Welcome to February in Orkney!

The islands have had everything from sun and storms to ice and rain so far this year, here's hoping this month will bring brighter weather. We've put together another look at Orkney's events and activities over the coming weeks to keep you occupied if you're having a late winter break. There's also a special look at what there is to see and do in the beautiful island of Shapinsay - a place for all seasons.

What's on in February

If you're looking for a laugh this month, the Pickaquoy Centre is the place to head for. Renowned US comedian Rich Hall brings his '3.10 to Humour' tour to Orkney on the 3rd of February at 7pm. A well known face from various television shows and a previous Perrier Award winner, his deadpan delivery is sure to be a hit with the local audience. You can get your tickets via the Grooves store in Kirkwall.

Staying indoors and, with the Oscars taking place in Hollywood at the end of the month, the Phoenix Cinema will be hosting a number of nominated movies. Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight', 'The Revenant' starring Leonardo DiCaprio and 'Joy' with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro will all be shown on the big screen during February.

Perfect for theatre lovers

The theatre takes centre stage later in the month with the return of the annual Orkney District Drama Festival. Local drama clubs will perform their one act plays between the 23rd and 26th of February in the Orkney Theatre. There will be eleven performances in total - you can get tickets from Findlay's Photo Shop in Kirkwall from the 9th of February. The top three plays will be shown again on the 27th of February too.

The Orkney Theatre will host the Orkney District Drama Festival in 2016.

There are also a number of interesting talks and events this month. Professor Donna Heddle from the UHI Centre for Nordic Studies will deliver her 'From the Fury of the Norsemen, Good Lord, Deliver us?' lecture about Norse influence in Scotland in the Gable End Theatre in Hoy on the 10th of February at 8pm.

There's a Nature Showcase Night in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall on the 19th at 7.30pm. You'll be able to hear from local naturalists with talks and presentations, along with the chance to ask questions about Orkney's nature and wildlife. Contact John for more information on 01856 831 507.

Exhibitions galore

There are some interesting exhibitions on at the moment too. 'Get the Howdie Wife...the Bairn's Coming!' is a brief history of infant and maternity care in Orkney during the 20th Century at the Orkney Museum. It's open until the 15th and admission to the Museum is free.

The Museum will also be hosting 'The Secrets of the Sea: Underwater Archaeology Around Orkney', providing a glimpse of Orkney's hidden heritage. See images and artefacts from Orkney's seabed and wrecks at the exhibition between the 6th and 27th of February.

See the secrets of the sea at the Orkney Museum this month - image courtesy of Halton Charters

Meanwhile the For Arts Sake Gallery will be showing 'To Your Own Heart Be True', featuring heart themed works made from recycled materials, until the 20th. Admission is free.

Get active in Orkney

If you're still trying to get fit after the festive period then the 2016 Open Day at the Pickaquoy Centre might be just the thing for you. Sunday the 7th of February will see the Centre's doors open with free entry to all the arranged activities. You can try your hand at fitness classes, treatments, roller skating, masters swimming, squash, a pool family disco and much more!

And why not brave the February weather and head out for the West Mainland Ploughing Match? See some of our finest farmers plough their furrows carefully in the fields at Vetquoy in Sandwick on the 13th. There is far more skill to the practice than you would think!

Ploughing underway at the West Mainland Ploughing Match in Orkney - image courtesy of Orkney Sports

That's just a taste of February's events in Orkney. 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 Parish Focus - Shapinsay

February's area focus takes us on a short ferry hop to Shapinsay. The fertile island lies just a few miles away from the Orkney mainland, but it has plenty to offer visitors.

The beautiful green fields of Shapinsay in Orkney - image by Iain Sarjeant

Orkney's islands are all worth a visit. Some lie on the fringes of our archipelago, with flights or longer ferry journeys a necessity. But others, like Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, are classed as 'inner isles', and enjoy shorter, quicker sea links to the Orkney mainland.

Shapinsay is one of them, and it's certainly worth making the trip across 'the String' to sample all the island has to offer.

Relax on the ferry

The ferry journey from Kirkwall takes just twenty five minutes and leads you to a beautiful village and a green island full of rich farmland beyond.

The short ferry journey between Kirkwall and Shapinsay is an attraction in itself - image courtesy of Lisa-Marie Muir

En-route you'll pass the small isles of Thieves Holm and Helliar Holm, with its Stevenson designed lighthouse, then the ferry will head into Elwick Bay, offering fantastic views of the iconic Victorian Balfour Castle and The Douche, a drystane tower built as a salt-water shower, with a dovecot on top, on the shore.

The village of Balfour itself is a real treat. Its single street takes you through Orkney's first planned village with beautiful stone buildings on your left and gardens full of flowers and plants on your right. The village is also the main hub for the island, featuring the excellent Shapinsay Heritage Centre where locally designed arts and crafts can be bought and family history researched. It sits above the Smithy Restaurant, a great place to get refreshments during a sightseeing trip.

The island shop and post office, packed full of local products and more, is also nearby.

Lots to see and do

Outside the village there are plenty of activities and attractions for visitors. The Burroughston Broch lies around six miles away and is one of the Orkney's finest Iron Age sites. It was first excavated in the mid 1800s and is well worth the walk from the small car park. The coastline close to the broch is also one of the best places to see Orkney's common and grey seal populations - remember to take your binoculars and camera!

Burroughston Broch in Shapinsay - image by Iain Sarjeant

Nature at its best

As with many places in Orkney, Shapinsay is a nature lovers paradise. It has all kinds of landscapes for wildlife, flowers and plants to thrive in, including moorland, wetlands, green fields and cliffs and beaches. Around a mile north of the village is the RSPB's Mill Dam nature reserve. It's one of Orkney's real hidden gems with excellent bird watching opportunities throughout the year.

During the spring you can see the likes of wigeon, mallards and greylag geese before the summer brings waders and gull and wildfowl chicks, wandering amongst the surrounding marshlands and flowers.

The autumn and winter visitors to Mill Dam include whooper swans, grey herons and water rails. The increasing population also attracts raptors like hen harriers and short eared owls - a birdwatcher's delight all year round. The site has a spacious hide with a car park, bike rack and a picnic area for visitors.

The excellent hide at the Mill Dam Nature Reserve in Shapinsay

There are locations throughout Shapinsay, including the loch at Vasa and Lairo Water that offer excellent walks and wildlife spotting opportunities.

Shapinsay on show

Shapinsay is also seen as a producer of some of Orkney's best cattle. Prize winning livestock will watch you with a relaxed eye from their fertile fields as you travel throughout the island. If you arrive in Shapinsay at the beginning of August you'll be able to see them close up as the island's annual Agricultural Show takes centre stage at the school.

Orkney Ferries operates daily return sailings from the island and there is also an out of hours ferry service funded by the local Development Trust.

If you want to make Shapinsay a must see on your trip to Orkney, find out more about the island from our dedicated page, and view your accommodation options. You can also read more about Shapinsay from Orkney.com.

And finally...

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