Travel brochures and guide books cover most things to expect when visiting Orkney, but there are a lot of traditions that they miss out that leave many tourists simply bamboozled.
BlackeningsIf you see a group of men or women covered in treacle banging drums on the back of a truck, it is most likely that you have just seen your first blackening. A blackening usually occurs at some point the week before a wedding and the bride and groom are taken on their seperate trucks and the aim is to get the couple as drunk, and as dirty as possible. All the while you are being driven around the town trying to make as much noise as possible. Local policemen describe blackenings as an "acceptable breach of the peace." A blackening usually ends up with the bride or groom either in the sea or tied to a local landmark with clingfilm - which would you prefer? The origin of this tradition is fairly uncertain but has thought to have something to do with ensuring the bride/groom is dirty before the washing ceremony before a wedding.
The Orcadian Dialect"Beuy, I'll tak a peedie swadge as me puggie is affie full o' wind."
This is roughly translated as "I need a rest after this meal because I have flatulance."
Although the Orcadian dialect is dying out there are still many phrases and words in circulation today and is a large part of the identity of the county. The strongest accents can be hard enough for me to understand let alone a poor Frenchman who has barely got the gist of English. Many words are nearer the Norwegian equivalent than the English. The Orcadian dialect comes from Norn, which was a mixture of Norse and Scots and provides Orcadians with a "sing-song" accent of the same tonality as Norwegian and an accent not a million miles from Welsh.
Some of my favourite Orcadian words:
Peedie - Small
Pugie - stomach
Swadge - A rest after a meal to let your food settle so you can continue eating.
Gansey - Jumper
Throughby - Next door
|The Queen and her Attendants|
59° NorthOther than the Shetland Isles, Orkney is as far north as you can get in the UK. Located on the same latitude as St Petersberg and Alaska we should experience temperatures similar to that of a freezer but thanks to the North Atlantic Drift we get a much milder, wetter experience. However we do get to take advantage of about 20 hour daylight during the summer solstice and the occasional glimpse of the Northern lights in the winter months. Unfortunately this comes with darkness from 1pm to 4pm in winter.
Orcadian Strip the WillowThroughout the year there are several "barn dances" that have grown from a get together in a barn to celebrate a good harvest but are now major gatherings for locals. It has also lead to the development of our own versions of Scottish dances. Our version of Strip the Willow has become popular on the Scottish mainland too as it is much more fun as it involves more people and much more spinning!
Ploughing Match and Festival of The Horses
North Ronaldsay Sheep
Yup, we have sheep that eat seaweed because they somehow got stuck on a beach on the wrong side of a six-foot wall. Confined to Orkneys northernmost island of North Ronaldsay this exotic feral breed of sheep are bred for their wool. They have evolved a unique method of extracting sugar from seaweed and graze and ruminate in-sync with the tides.
The Ba is notoriously hard to explain to people. It's is essentially a massive ball game with no rules where beefy men fight for a leather ball. Oh yeah and it all happens in the middle of winter. There are two teams, the "uppies" and "doonies" and their allegiance is decided by where they lived but is now mainly through family loyalties. Orkney's biggest town, Kirkwall closes down on Boxing day and New Years Day and shops board up their windows as the streets fill with spectators. There is also a 'Boy's Ba' which takes place earlier in the day which is just as brutal. Each side has a goal; the uppies head inland whereas the doonies have to end up in the sea. If you are still confused this video might help give you more of an idea: