Welcome to August in Orkney!
There is no better time to be in the islands as we enter one of the busiest months of the year. Hopefully the sun will be shining on our agricultural show season which forms the heart of the Orcadian summer.
Keep reading for all the information you need to plan a trip to Orkney. We have our events update as well as a special look at the island of Stronsay.
What’s on in August
August sees the summer shows dominate the schedule, but visitors still have plenty of other options to fill their days in Orkney.
The agricultural shows are a special time. Across six separate events Orkney’s very best livestock will be on display. Also on offer will be some of the best food and drink from the islands, fundraising stalls, funfairs, show-jumping, music and much more. It all gets underway in Sanday on the 5th of August before culminating at the County Show in Kirkwall on the 13th. Take a look at the Visit Orkney events calendar for all the information you need.
The shows are just the start of a packed programme of events in August. County Show night has dances and ceilidhs as well as Orkney’s Parish Cup football final. The Pickaquoy Centre is the venue for the two parishes that have spent the summer battling to the showpiece event - Orkney’s own mini-World Cup!
The following Sunday, the 14th, you can view hundreds of collectable old cars, tractors, motorbikes and more at the annual Orkney Vintage Rally at Orkney Auction Mart.
Later, Broad Street in the heart of Kirkwall will be full of horses, ponies and carriages for the Riding of the Marches. The traditional event sees hundreds of horses and their riders carry a standard around the old boundary of the town. It all starts in front of St Magnus Cathedral at 2pm.
The following weekend sees the 150th anniversary of the Festival of the Horse parade in St Margaret’s Hope. The traditional event sees local girls dressed in colourful costumes, representing the dress harness worn by heavy horses in historic ploughing competitions.
Afterwards the focus is on local boys and the annual ploughing match. They take to the beach at the Sands of Wright with handheld wooden ploughs, passed down through generations, tracing furrows in the sand. The whole day is a unique celebration of Orkney’s agricultural heritage - find out more from our short video.
Explore the excavation
If you are arriving here during August make sure you pay the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar a visit. It all comes to a close on the 24th of August so take advantage of a free tour before it’s too late. Tours are available daily at 11am, 1pm and 3pm weekdays and at 11am and 3pm on weekends. There is also a special open day on the 21st of August between 11am and 4pm with tours, talks and demonstrations on site, as well as events for all ages at the school in the nearby village of Stenness.
If you’ve got your running shoes or bike with you in Orkney then you could take a trip to the island of Rousay on the 27th. The annual ‘Rousay Lap Half Marathon’ sees participants run, cycle or walk around the island’s hilly main road.
Do try and pay some of Orkney’s other islands a visit during the summer months too. Eday, Papa Westray and Sanday all have regular events run by local Rangers, making it easy to soak up island life for visitors with tight timescales.
Cinema-goers can take in some of the big summer blockbusters at the Pickaquoy Centre this month, including ‘The BFG’, ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Finding Dory’ and ‘Suicide Squad’.
In Stromness, the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘The Brand New Testament’ on the 6th in the Town Hall.
Exhibitions and events
Orkney’s wartime heritage is the focus for many local exhibitions. There is the ‘Orkney at War’ exhibition at the Orkney Library and Archive, the Orkney Museum is hosting ‘the Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea’ until the end of September and the Sanday Heritage Centre has wartime exhibition open daily. The Stromness Museum’s ‘The Loss of HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener’ will be open until the end of October.
A special charity event on the 2nd of August will see vintage fashions on show at the King Street Halls in Kirkwall between 12pm and 8pm.
There is a photography exhibition by Kirkwall Grammar School students in the Orcadian Bookshop Gallery on Albert Street in Kirkwall. North Ronaldsay’s Old Manse is hosting ‘A Sense of Place’, a pop-up gallery running alongside the island’s sheep festival. It features work by local artists and makers and is open daily between 2pm and 4pm until the 9th of August.
The Pier Arts Centre will be showing ‘Natural States – Three contemporary painters’ until the 20th of August, with the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope hosting recent paintings by Carolyn Dixon until the 23rd.
There is plenty for music fans to enjoy this month. The Reel has its latest Orcadian Summer Concert on the 2nd at 8pm. Award winning singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliot Morris will be onstage at the Orkney Brewery on the 14th with the Orkney Sailing Club in Kirkwall hosting a charity gig on the 19th. Popular Scottish folk act Blazin’ Fiddles will be performing at the Orkney Theatre on the 23rd – you can buy tickets through the Eventbrite website.
Finally, take a trip out to Skaill House near Skara Brae during August. Alongside its summer exhibition ‘On the North Russian Front’, the House will be hosting a Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail concert, featuring some of Scotland’s most talented young musicians. It starts at 7.30pm on the 9th – visit the website for ticket information.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during August. There’s always lots more happening around the islands – keep up to date with the Visit Orkney 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.
August area focus
Our featured area for August is the warm and welcoming island of Stronsay.
It’s a place rich in history and heritage. The impressive old houses lining the shorefront in the village of Whitehall are a reminder of the island’s herring fishing days. Thousands of people called Stronsay home in those days.
Things are quieter now but Whitehall is still perfect for a stroll and features the newly refurbished Fish Mart Café and Hostel, offering teas, coffees, snacks, light lunches and accommodation. The Stronsay Hotel has pride of place in the village with a busy bar and evening meals available.
Stronsay is full of rich, fertile farmland, and there is also a strong link to the sea. The coastline is full of cliffs, geos and long sandy beaches. St Catherine’s Bay, the Bay of Holland, Mill Bay and the Bay of Huip are all great spots to explore and soak up the summer sun.
On the east side of the island, the Vat of Kirbister is an impressive sea cave and rock arch. It’s one of the most impressive natural attractions in the north isles and is well worth a visit. You can see it as part of a nature walk that takes in some beautiful coastal scenery.
Wildlife is everywhere in Stronsay. The island is home to thousands of grey seals – take a walk around the coast at Linksness during pupping season in October and November and you’ll be sure to see hundreds of young pups. The tiny Linga Holm is the world’s third largest breeding ground for grey seals too.
Stronsay is welcome a wide variety of birdlife too. There have been recorded sightings of an American pipit, an Oriental skylark and a pin-tailed snipe in recent years. During the autumn months you can see waders and ducks, curlews and golden plovers.
Stronsay can also boast one of the most diverse arts and crafts communities in Orkney. The Craftship Enterprise hosts craft workshops and holidays, as well as producing personalised greeting cards and handmade wedding and home decorations. You can also visit the ‘Crafteria’ for lunches, homebakes, teas, coffees and cakes. You can buy unique island jewellery from Marion Miller Jewellery and quality quilts, children’s clothes and fabrics from Airy Fairy too.
Orkney Star Island Soaps & Textiles offers handmade soaps, balms and hand-spun textiles, as well as workshops. These local producers are coming together to make up an informal craft trail which will showcase the breadth of talent across the island.
On your bike
You can take your car to Stronsay via Orkney Ferries, but one of the best ways to see the island is by bicycle. The island is relatively flat and quiet – perfect for getting out on the open road. New bikes are being purchased for visitors to use free of charge and there are currently five bikes available as well as a trailer and tag-a-long – phone 01857 616 339 to book.
Young people can also take advantage of two play-parks, one in Whitehall and a newly refurbished facility in the heart of the island which has recently been reopened. There are two general stores in Stronsay, stocking everything you need for a short visit or a longer stay, including local meat and other Orkney products.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Stronsay, including the Stronsay Hotel, the Fish Mart Hostel and the Storehouse B&B and Smiddy self-catering cottage.
The island is well connected too. There are daily crossings with Orkney Ferries from Kirkwall and daily flights with Loganair to Kirkwall Airport. Stronsay is also on the special Sunday excursions timetable with Orkney Ferries. Take a leisurely cruise from Kirkwall and take in the island along with visits to the likes of North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Eday on the 7th and 14th of August.
If you’d like to visit the island you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney.
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