Welcome to June in Orkney!
June is here and Orkney’s long summer days are perfect for getting out and about to explore the islands.
This month there are special wartime-themed concerts, archaeological excavations and an international ten-day long celebration of the arts for visitors to take in.
Keep reading for all the information you need to plan your trip to Orkney. We have an events round-up and a special look at what there is to see and do in the islands of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre.
What’s on in June
Orkney is bustling with activity this June. With festivals and events across the islands there is almost certainly something for everyone to enjoy.
First World War events continue
Orkney’s First World War commemorative cultural programme dominates the start of the month. Highlights include the visit of several Royal Navy vessels to Kirkwall, Stromness and Orkney’s outer isles, talks and concerts in the Birsay Hall and a full day of events in Sanday on the 4th.
The week culminates with a commemorative service on at the Kitchener Memorial to mark the centenary of the loss 737 lives when HMS Hampshire sank off Marwick Head. Free tickets are available for the event.
Say goodbye to the poppies
The beautiful ‘Poppies: Weeping Window’ display at St Magnus Cathedral comes to a close on the 12th of June. They have become a real centrepiece to Kirkwall, attracting thousands of views. Try and see them glowing in the evening sunlight or when they’re illuminated by the Cathedral spotlights at night before they’re taken down for good.
The first weekend of June will see the cream of Orkney’s young sportspeople take on their Shetland counterparts in the annual Junior Inter-County competition. Over the weekend of the 4th and 5th young Orcadians will compete in athletics, football, hockey, netball and swimming at the Pickaquoy Centre. The event has been running since 1947 and Orkney’s young sports stars will be hoping to retain the Stuart Cup, won in Lerwick last year. All the sports are free to watch – head along to the Picky Centre over the weekend to see all the action.
Orkney will host a very special event for the tenth year in a row this month. The Orkney Wine Festival has become a fixture on the local calendar and this year has tastings, a wine fair and plenty of the very best Orkney food and drink on offer. Find out more from the organiser's Facebook page.
One of the biggest annual events in Orkney takes place during June. The St Magnus International Festival has become one of the biggest cultural attractions in Scotland and this year will host its usual wide range of acts, from music and poetry to visual arts and puppets! There is a bumper programme over an extended ten days this year to mark the Festival’s 40th anniversary. It’s all on between the 16th and 26th of June - find out more from the official website.
If you’re visiting Orkney during June why not take advantage of our local ferry service and head out to some of our islands? Orkney Ferries has special Sunday Excursions available again this summer. Hop on-board and set sail for the isles, with extended stops available this month in Westray, North Ronaldsay and Eday. Keep your eyes open during the crossings too – you might see an orca or two en-route!
In the south isles we’d recommend a late trip to Hoy to see the island’s two sea-eagles as they come towards the end of the incubation period at their eyrie high above the Dwarfie Stane. Hopes are high they’ll be able to produce Orkney’s first sea-eagle chick for nearly 150 years. RSPB Orkney staff will be on hand at the small car park at the site to tell you more about the eagles.
Drama enthusiasts are in for a treat this month. The St Magnus Players will be performing George Mackay Brown’s ‘Witch’, with music by the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, in the Stromness Town Hall on the 10th and 11th at 8pm. You can get tickets by phoning 01856 850 278 or 01856 870 870.
Excavation season gets underway
With summer arriving and bringing drier weather, Orkney’s archaeological excavation season is starting to get underway. The 13th of June will see digging at The Cairns project in South Ronaldsay begin again. It will run until the 8th of July and visitors are welcome to head along and see the site being uncovered.
Although work at the world-famous Ness of Brodgar doesn’t start again until early July, dig director Nick Card will host a special talk during June to whet the appetite ahead of the covers coming off. ‘Building the Ness of Brodgar’ is in the New Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre on the 16th at 5.30pm, and entry is free.
Events, exhibitions and displays
There are plenty of events and exhibitions ongoing across Orkney. The Orkney Museum has ‘The Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea’ whilst the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is hosting an exhibition on the Battle of Jutland and HMS Hampshire. The Stromness Museum has ‘The loss of the HMS Hampshire and the death of Lord Kitchener’.
For art lovers, the Pier Arts Centre’s excellent ‘Form and Function’ comes to a close on the 4th of June. It features the work of eight talented young makers in Orkney and is well worth a visit.
You can also visit the Hoxa Tapesty Gallery in South Ronaldsay as part of the Orkney Craft Trail this month. It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is open all week – plan your visit via the Orkney Crafts Association website.
That’s just a taste of events in Orkney during June. 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.
June area focus – Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre
Island hopping is one of the best ways to see everything Orkney has to offer, but it doesn’t always mean spending hours on a ferry. Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre all lie in close proximity to the mainland and are well worth a visit.
These three islands are linked by a ferry service and also by a rich archaeological history with many fascinating sites, central to Orkney’s heritage.
Heritage and history
In fact, Rousay has been described as the ‘Egypt of the North’ thanks to more than a hundred archaeological sites. This hilly, rugged island boasts incredible remains, spanning thousands of years of Orcadian history.
Only in Orkney could such a long time be condensed into around a mile of coastline. The Westness Heritage Walk in Rousay takes visitors on a trip back in time, from the Neolithic more than five thousand years ago, through the Iron Age, Vikings and Earls, to the clearances of the early 1800s.
The walk includes Midhowe Cairn, built around 3,500BC and housed in an imposing building featuring a suspended walkway offering a fantastic view of the structure.
Nearby is the Iron-Age Midhowe Broch which is great fun to explore, and further on the trail you’ll come by old kirks, ruined crofts and other ancient sites, all full of their own stories and history.
If you visit the island during July you’ll be able to see an excavation in action – the work at the Knowe of Swandro starts again on the 4th of July as the team battles coastal erosion at the site. Open days and tours will be held before the project shuts down again on the 29th of July.
Rousay is full of other interesting sites and the 13-mile road that circles the island ensures visitors won’t miss a thing. The Rousay Heritage Centre at the Ferry Terminal will give you a special insight into the islands history too.
Nature in abundance
The island is a haven for birdlife with oystercatchers, reed buntings, hen harriers and red-throated divers all regular visitors. There is also an RSPB reserve at Trumland.
Rousay also boasts spectacular cliffs and coastal scenery – Faraclett Head, Sacquoy Head and Saviskaill Head are all perfect places to experience the elements and see arctic skuas, puffins and other seabirds.
It’s isn’t all about sights and scenery in Rousay though. The island hosts the Crafthub co-operative, featuring quality handmade arts and crafts produced by more than sixty different ‘crafters’ from Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre. Full of fantastic items and the host of many events and activities, you can visit the Crafthub as part of the Orkney Craft Trail.
Rousay has its own shop, bars and restaurants too – perfect for a day trip or a longer stay. There is no shortage of community events either, with the annual Rousay Regatta and the Rousay Lap, offering walkers, runners the chance to brave the hilly route around the island
Egilsay and Wyre
Despite being smaller relatives of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are great places to visit too.
Egilsay is an iconic location in Orkney history. The island was where Saint Magnus was murdered by his cousin, Earl Haakon in 1117. The 12th Century Norse church with its unique round tower is named in honour of Magnus.
Much of Egilsay is a nature reserve and is a haven for the elusive corncrake. You can also expect to see eiders, lapwings, skylarks and snype throughout the island. The RSPB Onziebust Reserve is a fantastic place to visit to spot all these species and more.
Wyre is even smaller than Egilsay but is still home to a number of attractions. Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built around 1150 by, according to legend, a fearsome Viking giant!
All three islands benefit from a regular and relatively short ferry service, maintaining vital links to Orkney’s mainland.
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