Welcome to Orkney in October!

Autumn has arrived in the islands, with the change of the seasons reflected in the surrounding landscape. There is no change in vibrancy across Orkney though, with plenty planned for the coming months.

Keep reading for a look at our monthly events as well as another hidden attraction feature.


What's on in October

Autumn brings with it a change in the weather but not in the Orkney events calendar. There is still so much to see and do across the islands in the run-up to Christmas.

If the conditions aren't too fierce you can take advantage of a special archaeology project in Birsay until the 6th of October. 'Mapping Magnus' offers participants the chance to learn survey techniques, map reading and feature recording whilst exploring the story of St Magnus at the same time. It's part of the Magnus 900 commemorations being held across the islands this year, and the excavation in Palace village is the perfect chance to dig away at Orkney's history. It all takes place between 10am and 3pm every day – phone 01856 569229 or email studyarchaeology@uhi.ac.uk to book.

The Mapping Magnus excavations underway in Birsay


If indoor activities are your thing then there is plenty of live music to fill your evenings with this month. Orkney's newest venue, The Sound Archive on Laing Street in Kirkwall, has a number of excellent concerts planned. Catch ‘Little Eye’, supported by Calum Frame, on the 14th at 8pm, and Lucy Spraggan on the 24th at 7.30pm. Tickets for all the gigs can be bought from Grooves on Laing Street or via the See Tickets website.

Meanwhile The Reel in Kirkwall will be hosting the annual Winter School and Tradfest from the Wrigley Sisters’ during October. Join in on the classes and concerts, with guests including Eamonn Coyne, Gavin Marwick and Karen Tweed. You can also take in performances from local artists too. It's on between the 16th and 19th of the month - find out more at the Wrigley and the Reel website.

The Reel in Kirkwall, home of the Wrigley Sisters' Winter School and Tradfest


Stromness has some live music in October too. Andy Fairweather-Low and the Low Riders will be performing in the local Town Hall on the 23rd. Fairweather-Low has taken to the stage with artists including Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton over the years. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start – tickets are available from The Reel in Kirkwall, Sinclair Office Supplies in Stromness or by phoning 01856 851063.

October also brings one of the main dates in the local calendar. The Orkney Storytelling Festival is a very special event that celebrates folktales, stories and the oral tradition. Local and visiting storytellers will be performing across the islands, bringing traditional tales to life. Orkney's St Magnus will form part of the event, and there are story workshops for children, story walks and a trip to Egilsay to enjoy too. It's all held between the 26th and 29th of the month. Read more via our special preview, and visit the Orkney Storytelling Festival website for more details.

Take in the Orkney Storytelling Festival this October


Orkney's local cinemas bring their own form of storytelling too. The Pickaquoy Centre is showing the likes of American Made, Wind River and The Jungle Bunch this month. View the full schedule at the official website. The West Side Cinema in Stromness has ‘The Black Hen’ in the local town hall at 7.45pm on the 7th.

Two talented Orkney artists have new exhibitions of their work on show in Stromness this month too. The Pier Arts Centre is hosting ‘Constellations’ by Nick Gordon and ‘Shaping the Void’ by Louise Barrington until the 4th of November. The Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday between 10.30am and 5pm and admission is free. The artists will also be leading free tours of their exhibitions at 3pm on Saturday, October 14th.

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness - image by Alistair Peebles


Remember you can still take advantage of some guided tours of our popular sites this month. The Upper Levels of St Magnus Cathedral are well worth a visit. Read our blog about the tours for inspiration, and book your place by phoning 01856 87894. The tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and 2pm and cost £7.75.

Find out more about the Standing Stones of Stenness with a free guided walk every Wednesday at 10am, with tours of the Ring of Brodgar available every Thursday at 1pm.

Come and see the Standing Stones of Stenness for yourself in Orkney this October


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

We feature a special hidden attraction in Orkney every month, giving visitors the chance to explore some of our 'out of the way' places. October's site is an excellent reminder of our seafaring heritage.

The Birsay coastline at Marwick in Orkney
Birsay fisherman - image courtesy of the Orkney Library and Archive

Although agriculture has traditionally been Orkney's main industry, as islanders we have always had a close relationship with the sea too. Only one parish of Orkney doesn't have a coastline and generations of Orcadians have spent time at sea or on the shore.

The parish of Birsay in particular has a rich maritime history. Fantastic archive photographs show men from the area ready to head to sea to provide for their families and to make a living. Although those days are gone, those men have left their mark on the parish coast.

A short walk south from the car park at Marwick Bay brings you to Sand Geo, a sheltered and peaceful cove, carved into the cliffs. The geo was deemed the perfect place to provide shelter for fishermen in the 1800s, and they built beautiful stone huts into the grassy slope above the shingle beach. These huts came into use when the fishermen were forced out of their traditional landing spot following a shipwreck in the late 1800s.

The Fishermen's Huts at Sand Geo in Birsay


The three structures were used to house boats and equipment, but also to provide shelter from the worst of the wild Atlantic storms. They are stunning relics of a forgotten time, with driftwood beams and small windows, and the old stone covered in moss and lichen.

The weathered stone and wood of the huts


The huts were restored in the early 1980s and are similar to others on the coast near the Brough of Birsay. They may not be in use anymore, but they're the perfect reminder of how life used to be in the parish hundreds of years ago.

The view over the huts and Sand Geo


The surrounding scenery at Marwick makes the walk worthwhile in itself. Marwick Head looms large to the north, and the path to the huts takes you from the bay across a flat, grassy track. You can see the shoreline stretch away with huge slabs of rock in front of you, and there are views as far as the Old Man of Hoy to take in too.


Discover more...

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

If you're looking for more autumn activity ideas, check our our rundown of things to do in the islands over the coming months.

Local knitwear designer Hilary Grant launched her new collection in London last month - read about this and other stories from Orkney's creative sector via the Orkney Crafts Association website.

The autumn months bring with them the chance of seeing the Northern Lights in the dark skies above Orkney - read our guide to making sure you can experience the phenomenon for yourself!

Read the October newsletter from our partners at Orkney.com for more on life in the islands this month.


And finally...

We hope you found this October 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 a stylish weekender bag from local designer Kirsteen Stewart.