Creating ‘a valley of voices’ with Hoy Heritage Centre

Rackwick, Hoy. (Rebecca Marr)

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is part of a new Orkney community project to produce a series of podcasts celebrating the heritage of the island of Hoy.

The Hoy Heritage Centre initiative will create five podcasts – audio journeys that will take in different areas in Hoy and feature landmarks, local lore, archaeology, and flora and fauna.

The Hoy community will be involved in the gathering, generation and recording of the content, which will include archive and newly made audio recordings together with specially commissioned music. The downloadable podcasts will add to the experience of visitors to Hoy while remote listeners can journey through imagined landscapes.

Dan Lee, lifelong learning and outreach archaeologist with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, has worked with the Hoy community over a number of years and his knowledge of the area has added greatly to the resources at Hoy Heritage Centre.

He explained: “Hoy is full of stories, and with the community we plan to let the landscape speak. Archaeology can be about the Dwarfie Stone, but it can also be about more recent activity such as the audacious 1967 BBC outside broadcast of the Old Man of Hoy climb. It is the layers of time that we will be building up in this creative audio project.”

The path from the Old Man. (Rebecca Marr)

The five connected audio journeys will comprise:

  • Moaness Pier to Hoy Kirk Heritage Centre.
  • The old road to Rackwick through the valley.
  • The road via the Dwarfie Stane.
  • Rackwick.
  • The Old Man of Hoy.

Each podcast will be approximately ten minutes long. They will be available to download from the Hoy Heritage website, supported by an interactive map and links to discover more about particular topics.

Track to the Dwarfie Stane, Hoy. (Sigurd Towrie)

Filmmaker and editor Mark Jenkins will be making new recordings with the community and weaving the audio journeys together, while musician and composer James Watson will compose and play new music for the project.

Hoy heritage officer Rebecca Marr said: “Like many visitor centres this past year, Hoy Heritage Centre has had to close to the public. This has had a significant impact on us, but this is a great opportunity during these difficult times to lift spirits and allow people to experience the magic that is Hoy.

“Whether people use the podcasts to accompany their walks in Hoy or whether they travel from their armchair, sharing heritage by hearing local stories from local voices will make their journey a real experience.”

View to the Hoy hills. (Rebecca Marr)

Hoy residents living in the parish, or those who have homes in the parish, are invited to get involved by telling their stories, sharing tales or voicing up newspaper clippings. Contact Rebecca at

The project has been funded by Museums and Galleries Scotland.

The research behind the St Magnus Way pilgrimage route

Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, a researcher and lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, features in a new video outlining the St Magnus Way pilgrimage route project in Orkney.

Part-funded by LEADER, the Saint Magnus Way is a 55-mile pilgrimage walk that is based on stories that tell of the route which the body of Earl Magnus Erlendsson was taken, after his martyrdom on the Orkney island of Egilsay and the processional route of his shrine.

The project began in October 2015, and, after money was raised and funding secured, the walk was launched in five sections from Easter to December 2017 – part of a year-long series of events to mark the 900th anniversary of St Magnus’ death.

Dr Gibbon, whose has researched the archaeology of pilgrimage and the cult of St Magnus, was involved in the project from the start.

“I was asked to provide an assessment of the history and archaeology of St Magnus in Orkney to help in the establishment of the St Magnus Way,” explained Dr Gibbon.

“This research benefitted from a UHI mini sabbatical in 2017/18 and fed into the UHI Archaeology Institute’s Mapping Magnus project, the 2019 paper Storyways: Visualising Saintly Impact in a North Atlantic Maritime Landscape, I co-authored with Dr James Moore and my paper on the Ladykirk Stone, published in volume eight of the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal in 2019.

“I am continuing my research in this area, finalising the second paper from my sabbatical research on the materiality of pilgrimage with specific reference to red sandstone and the Orkney Cult of St Magnus.”

Archaeology Institute projects highlighted in Orkney community heritage initiative

Projects run by the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute across Orkney are highlighted in a new initiative focusing on the value of community heritage in the islands.

Living Orkney’s Community Heritage (LOCH) is a series of webinars looking to support the heritage centres in the county’s islands. The project is a collaboration between the North Isles Landscape Partnership Scheme (NILPS) and Rebecca Marr and Mark Jenkins of Kolekto

The first session, delivered by Katy Firth of the Stromness Museum, looked at “Ways of engaging your local audience”. Rebecca and Mark explored “Creative ways of working with collections” by touring through some of the projects they have been involved with where the creative process has been central. 

Finding the location where historical photos were taken in Rackwick, Hoy, for the 'Rackwick Backflip' project. (Dan Lee/ORCA)
Finding the location where historical photos were taken in Rackwick, Hoy, for the ‘Rackwick Backflip’ project. (Dan Lee/ORCA)

These projects included work by the UHI Archaeology Institute’s Dan Lee with Hoy Heritage and the Hoy Max walk, the Rackwick survey along with the Listening to the Piers Project with Stromness Museum and the Rousay Summer Club hogboon project and film, with Ally Keir, a former University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute PhD student).

Plane table survey of the 'House-that-was-built-in-a-day' during the Rackwick Survey in Hoy, Orkney. (Dan Lee/ORCA)
Plane table survey of the ‘House-that-was-built-in-a-day’ during the Rackwick Survey in Hoy, Orkney. (Dan Lee/ORCA)

Dan said: “It’s great to see our projects being used in wider teaching and good practice guides such as this. We take an interdisciplinary approach to our community archaeology projects and it is good to see how this can contribute to wider fields of practice.”

Future LOCH events include Lucy Gibbon of Orkney Library and Archive on “Working with archive material” and Rob Macgregor of Voluntary Action Orkney on “Working with volunteers”.

A live discussion session on “Creative ways of working with collections” will take place, via the Zoom video-conferencing app, tomorrow, Thursday, November 12, at 3pm. Contact for details of how to participate.

Digging up the Past 2019 – Archaeology Workshops for Young People @ Ness of Brodgar

The Ness of Brodgar Excavation

Throughout the summer, if you are aged between 12 and 16, you could be part of the dig team for one morning at the world famous Ness of Brodgar archaeology dig.

The dates are as follows:

  • 9th July 2019
  • 16th July 2019
  • 6th August 2019

Each session starts at 9.30am and ends at 12.30pm.

You will be involved in workshops on archaeological techniques and finds….. and you will have the opportunity to dig at the world renowned Ness of Brodgar dig. This is your chance to get hands on and learn some new stuff about archaeology!

We advise that you wear stout boots, warm clothes, bring a water bottle or drink and waterproofs – just in case there is a passing rain shower. Lunch is not provided, so bring along a snack too. All sessions will be under the supervision of Historic Environment Scotland rangers and archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

There is no charge for the sessions.

These ‘Digging up the Past’ sessions are very popular so booking is essential. If you want to take part then please contact the rangers on 01856 841732 or e-mail

New Laser Scanning Collaboration in Orkney

The Big Tree in Kirkwall

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and ORCA Archaeology teamed up with Robert Gordon University to begin a series of collaborative projects using advanced digital technology to record heritage across Orkney.

On the suggestion of pupils from Kirkwall Grammar School from a heritage workshop last year, the team decided that part of the initial pilot project would involve laser scanning the Big Tree in the centre of Kirkwall.

Laser scanning The Big Tree using a Leica BLK360

The Big Tree is something of an icon in Orkney and is in fact a 200 year old sycamore tree that has been a meeting place in the town for generations. The tree itself won the accolade of ‘Scotland’s Tree of the Year in 2017 and looks as if it will remain standing sentinel over the comings and goings in the town centre for a good while yet.

The Big Tree project involved the use of advanced digital data capture techniques and forms the trial run for a whole series of collaborative projects between UHI, ORCA Archaeology and RGU.

Laser image of the Big Tree, Kirkwall

The wider project involves recording the built environment in Stromness and Kirkwall and will utilise the laser scanning expertise developed by the team at RGU together with the archaeological, architectural and social history expertise of the UHI Archaeology Institute. The results so far have been stunning and the scans can be viewed in this video produced by RGU……

The work will also be on show at The Architecture Exhibition ‘An Orcadian Caravanserai’ at The Stromness Community Centre from the 17th – 21st June 2019.

Final year students from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture will present an exhibition exploring the social and cultural connotations of an ever growing tourism industry through a series of architectural interventions.

Community Archaeology in Orkney: Building Recording Days in Kirkwall & Stromness

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

ORCA Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Historic Environment Scotland and the Scotland’s Urban Past team have organised five Building Recording Days in historic Kirkwall and Stromness.

These are community archaeology events to which everyone is invited – experience is not required as full training will be given – but we ask that you book a place as below.

The team have set dates in Kirkwall during May and June (book to attend these events by writing to and the Scotland’s Urban Past team are coming up again to run a one day workshop in Stromness (you will have to book to attend this event through the Scotland’s Urban Past Eventbrite page


These days are designed to follow on from our training in March, and archive day in April, but feel free to come along if you missed these, we can easily get you up to speed. We’ve set up a regular survey afternoon, with the aim of conducting rapid recording and taking photos for properties in the Kirkwall conservation area.  

​The Scotland’s Urban Past team will run a workshop in Stromness on the 4th June, and will show us how to add the results of all our surveys onto the national record online. 

DateTimeWhereHow to Book
Wed 22/5/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Wed 29/5/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Mon 3/06/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail
Tues 4/06/1910.00-15.00StromnessEventbrite
Wed 12/06/1913.00-16.00KirkwallE-mail

This project is supported by: