Warm, salty, lobster-flavoured Sanday

Daily Prompt: Local Flavor

Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.

I know that this does not quite fit the brief but we are a small island of around 150 properties, with 500 or so people living in them. Facilities are limited and there is no special provision for visitors – they needs must muck in with the rest of us. So, I’ve gone for the full guide. The Sanday Experience is really an outdoor one.


The warm welcome begins before you arrive on Sanday and you will already have experienced the friendly natives on the ferry crossing from mainland Orkney. From the moment that you set foot at Loth, you will that the warm welcome continues. One of the first things that you may notice at the ferry terminal is that everyone, from Harbour Master, David Muir, down  is relaxed and smiling. The rat race has not reached this part of the world yet.

The largest smile of all is reserved for Kelly, the local bus driver. Should you be arriving as a foot passenger, Kelly will take you and your luggage to your island destination – you may get a tour of the island first, depending on who else is needing the bus. You will certainly be rubbing shoulders with the locals once more.

Before you leave Loth,  take time to look about you – a fishing boat may be landing scallops, or there may be Seals or Heron about. You might even spot one of the resident otters in the harbour. In the summer, swallows will be swooping over the water, catching insects to feed the broods being raised in nests under the pier.

Grey Seals produce their pups in late Autumn
Grey Seals produce their pups in late Autumn, Harbour Seals breed in the early summer

No matter where you stay on Sanday, you are certain to find friendly hosts and generous hospitality.  The food will be  excellent and most likely locally-sourced. Sanday beef is second to none, and there will be a chance of  delicious rare-breed lamb, too. Locally-raised pork and poultry are also available – and locally-caught seafood of course. What you might not expect are Kaye’s excellent hand-made Belgian Chocolates! Well worth a detour to try.

Abundant wild flowers
Abundant wild flowers

A range of accommodation types are available, from camp-site and hostel, through family-run Bed and Breakfast establishments, to Full Board arrangements at The Kettletoft Hotel. There are specialist providers too –  for bird watchers and for writers looking for a quiet retreat. A number of self-accommodation cottages are available to let on both long and short terms. Book one for three months and visit Sanday to write that blockbuster novel that you know is in you or stay all winter and observe the thousands of geese that over-winter on the island – stay on for summer and see the summer migrants arrive.

Backaskaill Bay
The Broad Sandy Sweep of Backaskaill Bay
Seal Pup

There are few points on this small island that do not have a view of the sea and many visitors will be lucky not only to have a sea view but also the sight of one of the many expansive sandy beaches, from which Sanday gets its name (from the old Norse for Sand Island) At low tide there are likely to be seals hauled out and warming themselves on any available rocks. Come at the right time of year and there may be pups to see.

Runestone found in 1995

Sanday is rich not only in wildlife but also in its History and Archaeology. The island has been settled since at least the Iron Age. There many well-documented archaeological sites on the island and most are freely accessible to visitors. Sanday, like the rest of Orkney, is very proud of its Viking heritage and fiercely so of the relics found here, such as the Scar Plaque and the Runestone.

Bird ringing

The Sanday Ranger is at hand to assist visitors at any time and he has a wide ranging programme of events throughout the season covering all facets of the island, including natural features, wildlife, and archaeology. You might be lucky enough to help the Ranger with bird-ringing – the night-time ringing of Storm Petrels is a special treat.

There is always something happening on the island, though most entertainment is home-made – Sanday is not the place to stay if you like pubbing and clubbing. A wide range of regular activities are held in the Community Wing of the island’s School and visitors are more than welcome to join in with Country Dancing, or to join the Spinners at their weekly group and learn to make yarn. The fortnightly knitters love to have new people to natter to at Knit & Natter and over-Fifties are welcome at the weekly Afternoon Club meetings. Over the Summer there are four Sanday Soulkas –  weekends filled with a wide variety of events, tying in to wider Orkney events such as the St Magnus, Folk, and Science Festivals.

The Agricultural Show
Industrial Show Bench

Sanday is an Agricultural community and fishing these days takes a lesser profile than in the past, though boats do still go out to bring in the lobster creels and the crabs. Visit Sanday in early  August and see the highlight of the island’s year, the Sanday Agricultural and Industrial Show. Nothing could better represent the life of the island than this one day in the Farming calendar.

Bring your binoculars or bring your camera, your easel or your sketchpad. Whatever your interest, Sanday is sure to refresh, inspire and invigorate you.

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