Summer courses

The Institute for Northern Studies has a portfolio of summer courses, which we offer as bespoke events tailored to visiting groups. We can adapt the time, length, and contents of the course to your group's needs. We welcome university groups, study tours, learning holidays, clubs and societies, and other groups. Below you will find a description of courses we have run in the past.

Corrigall Farm Museum, OrkneyIf you have a group of 6 or more, we will put on a tailor-made course for you

Combining field trips, site visits and academic lectures, our summer schools merge our university courses with tour guiding to create a learning holiday or field-school experience. If you are planning a visit with a group please let us know and we can tailor course length, dates and contents to your wishes and needs as far as possible. We especially welcome groups from other universities and colleges in the UK and around the world. Get in touch with us on or (+44) (0)1856 569 302 and we can discuss how we can best tailor the experience to your group's needs. Below is a description of some of the courses we have run so far.

What we can do for you

Below are examples of summer courses we have run in the past, to give you an idea of what your tailor-made course may contain.

A Window on Iona, 16-22 May 2015

In May 2015, the Institute for Northern Studies for the first time offered a summer couse on the beautiful historic island of Iona, in conjunction with the Iona Community. The course week ran from the 16th to the 22nd May. Participants had the opportunity to stay in the abbey itself. They also attend lectures on the history, culture and folklore of Iona, on St Columba and the early Church, on Celtic sculpture and early Celtic literature, and went on field trips to iconic places such as Staffa. There was also a series of evening social events ranging from a ceilidh to a conversational Gaelic class for beginners! In collaboration with the Iona Community,





Hands-on Orkney

30 June - 4 July 2014

Sarah baking at CorrigallThis course combines cultural history, field trips and practical workshops to let you experience different aspects of traditional life in the island community. Experts from the Institute for Northern Studies provide the historical and cultural context through illustrated lectures. There are workshops every day where you try your own hand at traditional skills such as bannock baking, drystone dyke building, making things out of straw, and peat cutting, guided by local practitioners. We make a trip to the peat hill, where we use traditional tools and methods and hear about the folklore of the area. Among the other field trips is also a visit to a traditional Orkney farm, now a farm museum, where we learn to make “simmans” and “lover’s knots”, followed by a visit to the Orkney Furniture Maker who continues the tradition of making straw-backed Orkney chairs.

More information and pictures here.

traditions and folkloreOrkney Cultural Traditions and Folklore

Previous iterations: 9-13 July 2007,  7-11 July 2008, 11-17 June 2009, 28 June - 2 July 2010

Over five days, and through a combination of lectures and field trips this course covers the history of Orkney, its archaeological heritage, its folklore and literature, its dialect and language history and music. The daily field trips go to Italian Chapel, Scapa Flow, Orphir, Kirbuster Farm Museum, Birsay, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, Kirkwall, Stromness and the Broch of Gurness.

Orkney Writers and Landscape

Previous iterations: 6-10 July 2009, 28 June-2 July 2010

This course lets you experience some of Orkney’s best loved literature through the ages. Starting with Norse saga literature, the course goes on to explore the works of Orkney writers such as Robert Rendall, Edwin Muir, Eric Linklater and George Mackay Brown. Daily field trips visit the places and landscapes that inspired their writing.

Groups at Skara Brae Neolithic village Orkney

Shetland Cultural Traditions and Folklore

Previous iterations: 14-18 July 2008, 13-17 July 2009, 19-23 July 2010

This short course focused on the language, literature and folklore of the Shetland Islands, with lectures on Finns, Trows and Witches, placenames and a workshop on traditional music.

history and landscapeShetland History and Landscape

Previous iterations: 19-23 July 2010

Set within the context of the landscape of the various islands, this course explored the archaeological and natural heritage of the Shetland Islands, including an all-day excursion to Britain’s most northerly island Unst and a workshop on traditional music.

Shetland Writers and Landscape

Previous iterations: 13-17 July 2009

This course focused on Shetland’s literary landscape, with an introductory lecture on Saga literature followed by case studies of nineteenth and twentieth century writers such as Dorothea Primrose Campbell, Jessie M.E. Saxby, dialect writers such as James Stout Angus, J.J. Haldane Burgess, to contemporary Shetland writers Robert Alan Jamieson and Jen Hadfield.

Viking Culture

Participants learn about a wide variety of issues concerning the daily life and culture of the Norse people who once inhabited Orkney and Shetland. The five days of each course are each centred on a theme, covering a wide range of topics concerning the culture and everyday life of Viking Culture Egilsay 2012the Norse people, including voyages, society and religion, everyday life, literature and runes.

Viking Culture, Orkney

5-9 July 2011, 9-13 July 2012, 1-5 July 2013

This Orkney-based course explores many aspects of Norse culture, from their navigation and explorations, to their everyday life, food culture, religion, law and administrative system and their literature and runic alphabet. Daily excursions take participants to Brough of Birsay, the administrative centre of Earl Thorfinn the Mighty, the Earl’s Bu in Orphir, Maeshowe chambered tomb containing Britain’s largest assemblage of Runic inscriptions, and the islands of Rousay and Egilsay. It also includes a re-enactment of the martyrdom of St Magnus and a full-blown Viking Feast!

Viking Culture, Shetland

Previous iterations: 19-23 July 2011, 23-27 July 2012, 24-28 June 2013, 1-3 June 2015

A Shetland-based course on all things Viking, with field trips and lectures. Lectures included Vikings in the North Atlantic, Runes and Norse Literature, Viking Voyages and Seafaring, and Vikings in Popular Culture. The fieldtrips went to Lerwick, the Up-Helly-Aa exhibition, South Shetland Mainland Viking Landscapes and Societies. There was also plenty of socialising and fun, such as a Viking Games tournament and even a sailing trip on a reconstructed Viking ship! An all-day excursion to the Viking Unst Projectis included, as well as a visit to the popular “Up-Helly Aa” Viking fire festival exhibition.


Summer course participants sailing on a replica Viking ship in Shetland

Orkney Through Time

Previous iterations: 24-28 June 2013

Stone carving workshop at Orkney Through Time summer course 2013.This summer school focuses on the art history of Orkney and creative art workshops. Through the week, participants progress in time from the islands’ Pictish past, through the Viking and Middle Ages, to the traditional farming community and the contemporary art and culture of Orkney. Each day contains an illustrated academic lecture, exploring the culture and art of each era, ranging from the elegant but enigmatic Pictish symbol stones, through Viking sculpture and medieval literature, to Northern Isles traditional custom and belief and the poetry and art of our recent past. The lectures are enhanced by field trips centred around the five day-themes, where we experience Pictish art, Viking runic inscriptions, and medieval architecture and explore the traditional farming community. Each day, participants make their own creations, led by the Orkney College Art and Design department and local artists, who lead the students in exploring various techniques such as textile art, stone carving, photography and traditional photo manipulation, and felting. The last day is spent in the renowned Pier Arts Centre, where the theme is Fine Art, An Unfolding Gift, followed by a printmaking workshop. At the end of the course, participants go home with a selection of artwork of their own creation.

Visiting groups

Below are examples of groups who have visited us to experience their own tailor-made summer course.

Contemporary Music for All

26 July 2017

This event is part of the Contemporary Music for All summer school, in collaboration with Orkney Islands Council's "Magnus 900" year.


Kiel University

18-21 June 2012

In 2012, we were delighted to welcome a group of academic faculty from Kiel University for a bespoke version of our Orkney Cultural Traditions and Folklore summer school.


East Tennessee State University

11-17 June 2009, 10-13 June 2011, 10-13 June 2013, 8-11 June 2015, 8-10 June 2017bluegrass

In 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 we ran a bespoke version of the Orkney Cultural Traditions and Folklore summer school for a group of students and tutors from East Tennessee State University. As the group included music students from the Bluegrass Program, we also collaborated with local musicians, such as Bruce Mainland (2013) and Fiona Driver (2015) who both gave a workshop with the students.

Cambridge, Nottingham and Oxford Universities, The Orkney Viking Heritage Project field school

14-20 April 2013

In 2013, we were privileged to host a group of tutors and PhD students participating in the Cambridge, Nottingham and Oxford Universities’ field school, The Orkney Viking Heritage Project.

The Orkney Viking Heritage Project is a training programme for PhD students and early career researchers in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic and Viking Studies (ONIVS), which aims to extend academic research about the Viking diaspora and its tangible and non-tangible heritage in the British Isles. The Project addresses the evident skills gap in the Strategic Area of Heritage and engages with the Emerging Theme of Translating Cultures. It comprises a Preparatory Workshop in Oxford bringing together academics, young scholars and heritage professionals, and a Field School in Orkney providing hands-on experience of a heritage landscape, and will enable the translation of findings into accessible multi-media formats for public dissemination as exhibition resources.

Cambridge Nottingham Oxford and UHI Orkney Project field school 2013