Welcome to Orkney in December!
Winter is on its way and we've already experienced the first dusting of snow over the Hoy hills here in Orkney. Islanders are now gearing up for a busy festive period, with so much to see and do over the coming weeks.
Keep reading for a look at our monthly events round-up as well as another hidden attraction feature.
What's on in December
There is a packed calendar of events planned across Orkney for December as the islands start to get into the festive spirit.
First of all, we can't focus on Christmas without mentioning one of the most unique events to take place anywhere in the UK - the Kirkwall Ba' game. This 'no holds barred' game of street football is a traditional event in the town every Christmas and New Year's Day, featuring hundreds of local men, made up into the 'Uppies' and 'Doonies'. They use skill, determination, tactics, teamwork and brute strength to push a handmade leather ball to their respective end of the town. Don't take our word for it though, watch this short video about the Ba' made by visiting American filmmakers...
The action gets underway at 1pm on Broad Street, with a boy's game beginning at 10am. As you can see, it can be fast and frantic, so make sure you stay well back if you're going along to experience this special event.
Stromness will host its own unique activity this year too. Hogmanay will see the return of the 'Stromness Yule Log'. Last held in 1937, the event will pit teams from both ends of the town against each other to try and attempt to drag a large tree trunk through the narrow streets to their goals. The revival is the latest in the year-long Per Mare celebrations in Stromness and the action will get underway at 2pm from the town's pierhead on December 31st. Food, entertainment and a display of historical information will also be on offer. Find out more on the Stromness Orkney Facebook page.
There are, of course, plenty of traditional Christmas events to enjoy in the run-up to the big day. Tree lighting ceremonies are planned across the islands in the next few weeks - see a full list via the Orkney Islands Council website. The programme culminates on Kirkwall's Kirk Green on the 9th, with the traditional St Lucy Parade from 5.30pm.
It's pantomime season too - in Stromness you can see Jack and the Beanstalk between the 7th and 9th of December – tickets are available at JB Rosey in Stromness and at Ortak in Kirkwall. In Kirkwall it's Beauty and the Beast, with performances planned between the 9th and 16th of December. Tickets can be bought at AJB Scholes. St Margaret’s Hope hosts Dick Whittington from the 13th until the 16th of December. Tickets are available at Robertson’s in the Hope, the Burray shop and from VAO in Kirkwall.
If you're planning some Christmas shopping then Scapa Distillery could be the place to be on the 2nd. The Distillery has a special Christmas Fayre with local food, drink and craft producers all taking part between 12pm and 6pm. Elsewhere, Kirkwall's shops have special Sunday opening hours on the 10th, 17th and 24th of December, with late night shopping on the 14th. In Stromness there is the town's bonanza, with the chance to win £1,000. There's late night and Sunday openings, offers and discounts available throughout December as well. If you're looking for something special then take advantage of the Orkney Craft Trail for present inspiration too.
For music lovers the festive period can be the perfect time to catch a gig or too. St Magnus Cathedral is the venue for the Winter Choir and Orkney Camerata Christmas Concert on the 3rd at 7.30pm. Later in the month, Orkney DJ Will Atkinson will be performing in the Sound Archive at the Old Library - that's on the 27th from 9pm.
There are still plenty of chances to get out and about this December, whatever the weather! RSPB Scotland has two days of events at the Hoy nature reserve this month. On the 1st there is a talk at the Hoy Kirk with a look back at 2017 at the reserve. A passenger ferry leaves Stromness at 5.45pm and returns at 10pm. On the 2nd you can take a guided walk to the Old Man of Hoy with experts from the RSPB. Phone 01856 850 176 for more information and to book the walk. The ferry leaves Stromness at 9.30am and returns at 4.30pm. The Hoy Kirk will host a range of activities throughout the day too, between 10.30am and 4pm.
Indoors, and the Orkney Archaeological Society has an illustrated talk at Orkney College - that's on the 4th at 7pm. On the 8th, the Archaeology Institute at Orkney College UHI hosts an ‘Archaeology in a Day’ Open Day between 1pm and 5pm too.
The Pier Arts Centre’s Annual Open Exhibition is on display until the 30th, with the Loft Gallery in St Margaret's Hope hosting an exhibition by Lulia Fisher until the 19th. Meanwhile the Pickaquoy Centre cinema has a wide range of films this December, including ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during December. 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.
Explore uncovered Orkney
Every month we take a look at a special site in Orkney, one that isn't as well known as some of our other attractions. December's location is a place with a very poignant past.
Most visitors taking the ferry from Houton on the Orkney mainland to the island of Hoy immediately travel north after arrival, heading towards the hills, Rackwick and the Old Man of Hoy. But those who travel south are rewarded with a number of fascinating sites to visit.
One of them, the Longhope Lifeboat Museum, is a real treasure trove of artefacts and stories, showcasing the strong links between the area and the sea. The museum also documents the bond between the village of Longhope and its lifeboat service. The village's lifeboat hit the headlines in March 1969 when eight crew members perished in the Pentland Firth after being called out to a rescue operation in wild weather.
The museum can be found in the former lifeboat shed at Brims, and the centrepiece is the fully restored former lifeboat 'Thomas McCunn', originally in service in the 1930s. The walls are covered in photographs, items of clothing, memorabilia and plaques highlighting Longhope's long and proud association with the RNLI. You can learn about former crews and, of course, that fateful night in 1969.
A couple of miles away, on the east coast of the area, you can find the Longhope Lifeboat Memorial, which serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy. Elsewhere you can visit the Hackness Battery and Martello Tower, a Napoleonic-era defence structure, and the stunningly craggy coastline of the Hill of White Hamars, a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve too.
So, make sure you leave time for a journey south when you arrive at Lyness in Hoy - you won't regret it!
Explore uncovered Orkney with our interactive map, featuring all our previous locations.
Want to find out more about Orkney? Take a look at the following articles and features for extra island inspiration.
The new 2018 Orkney Visitor Guide is out now, containing all the information you need to book a trip to the islands. View the guide and order your own copy!
Get out and about this winter with a wild walk in Orkney - we've highlighted seven of our favourite routes for you to enjoy.
Orkney-based knitwear designers Hilary Grant have produced a limited edition knitted blanket in partnership with the Pier Arts Centre, inspired by the paintings of iconic Orcadian artist, Sylvia Wishart. Find out more via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
Read the December newsletter from our partners at Orkney.com for more on life in the islands this month.
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 - this month you could win a stunning lambswool scarf from local designers Mixter Maxter.
We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and we hope we'll see you in 2018!
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