Welcome to Orkney in February!

With another month of winter done, our attention is already turning to spring and the prospect of longer days.

Keep reading to find out what you can do during a February visit to Orkney and for our special area focus on the town of Stromness.

What's on in February

Don't let the prospect of wild weather put you off a visit to the islands this February. It has been a mild and sunny January and let's hope that continues!

Playing for laughs

Orkney will be hosting a performance by the award winning comedian Omid Djalili later this month. His 'Schmuck for a Night’ tour is taking him to the Pickaquoy Centre on the 19th of February. It's sure to be a night full of tall tales and laughs so make sure you don't miss out. Tickets are available by phoning the Centre on 01856 879900.

Comedian Omid Djalili will be perfoming in Kirkwall this February

Tractor power

Nothing says an Orkney February more than one of the county's annual ploughing matches. The events see farmers compete to plough the straightest furrows in local fields and are very social gatherings. You'll see young and old taking part in a range of machinery - catch one for yourself at Howe, near Marwick in Birsay, on the 4th of February. The action starts at 9am.

An Orkney ploughing match in full flight - image by Rae Slater

Agriculture is also the theme of the current exhibition at the Orkney Museum. Head into the warm confines of Tankerness House on Broad Street in Kirkwall to learn all about the unique Festival of the Horse and the Boy's Ploughing Match, held in South Ronaldsay every summer. Both events are rooted in the farming world and you can see the artefacts on show until the 11th of February.

Exhibitions and collections

The Orkney Museum also has an exhibition focusing on finds from a special fieldwalking archaeology event held in the West Mainland last year. You can see some of the finds as well as read case studies and stories from those taking part.

Art lovers should head along to the For Arts Sake Gallery on Bridge Street to see its ‘Love Your World’ exhibition and sale. It features work made with recycled, repurposed and recrafted materials and it's all on display until the 25th of February.

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness has some annual maintenance taking place until the 24th so access to parts of the gallery space may be limited. From the following day, however, it's back to normal and you'll be able to see work from the latest generation of Orkney artists to have graduated from the country's art schools. The new collection will be opening on the 25th at 10.30am - head along to see pieces from some of the real talents of the future.

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness - image by Alistair Peebles

Neolithic February

If you managed to catch BBC Two's 'Britain's Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney' at the start of January, then you'll know that some of our Neolithic sites are taking centre stage at the moment. They can be busy during the summer months so consider a trip to see them now, when you can quite often have them all to yourself. Guided tours of Skara Brae and Maeshowe are available all year round, and there are guided Ranger walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness on Wednesdays at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar on Thursdays at 1pm. Here's a taste of a tour at the Ring of Brodgar...

At one with wildlife

There are a number of wildlife events on across Orkney this month - some of them indoors incase the February weather isn't as kind as it might be! First of all, the Scottish Ornithologists Club has a talk by Colin Corse titled ‘Sanday Sanderling’ in the St Magnus Centre on the 9th at 7.30pm.

Young folk can get out and about with the local RSPB group later in the month. The charity is organising a wildlife tracking event at Warbeth on the outskirts of Stromness on Thursday 16th. You'll be able to make your own footprint plaster cast, hunt for otter poo and see what other signs of wildlife can be found in the area. It's for children aged 7 and over and places can be booked by phoning 01856 850 176 or emailing orkney@rspb.org.uk

The view of the Hoy Hills from the walk to Warbeth in Orkney - image by Neil Ford

Back indoors on the 24th then, and the Orkney Field Club has its Nature Showcase, a number of 15 minute presentations on local projects, including skuas and bats. That’s also in the St Magnus Centre at 7.30pm.

Silver screen showcase

The Pickaquoy Centre Cinema has its usual mix of showings throughout the month, including Assassins Creed, La La Land, Sing and T2: Trainspotting – you can view the full schedule via the Centre’s website. The Cinema also hosts regular live theatre events, this month you can see National Theatre Live’s ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Saint John’, and ballet from the Royal Opera House, including ‘Woolf Works’ and ‘The Sleeping Beauty’.

Meanwhile the West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing 'The Lovers & The Despot' in the Town Hall at 7.15pm on Saturday 11th and 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' on Saturday 25th at the same time.

That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during February. 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.

February area focus

Our monthly feature on different parts of Orkney takes a closer look at the beautiful maritime town of Stromness.

The winding streets of Stromness from above - image by Colin Keldie

It's simply one of the most special places in the islands. It's full of character, with flagstone streets winding south along a sheltered bay, overlooked by old stone houses with piers jutting out into the water. Views from the town are almost unrivalled in Orkney. You can see the island of Graemsay with its two lighthouses and Hoy beyond, and the largest hills in Orkney creating quite the backdrop all year round.

Harbour lights

The hub of the town is the harbour. There is a regular ferry connection to Scrabster on the Scottish mainland as well as a passenger only service to Graemsay and Hoy. But it's the regular comings and goings of the various dive boats and creel boats that can be captivating. Stromness is the main centre of Orkney's diving industry - charters regularly take visiting divers out into Scapa Flow for the journey down to the wrecks of the WWI German fleet.

An aerial view of Stromness and its busy harbour - image by Colin Keldie

Streets ahead in Stromness

One of the main attractions of Stromness is its old street, meandering from north to south. The flagstones click and clack with the sound of shoes, bikes and cars. Remember to explore some of the many lanes, closes, nooks and crannies you'll see on your way - it's a fascinating reminder of the town's maritime history.

Enjoy the colour and character of the Stromness street - image by Iain Sarjeant

But the present is very much in the forefront too, with a range of modern shops and businesses, including hotels, pubs, cafes, bakeries, delis, galleries and a butchers. You can also pick up clothes and souvenirs, arts and crafts, stationery and much more.

Town attractions

Stromness is also a town with a famous artistic flair to it. It was the home of author George Mackay Brown, as well as artists including Sylvia Wishart and Ian MacInnes. You can see a fabulous collection of work at the Pier Arts Centre, which has regular exhibitions as well as its own permanent collection.

Further along the street is the fascinating Stromness Museum - a place designed to take away your afternoon without you even realising it! Learn about the town's history and explore the story of Dr John Rae, the Orcadian explorer. You can also access a special audio tour of the town.

Stromness Museum - a treasure trove of artefacts

Further on still and you'll come to the cannon viewpoint. The old cannon was salvaged from the American vessel ‘Liberty’ – take a seat on the nearby benches and watch vessels heading into harbour.

Stunning Stromness scenery

Our favourite thing about Stromness is the surrounding scenery. Climb Brinkies Brae to look over the top of the town and towards the Inner Holms, or take the path from the Point of Ness campsite at the south end and head along the coast to Warbeth and the beautiful beach there, enjoying views of Graemsay and Hoy en-route. It's a great walk in the sun, snow, wind or rain!

You can also step out onto the various piers in the town for a look back at Stromness and to see some amazing old stonework on the unique houses and stores.

Take a look back at the town from one of the various piers

Vibrant and lively

The town might be smaller than Kirkwall but there is plenty of action to enjoy all year round. It's a lively place, full of activity, including the annual Orkney Folk Festival - find out more about the 2017 event via the official website. It's also home to the annual Blues Festival, and the West Side Cinema, a community cinema group, has candlelit showings every month in Stromness Town Hall.

The main event though is the town’s annual Shopping Week. The seven day long gala is very much aimed at families with activities and events for everyone to enjoy. The whole of Stromness comes together to celebrate, with live music, arts and crafts, sports competitions and an open air dance and fireworks to round it all off.

For the sporty folk amongst you, why not test your skills at Stromness Golf Club, which has stunning views over Hoy Sound and the island's hills. Visit the official website for more details on how to play a round there.

Enjoy a round of golf with a view in Stromness - image by Iain Sarjeant

Orkney’s wartime history is also visible in Stromness, the remains of various gun and search light batteries can be seen en-route to Warbeth. The Ness Battery is one of the UK’s best-preserved wartime sites too, with guided tours available of the defences and the old wartime wooden huts. Visit the website for more details.

Finally, the town is celebrating its 200th birthday this year and there will be a series of events to mark the special occasion - keep up to date with developments via the Visit Orkney website.

Find out more about Stromness from the dedicated page on Visit Orkney and the Orkney.com website.You can also visit the official Stromness website.

If you’d like to visit Stromness you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney, with a wide range of excellent homes from home available, from hotels to hostels and campsites.

Discover more

Want to find out more about Orkney? Take a look at the following articles and features for more island inspiration.

Be at 'One with Orkney' thanks to our new video and eBook from Visit Scotland. View the full versions via our website.

The Orkney island of Eday has been playing host to a beautiful Snowy Owl in recent weeks, attracting plenty of attention from birdwatchers and photographers, including wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant. Read his account, via Orkney.com, of taking the ferry to the island to try and catch his own glimpse of this rare visitor.

Explore some of the hidden parts of Orkney, as featured in the BBC Two series 'Britain's Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney' - use our interactive map to find some of our 'off the beaten track' locations.

Read the February newsletter from our sister site Orkney.com for more on life in the islands this month, including a wildlife watch and images from our new featured photographer.

And finally...

We hope you found this February 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 - this month you could claim a holiday to Orkney!