Welcome to March in Orkney!

After a snowy end to February we are looking optimistically towards Spring in Orkney, with longer days beginning to wake us from our winter slumber.

If you're planning a trip to Orkney this month, we have all the information you need right here. We've been taking a look at the events and activities coming up over the next few weeks to keep you busy, and the island of Hoy is our featured area of the month. Keep reading to find out what there is to see and do only a short ferry hop away.

What's on in March

March is a great time to visit Orkney. The weather is still fresh enough to give your senses a good blast and there is plenty to see and do, very often in the peace and quiet a break here before the main tourist season can bring.

One of the main attractions this month is the chance to see inside one of Orkney's finest mansions, absolutely free of charge! Skaill House will be hosting an open day on the 26th of March so visitors can see the 17th Century building in all its glory. You'll be able to explore the rooms, collections and grounds with plenty of other activities planned. Refreshments will be available and you can find out more from the Skaill House website.

Skaill House in Orkney will host an open day this March

Take a trip back in time

There's another open day earlier in the month too. If archaeology is your thing why not head along to Orkney College UHI on Friday the 4th to find out all about the local Archaeology Institute. You can learn about studying the subject in the islands, speak to current staff and students and take part in workshops on practical archaeology too. Find out more from the Institute's blog.

You can get up close and personal with Orkney's archaeology at the start of the month with a project to assess a Bronze Age settlement uncovered in the island of Sanday. The joint Orkney College UHI and SCAPE event will run from Tuesday the 1st until Sunday the 6th of March at Cata Sands - if you want to volunteer just head to the car park at Cata at ten o'clock any day.

Staying on the archaeology theme and you can hear about the excavation work at the Cairns in South Ronaldsay at Orkney Archaeology Society's first event of 2016 this month. Orkney College UHI's Martin Carruthers will host a talk in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret's Hope at 7.30pm on the 10th of March.

The Cairns excavation in Orkney will be the subject of a special talk this month

Perfect for cinema goers

Fans of the silver screen are in for a treat in Orkney this month. Halls and theatres across Orkney double as cinemas with regular showings in local communities. The Gable End Theatre in Hoy will be featuring 'The Lady in the Van' starring Maggie Smith on Friday 11th March, before showing 'Brooklyn' with Saoirse Ronan on the 25th.

'The Lady in the Van' will also be making an appearance at the Screen in the Square at the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret's Hope on the 19th of March.

Meanwhile the West Side Cinema in Stromness has three events. Highly rated 'The Lobster' starring Colin Farrell will be showing on the 5th of March before a special screening of 'From Scotland With Love', made entirely of Scottish film archive with a beautiful score by King Creosote, on the 13th. The screening is to raise funds for equipment for the Kirkwall Grammar School Film Club. There will also be a showing of Wim Wenders' 'The Salt of the Earth' on the 19th.

There is something for everyone at the Phoenix Cinema in Kirkwall this month. Oscar nominated 'The Danish Girl', 'The Big Short' and 'Spotlight' all make an appearance alongside the likes of 'Deadpool', 'Dad's Army' and Zoolander 2 - something for everyone! The National Theatre production of 'Hangmen' will be beamed live to the cinema on the 3rd, with 'The Railway Children' taking centre stage from the York Theatre Royal on the 28th.

Iconic art works on show

Art lovers will enjoy a trip to the Pier Arts Centre this month. 'Kirk-yard, shore and ship - Images of the trawler M.V Norholmen' features paintings, prints and drawings by artists including Sylvia Wishart and Ian MacInnes. They were all inspired by the wreck of a Norwegian fishing vessel in Hoy Sound in 1966. The exhibition is open until the 9th of April.

Ian MacInnes, Trawler in a Storm (© the artist's estate from the Orkney Islands Council Collection) will be on display in the Pier Arts Centre this month

The very best in Orkney's Spring fashion offerings will go on display at a special charity event in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall on the 18th of March. Local businesses, including Kirsteen Stewart and Aurora Orkney, will be taking part in the fashion show with proceeds going to the local Rotary Club. There will also be some tasty treats on offer from the Brig Larder. Get your tickets from the Studio Shop or Starlings in Kirkwall.

Have a spring fling in Orkney!

You can get your dancing shoes on in Orkney during March. There is Scottish and ceilidh dancing to live music in the St Magnus Centre every Monday night at 7.30pm. There's also ceilidh dancing in Longhope on Monday nights at 8pm. Go on, get into the swing of things during your time in Orkney!

If you want to enjoy traditional music in a more relaxed setting, the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club practice on Wednesday evenings in The Reel in Kirkwall - head along for 7.30pm and pull up a chair. The Reel also hosts an informal folk music session on Saturday nights at 8pm, and the Bothy Bar in Kirkwall hosts a session at 9pm on Sundays too. Orkney is the perfect place for a pint and tune!

That's just a taste of events in Orkney during March. 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.

March area focus - Hoy

For March we're taking a trip on the ferry to our largest island, Hoy. It's one of the most popular destinations in Orkney with spectacular scenery, beautiful beaches, wonderful wildlife and plenty of tourist haunts and attractions.

Hoy on the horizon

Hoy is an island that dominates the Orkney skyline. If you look towards the islands from mainland Scotland, your eyes are drawn to the imposing hills and sheer cliff faces of 'the high island'. It's a similar story from the air - Hoy is like nowhere else in Orkney, and it's that reputation that keeps visitors heading over on the ferry from Houton and Stromness all year round.

The Hoy Hills viewed from outside Stromness - image by Iain Sarjeant

Where else can you enjoy pristine beaches and an iconic sea-stack, unspoilt wilderness and unrivalled wartime heritage in just once place? Hoy can tick all those boxes, and much more.

Your Hoy experience begins on the ferry. You can travel with a car via Houton in Orphir or as a passenger only on the MV Graemsay from Stromness. If you're travelling from Houton, you'll arrive at Lyness, formerly the hub of Royal Navy activity in Orkney during WWII.

Hoy's wartime heritage

There you'll find the wonderful Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum, a treasure trove of artefacts and exhibits relating to Orkney's role in WWI and WWII. The displays will be refreshed this year ahead of the commemoration of the Battle of Jutland. You can take a guided tour of the site a former naval base littered with buildings and foundations that all played a part in the war effort, and the nearby Royal Navy Cemetery.

Some of the wartime remains on display at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum - image by Mary Harris

Travelling south from Lyness takes you past the Gable End Theatre, a hub for community events with regular cinema evenings and concert from visiting performers.

Longhope attractions

As you head towards South Walls across the Ayre, a thin strip of road linking Hoy's two parishes, you'll come across the Longhope Lifeboat Museum at Brims. It tells the tragic story of the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster in 1969, when the entire crew of eight men onboard the T.G.B lost their lives as the lifeboat capsized en-route to a call-out. You can arrange to view the Museum by contacting the Longhope Lifeboat Museum Trust.

The village of Longhope has a busy shop, petrol pumps, post office and pub and there are also public toilets and showers on the pier. You can also catch the passenger and cycle ferry from the village to Lyness, Flotta and onto Houton. The Stromabank Hotel is also nearby.

Other attractions in South Walls include the Martello Towers, built in the early 1800s for protection from the United States Navy and American privateers. You can tour the tower and battery at Hackness for a fascinating view of military life more than two hundred years ago. The island is also a nature and wildlife hotspot - the Hill of White Hamars in Walls is a Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, established to protect the Scottish primrose, better known as the Primula Scotica. It features cliffs, caves, natural arches and lots more.

The Hackness Martello Tower - image by Steve Henderson

Head to the hills

Back at Lyness, the road north takes you in to a very special place, one that not only attracts visitors but also locals looking for a short break or a day trip. The hills of Hoy have long held attractions for walks, wildlife lovers and folk just looking to get away from it all.

Spectacular views abound and there are too many sites to mention. Just follow the road to Rackwick and stop at the many lay-bys. Some of the highlights include the Pegal Burn picnic area, Betty Corrigall's Grave and the wartime sites and viewpoint at Lyrawa.

You'll eventually arrive at Moaness, where the passenger ferry arrives from Stromness. Here you'll find the Beneth'hill Café which is open during the summer months. You can also walk from the pier to Rackwick bay along a single track road, which takes you past Ward Hill, Orkney's highest point. If you're feeling energetic the views from the top are incredible, especially on a sunny summer's day. The walk also takes you through Berriedale, the most northerly area of natural woodland in the UK.

Berriedale woodland in Hoy - a beautiful walk to take during your visit to the island

Dwarfs, eagles, beaches and more!

The Dwarfie Stone sits in the middle of the Rackwick valley and is thought to be the oldest rock-cut tomb in the UK. Climb inside and try and get comfortable in the 5000 year old structure! There is a slightly newer attraction in the area too. Two juvenile sea eagles have been making a nest in the cliffs above the Dwarfie Stone in recent years. They were regularly visible in 2015 as they attempted to breed, with bird watchers flocking to the nearby car park to catch a glimpse of the magnificent birds. Although the breeding attempt failed, it's hoped they'll return this year to try again.

If you're walking or driving, you'll eventually come to the remote and wonderful Rackwick bay. With its boulder strewn beach of golden sand and crashing waves, surrounded by sheer cliffs, it is a place like no other in Orkney. There is a car park and public toilets and a small bothy and campsite too.

The beach at Rackwick, one of Orkney's best beauty spots - image by Steve Henderson

The valley used to be a thriving small community full of fishermen and farmers, but now the majority of the houses are holiday homes and self catering properties. A night at Rackwick is a must in Orkney.

Come and visit the Old Man

It's also the starting point for the walk to the iconic Old Man of Hoy, the 450 foot sea-stack is the tallest in the UK and rises proudly from the Atlantic. The walk to the Old Man is well worth the effort as you'll be rewarded with excellent views of the stack and back towards Rackwick. You can also carry on to St John's Head, the highest vertical sea cliff in the country.

The iconic Old Man of Hoy with St John's Head in the background - image by Max Fletcher

There are so many other walks in the area to enjoy - if hill walking is your thing then Hoy is the place to be. Ward Hill, the Cuilags and the Knap of Trowieglen make up the Hoy Hills and there is also a lengthy but rewarding route along the west coast of the island.

The RSPB Hoy Nature Reserve is also in the area and occupies a large part of uncultivated land in the north of the island. You can see everything here, from mountain hares to great skuas, red-throated divers to beautiful plants and other flowers and fauna.

Feeling fit?

The hilly road between Rackwick and the Community School past Lyness is an excellent drive - but how do you fancy travelling it on foot? That's what more than a hundred brave runners and walkers do every year in the challenging Hoy Half Marathon. The route takes you up - and down - some of Orkney's most challenging roads - entry is now open for the 2016 event, but be quick as folk keep coming back to take on the route year after year!

The sites and activities listed here are just part of what's on offer in Hoy and Walls - there really are too many to list! Needless to say it's a must see destination for visitors to Orkney. There is a regular community bus and the ferry service is quick and reliable too.

Find out more about Hoy from our dedicated page and via Orkney.com. If you want to make the island your destination of choice during a trip to Orkney, have a look at your accommodation options.

And finally

Hopefully you found this March 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.