One of the best things about living in Orkney is the opportunity to go island hopping. Be it by ferry or plane, the islands that make up this archipelago are all well worth visiting, and they each have their own distinctive character too.
Last summer we headed to the north isle of Stronsay to do some filming and interviews as part of our work for the LEADER-funded Digital Orkney project.
Our visit was timed to tie in with the work being carried out by islanders to promote Stronsay as a vibrant, attractive and welcoming place to visit and move to. A new website was being built and a local ‘Promoting Stronsay’ group was working hard in the background to pull together information to highlight what the island had to offer.
We had around a day and a half to get everything we needed. Things began as soon as we got off the ferry in Whitehall village. We met a group of ‘volunteers’ who were going to showcase the island’s innovative free bike hire scheme in front of the camera. From youngsters to slightly more experienced cyclists, the group was only too keen to head out of the village for a mile or two so we could capture some footage.
Onto the island’s craft trail next – there are five very talented makers in the community who are happy to welcome visitors to see them at work, creating beautiful glass pieces, jewellery, textiles, soap, cards, decorations and much more. Again, everyone was ready for us coming and happy to have a camera put in front of them.
A quick stop to pick up something for lunch at Maurice Williamson's shop at Olivebank, home of the famous Stronsay sausages, and it was on to a real highlight of the trip – a walk to the Vat of Kirbister. It’s a magnificent natural arch on the island’s east coast, and we caught it at the perfect time.
It was t-shirt weather as we headed down the path towards the coast. A ten-minute stroll led us to the Vat, and it was one of those ‘stop and stare’ moments. It’s a stunning place, with the sound of the sea echoing in the collapsed cave, birds skimming gently on the water and the breeze blowing through the beautiful wildflowers and fauna all around you. It wasn’t a hard place to get some imagery from.
It was soon time for a reluctant walk back to the car and onto our next stop. Stronsay is marketing itself as the ‘island of bays’ thanks to the three interlocking bays of Mill, Holland and St Catherine’s. We paid a visit to all three and were greeted with wide expanses of clean, white sand, turquoise seas and not a single person in sight.
The beaches were just perfect – the island of bays, it turns out, is a very apt name for Stronsay.
Then it was back to Whitehall and our bed and breakfast at the Storehouse. They also offer evening meals and we had a fantastic two course tea there – we’d thoroughly recommend it. A quick walk down to the Stronsay Hotel for some refreshments (just for research, obviously) and it was time to call it a night. Whitehall was quiet and the walk through the village was peaceful. A far cry from its days at the heart of the herring industry when thousands of workers filled the houses and homes, but still a special place to be.
The following day, after an excellent breakfast at the Storehouse, we wrapped up the remaining locations on our shot list – more craft trail stops, a trip to St John’s Hill and Lower Whitehall and a trek to Lamb Head, on the south east tip of the island. We saw seals, sheep, sea views and more sun – this was turning into more of a summer holiday than part of the working week.
We even managed to cram in a delicious lunch at the Fish Mart café in Whitehall, a superb facility in the village.
We grabbed some shots of the ferry arriving before spending the return journey to Kirkwall out on the deck, taking in some island views as we headed home.
It had been a fantastic trip and we were blessed with great weather. A corrupt memory card apart, we had gathered everything we wanted and had all the material for our ‘Five reasons to visit Stronsay’ blog, which was published on Visit Orkney.com in January.
But what struck us the most was the proactive community, working together for the common goal of promoting their island, demonstrating that spirit of togetherness these places are famous for.
The Promoting Stronsay team meet regularly to plan their next moves and discuss what they’re doing. They have someone looking after the Stronsay Facebook group, someone manning the Twitter feed and someone looking after their new Instagram profile. There’s a web manager and they’ve all bought into the branding too.
It’s an excellent demonstration of what can be done with a bit of time, commitment and determination.
And if it attracts more people to this beautiful island, then it will have all been worth it.
Take a look at the Visit Stronsay website for more island information.