Remembering that temperatures vary by only small degrees here the slow collapse of Summer into Autumn is really only evident through the noticeable fading light. Though we still have a lot more daylight than further south at this time, change is unmistakable. Crocosmia is in its pomp, a tough South African import that does very well here.
September sees the arrival of the last major festivals of the season. The penulimate is the Orkney International Science Festival Sept 6th-12th, (2012), an eclectic mix of fresh insights, challenging ideas and lively activities. Topics range from astronomy to zoology, from renewable energy to rural transport, with world-class speakers from many places. Activities include talks and exhibitions – plus concerts, outings, art, music and ceilidhs.
In the decade that I have lived in Orkney, the Science Festival week has become a fixed date in my diary. Founded by the ubiquitous Howie Firth 20 year ago the festival is now well established on the world stage and can be a great mixture of arts, philosophy, metaphysics and science. It remains an outstanding week of discourse for all enquiring minds. It is based primarily in Kirkwall.
Following the brain food comes soul food with the Orkney Blues Festival 21st-23rd Sept (2012). This event has been revitalised and revamped in the last few years and has become a greatly enjoyable weekend with an intimate embiance and international line-up.
This time is autumn changeover for Orkney Birds. The endlessly light days begin to shorten and with the nearing end of summer things fall quiet; the summer visitors hopefully lead their young away for their first migration. Soon numbers start to drop and mass migration is underway. This also heralds the exciting possibilities of rare and unusual birds making unscheduled stops for food and rest.
During this time the winter visitors start to return and the seasonal change is confirmed with the first great skeins of Greylag geese arriving from Iceland.
The occupation of the fields and shore now starts to change. Thrushes from the northern climes; Redwings and Fieldfares, start to dominate the open spaces. Flocks of waders start to swell with incomers - Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Golden Plover increase; sometimes to flocks of a thousand birds or more.
From late August onward the country gardener awaits the first Autumn gales. These can arrive as early as August 20th or as late as mid-October. In all but the most protected gardens of Kirkwall or Stromness planting a genuinely Autumnal garden here would be a somewhat sole destroying and thankless task, for it will be viciously set about with wind driven baseball bats long before it has a chance to mature and you will be very lucky to see anything other than a badly battered version of your dreams.
For us at Heddle it is the time of year to cut the grass on the turf roof, an annual event to keep out perennial weed development.
Of course some years the first autumn storms are late and these years allow the garden to reach a degree of beauty and maturity that keeps us going through the bad times. Blooming Potentila keeps going well into November and sometimes the garden keeps looking great far longer than you had ever hoped.
In both 2006/7 September through to Mid-October have been the best time to be here.
With the ending of the school holidays and the general slowing down of the season the island feels emptier and with the best weather of the year added to this general absence of folk those who have been lucky enough to be here have had a great bonus. Not so true in 2008 when the Summer closed on Sept 30th and Winter started on October 1st. But that is life in the Northern Isles.
After much hard work and discussion by some key individuals 2010 saw the welcome re-birth of the Orkney Story Telling Festival. This turned out to be a very successful Autumnal weekend of fireside tales and local legends told by a mixture of splendid local and international storytelling Masters. This year it is scheduled for the weekend of 25th-28th October (2012). A welcome late season addition to the diary I am sure this event will continue to go from strength to strength as the years go by, building on the great success of 2011.