Our Senior Brand Ambassador, Martin Markvardsen, hails from Denmark and travels the world for Highland Park, but Orkney is most definitely his ‘home away from home’ and he loves everything about these magical islands. We interrupted his busy schedule to find out why Orkney has captured his heart…
Martin, as Senior Brand Ambassador, you travel a lot – how often do you get to Orkney?
Before the pandemic I was up in Orkney every couple of months. Now that travel restrictions have lifted, I’m looking forward to being here just as much as before, if not more. I think it’s important to show the world how great Orkney is and what a fantastic distillery Highland Park is as well.
When was the very first time you visited the Orkney Islands and what was your impression then?
It was back in 1998. I remember coming in from Aberdeen and thinking I’d never seen such a small airport as Kirkwall! I stayed at the Kirkwall Hotel and was collected the next morning by the most fantastic storyteller I have ever met, Jimmy Rayburn. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality, the people and the scenery in Orkney. And, actually, I’m still overwhelmed every time I’m back. It’s such a great feeling to be here and I also vividly remember the first time I went to the Cliffs of Yesnaby. The power of the wind, the nature and the stories you find there. I think it’s fair to say, that Orkney changed my life.
Nowadays, when that little plane lands in Kirkwall Airport, does it feel like coming home?
Yes! Orkney will forever be my ‘home away from home’. I’m still as excited to come here as I was the very first time. I simply find Orkney to be the best place on earth, and I truly love everything about these islands. Over the years, I have met so many fantastic people, people I’m proud to call friends. I love showing Orkney to people too, and I’m sure they can tell that I talk about Orkney with my heart.
Who do you catch up with and what do you discuss when you’re at the Distillery?
I always have a catch up with Marie Gulliver, our Distillery Manager, and we chat about what’s been happening, what barley we’re using, how the peat is doing, and whether there have been any changes in production. Marie is a mentor for me. Even though I’ve probably been in the whisky industry longer than her, she has a knowledge that blows me away. I talk warehouses and casks with Keith Moar, our Warehouse Team Leader, and staff training with Graham Bruce, our Visits and Retail Operations Manager, but basically, I just love going around to have a wee chat with the whole team – they are the true heroes of Highland Park, and they are like family to me. I missed them a lot when I couldn’t travel during the pandemic. Finally, I love showing our wonderful distillery to visitors – often I’ll be taking care of guests who I have invited, or who have requested me to be there when they come.
Aside from the Distillery, are there any ‘must do’ and ‘must see’ places when you’re here?
I definitely need to go to the Cliffs of Yesnaby – such an amazing place – it’s very hard to describe what makes it special, so people need to go there to understand it for themselves. The Ring of Brodgar is a mysterious and fascinating place and Hobbister Moor, where we cut our peat, is a must. It’s a very important place for Highland Park.
I also love a visit to the Royal Bar at the Orkney Hotel – good food and great whiskies – and Helgi’s in Kirkwall is a great traditional pub, taking its inspiration from Orkney’s Viking past. I love the Kirkwall Hotel and its amazing bar, the Merkister Hotel in Harray and The Foveran in Orphir too. Honestly, Orkney is full of great places – check them out! There are so many fantastic bars, restaurants and most of all landmarks.
Do you have a favourite ‘off grid’ place to visit too – somewhere special to you personally?
Yes. Besides Yesnaby and Brodgar, there are three other place I love to visit. First the Earls Bu and Round Church in Orphir, known from the Orkneyinga Saga and surrounded with stories, and also the Brough of Deerness and Brough of Birsay, again two places from the ‘Viking trail’ and simply amazing to go and see. Less off grid is the St Magnus Cathedral, another favourite place of mine.
Apart from the Distillery (of course!) where and what else would you recommend to visitors?
Well, within Kirkwall, the Cathedral is a must and the Orkney Museum is very interesting as well. Touring the islands, visitors should take in the Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war and so very beautiful, as well as Skara Brae and Maeshowe, the Neolithic village and the chambered cairn. I love going to the islands of Egilsay and Hoy, as the history and scenery there is fantastic. Throughout the year, Orkney has many festivals – the Orkney Folk Festival, St Magnus Festival, Orkney Nature Festival, Orkney Science Festival, Orkney Storytelling Festival and Orkney Blues Festival… to name just a few! There are no excuses for not coming up to this beautiful part of the world. Check out orkney.com to find out more.
Finally, how does time spent on Orkney make you feel?
Happy, relaxed and energised! It’s a place I LOVE. The air, the people, the place just make you relax, and at the same time, they re-charge my batteries. When I leave Orkney, I feel so full of energy… but I miss it the second I board the small plane to leave this unbelievable place.
If you’ve visited Orkney, or are lucky enough to live here, what do you love most about these magical islands? We’d love to know – tell us on our Facebook page or via Twitter.