Isle of Skye to Kirkwall, Scotland: 187 Nautical Miles
Kirkwall is a city on the island of Mainland, which is part of the Orkney Archipelago (70 islands – 28 inhabited). Mainland is the largest island in the chain. The population of Orkney is around 20,000.
The Orkney islands were founded in 1035 by the Vikings.
We are on tour this afternoon - “Leisurely Coach Tour of the Coastline”. This morning we are tendering in to see what the town has to offer and then returning to the ship for lunch before heading out on the tours.
The centerpiece of the town is the massive St. Magnus Cathedral (foundation laid in 1137) built by the Vikings – it replaced the smaller St. Magnus Church that we will see later in Birsay.
St. Magnus Cathedral
The town was crawling with sailors of some kind – Scottish, I presume. A group of them is captured on camera below.
The town’s Medieval roots are evident in the architecture (below).
Ellen is in the picture below – look hard to find her.
Where is Ellen?
Park in Kirkwall
Several of the structures in the town seemed to have crooked windows and doors – we couldn’t tell if this is a kind of artwork or faulty construction.
There was a crooked house…
Back to the ship for lunch – never eat off ship unless we really need to.
Ellen at the tender pier
Kirkwall from the tender
The Journey from the tender – almost home
Since the ship is using its own lifeboats as tenders, our stateroom has a great view (at least while the tender is in use). That’s our room on Deck 6 (the one in the middle, I think).
After lunch, we are both on the road on our leisurely coastal drive.
On our way through the countryside
The Orkney Islands have quiet a history entwined with the rest of Europe and the world. Most of it has to do with the World Wars.
The body of water separating the island of Mainland from the sea is called Scapa Flow (“Vikenglish” word). At the end of WWI, the Germans had several ships in Scapa Flow. Rather than letting the Allies capture the ships, the German command ordered the scuttling of 52 warships. Some of the ships have been raised but most now serve as artificial reefs for hardy divers.
Scapa Flow – site of the scuttled German Ships
During WWII, Scapa Flow was a staging ground for British warships because it was thought that the archipelago was impenetrable. In 1939, a single German U boat torpedoed the HMS Royal Oak killing over 800 British Sailors. This led to the construction of the Churchill Barriers in Scapa Flow (cement causeways preventing entry into Scapa Flow). The site of the Royal Oak sinking is marked today by a green buoy.
Site of Royal Oak Sinking (can you see the buoy?)
Some of the islands are very close to each other. The island of Hoy (“High”) is seen below.
Most of the countryside was sparsely populated. We did come across an interesting old mill along a small stream.
Orkney Islands in the distance
There are a number of Neolithic Standing Stones on Orkney. These stones (similar to those at Stonehenge) date back to the Neolithic Period (5000 years ago). One of the best known of the standing stones is the Circle of Brodgar. This perfect circle once consisted of 60 stones – today, only 27 remain. The stones remain upright because the bases lie several fight underground. The pictures below were taken from the bus – not allowed to get out.
The Circle of Brodgar (some of the stones are actually people in silhouette)
Occasionally, you will run across a single standing stone. The one below, according to legend, represents an individual who left a feast later than everyone else and was turned into stone. A lesson he didn’t have to learn a second time.
Our bus made it to the coast of Mainland Island. The flat and steep faced cliff in the distance is called Marwick Head. On the top of the cliff, there is a memorial to Lord Kitchener who was lost in June 1916, when the cruiser H.M.S. Hampshire hit a German land mine and sank nearby. Off the 667 officers and men on board, only 12 survived. Lord Kitchener was traveling to St. Petersburg to convince Tsar Nicholas II to stay in the War. It didn’t turn out so well for Nicholas II either.
Marwick Head and Kitchener Memorial
The island below is part of Birsay. When the tide is low, there is a causeway (part mud and part cement) that allows passage onto the island. The island has a lighthouse, built by the Stevenson family (Robert Louis Stevenson was in this family).
The Causeway connecting the mainland to the island in Birsay
The island also has a “Brough”
A Brough is a stone fortification – Viking in origin – that is double walled. When under attack, people would take their animals and themselves into the Brough for protection. A few still stand on the islands and one is in Birsay.
View of other Orkney Islands from Birsay
The Orkneys were ruled out of Birsay by Viking Chief Magnus in the 12th century. Magnus was murdered in a political dispute and buried by the family in the Magnus Church. Magnus was sainted (miracles did happen that were associate with him). Eventually, his remains were moved to the St. Magnus Cathedral in the new capitol of Kirkwall.
Bishops Castle (Birsay) – Formerly St. Magnus Church
A long day in Kirkwall.
Skipped the show tonight.
Spent some time in the Mosaic with Jeff.
Pedometer: 2821 steps; 1.34 miles; 138 calories