If you follow my blog, you have probably noticed that I have been publishing quite a few 1 day themed itineraries about Orkney. They are perfect for any visitor but are particularly suited to those short on time or looking for things to do outside the busy summer season. The itineraries have been created by Destination Orkney as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign.
So far I've tested out itineraries specialising in Vikings, Wartime, World Heritage and the Coast. My latest and final 1 day adventure in the series is on the theme of 'Made in Orkney' which explores some of the fantastic products and independent businesses that have put Orkney on the map.
For a relatively small place there are a growing number of items made here that are sold globally and the Orkney brand is thriving. From my own experience, there seems to be as much effort and pride put in to creating a quality visitor experience and sharing the heritage of the products as there is in making them. Giving back or supporting the local community in some way, is another common theme.
This itinerary will give you a snapshot of the many local businesses on Orkney but there are countless others to explore if you have the time.
MADE IN ORKNEY ITINERARY LOCATIONS
Highland Park Distillery
In a time when I knew very little else about Orkney, I knew that it produced the well regarded Highland Park whisky. After almost a year working in a whisky shop, I got to know this particular malt and the history behind it very well. It was one of our best sellers and many purchasers shared their travel tales of discovering Highland Park on their own visits to Orkney. Back then, these far flung islands off the north coast of Scotland sounded as far away as the moon to someone who, at that time, had never been further north than Inverness!
Fast forward many years and I can happily say I have travelled further than Inverness countless times and my knowledge of Orkney extends far beyond its famous dram. So it seemed fitting that my day discovering local businesses was a visit to the place responsible for creating the product that first piqued my curiosity in this unique archipelago off the north-east coast of Scotland.
The best way to find out about about Highland Park is on a tour of the distillery, which guides you through the history and distilling process. I have done a couple of different tours here and for beginners, the 1 hour Viking Soul Tour is a good introduction. For Highland Park fans, the Magnus Eunson Tour might be more appealing as it includes seven tasting options, a glass, signed certificate, a book about the history of the distillery and the opportunity to purchase an exclusive single cask bottling. There are also several more specialised tours available.
All tours start with an introductory video about the whisky and distillery which was founded by Magnus Eunson, a direct Viking descendant, which explains the company's Viking branding. He originally produced whisky in an illicit still on this spot until the authorities caught up with him in 1798. That is the year that Highland Park was officially born although it had existed unofficially for a while before that!
If it is possible to bottle the unique history, climate and landscape of Orkney, then Highland Park comes close. I now understand why all those years ago, countless misty eyed customers fondly recounted their visits to Orkney with me . For them, and many others since, Highland Park is more than a whisky, it is a sensory journey back to the islands they have fallen in love with.
Making this you first itinerary stop is guaranteed to provide a liquid warm welcome to Orkney.
Sheila Fleet's Kirk Gallery & Cafe
If Highland Park was my first introduction to Orkney then Sheila Fleet was my second. Following on from my whisky job, I worked in an art gallery in Jenners beside Loch Lomond. Next to our concession was the Sheila Fleet stand and I often wandered past the counter gazing longingly at the beautiful jewellery pieces inspired by the Orkney landscape and Viking heritage. The runic collection in particular fascinated me, with a nod to the Norse legacy that is still widely found on the islands.
When Mr Adventures Around Scotland asked me to become Mrs Adventures Around Scotland, I knew immediately what designer I wanted for our wedding bands. We decided to celebrate in Edinburgh and headed to the Sheila Fleet Gallery in Stockbridge for inspiration. When I discovered her matching rings inspired by the Viking runes carved into the chamber walls of Maeshowe which read 'Dreams of Everlasting Love' , I knew they were the perfect choice.
Back then we had no idea that our life journey together would lead us to Orkney which still seemed a far off and exotic place at that time. Not only is our current home the inspiration for our rings, the new Sheila Fleet Gallery is now our local cafe.
Sheila was born in Orkney but left in the 1960s to study at Edinburgh College of Art. Her creative path led her towards jewellery design and a move back to Orkney where she continues to finds inspiration for her collections in the surrounding landscape and the history and folklore of the islands. During her career she has won many prestigious awards and accolades. She has even been awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to the jewellery industry.
Her latest Orkney venture is The Kirk Gallery and Cafe which not only features her many collections, the renovated former parish church also houses a lovely wee place to eat. Upstairs there are some crafts and artwork from other local designers which makes this an ideal spot to buy an Orkney gift and relax with a tea or coffee before heading for more shopping therapy in Kirkwall and Stromness.
While I was there, I decided to ask if my wedding band could be made bigger. Unfortunately health issues have caused swelling in my fingers and I have not been able to wear my ring for several years now. Due to the design it wasn't a straightforward job, but I am eternally grateful to Brian in the workshop who, with a bit of determination, managed to increase it by 2 ring sizes! It is now back on my finger, just in time for our 10th wedding anniversary and thanks to some cleaning by Brian, looks just as good as the day I first put it on.
STOPS 3 & 4
Kirkwall & Stromness
Kirkwall and Stromness are very different towns but they have one thing in common, the vast majority of businesses are local. Kirkwall town centre in particular is a thriving place lined with cute independent shops and boutiques selling everything from Orkney cheese to traditional knitwear. No matter what type of local product you are looking for, this is the place to find it.
Stromness is a very characterful town and is home to Argo's Bakery which produces some of the finest bread, cakes and biscuits found in the Islands along with many other local stores. You can also find the Pier Arts Centre here - see below for more info.
Just browsing around the shops is a joy and if you want to take home a unique handcrafted gift as a reminder of your visit, you will be spoiled for choice. Once you are all shopped out, take refuge in one of the many independent cafes and restaurants - you won't find a McDonald's or a Costa Coffee here and I hope you never will!
Both town centres are also community minded with annual festivals, shopping events, community hubs, museums and music venues. In Kirkwall, St Magnus Cathedral dominates over the high street and unusually belongs to the people of Orkney.
At a time when many high streets around the country are in rapid decline, Orkney is a shining example of what can be achieved and that is largely due to the amount of creatives, artisans and entrepreneurs that call Orkney their home.
The Pier Arts Centre
While in Stromness, a peaceful spot to retreat to is the Pier Arts Centre. This was my first visit and I was excited to finally see what lay beyond the minimalist frontage set in a period building.
Established in 1979, this small but important art gallery is celebrating its 40th year.
The gallery buildings date to the 18th and 19th century and were originally a merchant's home with stores and offices. Built in a traditional Stromness waterfront style, there is also a little pier at the back which is quiet now but like all the neighbouring piers, would once have been bustling with boats landing their cargo or catch of the day.
The buildings have had a varied history since then which has seen a cooperage on the pier, a base for Royal Engineers during World War II in the store and a lodging house and hostel. Since 1977 it has been owned by The Pier Arts Centre Trust which purchased the building and store to house the art collection donated by Margaret Gardiner.
Margaret Gardiner was an author, peace activist and philanthropist who first visited Orkney in the 1950s. She was well known for supporting artists and built up her own private art collection which included works by major 20th Century artists. She later converted the old quayside building to house her collection of paintings and sculptures.
The collection now contains over 180 works of art and is regarded as one of the finest collections of the period in the UK. Within the gallery you can also view pieces by local artists and artists who have spent time in Orkney. A major redevelopment in 2007 has created a light and calm interior, with well positioned windows that maximise the waterfront views.
Thanks to a free resources library, outreach programmes and regular events, the next generation of creative talent is also being nurtured. The gallery shop is also another good place to find locally made items.
The Orkney Brewery
The final stop on this one day itinerary is The Orkney Brewery which is the perfect space to relax at the end of the day. Something I have noticed about the many Orkney businesses I've visited is that as much thought and care goes in to designing the public spaces as it does in to the products. The Orkney Brewery is housed within a former Victorian built school and many original features have been retained. There is a big nod to its former history everywhere you look, from the jotter style menus to the desks and chairs, there is a definite classroom vibe. Old photographs adorn the walls and there is even a blackboard for leaving comments.
It is also still a place of learning although most of the classes these days revolve around the brewing process and the traditional methods used to produce the various hand-crafted beers. A behind the scenes tour with a tasting at the end is a lesson most adults will enjoy! Appropriately for a former school, children are also encouraged to learn but in a fun way, with a special Victorian dressing up tour. For playtime there is a big box of toys available.
The brewery was first opened in 1988 and taken over by the current owner, Norman Sinclair, in 2006. Norman's father actually attended the school which explains his keenness to preserve its heritage. It is now Scotland's only 5-star brewing visitor attraction and there is plenty to explore including the visitor centre, brewhouse and cafe.
The cafe menu focuses on local produce with many dishes featuring one of the Orkney Brewery Ales in the ingredients. The shop has a wide range of merchandise and some local crafts. Most importantly it also sells the award winning ales that have made the brewery so famous.
After a busy day exploring, I enjoyed relaxing with an ale and reading up on the history while also thinking how lucky I am to live in such a creative place.
The Orkney Distillery
Although not an official stop on the itinerary, The Orkney Distillery is the latest gin distillery to open on Mainland. Situated on the waterfront in Kirkwall, the sleek building is home to a cafe, bar and visitor centre which offers tours and a gin making experience.
I went along recently for a look around and it is another business that impressed me with its quality standards. If you have time, it is also well worth popping along to.
MY MAP OF ALL THE LOCATIONS MENTIONED
Disclaimer - This blog post is part of a sponsored partnership with Destination Orkney to promote their weekend itineraries, however as always all experiences and opinions are based on my own personal experience
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