Sessions and Sail 2023 - Orkney
May 21st - May 27th
Price: £1245 per person, including all food, accommodation, sessions and workshops.
Join us aboard the Lady of Avenel for this unique voyage.
This two-masted, Brigantine-rigged tall ship will be your home for the week as we sail through the islands of Orkney.
The ship will be your base for a voyage of exploration and music with sessions, workshops, sailing and more.
Sail the evocative and historic natural harbour of Scapa Flow; visit the charming village of Pierowall on Westray; watch seals on the rocks at Stronsay.
Gaze up at the cliffs of the West Mainland clad with razorbills and guillemots, sail through Calf Sound - where the Orcadian pirate Gow met his downfall in 1725; past islands mentioned in the Orkneying Saga.
You will learn tunes from the rich Orkney tradition in the bright saloon aboard Lady of Avenel; later, we will walk ashore to a local pub or village hall to play sessions with local musicians and meet the communities.
Throughout the trip we will enjoy locally sourced food, beautifully prepared by our on-board chef.
Some of our likely destinations are outlined below!
We look forward to having you join us in Orkney!
Orkney’s second town has been a haven since Viking times, and had strong links with Canada and the Hudson Bay Company in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Stromness has a strong arts connection also – writer George Mackay Brown lived here for most of his life; and the town is now home to the 20th Century art gallery the Pier Arts Centre, and hosts the Orkney Folk Festival.
The Northern isle of Westray has a thriving community of 600; the village of Pierowall is built around the harbour.
Westray has an RSPB reserve at Noup Head, the impressive Noltland Castle, built by Mary Queen of Scots’ sherriff Gilbert Balfour in the 16th century,
and a host of craft shops, pubs and cafes.
Home to one of the UK’s most spectacular cathedrals, St Magnus, Kirkwall was the seat of the Viking earls of Orkney and Shetland (and at times, Sutherland) throughout the days of the Orkneyinga Saga.
Today it is a small but bustling harbour town of 6,000 and the capital of Orkney.
Who is the trip aimed at?
If you are a keen musician playing at any level - whether beginner, intermediate or expert - with an interest in the traditional and folk music of Scotland, this trip is for you.
No sailing experience is necessary, but those keen to participate will be encouraged to join in the sailing of the ship should they wish to, whether steering, helping set and trim the sails, or even climbing the mast for the finest view of all.
Accommodation on board
You will be allocated a berth in one of our six double cabins. For solo travellers, cabins will be allocated on a same-sex basis; if two people travelling together wish to share a cabin, we recommend booking early to ensure availability.
There are two showers and three toilets in the accommodation; these are shared.
Meals are prepared in the modern upper deck galley; these are of a high standard and prepared by our own chef. Meals, tea and coffee are included in the price of the trip.
The upper deck saloon provides an ideal place to socialise and, with the tables cleared away, will be the perfect session space for the evenings we spend aboard. Should the weather be fair enough, we may be able to play sessions on deck.
The following itinerary is a suggestion of how the trip may take form; all destinations are subject to change, are weather dependant, and are at the discretion of the Captain.
From Stromness, we travel to Kirkwall, where the ‘Lady of Avenel’ is tied up in the harbour; the crew welcome you aboard. You are given a tour of the ship and a briefing from the Captain.
We leave the pier and sail north, watching the impressive St Magnus Cathedral recede astern, past islands straight out of the Orkneyinga Saga - Shapinsay, Gairsay, Svein Holm, Egilsay.
Finding a sheltered anchorage in the lee of Rousay, or Wyre, we anchor in time to enjoy a drink before dinner. After dinner is cleared away, we gather in the Lady of Avanel’s upper saloon and get to know each other over a few tunes.
After breakfast, we have the opportunity to walk ashore on Egilsay. Viewing the original St Magnus Cathedral, hearing the spring birds at the Onziebust RSPB reserve, you will surely agree that Orkney is at its very best in May.
Back aboard the ship, we pick up our first Orcadian tutor who, after lunch, hosts our first tuition session. Whether fiddler, guitarist or piper, beginner or expert, you will find new inspiration in Orkney music and will learn new tunes or techniques.
We then move the ship closer to the Rousay pier where we go ashore and join local musicians for a session
We sail on in the morning, to the isle of Westray. Taking up to 4 hours to cover the 18 miles to Pierowall, we will cross fingers for a fair wind to allow us to set as many of the Lady of Avenel’s 11 sails as possible. You will be encouraged to join in, guided by the professional crew, although this is voluntary, and some may prefer to sit back and watch the action!
Tying up in the harbour at Pierowall, we will have lunch and the opportunity to stretch legs with a walk ashore; for those who wish, there is a workshop session with one of our sail-aboard tutors in the Lady’s saloon.
In the evening, the community will welcome us to the cosy Pierowall Hotel where we will play tunes and enjoy the island hospitality.
A 20 mile sail takes us round the north of Eday, through the stunning Calf Sound, and into the sheltered harbour at Whitehall, on Stronsay. There we will recap and work through some of the tunes and techniques we have been taught over the past three days.
There will be time to walk ashore and explore the shore and village before dinner; later, we join the community ashore for a tune session in the Stronsay Hall.
Bidding farewell to Stronsay, we my visit Shapinsay, or head for a peaceful anchorage off Deerness; or, watching weather windows, we may decide to head for Scapa Flow today; harbours such as Burray, or St Margaret's Hope await us if we head round early.
Our second local tutor joins us in the afternoon, teaching us some Orkney tunes. We clear away for dinner; then, in the evening, we play tunes in the Lady's saloon, enjoying the views of Orkney's shore and the long May twilight.
If we're not there already, it’s time to head round into Scapa Flow – timing our passage, we sail down the east side of South Ronaldsay, rounding Brough Ness, jutting into the Pentland Firth, at slack water.
Back in ‘the flow’, we may head for St Margaret’s Hope for a session at one of the local bars here; or if we prefer to head for a wilder spot, one of the stunning bays on the east side of Hoy.
It’s the last day of the voyage – but in Stromness, the Orkney Folk Festival is just getting going. We have breakfast together, and one last tune, as we head towards Stromness harbour, where at the pier we say our goodbyes.
If you are staying on for the rest of the Orkney Folk Festival we may meet up again at various sessions in town over the weekend!
Orkney can be reached by aeroplane, with flights from Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Shetland – see www.loganair.co.uk
Northlink Ferries have sailings up to three times a day from Scrabster to Stromness, evening sailings four times a week from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, and evening sailings three times a week from Lerwick. See www.northlinkferries.com
Pentland Ferries have sailings three times a day from Gill’s Bay to St Margaret’s Hope, see www.pentlandferries.co.uk
The nearest train connections to either Gill’s Bay or Scrabster is Thurso; for train services to Thurso see https://www.scotrail.co.uk/
Bus connections between Thurso and the ferry terminals in Scrabster and Gill’s Bay can be limited and have been restricted recently; Northlink advise train passengers to prebook Scrabster taxi travel for ferry connections.
Stagecoach Buses run one daily connection from Inverness to Scrabster and Gills Bay. See https://www.stagecoachbus.com/ for more information.
Bus travel within Orkney, and from the airport and ferry terminals is frequent; timetables are available at https://www.orkney.gov.uk/Service-Directory/B/Bus-Services.htm
We recommend confirming flights or travel arrangements as early as possible to avoid price rises and availability problems.