For this 31st Festival we continue our adventure online, with the opportunity for everyone who has a web connection to access events. The Year of Coasts and Waters runs through the programme, with stories of tidal turbines and Arctic journeys, shore life and sea-cliffs, and the sights and sounds of the island of Swona with its seals and shipwreck stories.

Topics range from genetics to geology, from archaeology to astrophysics and the latest discoveries from gravitational waves. We will hear how a Shetland man tackled saved many lives from smallpox two centuries ago, and how Indigenous medicines helped the Orkneymen who worked at Hudson’s Bay.

We will find out about finds at the Ness of Brodgar and hear about the mathematics of the Neolithic. We will link up with an international islands event and speak to islands worldwide about turning island waste into resources. We will learn how a boy born 300 years in Kirkwall became one of the great engravers of the day, designing a Jacobite banknote for Bonnie Prince Charlie but in the end getting a knighthood from George III.

There is music inspired by astronomy, and music inspired by Norse stories and northern landscapes, and we will meet composers whose work is influenced by environmental issues.

All the events are free, apart from several workshops where numbers are limited, with the ticket for some including materials. Just about all the events will be streamed through YouTube, for easy access. And wherever you are, you are warmly welcome to join us!

  • With the sea running through the programme, we look at the progress of tidal power, and plans to row the Northwest Passage; at sea-cliffs and shore life and whale migration in Arctic waters. We hear about ways to tackle climate change, through soil regeneration and alternative power for flights and ferries. We hear how people fought Smallpox and Spanish flu, and about new research into genetics and Covid resistance. There is news of work on gravitational waves, and exploring space, and new ideas on the origins of life and the nature of time. ...

  • Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters is giving us the opportunity to develop a range of new events, among them an opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of Swona, with its seals and flowers and feral cattle. 360-degree photospheres and the voices of people past and present give a vivid picture of the uninhabited island, lying at the edge of the Pentland Firth’s tidal stream. ...

  • We have a rich mix of musical strands. There is music inspired by astronomy, with the five bright stars of the constellation Auriga each represented by a separate instrument, and music influenced by Nordic landscape and history in a concert of new work by composers from Ireland, Orkney and Faroe. We will also meet composers whose work is influenced by issues of climate and environment.

  • You can take a long slow look with Mark Jenkins at Rackwick, “the hidden valley of light” of George Mackay Brown’s poem, with the sounds of voices of the people of Hoy, past and present. You can explore the shore with Raymond Besant, with some previously unseen sequences of life along the Orkney shore. You can wonder with Selena S Kuzman about the sea and its transformations, and our relationship to it. “Our bodies follow the tidal movement of ebb and flow, hope and despair, joy and sorrow – are we carried in a deeper flow?”

  • Here is an opportunity for outdoor activity during the Festival. Orkney wildlife guide Megan Taylor of Wild Orkney Walks has put together a special programme of walks in varied parts of Orkney, to provide a range of hill views and coastal scenes. “My aim,” she says, “is to take you off the beaten track where you can see some different wildlife and enjoy Orkney scenery. ...

  • We open with a link between Orkney and Slovenia, and we round off with a ceilidh, and in between there is a range of special events, from late-evening stargazing to a singalong with Mr Boom, and from a service in St Magnus Cathedral to music from Kirkwall City Pipe Band.

  • Make paper from natural materials. Learn to navigate by the stars. Build a model of a satellite. See bees through a microscope. Find out how to make compost and turn kitchen and garden waste into food for your plants. Come and join in!

  • See bees through the microscope. Make paper from natural materials - and compost as well. Learn to navigate by the stars as the Greeks and the Norse and the Phoenicians did. Make a model of a little satellite. And don’t forget to sing and dance with Mr Boom!

  • For one of the lunchtimes, we will be joined by Scotland’s new Astronomer Royal, Prof. Catherine Heymans of the University of Edinburgh, as we hear about the work of the community of North Ronaldsay to attain recognition for their dark island skies. On another lunchtime we’re going to Birsay live for an event commemorating a great Orkney naturalist who lived there in the mid-18th century. The work of Rev. George Low covered Orkney’s history as well as its natural history, and we’ll go over to the garden of the manse that was once his home. Tristan Cameron-Harper will join us on several days to show us scenes from his Orkney travels, including drone footage, and Eric Walker will tell us what to look for in the night sky.

  • Foraging Fortnight is coming back, in the week following the Festival, and we’re providing a preview of the kind of events that you can enjoy in its programme. One example is a talk about the wealth of goodness in those wild plants we often disparage as weeds, and we will hear about their role in nutrition. There will be a workshop on identifying common wild plants for foraging. Another workshop will highlight the role of wild plants in the making of compost and the transformation of kitchen and garden waste into food for the soil. And in several of our lunchtime sessions we’ll hear about appetising snacks you can make from foraged food.