Welcome to May in Orkney!

Orkney is beginning to come alive again as we head towards the end of spring and into the summer months. If you're planning to head to the islands this May there will certainly be no shortage of events and activities for you to enjoy.

From poppies to folk music, our wonderful wildlife delights to whisky and museum tours, there really is something for everyone.

Keep reading for all the information you need to plan your trip this month. We have an events round-up and a special look at what there is to see and do in the parish of St Andrews, in Orkney's east mainland.

What's on in May

May sees many of Orkney's main attractions, museums and visitor haunts open their doors once again. With spring in full bloom and travellers beginning to arrive, there are always plenty of events and activities to take advantage of.

Poignant poppies on display

The cascade of poppies from St Magnus Cathedral - image courtesy of 14-18 NOW

St Magnus Cathedral has always been the jewel in Kirkwall's crown but it has never looked quite as dramatic as it does at the moment. The 'Poppies: Weeping Window' art installation by Paul Cummins, presented by 14-18 NOW, is now open and features thousands of ceramic poppies pouring from the ancient building onto the ground in front of the Cathedral. The display is part of Orkney's role in hosting the national Battle of Jutland commemorations later this month. You can see the poppies until the 12th of June.

Festival fever

Two of our main annual events will be back this month and are once again proving popular with both locals and visitors. The Orkney Nature Festival returns with its usual mix of activities between Monday 16th and Sunday 22nd. Where else can you enjoy snorkelling, art workshops, boat trips, walks, talks and a special wildlife ferry cruise as part of a festival?!

Then the pubs, venues and streets of Stromness will be full of music as the 2016 Orkney Folk Festival gets underway. In total there are 35 ticketed events with 55 acts, spread across four days. Highlights include Live Act of the Year at the 2015 Scots Trad Music Awards, RURA, Grammy nominated Liz Carroll and the voice of Disney Pixar's 'Brave', Julie Fowlis. Find out more from the Orkney Folk Festival website.

The Orkney Folk Festival in full swing - image by Sean Purser

You can get your folk music fix earlier in the month too with Cornwall's Stamp & Go. They'll be showcasing their sea songs and shanties at The Reel in Kirkwall on Monday 2nd and in the Cromarty Hall in St Margaret's Hope on Tuesday 3rd.

Wartime heritage in focus

A weekend of events will mark the 100th anniversary of the commissioning of HMS Royal Oak this month. On Friday 6th you can hear from expert speakers on the story of the Grand Fleet and the Royal Oak itself, before an open forum on Saturday 7th which includes underwater footage of the wreck of the vessel. Both events are at the King Street Halls in Kirkwall at 7pm.

Orkney's wartime heritage will play a central part in a major national event at the end of the month too. The islands are hosting the UK's national commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland with a special programme of events.

An artists impression of the Battle of Jutland

The Orkney Museum's summer exhibition 'The Battle of Jutland, Scapa Flow and the War at Sea' is now open, Westray's heritage centre will have a special exhibition and local schools will host a range of talks, walks and workshops throughout the week. There are also plans for tours of Royal Navy ships, concerts and performances during the first week of June.

Off the beaten track

Away from May's main events and it's worthwhile remembering some of Orkney's other attractions are all open for business again. Experience Orkney's agricultural heritage at our two excellent farm museums, Corrigall and Kirbuster. Find out more from Orkney Islands Council's listings.

The Orkney Wireless Museum in Kirkwall is open every day too and is a real treasure trove of objects and items from our audio and visual past.

Across the Churchill Barriers in Burray, the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre is open again, featuring fascinating collections of items from Orkney's past as well as a shop and café - it's well worth a stop.

The Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre in Burray

Get crafty!

Orkney's unique craft trail is open for 2016. Twenty-one Orkney Crafts Association businesses are featured in the new brochure, covering everything from jewellery, ceramics and artwork, to textiles, tapestry and traditional Orkney chair making. Pick up your free copy of the Orkney Craft Trail brochure at outlets across Orkney and find out about life on the trail from one of its newest members.

Artist Ingrid Grieve, one of the members of Orkney's Craft Trail

Island hopping

Why not visit some of our islands this month too? The Sanday Ranger has an excellent series of events planned for May, including lighthouse tours, birdwatching workshops and walks. Westray will be taking part in the Orkney Folk Festival and the Nature Festival too.

Meanwhile across the Churchill Barriers, Burray has just opened the UK's most northerly crazy golf course. The 12-hole course depicts famous landmarks from the islands, including the Old Man of Hoy, Skara Brae and Scapa Flow. It sits alongside a play park, trim-track and barbecue area and putters and balls can be rented from the local shop. See some images of the new park and plan your own visit.

One of the locally themed holes on the Burray crazy golf course

Be prepared for all weathers!

If the spring weather isn't doing you any favours, you can always retreat inside to see a film. The Pickaquoy Centre has its usual selection of big budget and indie showings, with the likes of 'The Jungle Book', 'Captain America: Civil War' and 'Midnight Special' all scheduled for May.

The West Side Cinema in Stromness will be showing 'The Russian Woodpecker' at 7.45pm on Saturday 14th too.

For art fans there are a number of exhibitions up and running. 'Landscape and Stone' by Diana Merrick and Julian Milner will be on display at the Waterfront Gallery in Stromness until the 14th of May. The Pier Arts Centre is currently featuring the work of younger designers in Orkney with 'Form & Function - eight Orkney Makers'. It will be on show until the 4th of June.

One of the displays at the Pier Arts Centre's 'Form & Function'.

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 our 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.


May area focus - St Andrews

Although many of Orkney's main attractions lie west of Kirkwall, those heading east to St Andrews will be rewarded by plenty of other special sites, away from the crowds.

St Andrews is actually made up of two separate areas, Tankerness and Toab. It's also where thousands of visitors to Orkney first set foot in the islands as it hosts the slightly erroneously named Kirkwall Airport. In its former guise it was used by the RAF and the Royal Navy during the Second World War before becoming the main hub for flights to and from Orkney nearly 70 years ago.

The parish is made up mainly of rich agricultural ground. Farming is the main industry in the area, but there are still places to explore for any tourist keen to get off the beaten track.

The rich farmland of St Andrews in Orkney

Wartime relics

The area's wartime heritage is further on show at Rerwick Head. It's a fascinating area to explore with gun emplacements, searchlight stations and watchtowers forming part of the defence of Orkney's eastern approaches during WWII. Many of the buildings are still standing and provide a real glimpse into Orkney's past. Visitor shouldn't enter the buildings though as some have become increasingly unstable since they were built more than seven decades ago.

There is a signposted walk at Rerwick that takes you past the WWII remains and includes geos, low lying cliffs and grassland. In summer it can be a beautiful, flat stroll and a small parking area is available.

Waves at Rerwick Head - image by Force Media Photography

Nature in abundance

The nearby Tankerness Loch is a great place for bird watching and the coastline around the north of the parish can provide an excellent vantage point for spotting seals, dolphins and other marine life.

Makers in action

St Andrews is also the location of a very popular attraction, and one which is set to grow in the coming years. In Tankerness you can find the base of Sheila Fleet Jewellery, a local company at the forefront of Orkney's jewellery industry. Sheila's distinctive designs are influenced by the rich heritage of the islands and she set up her current hub in the parish in 1995.

This kirk at Sheila Fleet Jewellery is being turned into a new visitor centre

Visitors can head to the workshop as part of the Orkney Craft Trail to watch beautiful rings, bracelets, broches and much more being produced. Jewellers and enamellers work Mondays to Fridays - arrange a tour by phoning 01856 861 203.

A new visitor centre is also being built at the site, with a major project to renovate a disused church underway. When completed there will also be an extended workshop and special exhibitions on display.

Beach life

St Andrews is home to several small but beautiful and quiet beaches. Explore the sands at the Hall of Tankerness and Mill Sands and you could see plenty of wildlife and nature. Dingieshowe is another popular beach in Orkney, bridging St Andrews and its neighbouring parish of Deerness. It's a fantastic beach to explore with large dunes and spectacular views.

The beautiful beach at Dingieshowe

Find your perfect home from home

If you're inspired to make St Andrews your port of call during your visit to Orkney you certainly won't be short of accommodation options. There are high quality bed and breakfasts, guest houses and self catering properties to be found throughout the parish, with converted mills and new, purpose-built properties available. Find your perfect retreat via our accommodation listings.


And finally

Hopefully 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.