Only in Scotland can you experience the wild and wonderful island of Orkney in the autumn. It’s a season of real contrasts in the islands, with the chances of golden skies and sunsets as common as stormy seas and windy weather. And, from walks to talks, and wildlife to wave-watching, there’s always something to do in Orkney during the autumn months, even for a short holiday break over a long week end. Here are a few favourites from our Orkney guest blogger Andrew Learmonth.
1. Get a beach to yourself
With more than 500 miles of coastline, there’s almost certainly a stretch of sand waiting just for you in Orkney this autumn. What could be better than a long, lazy walk on your own private Orkney beach, with just the sea breeze and seals for company? Try the enchanting boulder beach of Rackwick Bay on the Island of Hoy, or the stunning Tresness with its massive sand dunes on the Island of Sanday.
2. History and heritage
Only in Scotland can you encounter such incredible Orcadian history! Mysterious Neolithic sites like the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness are amazingly atmospheric in the autumn, and you can take advantage of free tours at both stone circles too.
3. Meet local makers
Only in Scotland can you meet the unique Orkney’s creative community. Featuring a wide range of creative work from knitwear and pottery to traditional furniture and jewellery, the Creative Orkney Trail gives you the perfect excuse to meet some very talented makers and explore their workshops and galleries all year-round.
4. Wild Orkney
Autumn brings wonderful wildlife highlights to Orkney. Only in Scotland can you look to the skies for hen-harriers, or visit places like North Ronaldsay to spot stunning migrating birds. November brings the grey seal-pupping season too, when hundreds of new born seals can be seen on the shoreline around the islands.
5. Search for your own Viking saga
It’s not all about the Neolithic in Orkney. Explore our Norse heritage by visiting some Viking sites this autumn. Head across the causeway to the tidal island of the Brough of Birsay to see the remains of an ancient settlement. There are craggy cliffs, a lighthouse and Atlantic Ocean views to take in too.
6. Find the perfect indoor retreat
Admittedly, the autumn elements in Orkney can sometimes take over and force you indoors. That’s not a bad thing, though. Not when there are places like the Pier Arts Centre, the Orkney and Stromness Museums and the beautiful Betty’s Reading Room to retreat to. There’s an impressive array of independent shops to indulge in, offering local crafts, jewellery, designer wear, and excellent food and drink delicacies.
7. Fantastic food and drink
Only in Scotland can you experience the famous and excellent Orcadian food and drink, with everything from the finest seafood to cheeses and chutneys, beef and beer on offer. Visit one of our many welcoming cafes, restaurants or pubs, or take a tour of the most northerly whisky distillery in the world, Highland Park, or the Scapa Distillery on the shores of Scapa Flow. You can also sample some fine local gins too at the Orkney Distillery and the Deerness Distillery.
8. Get off the beaten track
Famous locations like Skara Brae and St Magnus Cathedral are popular places to visit during a trip to Orkney, but what about some of our hidden attractions? There are ancient castles, Neolithic cairns, farm museums, old fishermen’s huts, sea caves and much more to explore, if you’re prepared to travel off the traditional tourist trail.
9. Experience the elements
Only in Scotland can you feel so at one with the elements and awaken your senses with a walk on the wild side in Orkney. Locations like Marwick Head and the Brough of Deerness will help you blow away the cobwebs and offer incredible scenery at the same time. The walk to Yesnaby Castle is highly recommended, or go island hopping and take the ferry to Hoy to visit its famous Old Man of Hoy.
10. Fortress Orkney
The islands have a rich wartime history and are home to some fascinating sites left over from the First and Second World Wars. You can visit the Ness Battery in Stromness, and the inspiring Italian Chapel, hand-built by POWs during WWII.
11. Festival fever
Fantastic festivals are at the heart of the Orkney calendar, and autumn is no different. You can enjoy the Reel Orkney Tradfest 2019 – Traditional Music Festival in October, and then pull up a chair in-front of the fire for the Orkney Storytelling Festival later that month. Or experience the Film Focus Festival in November and the St Lucy Procession and Ceremony in December. There are regular music sessions in pubs and venues throughout the islands too, perfect to help you keep your toes tapping late into the night.