Orkney is a group of islands lying six miles off the north-east tip of Scotland, separated from the mainland by the Pentland Firth – a volatile and turbulent stretch of water where three tides collide. While this makes for some bumpy ferry crossings, it gives rise to some of the best opportunities to harness tidal energy in the world.
Iconic landmarks include the Old Man of Hoy sea stack; Neolithic village Skara Brae; standing stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar, and the splendid red and yellow sandstone medieval cathedral in Kirkwall, dedicated to martyred Norse Earl St Magnus.
Orkney is saturated with history, while embracing some of the most cutting edge and innovative cultural activity in the country. The multi-million pound, award-winning gallery in Stromness, the Pier Arts Centre, holds one of the most important permanent collections of contemporary art in the UK, including works by Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. The midsummer celebration of the arts, the St Magnus International Festival, attracts performers and audience from all over the world, while engaging the community in all aspects of the festival, creative, technical and behind-the-scenes.
This is the tip of the iceberg. Something about Orkney attracts creative people, who tend to stay. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the combination of qualities that inspires people in the islands, but it’s something to do with the landscape, the light, the wide open skies, the bird and wildlife, and the legacy of cultural excellence that has run through generations.
Orkney was always a strategic hub. Four hundred years ago it was a base for the Hudson’s Bay trading company, and more recently, it was an important base for the armed forces through both world wars. In 1919, the interned German fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow. During the Second World War, Italian prisoners-of-war, brought to Orkney to work on the Churchill barriers linking the South Isles, built a chapel from two Nissen huts. Hand painted by craftsman Domenico Chiochetti, the chapel remains as a significant monument and is still used as a place of worship and as a venue.
There have always been people coming and going in Orkney, and the resulting community is open and broad-minded, looking out to the rest of the world. Orcadians are to be found in every corner of the earth, and the community in Orkney embraces people from all parts of the world and all walks of life.
In music, art and literature, Orkney’s community is second to none. Through these pages you can find links to some of the recent activity, and find out more about Orkney’s unique culture and history, which makes it one of the most forward-looking and exciting group of islands in the world.
Orkney Islands Council