Posts Tagged ‘The Orkneys’

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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