Travelled to and from Orkney main island by ferry – into Stromness from Thurso on the the mainland – seeing the famous Old Man of Hoy (a stack of the coast) along the way and out of St Margaret’s Hope into Gill’s Bay back on the mainland.
We went to experience something of the ancient neolithic past of Orkney and the more recent military history of Scapa Flow. Naturally a few days really only scratches the surface! The scenery is stunning, especially along the coastal areas and there seems to be a generally prosperous community – very low unemployment and from our conversations with locals a good place to live. A maritime climate generally without extremely cold weather unless the wind is blowing…….We were fortunate not to have much wind!
The viking heritage of Orkney is readily evident – here for example in St Magnus Cathedral…
and their flag is very similar to the Norwegian flag.
Again, farming, fishing, off shore oil and tourism are the basis of the local economy.
The farms are quite densely spaced by our standards and its not uncommon to see an abandoned stone farmstead with a new modern farmhouse close by. The meat from both lamb and cattle is considered excellent and there is some cropping too.
Some of the neolithic remains are considered the best preserved in Europe and there are doubtless many more still covered. We inched our way into the burial mound at Maeshowe through a low tunnel and could only marvel at the expertise of the ancients who 5000 years built it and ensured that the rays of the winter solstice would hit its back wall. I have long been fascinated by the story of the storm uncovering the remains of the village at Scara Brae and was really interested to gain an insight into the way of life of the village which had quite sophisticated houses, little bucket size pits for bait or fish built into the floors near hearths and stone rimmed bed places.
The Ring of Brodgar is a stone circle – smaller than stone henge but similar except that it hasn’t been excavated and very little is known about it – even its exact dates – all of which adds to its mystique!
Aside from having heard of Scapa Flow but not being an aficionado of naval or military history I was not really aware of the strategic importance of the Orkneys nor the part they played in both world wars. Our tour guide provided so much detail I could not take it in but for he who is an aficionado it was an excellent day. My learnings in brief were to understand a bit more of the scale of Scapa Flow as a natural harbour (second only to Sydney) and therefore its importance as an an anchorage for British naval shipping for its proximity to mainland Europe and the military and air protection required to protect the fleet. There seem to be relics absolutely everywhere.
Clockwise below: relics on the beach on the island of Hoy, one of the Churchill Barriers built to join the island and further protect the island, beach relics and the remains of a deliberately sunk ship to deter enemy shipping, protective emplacements to watch an entrance to the harbour.
The famous Italian Chapel built and decorated by Italian prisoners of war from nissan huts. Rather sadly they were all moved on from the area soon after the Chapel was finished.
A couple of final images:
Orkney has lovely seafood, cheese, meats, bread and other baked goods!
and finally – a rainbow over Orkney as we sail away on the ferry: