Welcome to Orkney in May!

Things begin to get busy in the islands this month as the days get longer and the weather gets brighter.

Keep reading for a look at what's happening in Orkney over the coming weeks, as well as plenty of photos and features aimed at inspiring you to pay us a visit.


What's on in May

May is definitely the month when the local events calendar begins to fill up, From festivals and tours to walks, talks and concerts, there is so much to see and do over the course of the month.

Festival fever

Get wet in Scapa Flow at the 2017 Orkney Nature Festival


Two of Orkney's most popular annual events return this May. The fifth Orkney Nature Festival runs between the 15th and 21st, featuring exciting activities including boat trips, snorkelling, diving and all the usual talks and tours. Book your spot via the official website and come and enjoy all the nature and wildlife delights Orkney has to offer. The Festival also includes the return of the famous NorthLink Ferries Nature Cruise - this year the route takes you up the spectacular west coast of mainland Orkney.

There are only four days off before Stromness comes alive to the sound of music once again The 35th Orkney Folk Festival will take place in and around the town between the 25th and 28th of May, featuring the likes of Eddi Reader, Flook, Blazin Fiddles and local favourites The Chair. There are concerts across Orkney too, and don't forget about the famous pub sessions in Stromness! Tickets are available now - visit the official website to book your seats.

Hear the finest folk music at the Orkney Folk Festival this May - image by Sean Purser


Continuing on the festival theme and the inaugural John Rae Society Festival will be held from the 5th until the 8th of May. It's a chance to to celebrate the Arctic explorer and hear about the plans to restore his former home at the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir. Find out more via the John Rae Society website.

Homemade delights

The very best Orkney food and drink products will be put to the test in the second Homemade in the Parish event on the 6th of May. Run by Orkney Food and Drink, the competition brings local home bakers together to compete for their parish. Catergories including bannocks, buns, home brew, cheese, chutney and jams are all included, and the best news is the results are all available for public taste testing too! The doors open at Kirkwall Grammar School from around 11.30am - find out more via the Orkney Food and Drink website.

Concerts and exhibitions

There are always plenty of things to see and do in Orkney away from the main events, including excellent displays at local museums and galleries. The Stromness Museum's summer exhibition focuses on the town's 'Per Mare' celebrations this year, marking 200 years since it became a Burgh of Barony. You can see it daily between 10am and 5pm. Staying in Stromness and the Pier Arts Centre is showcasing work by Scottish artist Katy Dove. ‘Movement & Light’ is on until the 3rd of June.

Celebrate the history of Stromness this summer


Art lovers can see 'Growth’, a display of stitched textiles, at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope until the 23rd of May. The Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray also has ‘Changing Places, Changing Faces’ on display at the moment, featuring photos and stories from the island.

The Budapest Café Orchestra has three performances in the islands this month. See them in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret’s Hope on the 12th, the Gable End Theatre in Hoy on the 13th and the Stromness Town Hall on the 14th. Some of our own talented musicians will be playing at the Orcadian Summer Concerts in The Reel in Kirkwall on the 16th and 30th of May. The music starts at 8pm.

Pick up a tour ticket

There are plenty of tours available across Orkney during the summer months. You can see the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral, including a view over Kirkwall from the base of spire, every Tuesday and Thursday - find out more via the Orkney Islands Council website. There are also guided walks available at the former Naval Base at Lyness every Tuesday from 11am. Phone 01856 791 300 to book.

Take a tour of the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral in May


How about a spot of island hopping when you're in Orkney? Papay Peedie Tours return every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday until the end of August from the 10th of May, featuring a full day tour of Papa Westray. Advance booking is essential - phone 07931 235 213 or email papayranger@gmail.com. The Sanday Experience Tours start on the 10th too and run every Wednesday throughout the summer. See the island's beautiful beaches and historical sites, with lunch provided. Phone 01857 600 438 or 07513 084 777 to book.

There are excellent and informative guided walks at the Standing Stones of Stenness every Wednesday at 10am, and at the Ring of Brodgar at 1pm on Thursdays too. They’re free and there is no need to book – phone 01856 841 732 for more details.

Guided tours of the Ring of Brodgar are available all year round


Silver screen

The Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre has plenty of films on this month to keep you entertained if the weather doesn't play ball. See showings of films including ‘Get Out’ and ‘Power Rangers’ in May, along with National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company live broadcasts.

The West Side Cinema in Stromness is showing Oscar winning ‘Moonlight’ on the 6th in Stromness Town Hall at 7.45pm and ‘Neruda’ on the 20th. Find out more from the official Facebook page.

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


Explore uncovered Orkney

Every month we concentrate on a different attraction in Orkney to highlight some of the more 'off the beaten track' locations’. May sees us head west to a site full of history and wartime heritage.

Orkney has a rich wartime history with examples of the role of the islands in two World Wars still evident. Most people see the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel when they're here, with some also heading to the excellent Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum at Lyness too. Now another wartime site has been reopened to highlight an extra aspect of our military past.

How the airfield at HMS Tern in Orkney used to look


HMS Tern was one of four airfields in Orkney during WWII. It sits west of the village of Dounby in the middle of a flat plain and was part of the Royal Navy's operations in the islands. From the air you can see the shape of the runways at the site, but from ground level all that remains is a number of interestingly shaped buildings and foundations that once housed a busy and working camp.

Some of the old buildings at the site


During its operations HMS Tern was part of Orkney's air defences. It was also used as a training base for the Royal Navy up until is closure in 1957. Taken on by the Birsay Heritage Trust, plans to redevelop the site have long been discussed. After a major clear up by Trust members and the Aviation Reseach Group Orkney & Shetland (ARGOS), the former airfield has now taken the first step towards becoming a visitor attraction in its own right.

Guided tours are available, looking at some of the buildings that remain on the site, including the former cinema and fire station. The old control tower still stands too and a tour is the only way to step inside the basement of the building. The tours also focus on stories from the men that served at HMS Tern, highlighting life in Orkney during WWII. Led by military historian Andy Hollinrake, you'll find out about Orkney's social history and hear accounts from those that lived and worked at the airfield.

See inside the former control tower at HMS Tern with a guided tour


There are plans to redevelop the site further too, so take the chance now to explore another aspect of Orkney's history. Find out about tour times and all the other information you need via the new HMS Tern website. You can also follow HMS Tern on Facebook and Twitter.


Discover more...

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

Find out about the front line of archaeology in Orkney with our blog on the special fieldwalking project, which has been uncovering new finds in our World Heritage Site.

We took a look at some of the secrets of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney as part of World Heritage Day last month - explore them here.

The 2017 Orkney Craft Trail has been launched - download your own copy of the new brochure and come and meet all our makers!

Orkney's links with Norway and Scandinavia will be celebrated at the St Magnus International Festival in June this year. The new programme has been published - find out more with our blog.

Watch our short video and read our story about the possible new lease of life for Orkney's huge underground wartime oil tanks at Lyness.

Read the May newsletter from Orkney.com for more features, photos and articles all focused on life here in the islands.


And finally...

We hope you found this May 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 win some delicious flavoured butter from Orkney!