Orkney's finest beaches and helping our natural environment at the same time? The annual 'Bag the Bruck' week could be just the thing for you. 'Bruck' is an Orcadian word for rubbish and the event sees volunteers comb beaches throughout the islands removing litter and other materials from our shorelines. The 2016 event takes place between the 16th and 24th of April. Email bagthebruck@gmail.com to discover how you can get involved. Find out more about beachcombing in Orkney from Orkney.com.

Beachcombing in Orkney

Mixing bowls ready for the Bake off!

A very special event is sure to get taste buds tingling in Kirkwall later this month. The Great Orcadian Bake Off will see bakers of all ages showcase their talents on the 23rd of April, in aid of Maggie's Centre in Aberdeen. It's the first in a series of events being organised by local lass Emily Findlay, aimed at raising funds for charities that have supported her during her six year battle against a rare form of cancer. Head along to the King Street Halls on the 23rd from two o'clock to see some of the creations, taste some samples and listen to live music. You can also follow The Great Orcadian Bake Off on Facebook.

Plenty in store for Gallery fans

If you're still in the Easter spirit then take a trip to the Loft Gallery in St Margaret's Hope this month. The spring exhibition features a range of original and innovative handmade Easter bonnets. It's all in aid of Syria Relief UK and is open until the 26th of April.

There are other exhibitions on display across Orkney. 'All Stitched Up' by Mal Cowtan is in the Northlight Gallery in Stromness until the 7th, the Pier Arts Centre is showing 'Kirk-yard, shore and ship - images of the trawler MV Norholmen' until the 9th and businesses in Kirkwall are taking part in an Open Windows Art Exhibition between the 16th and 30th of April.

Silver screen delights in April

Cinema lovers have plenty of options this month. The Pickaquoy Centre will be showing its usual range of new releases, including action remake Point Break, children's favourite 'Kung Fu Panda 3' and the latest from the Coen brothers 'Hail, Caesar'.

In Stromness, the West Side Cinema has showings of the BAFTA nominated short films and animations on the 2nd of April, including a Q+A with director Callum Rice. The Cinema will host 'Aferim!' on the 16th and Icelandic film 'Rams' on the 30th.

'Aferim!' will be on show at the West Side Cinema in Orkney this month

The Gable End Theatre in Hoy will be showing 'The Dressmaker' on the 8th of April and 'Theeb' on the 22nd. The Screen in the Square in St Margaret's Hope has 'He Named Me Malala' on the 23rd at 8pm.

That's just a taste of events in Orkney during April. There's always lots more happening around the islands - keep up to date with our events page, pick up a copy of local newspaper 'The Orcadian' every Thursday or tune into BBC Radio Orkney every weekday morning from 0730 on 93.7FM or on Facebook.


April area focus - Stenness

Stenness is a small parish in Orkney's west mainland, but it's also the location of some of the islands most spectacular and popular attractions.

Step back in time

Thousands of visitors head to the area every year to take in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site, with stone circles, Neolithic tombs and ongoing excavations enthralling tourists from around the world.

The awe-inspiring Ring of Brodgar in Orkney - image by Mark Ferguson - www.markfergusonphotography.co.uk

For many the first stop is Tormiston Mill, next to the main road linking Kirkwall and Stromness. The Mill itself is an imposing building more than 130 years old. But it now doubles as the visitor centre for a slightly older structure.

Across the field your eye is drawn to an alien bump on the otherwise flat landscape. Maeshowe is a chambered tomb, intricately built five thousand years ago, now covered with grass and - on occasion - sheep!

1000 year old graffiti

Maeshowe in Orkney's World Heritage Site

It's seen as the finest Neolithic tomb in north-west Europe and is a masterpiece of construction. Visitors head inside through a low, narrow passage which opens up into the awe-inspiring central chamber, featuring enormous stone slabs and three side cells. It really is a special experience with the modern day world outside suddenly feeling a long way away. Your tour guide will highlight some of the tomb's modern additions, including the largest collection of runic writing outside Scandinavia, scrawled onto the walls of Maeshowe by Norsemen around a thousand years ago. It also has a role to play at midwinter - find out more via this Orkney.com blog.

The Neolithic attractions in Stenness don't end there. Continue down the road past Tormiston and take a right turn to head into the very heart of Orkney's historical landscape. On your right you'll see the imposing Standing Stones of Stenness. The four surviving stones are thought to be part of the earliest henge monument in the UK and could be around 5,400 years old. Nearby you'll also find the remains of an Orcadian Stone Age settlement at Barnhouse.

History uncovered in front of you

Head past the monumental Watch Stone, guarding the entrance to the Brodgar peninsula, and - if you've timed your trip to Orkney correctly - you'll be greeted by a very special patch of land. During much of July and August the secrets of the Neolithic complex at the Ness of Brodgar are unveiled as teams of experts excavate one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the country.

The Ness of Brodgar excavations in Orkney

The Ness of Brodgar excavations in Orkney

The sprawling six acre site has unveiled fantastic finds and helped archaeologists understand more about Orkney's ancient communities - find out more via Orkney.com and see how you can visit the site for yourself this summer.

Spectacular stone circle

A matter of metres up the road and you'll arrive at the Ring of Brodgar, described by Historic Scotland as 'one of the most spectacular prehistoric monuments in the British Isles'. Thirty-six stones are still standing today in a near-perfect circle more than 100 metres in diameter. Walk around the Ring to take in the sheer scale of the site - it's an incredible experience.

The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney - image by Iain Sarjeant

There are daily guided tours of Maeshowe and walking tours of the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Barnhouse village weekly.

Stenness isn't all about the World Heritage Site though - there are plenty of other attractions in the parish to keep you off the well trodden historical trail.

Instead of turning right at the turn off towards the Standing Stones and the Ring of Brodgar, head left up the Bigswell Road and you'll find a real hidden gem in the middle of the Stenness countryside.

Peaceful Happy Valley

Happy Valley was a labour of love by local man Edwin Harrold. He spent years cultivating the small patch of woodland and his home, the stone cottage at Bankburn. After his death a group was launched to maintain the beauty spot and ensure that locals and visitors can continue to enjoy the enchanting site. There are trees, wild flowers, a burn, a small waterfall and short walks through the woods - find your own spot to sit down and enjoy the peace and quiet!

The cottage of Bankburn in Happy Valley

En-route to Happy Valley you'll find one of Orkney's talented jewellery makers. Stewart Moar was born and brought up in the islands and produces a wide range of Scottish, Celtic, Norse and contemporary pieces, all with an Orcadian influence. You can visit his studio and workshop throughout the week - find out more from the Orkney Crafts Association website.

Can you beat the Stenness Monster?

Stenness also has a busy village with all the amenities you'd expect - and one you might not! During the summer folk are encouraged to try and tackle a 'Stenness Monster' ice cream cone at Gerri's Ice Cream Parlour. It opens at the start of April and stocks a wide range of Orkney ice cream as well as teas, coffees and homebakes. It's the perfect stop-off after a busy day enjoying all the Stenness sights!

If you want to base yourself in the heart of Orkney's prehistoric landscape during your visit to the islands, there are plenty of accommodation options in Stenness. The Standing Stones Hotel sits on the banks of the Stenness Loch and offers rooms, food and an relaxed bar area. There are also plenty of self-catering premises nearby - have a look at all your accommodation options.

And finally

Hopefully you found this April update from Orkney useful. If you've been inspired to find out more about life in Orkney, explore our site and visit Orkney.com.

You can also sign up to our Orkney mailing list to keep up to date with the latest news and get the chance to win a special prize.