Archive for the ‘The Viking Islands’ Category

Now for more on our boat ride to Tasiilaq.  The boat captain had a surprise in store for us. He took us to Murder Island, a place where some guy went mad and killed around 25 people including himself.  The real story will never be known as no-one lived to tell the tale.  Gruesome and horrific, yes. But, it’s a peaceful place now with only the ghosts to enjoy the island – and there were some lovely plants to be found amongst the rocks.

Our boat at Murder Island    (P1000955 © DY of jtdytravels)


Immature fruit on a Salix sp.   (P1000960 © DY of jtdytravels)


 Not sure what this little beauty is ????  (P1000961  © DY of jtdytravels)


Blue Mountain Heath [ Phyllodoce caerulea ]  (P1000964  © DY of jtdytravels)


A golden mushroom  (P1000967  © DY of jtdytravels)


Common Harebell [ Campanula rotundifolia ] (P1000980  © DY of jtdytravels)


Mainly Betula sp. growing in a sheltered spot  (P1000983/1  © DY of jtdytravels)


Alpine Hawkweed [ Hieracium alpinum ] (P1000973 © DY of jtdytravels)


Hawkweed growing on scree with lichen (P1000971/1 © DY of jtdytravels)


Just to prove I was there!  … with fellow passenger S. on Murder Island  (P1000987 © DY of jtdytravels)


Cracks showing in huge iceberg    (P1010010    © DY of jtdytravels)


Sea lane full of huge icebergs    (P1010017  © DY of jtdytravels)


Massive ice silhouettes   (P1010018    © DY of jtdytravels)


And this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’!   (P1010019    © DY of jtdytravels)

Because the density of pure ice is lighter than that of sea water , we see only about one-ninth of the volume of an iceberg above water… we see only ‘the tip of the iceberg’.   It has come into English meaning a problem or difficulty that is only a small bit of a larger problem.  Running into one of these would be rather a larger problem on it’s own!

They come in many shapes and sizes   (P1010021    © DY of jtdytravels)


Fishermen dwarfed by a monster of ice   (P1010031    © DY of jtdytravels)

We even came across an orca which had been harpooned earlier during the night some 30 kilometres out to sea and was  just being landed in a cove near a settlement.  Everybody was turning up for their share.  Nothing much was happening as the whale was too big to haul out of the water.  The locals would have to wait until the tide dropped and left the carcass in a position that it could be butchered.  A small slither of its skin was cut off for us to try.  It was extremely tough but with perseverance some flavour could be extracted from the sinew.  We were asked not to take photos.

I don’t have a problem with this kind of hunting.  These people have been hunting whales for food since time began, and only harvest to meet their own needs, and in their own waters.  Where I do have a problem is where whales, and the like, are harvested in a commercial way, far from home, and for so called ‘scientific’ purposes.

It was an absolutely idyllic afternoon, one of my best ever, and very reminiscent of the Lemaire Channel in the Antarctic.  In some ways it was better as this time I was in a much smaller boat (capacity perhaps 8) instead of around 300, and therefore felt very much closer to the whole experience.  Photos of the village of Tasiilaq in next musings.   D

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This was transfer day from Iceland to Greenland.  I looked up the forecast for Tasiilaq on the Weather Channel to get an idea of what to expect on arrival in Greenland.  The forecast was not good – it was supposed to be wet and cool, 9-11℃  with a wind chill factor reducing that to 6-7 degrees. Tuesday was supposed to be a couple of degrees warmer and Wednesday yet another few degrees warmer.

Packed, breakfasted and ready to move, we drove to the local airport in Reykjavik (RKV), just a few kilometres out of town. This is not to the international one (KEF) which was some 40 minutes away.  As we lined up to check in for our flight, we found that one of our small group had left his money belt, containing not only his money but his passport as well, on the dining room table at breakfast time.  He made a hurried trip back to the hotel while the rest of us continued with our check-in.  The taxi ride failed to produce the lost passport.  His baggage had to be offloaded as did his wife’s.  We had to leave them in Reykjavik to organise a replacement passport during the next few days.  Fortunately, we are returning to Reykjavik for one night before heading to the Faroe Islands so they could be picked up then. With now just three passengers and our guide, we took off for Greenland. Our plane climbed up out of the showery, dull weather of Reykjavik through cloud that seemed to last forever.

The airline serviette   (P1000864 © DY of jtdytravels)

We we were fed a snack on the 1 hour 50 minute flight.   It was accompanied with this serviette – someone in this airline company had a sense of humour!  And then I looked below!

A blue, blue sea! (P1000855 © DY of jtdytravels)

The sky had suddenly turned blue, brilliant blue and was reflected in a brilliant blue sea dotted with islands and icebergs.

Oh what a beauty!   (P1000883 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Captain came onto the intercom and told us that the weather in Kulusuk was warm and sunny!  Were we going to the place we thought we were?  He also informed us that as the visibility was excellent and, as we were a little ahead of schedule, he would take the scenic approach to the runway.  Wow! That’s service we don’t expect with flights these days. It was a great introduction to Greenland.

Iceberg on a sea of blue.   (P1000870 © DY of jtdytravels)


Mountains all around us (P1000893 © DY of jtdytravels)

Craggy brown mountains rose around us, still holding, in places, some of last winter’s snow.

A window with a view! (P10008891 © DY of jtdytravels)


Our shadow on the land (P1000899 © DY of jtdytravels)

What a wonderful arrival, and such an unexpected one.

Our Fokker 50 airplane on arrival (P1000901 © DY of jtdytravels)

Our Fokker 50 touched down at Kulusuk, Greenland, on the dirt runway and taxied to a stop in front of the wooden terminal.

We retrieved our baggage. We should have only brought enough for our three night stay, not the lot, but this information didn’t get to us and that might have caused problems for our helicopter transfer back to the airport in a few days time. As it turned out, we were OK as we were only four passengers instead of six as booked.

We were met by our local tour operator, Thorbjørn (Toby), a young Dane who works in Greenland for the five month tourist season.  It was still only around 10h00 since we had lost two hours during the flight. So a boat transfer was on the itinerary to chew up some time and to make the transfer different from the return journey which, as already mentioned, was to be by helicopter as there is no road linking the airport to Tasiilaq.  Everything, it seems, is transported by sea or by plane.

Our boat transfer sounded great until we saw the boat.  There was nothing wrong with the boat except a skyhook or crane would have been useful.  There was no jetty with a gang plank, step, or even a ladder to help us get on board.  We found ourselves watching while our bags were lowered on the end of a rope some 5m or so over the edge of a landing.  Where was the boson’s chair?  No such thing, we had to scramble down some very chunky rocks to water level and then somehow clamber up onto the launch.  This was eventually achieved but not with much decorum.

A first view from the ground! (P1000905 © DY of jtdytravels)

This view of the nearby mountains were just a foretaste of what was to come.

Icelandic Sandpiper  [Calidris canutus]   (P1000917 © DY of jtdytravels)

There were a pair of sandpipers on some nearby rocks. Although called the Icelandic Sandpiper, these birds do not breed in Iceland.

We had a most enjoyable boat trip.  It took hours but as our hotel rooms would not have been ready at such an early hour this was no problem.  We drifted past icebergs and the most wonderful, but stark scenery.

A submarine of an iceberg! (P1000928 © DY of jtdytravels)


Stark, stunning scenery (P1000921 © DY of jtdytravels)


A remote settlement (P1000925 © DY of jtdytravels)


How good can it get?  (P1000930 © DY of jtdytravels)


Fingers of glaciers (P1000936 © DY of jtdytravels)


Faces of glaciers (P1000942 © DY of jtdytravels)


A closer view  (P1000945 © DY of jtdytravels)


Greenland – land of ice! (P1000949 © DY of jtdytravels)

More of this wonderful boat ride in the next musings!  D

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Today was the day for a Reykjavik city tour.  The city is not an old city with lots of old buildings, tombs or the like.  This is partly because the Icelanders built stone and thatch or sod roofed dwellings.  These, we were told, had a life of around 35-40 years after which they started to fall apart.  Once this started to happen it was easier to build a new one rather than repair the old one.

The oldest building in Reykjavik is wooden and was built in the late 1800’s.  With a distinct lack of forest trees on the island today, most buildings are corrugated iron clad or cement block in construction.  Many are painted white, cream or varying shades of grey.

View over part of Reykjavik, Iceland  (P1000855 © DY of jtdytravel)

Buildings often have blue, green, red or grey painted roofs.  Collectively, they present a much cheerier landscape than the rather dull greys of the Shetlands and Orkneys.

We saw the President’s residence. He has just been re-elected for the 5th, 4 year term by an overwhelming majority.

An old stone church   (P1000856 © DY of jtdytravels)

This old stone church is near the front entrance to the President’s home.

Hallgrimskirkja from the Perian Complex  (P1000852 © DY of jtdytravels)

There are a couple of really very striking modern buildings around town including the main Lutheran church.  This church has dramatic, clean lines and is stark but beautiful in its simplicity.

The imposing Hallgrimskirkja  (P1000827 © DY of jtdytravels)


Another view of Hallgrimskirkja and a planter tub  (P1000828 © DY of jtdytravels)


The front facade of Hallgrimskirkja  (P1000832 © DY of jtdytravels)


Looking towards the main entrance door and organ loft  (P1000843 © DY of jtdytravels)


The simple alter  (P1000840 © DY of jtdytravels)


A side aisle  (P1000837 © DY of jtdytravels)

The clean architectural lines make for some interesting patterns.


One of two icons towards the front of the cathedral  (P1000841 © DY of jtdytravels)


The other icon  (P1000842 © DY of jtdytravels)


Some of the only colour in the Cathedral  (P1000844 © DY of jtdytravels)

The city centre is also interesting with its corrugated iron clad buildings, many painted in strong colours.  The docks and harbour are an important part of the city because the island has always depended on the sea for fishing and the transport of goods. It was good to wander around even though it was a showery day – but with a coat and hat, it was not unacceptable for getting around.

We ate dinner at a restaurant at the Hilton which is just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It was a beautiful meal which was served by an attentive staff which obviously appreciated their surrounds and took pride in their jobs.  Whether this is because of training or not, I don’t know.  It is so different from the Grand Hotel Reykjavik, which is grand only by name.  The staff was sloppy, don’t clear plates or replenish coffee pots as they empty.  Chairs are not placed neatly at tables and one chair I can see from my window has been lying on its side since I arrived 3 days ago.

There are only 2 of 3 soap dispensers working in my bathroom, one bracket is there but nothing on it, and the spare toilet paper holder fell off the wall yesterday.  On returning to my room yesterday afternoon, it had been picked up but just placed on a ledge.  I wonder how long before it will be reattached to its rightful place?  Attention to detail is all it takes – and a pride in your work.  Perhaps I’m getting picky, but when you are paying for the ‘best available’…

I decided I would opt out of the afternoon’s activities. The flu/cold that took over the African bus had caught up with me – or was it the overly hot buildings and vehicles in Iceland, compared to the cold outside, that caused my demise?!  Hot and sweaty one minute, then quite cold the next- it was not good for my constitution.  D

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Our exploration of some of the wonders of Iceland continued on our Golden Circle Tour. We visited a special church, found wildflowers (lots, much to my delight) and visited a most fascinating geological site, Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir in Icelandic).

Skálholt Cathedral  (P1000702 © DY of jtdytravels)

The new Skálholt Cathedral was built between 1956 and 1963 to celebrate the millennial celebrations of the episcopal see.  At around 50 m long, it’s quite large compared to most churches in Iceland. It contained a fabulous tapestry and some striking, modern windows.

Interior of Skálholt Cathedral  (P1000689 © DY of jtdytravels)


Tapestry above the alter  (P1000696 © DY of jtdytravels)


Modern stained glass window  (P1000690 © DY of jtdytravels)


Another of the many stained glass windows in the cathedral  (P1000693 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even though it was a rather long driving day, I was pleased that there was time for me to seek out some plants to photograph.

Alpine Lady’s-mantle  [Alchemilla alpina]  (P1000668 © DY of jtdytravels)

Most of the plants I saw were small ground-hugging specimens, due to the shallow soils and severe climate.

Gentianella campestris var. islandica  (P1000669 © DY of jtdytravels)

These unusual looking buds were about 15cm high.

?  (P1000671 © DY of jtdytravels)

Any suggestions as to what this flower is?

Seed heads of Mountain Avens  [Dryas integrifolia]  (P1000744 © DY of jtdytravels)

I think these are probably the seed heads of a clematis species – but not sure.

Bog Bilberry [Vaccinium uliginosum]  (P1000710 © DY of jtdytravels)


Very small, bright orange mushroom  (P1000726 © DY of jtdytravels)


Parnassia palustris  (P1000713 © DY of jtdytravels)


close up of Parnassia palustris  (P1000714 © DY of jtdytravels)


Silene uniflora  (P1000718 © DY of jtdytravels)


Downy Birch [Betula pubescens]  (P1000709 © DY of jtdytravels)

The only plant that attained any height at all was this birch which grew to about 2m in height.  Being deciduous, it could survive the wintery conditions.

A mushroom called Brown birch Boletus [Leccinum scabrum](P1000711 © DY of jtdytravels)

Another highlight of our day was a visit to Thingvellir (Þingvellir in Icelandic). This is not just a fascinating geological area but is also one of Iceland’s most important historical sites.  The world’s first Parliament,  the ‘Alpingi’, was founded here in around 930AD.  Icelandic chieftains assembled here each summer to elect leaders, argue cases, and settle disputes – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. This continued until the end of the Old Commonwealth (of Cheiftains) in the 13th Century.  After that time it functioned as a court of law until 1798.  The information Board added that: “Many crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, such as the adoption of Christianity around 1000AD and the foundation of the modern Icelandic Republic in 1944.  Thingvellir thus has a special place in the Icelandic consciousness.  Since 1930 Thingvellir has been a National Park, and in 2004 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.” .

Thingvellir National Park  (P1000773 © DY of jtdytravels)

It’s here in, Thingvellir National Park, that the landscape really shows the geological history of Iceland because here the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates come into contact.  It’s actually recognised as the best place on earth to see this phenomenon. The faults and fissures of the area show up the rifting of the earth’s crust. Regularly, gaps have to be filled in or bridged to overcome the movement of the plates as they pull apart. It’s said that the ecosystem of Lake Þingvallavatn in this Park is a perfect example of species evolution in nature.

Thingvellir National Park  (P1000793 © DY of jtdytravels)


Lakes within Thingvellir National Park  (P1000800 © DY of jtdytravels)

It had been a truly memorable day full of interest and variety. And we had yet another day of Icelandic explorations to come.   D

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Our all day Golden Circle tour was a drive of around 350km – a long but, what turned out to be, a very interesting day. On this drive we only touched the bottom SE corner of the island of Iceland which has a total area of 103,000 square kilometres – that’s a bit under half the size of the State of Victoria.

Unproductive land, Bláskógabygg, Iceland  (P1000745 © DY of jtdytravels)

The day began with not a lot to see. Much of the land we passed through was totally unproductive – weeds and not much more grow here in the short growing season.

  View in Bláskógabygg area , Iceland  (P1000770 © DY of jtdytravels)


The original Geyser  (P1000717 © DY of jtdytravels)

My interest level changed quite dramatically when we stopped off to inspect some geysers. The Icelandic word ‘geysir’ has been adopted into English as the word used for ‘a hot spring in which the water intermittently boils, sending a column of water and steam into the air’.

Litli Geysir  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)
More spectacular is the Geysir Strokkur  (P1000730 © DY of jtdytravels)

The hot springs have been harnessed to provide inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity.

Small waterfall with salmon race  (P1000706 © DY of jtdytravels)


Gullfoss Waterfall  (P1000733 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Gullfoss waterfall is quite impressive. Some of the rivers and waterfalls are used to provide hydroelectric power.  But this falls was designated a nature reserve in 1979 and so is now a protected the area allowing access to the public.

 Subsistence farming  (P1000705 © DY of jtdytravels)

Harsh conditions make growing anything almost impossible. The soil is poor, the climate is unforgiving and volcanic eruptions have devastated the country on a number of occasions.  Subsistence farming has been the only way this society has survived.

The volcano crater lake, Kerid  (P10006721 © DY of jtdytravels)

As if volcanic activity was not enough to put up with, the weather is a bit daunting as well. During the summer, temperatures can range between 10 to 13ºC.  In the warmer south, a top temperature of 30.5ºC has been recorded.  I don’t want to think about winter when the sun only just rises above the horizon for a matter of minutes during the shortest days.  Temperatures of -25 to -30ºC are normal for winter in the north whilst the coldest temperature ever recorded is -39.7º – and this is in a country where the North Atlantic Current moderates the climate!

Tough Icelandic horses  (P1000804 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Arctic fox was the only mammal on the island when humans first arrived. (The chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in AD874 and became the first permanent Norse settler.)  Occasionally bats have been seen when they are blown off course by strong winds and polar bears sometimes arrive from Greenland.  Neither have ever been known to breed on the island.

The gentle face belies the tough horse beneath  (P1000812 © DY of jtdytravels)

Both domestic and pest animals now inhabit the island.  The sturdy Icelandic horse, Icelandic sheep and the Icelandic Sheepdog are welcome as are goats, chickens, and cattle. However, as in most countries, mice and rabbits are not so welcome.

Mink and reindeer are hunted and many seabirds make the island home.  Puffins, skuas and kittiwakes are a very important part of the island’s wildlife.

We had much still to see on this long day of exploration – next musings for more.    D

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All the good weather I’d been experiencing so far on this trip came unstuck in Iceland.  I checked the forecast a couple of days before we arrived to find out that it was to rain heavily on both the Saturday night, and Sunday night, with rain and showers in between.  On arrival at Keflavik International Airport it was raining fairly heavily and the fog was almost on the ground.  Oh! well, all good things have to come to an end, sometime.

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain and has a population of 309,000 people – and it’s a relatively young population.  One in five Icelanders is 14 years old or younger.  The fertility rate is high at 2.1 which makes it one of only a few industrialised European countries with a birth rate sufficient to sustain stable long-term population growth.

Icelanders refer to each other by their given name, not their family name.  Consequently if you want to check out the Icelandic telephone book, it’s listed alphabetically by first name.  Equality between the sexes is very high and income inequality is amongst the lowest in the world.  Iceland is consistently ranked as one of the top three best places for women to live.  The constitution explicitly prohibits the use of noble privileges, titles or ranks.

Iceland lies on a join in the tectonic plates and therefore is an active volcanic area.  As a result the majority of the country is barren lava beds, mountains, glaciers and ice fields.  Only one fifth of the island is vegetated. With many fjords, the coastline of Iceland is long – 4970km.

When we arrived in Iceland, we were supposed to have a tour of the town and pay a visit to Blue Lagoon, a thermal pool resort on our way to the hotel.  We scotched that idea pretty quickly partly due to the weather and partly due to the fact we had been on the ‘road’ since our 05h30 wakeup call plus an hour in a time zone change.

The Grand Hotel Reykjavik is modern.  The rooms were big and airy but the plumbing was again a challenge.  Why do the Europeans make something that can be so simple, so difficult?  I could not get hot water in my shower.

Now, that didn’t mean I couldn’t clean myself up.  The bathroom had a bath, so a bath it was, the first for me in decades.  The bath also had a shower head on the end of a wandering lead, the excess lead being wrapped around the taps.  I got water into the bath, but I couldn’t work out how to get water up into the shower part of the apparatus.  Sitting in my nice hot bath studying the scenery, and my navel, I spied a funny little bit on the end of the nozzle from which the water comes.  I played with this to find it moved up and down a fraction, enough to change the direction of the water from filling the bath to flooding the bathroom floor because the shower-head was pointing up, not down.  I’m not sure I got off on the right foot in Iceland, as into the bargain, the head cold that hit the African bus caught up with me!  Or, was it the huge changes in temperature from being inside to outside in these climes.

I still couldn’t get hot water next morning so down to the front desk I went at 05h30 to ask for directions on how to break the ‘code’.  One of the guys from the front desk went up while I wrote an email or two in the lobby (free WiFi in lobby but you have to pay if you log on in your room) and came back down saying everything was working OK.  Must be some Icelandic trick I hadn’t worked out, or, was he spinning me another Nordic legend?  I needed to go up and try again before it was time for breakfast.

Fancy that, he was right!  Even so I couldn’t get hot water straight away, and it wasn’t because it took time for the hot water to get through the pipes.  Each of the twisty bits of the tap have a black rocker button.  If this is activated when the twist is at its maximum, it allows the twist to become greater.  On the flow side of the tap, this resulted in a flailing shower head that wet everything within its now much greater range, including me if I stood too close, which I had to be, to be able to reach the bleeding taps!  You’d have thought I’d have learnt from my earlier experience!  The other side of this complicated tap allows the twist to go further to get water that is hotter than the faded numerals indicate.  Of course you need a greater temperature than the faintly indicated 32-42 degree range and by depressing the rocker button, water at an acceptable showering temperature is achieved!  How depressing to think it took two lengthy attempts on my part, and for a guy to tell me that it was me, and not the system, that was at fault!  Without sounding too pious, our system for bathroom taps at home is so simple.

Anyway, I was now clean and ready to explore this country of Iceland.   D

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Another travelling day, this time taking us from the Orkneys to Iceland via Aberdeen and Copenhagen.  One of the problems of getting from one group of islands to another is that they belong to different countries.  This necessitates heading for airline ‘home’ countries before being able to go on to the next country.  At least we were able to book our luggage straight through to its final destination.

Danish countryside  (P1000650 © DY of jtdytravels)


Flying over the Danish coast (P1000652 © DY of jtdytravels)


High above the clouds
(P1000653 © DY of jtdytravels)

From my window on the flight from Copenhagen to Reykjavik, Iceland.

We flew over the Faroe Islands  (P1000662 © DY of jtdytravels)

[Somebody asked me how many flights I had to do from the time I left home until I got back to Canberra again?  I sort of knew I had a lot but was somewhat surprised when I counted them up and got a total of 21. This including a ten minute helicopter flight to get from Tasiilaq, where our hotel was in Greenland, to the airport on Kulusuk Island.]

Including a number of time zone changes we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, at 15h10.  It was raining, cold and windy.  We were supposed to visit the Blue Lagoon Spa Resort and do a drive along the Kelifarvatn Mountain Road to get to our hotel in Reykjavik, some 40kms away as the crow flies.  The group didn’t think much of the idea so we went straight to the hotel.  The other two activities could be done on another day.

I had a lazy afternoon in my room catching up on some writing.  D

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As we travelled from Kirkwall in a South-easterly direction towards Scapa Flow, we stopped for a look at the Italian Chapel which was built by Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in North Africa during World War II and transported to the Orkneys.  They were principally brought to the uninhabited Lamb Holm to construct the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow.  Of the 550 prisoners brought to the Orkneys in 1942, 200 were based at Camp 60.  When a new commandant arrived in 1943, the Camp’s priest persuaded him that a place of worship was needed.


The Italian Chapel, Lamb Holm (P1000640 © DY of jtdytravels)

With limited materials, the prisoners constructed the chapel out of two Nissan huts placed end to end.  The interior was covered with plaster board, a great improvement on the rough corrugated iron of the Nissan huts.  The alter and associated railings were made from left over concrete from the construction of the nearby Churchill Barriers, as was the front facade, which disguised the shape of the huts and made the building look more like a church.

A front on view of the Italian Chapel (P1000610 © DY of jtdytravels)


The ornate work of Domenico Chiocchetti (P1000602 © DY of jtdytravels)

Most of the interior painting, particularly the sanctuary end of the chapel, was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, one of the POW’s.  Fellow prisoners painted the rest of the interior.  It’s not surprising that over 100,000 tourists visit here each year.

Domenico stayed on the island to finish his work even though his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the war ended.

The alter and part of the ceiling (P1000606 © DY of jtdytravels)

Domenico returned to the island in 1960 to help in the chapel’s restoration and again four years later to see the result.  However, he was too ill to return in 1992 when other POW’s visited the chapel to commemorate its 50th anniversary.  Domenico died in 1999.

The memorial to the men lost on the sinking of the ‘Royal Oak’ in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall (P1000568 © DY of jtdytravels)

At Scapa Flow we saw The Churchill Barriers, four causeways which block access to the flow.  The total length of these barriers is 2.3km. They link Mainland with the islands of South Ronaldsay, via Burray, Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.   Even though the shallow eastern passages had been secured by sinking block ships, constructing booms and anti-submarine nets, these barriers were deemed necessary when the German submarine, U-47, managed to navigate around the obstructions on the night of 14 October 1939.  Having done so, it launched a surprise torpedo attack on the Royal Oak which was at anchor in Scapa Flow.  The British ship was being used as a training ship.  Of the 1,234 men and boys on board, 833 were killed or died later of their injuries.  The site is now designated as  war grave.

The remains of a block ship, Scapa Flow (P1000621 © DY of jtdytravels)


The remains of a block ship (P1000638 © DY of jtdytravels)

The breaching of the defenses at Scapa Flow caused great consternation within the Royal Navy.  The construction of the Churchill Barriers was ordered.  Work began in May 1940 but was not completed until September 1944.  The official opening did not take place until 12 May 1940, four days after the end of WW II in Europe.

There were over 2,000 in the workforce during the peak of construction in 1943 – Italian POW’s accounted for over 1300 of these workmen.  The use of POW labour for War Effort works is prohibited under the Geneva Convention, however, the British government got around this ‘difficulty’ by describing the work as ‘improvements to communications’ to the southern Orkney Islands.

Beautiful countryside (P1000622 © DY of jtdytravels)

From Scapa Flow, we drove towards St Margaret’s Hope through some very beautiful countryside.

Craggy headlands dot the landscape (P1000623 © DY of jtdytravels)


A canola crop in flower adds colour to the landscape
(P1000626 © DY of jtdytravels)

The village of St Margaret’s Hope is a quiet and sleepy place.  We wandered around the deserted streets for awhile before visiting a blacksmith’s museum.


Back Road, St Margaret’s Hope (P1000630 © DY of jtdytravel


St Margaret’s Hope (P1000631 © DY of jtdytravels)


The ‘beach’ and inter-island catamaran (in background) at St Margaret’s Hope (P1000635 © DY of jtdytravels)


The waiting seagull (P1000643 © DY of jtdytravels)

Outside my Kirkwall hotel window, after another good day of exploring, a seagull was perched atop this chimney pot as if awaiting my return.   D

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Our exploration of The Orkneys on the 9th August took us to Stromness, about 25km west of Kirkwall.

A port is so important for island communities (P1000531 © DY of jtdytravels).

Stromness, Orkney’s main port, has a population of 2,100.  The port has always provided a safe haven for sailors and was often the last port of call before heading off to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Dundas Street, Stromness (P1000531 © DY of jtdytravels)

The main street winds and twists along the shoreline, often just one dwelling off the water’s edge.  The other side of the street is cut into the side of the the hill that backs the town.  Houses and shops nestle beside each other as they have for centuries.

Fine buildings attest to Stromness’ past prosperity (P1000532 © DY of jtdytravels)


Another fine building and blue, yellow and orange Orcadian flag , Stromness (P1000535 © DY of jtdytravels)


Many alleys are very narrow (P1000537 © DY of jtdytravels)

The street is paved with flagstones with a line of rough stones down the middle.  These stones were put in place to give horses a better footing.  Stromness has many very narrow and interesting alleyways to be discovered.

At the end of some alleys – great vistas (P1000539 © DY of jtdytravels)

At the ‘end’ of one street was the Stromness Museum.  A couple of stories high, this many roomed building houses an eclectic collection of memorabilia dealing with the history of the town, naturally, much of it with a nautical theme.

On our way back to our bus we just had to stop at an ice-cream shop which sold the most delicious confection in a cone.  I chose lemon sorbet and rhubarb and cream as my two choices.  Yum!

outside the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness (P1000545 © DY of jtdytravels)

We ate our ice-creams as we continued back to our bus making a brief stop at the Pier Art Centre, a renovated old building that houses modern art.  I preferred the ice-cream!

Back in Kirkwall we headed for St Magnus Cathedral, the most northerly cathedral in the British Isles.  Construction of the Romanesque building began in 1137  but took over 300 years to complete as it was continually added to.  It was built by the bishops of Orkney when the islands were ruled by the Norse Earls of Orkney.


Across the street from St Magnus Cathedral (P1000553 DY © of jtdytravels)


St Magnus Cathedral, Stromness (P1000522 © DY of jtdytravels)


Side elevation of St Magnus Cathedral (P1000587 © DY of jtdytravels)


Interior of St Magnus Cathedral (P1000558 © DY of jtdytravels)


One of the many old doors of the Cathedral (P1000552 © DY of jtdytravels)

Interestingly, this Cathedral is not owned by the church but by the burgh of Kirkwall.  This came about in 1468 as the result of an act of King James III of Scotland when Orkney was annexed by the Scottish Crown.

When construction began, the cathedral was in a diocese that came under the rule of the Archbishop of Nidaros in Norway.  The first bishop was William of Old and it was for him that the nearby Bishop’s Palace was built.  The Earl’s Palace is just across the road.  Both buildings are now in ruins.


one of the tombstones in the Cathedral (P1000559 © DY of jtdytravels)


A tombstone with a skull and crossbones (P10005641 © DY of jtdytravels)


A tombstone within the Cathedral (P1000579 © DY of jtdytravels)


The Cathedral has magnificent stained glass windows
(P1000569 © DY of jtdytravels)


Light floods through stained glass windows (P1000563 © DY of jtdytravels)


More coloured light enters the Cathedral (P1000565 © DY of jtdytravels)


EarThe ruins of Bishop’s Palace, Stromness (P1000588 © DY of jtdytravels)


The ruins of Earl’s Palace, Stromness  (P1000590 © DY of jtdytravels)

All in all, it had been a very interesting day.  D

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The second group of Viking Islands that we visited were the Orkneys, which on a clear day can be seen from the northern tip of Scotland.  As we flew over these islands, they appeared even greener than the Shetlands.

Leaving the Shetlands behind (P1000476 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Orkneys consist of about 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited.  The total population is 20,100.  The islands are not hilly, the highest point, Ward Hill, is only 481 metres high. However, the coastline is often rugged and these rugged cliffs provide a wonderful habit for sea birds to nest and roost.

The islands are generally treeless. That’s really nothing new as deliberate deforestation took place prior to the Neolithic period, about 4,000 BC in this part of the world.

Although The Orkneys are located 59°N, the climate is temperate with an average winter temperature of 4°C and an average of 12°C in summer.  However, this does not take into account the wind chill factor, there often being strong gales in the area.  As with the Shetlands, the islands are often shrouded in fog during the summer months.

Hunter-gather communities existed on the islands by about 3,900 BC.  These early inhabitants left behind chambered tombs, standing stones and stone circles. One we visited was Maeshowe, a burial mound that can only be visited with a guide.  Our guide turned up exactly on time but he looked very glum and disinterested.  This was another case of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. He turned out to have a wicked sense of humour as he delivered his spiel.

Maeshowe (P1000488 © DY of jtdytravels)

There’s not a lot to photograph at Maeshowe but its story was interesting. It’s one of the largest tombs in Orkney and is thought to have been constructed around 2,800 BC .  The mound is 7.3m high and 35m in diameter.  There is a 14m wide ditch surrounding the mound.  Under the grass mound is a complex of passages and chambers built out of flagstones weighing up to 30 tons.  The entrance passage is 11m long and is aligned so that the sun, at the winter solstice, shines on the back wall of the central chamber.  This tunnel is only 90cm high which requires visitors to virtually crawl on all fours to get to the central chamber.  The chamber is roughly 4.6m square and currently is 3.8m high although it is thought it could have originally been 4.6m high or even more.  It has a corbelled roof.

Excavations at Skara Brae  (P1000518 © DY of jtdytravels)

Next on our list of ancient piles of stones to be visited was Skara Brae, an early settlement of the cluster type.  This was really a very significant pile of stones.  It was uncovered by a fierce storm in 1850.  The old village had been preserved under the coastal sand dunes for 5000 years.  The homes that were uncovered contained furnished rooms with stone beds and dressers.  Skara Brae has been inscribed on the World Heritage List of the World Cultural and National Heritage Convention because of its exceptional universal value.  Skara Brae is northern Europe’s best preserved Neolithic village.

Skara Brae (P1000520 © DY of jtdytravels)


The Standing Stones of Stenness (P1000506 © DY of jtdytravels)

Standing Stones of Stenness are not far from Skara Brae.  Originally, there were 12 stones laid out in an ellipse with a diameter of about 32m.  The stones are approximately 300mm thick and stand up to about 5m in height.  A couple have been destroyed by lightning strikes and a farmer, in December 1814, decided to remove the stones altogether as people were trespassing on his land to get to them.  After toppling a couple of the stones, public outrage prevented him from further damaging the stones.  The site is thought to date from at least 3000 BC.

The Standing Stones of Stenness (P1000508 © DY of jtdytravels)


Crops almost ready for harvest (P1000497 © DY of jtdytravels)

While out exploring, we saw many, many fields of flourishing crops, many of them just on the point of harvest.

Lush green pastures fed healthy cattle (P1000496 © DY of jtdytravels)

These crops are all used ‘on the farm’ to feed animals during the winter months.  What a waste – perhaps all this output should be going to feed those who go to bed hungry each night rather than feeding animals for the tables of the rich!  And, what about all the corn and sugar cane being grown in other parts of the world to produce fuel for our hungry motor vehicles?  Don’t get me started!

As to other Orkney income earners – fishing has declined in recent times with the industry now concentrating on herring, lobsters, crabs and other shellfish and the farming of salmon.  Whisky, beer, beef, and cheese now feature in the islands exports.  Of growing importance is the development of wind and marine energy resources.

Birds-foot Trefoil [Lotus corniculatus] (P1000493 © DY of jtdytravels)

Whilst walking around the standing stones etc. there was plenty of opportunity to see and photograph wild flowers (and weeds!) growing in the surrounding meadows.

Dandelions add colour to the pasture (P1000501 © DY of jtdytravels)


Heather [Colluna vulgaris] (P1000503 © DY of jtdytravels)


Phacelia tanacetifolia (P1000509 © DY of jtdytravels)

Indigenous to NW America – a naturalised weed of meadows

A thistle provides food for this fly (P1000510 © DY of jtdytravels)


A white thistle (P1000512 © DY of jtdytravels)

I liked what I saw of The Orkneys. Another day of exploring here was still to come.   D

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