A Tour of Orkney and Shetland – Part 4, Orkney

After out late night arrival at the Kirkwall Hotel, we were up bright and early next morning and heading south. It seems to be an indication of how far north we were that a lot of the time we were travelling south.

First stop today was the Churchill Barriers, created after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in October 1939. Ships have been using the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow since man first learned to sail. Vikings anchored their ships there, but it became most famous as a naval base in WW1 and WW2. After their defeat in WW1 the German fleet was interned there pending a decision on their future and in 1919 the German officer in command gave the order to scuttle the fleet. 52 ships were sunk. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s many of the ships were raised for salvage. In WW2 Spapa Flow again became Britain’s main naval base, but when a German submarine the U-47, commanded by Günther Prien managed to penetrate the bay and torpedo HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of 833 men, it was decided to block the entrances. A series of causeways were built, connecting several islands and providing the main road to South Ronaldway.

View from coach on one of the Churchill Barriers of (partially) sunken ship.

Just over the first of the barriers, we stopped to visit the Italian Chapel. This was built by Italians at a prisoner of war camp set up to help build the barriers. They asked permission to build a chapel, which they did using two Nissen huts. All the work was done by the prisoners themselves, using materials “found” around the camp. It is interesting to consider that at a time when British POWs were using their ingenuity to escape captivity, Italians in the same position were creating a thing of beauty.

View of Churchill Barrier and Italian Chapel

Italian Chapel

Italian Chapel, interior

Italian Chapel, screen

Italian Chapel, altar

We then continued south, across the barriers. At this point, I should mention that all the roads were well maintained and there was little traffic. Although we did encounter one traffic jam.

Orkney traffic jam.

At what seemed like the end of the road, we arrived at the Tomb of the Eagles or the Isbister Chambered Cairn. The tomb dates from about 3,000 years BC and was found by farmer Ronnie Simison in 1958. There is an excellent display at the farm and we were given talks on the history of the area by members of the family. I real “hands on” experience as objects were handed round. Then came the bracing  one mile walk to the tomb. I had seen the tomb before, on television (I’m sure I remember Neil Oliver pulling himself inside on a little trolley) but nothing prepares you for the actual experience. I had imagined the tomb to be in the middle of a field , when in fact it is close to the edge of a very dramatic cliff. No wonder so many sea eagle bones were found mixed with the human bones. They must have been a common sight in the area at the time the tomb was in use. And no-one used the trolley!

The queue for the tomb.

Who wants the trolley?

Coming through!

Inside the Tomb of the Eagles. All the side chambers were empty…

…except one!

Back to the land of the living.

Walking back along the cliffs. If the rabbits were this size, how big were the eagles?

Back on the coach, it was a short drive to St Margaret’s Hope, for lunch etc. We sat and had an (Orkney) ice cream overlooking the harbour, before we returned to Kirkwall.

St Margaret’s Hope, boats

In the afternoon, we were free to explore the town of Kirkwall. Other Half visited the Wireless Museum, while I opted for the small but interesting Orkney Museum. We then met up to see St Magnus Cathedral and the nearby Bishop’s Palace and Earl’s Palace (Yes, another castle built by Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney).

St Magnus Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral, nave. Hanging banners gave the impression the columns were leaning.

St Magnus Cathedral, arches upon arches.

Loved this monument to John Rae, the arctic explorer.

St Magnus Cathedral – Bishop’s Palace on left, Earl’s Palace behind railings on right.

Earl’s Palace.

Bishop’s Palace, interior. There are steps to the top of that ruined looking tower. Good views of the cathedral and town – if you can open your eyes!

Dinner that night was at the hotel and afterwards we had a walk beside the harbour.

Kirkwall Hotel, bathed in evening light.

The view from our window.

Two nights in one place! We had nearly manged to settle in, but suitcases had to be out the following morning (we braved the lift!). We had another day in Shetland, the highlight of our tour, but it was nearing the end.