Welcome to September in Orkney!

The main summer season might be behind us but September still brings sunshine and plenty of activity across the islands.

Take a look at our events round-up to find out what you can get up to in Orkney this month, and there’s also an in-depth look at the sights and attractions of our capital, Kirkwall.

What’s on in September

September is rapidly becoming Orkney’s ‘festival month’. The packed calendar starts on the 1st with the launch of the 2016 Orkney International Science Festival. It runs until the 7th and the programme this year includes events and talks on subjects as varied as the Northern Lights, Antarctic explorations and the history of Orkney’s herring industry. Find out more via the official website.

The 2016 Orkney International Science Festival gets underway on the 1st of September
The 2016 Orkney International Science Festival gets underway on the 1st of September

Ready to rock

Headbang with the best of them at the third Orkney Rock Festival in September. Kirkwall’s pubs will be full of local and visiting bands between the 2nd and 4th. There is also a ticketed event for all ages on Saturday 3rd too. Find Orkney Live Wire on Facebook for all the latest times and venues.

The music continues later in the month with the Orkney Blues Festival. Headliners this year include the Gerry Jablonski Band but there are plenty of other performances to enjoy around Stromness during the festival, between the 15th and 18th of September. Get the latest news via the Festival’s Facebook page.

Get your running shoes on

Get active in September and raise funds for charity with the annual Bisgeos Charity Run in Westray. Head out to the island on the 3rd to take in some spectacular scenery during the challenging 12 mile route. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the warm Westray hospitality too. Head over to the Bisgeos Run website for registration details.

Take in some beautiful Westray scenery during the Bisgeos weekend - image by Colin Keldie
Take in some beautiful Westray scenery during the Bisgeos weekend - image by Colin Keldie

Art and photography exhibitions

If the weather isn’t being kind then there are a number of excellent exhibitions to take in this month. The Pier Arts Centre has two – ‘Scotstyle – Building the Century’ celebrates the top 100 buildings from 1916-2015, as nominated by the Scottish public. It runs from the start of September until Wednesday 14th.

Between September 3rd and November 5th the Centre will feature ‘toandFRO’ by Neville Gabie. His work reflects time spent in locations as diverse as Antarctica, South Africa and Achiltibuie.

The Orcadian Bookshop Gallery on Albert Street in Kirkwall will be showcasing the winners from the 2015 Scottish Nature Photography Awards until the 17th – see the amazing images between 9am and 5pm, Mondays to Saturdays.

The Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope will be showcasing work by Anna Meadows until the 27th.

Silver screen

The West Side Cinema in Stromness is hosting ‘Following the Fleet: Drifters’, a silent film from 1929 focusing on Scotland’s herring fishing fleet ports. It will be accompanied by beatboxer Jason Singh’s live vocal score and the evening will also include local music and storytelling. That’s in the Stromness Town Hall at 7.15pm for a 7.45pm start on Saturday 3rd. Entry is £5 or £3 for under 16s.

Enjoy the unique atmosphere of the West Side Cinema in Stromness this September
Enjoy the unique atmosphere of the West Side Cinema in Stromness this September

Some of the highlights at the Pickaquoy Cinema this month include Jason Bourne, War Dogs and Swallows and Amazons. See the full schedule on the Pickaquoy Centre website.

Head to Hoy

If you want to get out and about in the isles this month then why not pay a visit to Hoy. Aside from some spectacular views and scenery, you can take advantage of a free guided walk at the former Royal Navy Base at Lyness. The two hour trail around the site is a fascinating look at Orkney’s wartime heritage. The tour starts at 11am daily from the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre at Lyness. Phone 01856 791 300 for more information.

Some of the fascinating wartime remains at Lyness in Hoy - image by Mary Harris
Some of the fascinating wartime remains at Lyness in Hoy - image by Mary Harris

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


September area focus

Our featured area of the month is the capital of the islands, Kirkwall, and the surrounding parish of St Ola.

Kirkwall has been Orkney’s capital since Norse times. Its name comes from ‘Kirkjuvagr’, meaning ‘Church of the bay’. It has changed much since those times, but take a walk through the flagstone streets, past St Magnus Cathedral to the harbour, and you can still sense the history of the place.

Looking north over Kirkwall - image by Colin Keldie
Looking north over Kirkwall - image by Colin Keldie

The heart of the town

Broad Street is a good place to start exploring the town. The sandstone St Magnus Cathedral dominates Kirkwall and is a fantastic building to visit. The interior is full of and you can take advantage of a tour of the upper levels every Tuesday and Thursday. The Kirkyard surrounding the Cathedral is a quiet and peaceful area worth a look too.

Nearby are the substantial remains of the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces. The Bishop’s Palace was built in the mid-12th Century, before work began on its near neighbour in 1600. Both properties are run by Historic Environment Scotland and are fascinating places to visit.

St Magnus Cathedral with the Bishop's Palace in sight on the right - image by Tom O'Brien/The Orcadian
St Magnus Cathedral with the Bishop's Palace in sight on the right - image by Tom O'Brien/The Orcadian

Orkney’s past

The Orkney Museum occupies Tankerness House on Broad Street. It is a real treasure-trove of artefacts telling the story of Orkney from the Neolithic, through the Picts and Norse rule, right up to the present day. Entry is free. Remember to take time to relax in Tankerness House Gardens, right behind the Museum, too.

Street football - with a difference!

The Kirk Green during the summer is full of locals and visitors soaking up the sun. In the centre you’ll see the Mercat Cross which becomes the starting point for an ancient Kirkwall tradition every Christmas and New Year – the Ba’. This huge game of street football sees men from two sides of the town – Uppies and Doonies – compete to bring a handmade leather ball to their respective goals. Games can last for hours and there are no rules. It’s a spectacular sight and the main fixture of the festive calendar.

The Kirkwall 'Ba game in full flow - image by Premysl Fojtu
The Kirkwall 'Ba game in full flow - image by Premysl Fojtu

Elsewhere in the town, you can explore the Orkney Wireless Museum which is full of radio and electronic items from Orkney’s past. The town has plenty of galleries too – the Custom House Gallery on Albert Street has regular exhibitions, as does the Orcadian Bookshop Gallery and For Arts Sake on Bridge Street.

Shopping paradise

The main shopping streets of Victoria Street, Broad Street, Albert Street and Bridge Street boast a wealth of independent stores, selling everything from high quality and handmade jewellery to local knitwear, textiles and fashions. There are also the high street shops you’d expect.

Summer shopping on Broad Street in the centre of Kirkwall - image by Iain Sarjeant
Summer shopping on Broad Street in the centre of Kirkwall - image by Iain Sarjeant

Food lovers will be in their element. The town centre is full of fantastic restaurants, cafes and hotels, all serving the very best local produce across their extensive menus. One stroll through the street and you’ll be able to buy fresh fish, beef and cheese as well as beer, whisky, wine and more too. Find out more from the Orkney Food and Drink website.

A modern place

Despite all the history, Kirkwall is still thriving city with world class facilities. A new Grammar School was recently built with sports pitches, fitness facilities and a community theatre. It complements the Pickaquoy Centre, Orkney’s main sports hub with pitches, a swimming pool, fitness classes, arena, squash courts and a modern cinema.

Beach life

Even in the heart of Kirkwall you’re still only a couple of minutes from a beach. Head south and you’ll come to Scapa beach, a favourite for dog walkers. Nearby is the Scapa Distillery, now open for tours and tastings. Don’t forget Highland Park Distillery either, the most northerly whisky distillery in the UK. Tours and tastings are available here too where you can hear about traditional techniques.

Scapa beach and the Scapa Distillery on the outskirts of Kirkwall
Scapa beach and the Scapa Distillery on the outskirts of Kirkwall

On the east side of the town there is Inganess bay, a beautiful beach with the remains of a wartime blockship rusting away in the shallows.

To the west lies Orkney Golf Club, an eighteen-hole course that features sweeping views over the town and Kirkwall Bay. Visitors are more than welcome at the Club – find out more from the official website.

Travel and transport

Because of its proximity to both the north and south, Kirkwall has always been a transport hub. Kirkwall harbour hosts Orkney Ferries sailings to our North Isles and there is an excellent marina for visiting yachts and cruisers too.

Kirkwall also has Scotland’s largest deepwater berth at Hatston Pier, which is busy during the summer months with cruise ships. Throughout the year it is the port for Orkney’s ferry links with Shetland and Aberdeen.

A cruise ship and an Orkney Ferries vessel sharing Kirkwall bay
A cruise ship and an Orkney Ferries vessel sharing Kirkwall bay

The Travel Centre is the main bus station with routes stretching out across Orkney’s mainland. The building also hosts Visit Scotland’s Kirkwall Visitor Information Centre with helpful staff on hand to answer any queries from tourists.

Kirkwall Airport sits five minutes outside the town and welcomes daily connections from the Scottish mainland as well as Loganair flights to and from our smaller islands.

Find out more about Kirkwall from the Visit Orkney and Orkney.com websites.

If you’d like to visit Kirkwall you can search for accommodation with Visit Orkney.


And finally

We hope you found this September 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.