Having lived in the Orkney Islands for 16 months now, we have experienced all of the seasons and while spring has to come in top place, winter is definitely my second favourite.
I remember that before moving here, I read some very depressing accounts of Orkney winters, (so much so, that it put doubts in my mind about moving up), so it’s time to set the record straight.
Whilst it is true that the hours of daylight in winter are very short, the uninterrupted skyline offers so much light, especially on blue sky days. Before moving here, we lived in a victorian town house in Cornwall and because we were hemmed in by houses on all sides, it seemed so much darker. The winter temperatures here are mild too. The gulf stream brings humid air with with it, keeping these lovely islands much warmer than other places on the same latitude. I have to add here though, that when the weather gets wild, the very strong winds will chill you to the bone.
Similarly to Cornwall, rain is much more common here in the winter than snow. It is usually accompanied by those high winds, which lash it across the windows and make you glad to be cosy indoors.
The storms disrupt the ferry services, as they make it unsafe to sail. The ferry crews here are very experienced though and usually at least some of the days sailings, will get through as planned.
We live close to a peat bog and our land quickly becomes water-logged in the winter, but it doesn’t stop us getting outside at every opportunity. In between the spells of bad weather, the sky is an intense blue and the winter sun seems to make the landscape glow.
I love the beach in the winter. There is something so captivating about the power of the sea and it really puts on a show during the winter months.
We love to watch the local seals enjoying the waves, seemingly unbothered by the fact that they are being tossed about. It’s like watching holiday makers in the wave pool, at a water park!
It’s a great time of year for beach-combing too and we always go hunting for treasures after a storm. Sea pottery and mermaids tears (sea glass) are plentiful, along with bits of driftwood, rope, barrels and other useful rubbish. The water is much too cold for us, but there are several swimming groups up here, who swim in the sea all through the year. I prefer to be well wrapped up and dry!
A seal pup took up residence on our favourite beach this winter. Initially we were worried that it was in trouble, having first spotted it after a bad storm. After chatting to Orkney seal rescue and sending them some photos of the pup, they put our minds at rest. Apparently pups spend just four weeks, getting fat on their mothers milk, before being left to fend for themselves. They then spend much of their time sleeping and surviving off those fat supplies until they have finished moulting. Finally hunger drives them to their new life in the waves.
The seals aren’t the only wildlife to enjoy here, through the winter. The tidal pools, always have life in them and it seems to be a particularly good time of year for finding starfish. There are still plenty of birds to enjoy, who like us, head to the beach after a storm. The fields and the sky are full of Greylag geese, who’s calls seem like such a part of life here.
We have been delighted to see the local otters on several occasions this year. Such a delight to watch them out, looking for their next meal, often unbothered by our presence.
I am yet to see an orca myself, but many have been sighted up here this season and my eye constantly scans the horizon for sight of a fin or tail!
Our children were a little disappointed, when they realised that they wouldn’t be getting the snowy winters that mainland Scotland enjoys. Every once in a while there is great excitement, when a flurry of flakes suddenly appears, or a big hail storm, or even a hard frost. We’ll take whatever kind of sparkling white we can get!
Whatever the weather, the winter months here also seem to be power cut season. We are told that these have traditionally lasted for days, but things have improved considerably in recent years. Although fairly frequent, they usually last anything from a few minutes to a few hours.
You quickly get used to being suddenly plunged into darkness and keep candles, lanterns and torches placed strategically around the house. Portable gas heaters and camping stoves are also handy to have in case they’re needed.
So winter time in the Orkney Islands isn’t a dark, bleak, merciless season. As you would expect, there are days when the weather keeps you indoors and the lights have to stay on most of the day, (this is winter after all!). But there is plenty of time for adventures and soaking up that precious winter sunshine and I like it!