Welcome to July in Orkney!

We’ve been enjoying some wonderful weather so far this summer so let’s hope it continues over the coming weeks.

Orkney is a busy place during July with events and activities planned across the islands. 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 North Ronaldsay.

What’s on in July

July is a busy month for all our main archaeological excavations. There is an open day at The Cairns dig in South Ronaldsay on the 1st of July and workers will be on site at Swandro in Rousay from the 4th. Keep up to date with the various projects via the Visit Orkney website.

Looking over the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney - image by Jim Richardson
Looking over the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney - image by Jim Richardson

The covers at the Ness of Brodgar will begin to be removed on the 4th as well before full tours get underway once more on the 6th of July. Find out more from our blog on Orkney.com.

Get active

There’s an energetic feel to the start of July this year too with the inaugural ‘St Magnus Marathon’ – Orkney’s first full distance event. Organised by the Birsay Community Association, the marathon will follow a route from St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall to the parish of Birsay, which has strong ties to the story of Orkney’s Viking Earl, Magnus. Although entries are now closed it will still be a great spectacle, with around 130 runners gathering in front of the Cathedral on the 3rd of July at 10am.

Runners will be greeted with some spectacular scenery during the St Magnus Marathon
Runners will be greeted with some spectacular scenery during the St Magnus Marathon

As part of the weekend there will also be a 5km fun run and entertainment in the Birsay Community Hall on the Sunday, and a ceilidh on Sunday evening. The dance is open to all – find out more from the Birsay Community Hall website.

Island flings

Three Orkney islands will be hosting very different events this month. Hoy is having its second ‘Hoy Hoolie’ after the last year’s success. Head over to the island on Friday 15th for a weekend of music, dancing and plenty of fun for all the family. Find out more from the Hoy Hoolie website.

In Papa Westray the local community will be enjoying its annual Fun Weekend between the 22nd and the 24th. It’s a great excuse to visit the island, with live music, picnics, cart races and much more planned. Visit the Papa Westray website for more details.

Meanwhile the unique seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay will be the focus of a special festival between the 25th of July and the 5th of August. The event is aimed at raising awareness of the ancient breed and to give people the chance to learn practical skills associated with managing the 3,000 strong flock. Find out more from this blog on Orkney.com.

See the seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay this summer
See the seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay this summer

Celebrate in Stromness

July also sees the town of Stromness take centre stage. The 67th Stromness Shopping Week will be held from the 17th of July, featuring a week-long calendar of community events and activities. Street entertainment, sporting events and live music dominate the week which has become a main part of the Orcadian summer. Visit the official Shopping Week website for updates.

Special visit

You can take a trip to the unique uninhabited island of Eynhallow with the Orkney Heritage Society in July. Leaving Tingwall at 7.15pm on the 18th, you’ll be able to walk around the island, viewing the monastery and a wide variety of sealife and birdlife in the company of local experts. Tickets go on sale on the 4th of July from the Orkney Library and Archive. Find out more from the OHS website.

Arctic terns on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow
Arctic terns on the uninhabited island of Eynhallow

Come rain or shine

If the Orkney weather doesn’t play ball there are always plenty of indoor activities to enjoy. For art lovers the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope is showing work by Sheena Graham-George and Angelica Kroeger until the 5th, with Carolyn Dixon taking over from the 9th.

The Pier Arts Centre has two new exhibitions this summer. ‘Natural States – three contemporary painters’ and ‘New Territory – Soulisquoy Printmakers in Stromness’ will both be on display until the 20th of August.

On display at the Pier Arts Centre this month - Clare Woods, Sing me to Sleep, 2015 © The Artist
On display at the Pier Arts Centre this month - Clare Woods, Sing me to Sleep, 2015 © The Artist

There are plenty of options for music fans too. Scottish folk band ‘Tannara’ will be performing in Westray on the 12th and in The Reel in Kirkwall on the 15th.

The Reel also has regular music events for visitors and locals. There are weekly Saturday night sessions and another Orcadian Summer Concert on the 5th at 8pm, featuring the best of local musical talent. Have a look at The Reel website for the latest information.

The Pickaquoy Centre cinema has a busy summer schedule. On offer this month are blockbusters including ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’, ‘Warcraft: The Beginning’ and ‘The BFG’, along with others like ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘The Silent Storm’. View the full schedule on the Pickaquoy Centre website.

In Stromness the West Side Cinema will be showing ‘Papusza’ on the 2nd at 7.45pm.

Ranger walks

Remember during the summer months you can enjoy free guided tours of Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse village during the summer months. Led by Historic Environment Scotland’s Ranger Service, the walks are the perfect opportunity to hear some of the secrets of each site. Read more and see our video via our special blog.

Tour the Ring of Brodgar with Historic Environment Scotland this summer - image by Colin Keldie
Tour the Ring of Brodgar with Historic Environment Scotland this summer - image by Colin Keldie

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


July area focus – North Ronaldsay

This month’s area focus takes a trip to our northernmost community, the unique and wonderful North Ronaldsay.

Getting to North Ronaldsay is an experience in itself. You can either set sail with Orkney Ferries, plotting a path through our low-lying north isles, or you can take to the skies with Loganair, flying over beaches and bays and some of Orkney’s smallest, but most vibrant, communities.

North Ronaldsay in Orkney - image by Colin Keldie
North Ronaldsay in Orkney - image by Colin Keldie

North Ronaldsay certainly ticks all those boxes. It’s an island with one of the smallest populations in Orkney but it still has a lot going for it. From fantastic bird life to a rugged coastline, history, heritage and the famous seaweed-eating sheep, there really is nowhere else like it.

Perfect for bird watching

Most visitors head to two different attractions at either end of the island. Towards the south sits the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory. Established in 1987, it is the epicentre of the study of the incredible array of migrant birds that pass over North Ronaldsay. From northern harriers to greenish warblers, great shearwaters and an American golden plover, the island is simply one of the best places in the UK for bird watching.

North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory - image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland
North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory - image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland

The Observatory is also a one-stop-shop in North Ronaldsay. It offers accommodation, camping, meals and a shop for visitors.

Climb the lighthouse

Take the main road north to the extreme edge of the Orkney archipelago and you’ll be greeted by the tallest land-based lighthouse in the country. The distinctive tower of the North Ronaldsay lighthouse looms large over the island and its elderly relative, the Old Beacon, next door.

The North Ronaldsay Lighthouse - image by Premysl Fojtu
The North Ronaldsay Lighthouse - image by Premysl Fojtu

Tours are available of the lighthouse itself and it’s well worth a visit. Brave the climb to the top to be greeted with stunning views – on a clear day you can see Fair Isle in the distance. The surrounding buildings host excellent accommodation, exhibitions and a café and gift shop during the summer too, a perfect place to spend some time when you’re in North Ronaldsay. You can also tour the nearby wool mill which turns the fleece from the famous island sheep into yarn.

The view from the top of the lighthouse - image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland
The view from the top of the lighthouse - image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland

Seaweed-eating sheep

You can’t go far in the island without encountering those sheep. The 3,000 strong flock lives on the shoreline of North Ronaldsay, feasting on kelp and seaweed rather than the traditional grass diet of regular sheep. They’re kept from the farmland by a stone, hand-built, thirteen mile sheep dyke that encircles the island.

The famous seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay
The famous seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay

Wild winter weather over recent years has caused severe damage to stretches of the dyke, and with an ageing island population, it is becoming harder for the community to maintain it and the flock. The Orkney Sheep Foundation has been launched to try and raise awareness of the island and its unique breed. The first ever North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival will be held this month, offering visitors the chance to learn the practical skills associated with looking after the sheep – from dyke repairs to helping round them up for clipping. Find out more from our blog.

The great outdoors

The island also has excellent beaches, perfect for exploring and walks, often by yourself away from the hustle and bustle of city life. If you’re visiting the island bike hire is available and the flat landscape is perfect for cycling, although you might encounter the odd breeze!

There is wildlife everywhere in North Ronaldsay! Image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland
There is wildlife everywhere in North Ronaldsay! Image by Paul Tomkins/Visit Scotland

Find out more about North Ronaldsay from the Visit Orkney and Orkney.com websites.

If you’d like to visit the island you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney.


And finally

We hope you found this June 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.