This 30th Festival is a new adventure for us as we deliver online, with a big team of helpers joining in to make it possible. The Year of Coasts and Waters runs through the programme, with stories of tidal turbines and Arctic journeys, shipbuilding and shipwrecks, whale songs and selkie stories, and North Ronaldsay’s seaweed-eating sheep. Foraging Fortnight gives us an additional outdoor dimension, with outings to Hoy and Graemsay, and walks along parts of the St Magnus Way.

Topics range from superconductivity to spaceports, ocean plastic to atmospheric pollution, Orkney’s Norse genetic links to the analysis of the finds from the Ness of Brodgar excavation. We find out too how the people of the Neolithic may have been able to build substantial boats to sail to Orkney and beyond. We look back to the 17th-century origins of modern science and hear music for a Winter Queen.

All the events are free, apart from one or two of the workshops where numbers are limited and a ticket includes an equipment pack. Almost all of the events will be streamed through YouTube, for easy access. We will link up on the closing evening with an international islands event and speak to islands worldwide, from Tasmania to St Helena. And wherever you are, you are warmly welcome to join us!


There is superconductivity to whalesong, Arctic seaweed and Galapagos seabirds, Svalbard’s seas and Colombia’s mountains. There is papermaking, orca sighting, beachcombing, the story of women in shipbuilding, and the boats of Hudson’s Bay … and much, much more in a very full programme of events with what we hope will be something for everyone.

Foraging Fortnight 2020

Those weeks in lockdown added to feeling that foraging is an idea whose time has come. For fresh air, for exercise, for general wellbeing, for nutrition, and for a clean fresh flavour, wild food that you gather yourself has so much to enjoy. We join forces with four mainland Scottish regions to present a varied mix of activities, including island outings, and walks along sections of the St Magnus Way, with chefs to advise us as well.

Year of Coasts and Waters

The sea runs through just about every aspect of life in Orkney, whether the winter gales leaving dried salt on the windows, or sparkling summer light on the water. For the Year of Coasts and Waters we have a varied mix of many aspects of the sea – of gale-lashed fishing vessels, of singing seals, of tidal turbines of today, of women who hear the music of the sea and women who build ships to sail on it. We also link up with islands worldwide in a special presentation of community developments in energy.


Set off with us on an island visit – to Hoy and the sands of Rackwick, and to Graemsay and Sandside Bay, and wild plants along the way. At the Vintage Rally you can see some beautiful examples of vehicles and engines, and meet some of the people who have carried out labours of love on them.


Workshops Make paper from natural materials. Learn to identify whales. Go down to the shore and plant brushes, and paint with shore-sourced pigments. Forage along the coastline and feast on your finds. Turn waste plastic and discarded fabric into something of beauty. Come and join in!


Stories from science lead into a wide range of music to accompany events. There are composers from the 17th century, and composers of today. There’s music from the time when modern science was being formed, and music of today influenced by seal and whale song. And there is music from the North Atlantic, from Orkney and Shetland, and northwards to Iceland and Greenland.


Music and marine life come together in Message in a Bottle, with images and animation, around the theme of the sea and the life within it. Elsewhere in the programme, the old selkie legend provides an image of transformation, needed today to seek ways of creatively transforming the mass of litter on beaches into something beautiful.


There is a rich harvest of film in this year’s programme, with numerous premieres and a wealth of beautiful images and sequences. The sea runs through a number of them in this Year of Coasts and Waters, and there are stories of shore searches and lost ships, and seabirds and sea creatures in a world of sand and rocks and swaying kelp. There is also preparing food and making paper, and a wonderful wealth of music and song.


Orkney’s Coasts and Waters is the theme of Orkney Camera Club’s exhibition for this year, with a fine range of scenes. There is an opportunity to see the sea breaking on North Ronaldsay shores with a retrospective exhibition of the work of the artist Ian Scott.

Family Activities

We’d particularly like to mention the Riches of the Shore workshops, with making brushes and pigments, seeing shore creatures and photographing seaweed. There’s also the workshop on learning to identify cetaceans – whales, porpoises and dolphins. Raymond Besant will have stories and pictures of marine mammals and seabirds around Orkney’s coasts. Michael Leach’s account of the wildlife of the Galapagos Islands will also be something for family viewing, with some beautiful images.

Festival Club

We always like to round off the day in The Reel, with music and conversation, and a choice of refreshments. The online Festival Club aims to capture some of the atmosphere, with Orkney musicians, and visitors as well joining in, and an opportunity to meet other Festival-goers. If you want fuller discussion, there are virtual tables that you can join.

Food & Drink

Orkney’s renowned for fine food and drink, and the Festival’s an ideal time to enjoy it. You can join us at lunchtime, and we’ll explain how you can make your own Orkney lunch and enjoy interviews and stories. You can also join one of the online tables for a chat with other Festival-goers. The Festival Club in the evening also provides an opportunity to meet up, and enjoy some music. Then there’s Skaill House on Sunday, with an Orkney afternoon tea.

Online Exhibitions 2020

Orkney Camera Club respond each year to the Festival theme, and this year had an even bigger challenge – to do so online; and they have responded in splendid style. Their exhibition Orkney’s Coastal Waters is a delight, as you can see by going to it on the Artsteps site. Katy Firth in association with Stromness Museum has put together an exhibition of 360 degree photospheres of a visit to the island. The exhibition ‘Ian Scott – a retrospective’ can be seen online at the Artsteps site.