Monday, September 03, 2012

A Young Person's Guide to Orkney

Are you planning to travel to Orkney? I grew up in Orkney and there are a few things locals know that would be valuable for tourists to know when visiting the islands.

As both a young person and a local, I can't help notice that most of the people visiting Orkney are of an older stature and it's always quite exciting if I meet a group of young tourists. It would be quite refreshing to get more young people visiting the islands as it might help develop more things for young residents to do on the islands as well as young people visiting the county.

 Most young Orcadians will agree that there isn't much to do on Orkney, but this is mainly in the winter time when the weather doesn't really let you leave the house. In the summer my local town, at least, is full of students home for the Summer from university and the pubs are full of young people. In the summer Orkney has a great pub scene, especially during the Folk Festival in late May every year. This is a weekend full of organised gigs as well as spontaneous pub gigs. There is also Stromness Shopping Week which is another time to meet groups of young Orcadians in the pubs as it is usually a "must" to be back home for. This is a week long gala-like celebration, think of it like a mini-jubilee every year, which is quite bizarre for a tourist to see as the opening ceremony looks bizarrely like a wedding. There is a "Shopping Week Queen" elected from the local school by fellow pupils and they get to spend the whole week in a pretty (usually white) dress for the whole week with two attendants (bridesmaids essentially) also chosen from the local school. Along with bizarre old time traditions there are stalls and a variety of activities as well as, you guessed it, an active pub scene.

Another "must" for students to return home for is "the shows" which are agricultural shows which are good fun to visit during the day  but even more exciting is the night time celebrations which usually involve a band as well as a lot of drinking. The biggest of these shows in "The County Show" where this year's evening acts included Scotland's favourite twins the Proclaimers. The shows are usually held in the first week of August and usually coincides with Orkney's best weather.

Now, Orkney doesn't just have the pubs on offer, us young locals like to take advantage of the spectacular scenery we have here. If you are studying in Scotland you are most likely in one of the big cities, Orkney offers a very different landscape to the cities and is easily reached by ferry from Aberdeen (they also offer a student discount but only on telephone or in-person bookings). Although this ferry is 6 hours long as long as you take a good book or a laptop and some films you will be fine. There is wifi but it is very temperamental and I would buy some food before you board as it is notoriously expensive, then again the battered haddock at the restauerant is one of the best I have had... Flying is also an option but is often very, very expensive. It is cheaper to fly to Bergen from Kirkwall than to Edinburgh, Orkney logic.

Brochures will tell you numerous sights to see and some of the most scenic spots are best visited in the evenings when the majority of tourists have headed home and Orkney is renown for producing some spectacular sunsets that are worth staying up for. Some of my favourite beauty spots for sunset watching are Skaill, Rackwick Bay on Hoy, Waulkmill Bay in Orphir and Yesneby. Skara Brae is one of Orkney's most famous tourist attractions and is located next to Skaill Beach and at night anyone can get into the site for free via the beach if you walk along the edge of the coast from the beach car park. I am not 100% sure if this is actually okay to do but it's been accessible for many years with the gate unlocked so I don't see the issue as long as you take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints!

The easiest way to get around Orkney is by car, but this can be expensive and you may notice that fuel in Orkney is surprisingly expensive considering we have one of the main oil terminals for the North Sea located on Flotta. Currently petrol is around £1.47 per litre and I won't dare tell you diesel prices. One little tip I can give you is that for some unknown reason the petrol in the village of Dounby is cheaper than elsewhere on the island so if you can find your way there then try and fill up when you can! The buses are relatively few and far between but do offer services to the main attractions but do not give you the freedom to go as you please.

Orkney looks best dressed between May-August as the weather is often at it's sunniest, not necessarily warmest though... May offers a great pub scene with the Folk Festival, in June there is the Summer solstice which lasts pretty much 24 hours on Orkney and July and August provide the busiest event calender for the county. Bear in mind though that later in the summer Orkney begins to get plagued by "midgies" which are smaller, and more irritating mosquitoes and stop you from being able to eat outdoors without ingesting some extra protein. It is also entirely possible to travel to Orkney in Winter but the weather is much riskier and the options for tourists will be a lot more limited. The "Merry Dancers" or Northern Lights have been spotted on the isles on numerous occasions and are one of the few places in the UK they are regularly spotted.