Mainland Orkney was a complete surprise after days in the Scottish Highlands. The landscape is gently undulating, fertile farm land with wide open vistas. There are no trees and the fields, with very many beef suckler herds, flocks of sheep and acres of oats and barley, hurriedly being harvested, are separated by barbed wire fences. There are no hedges or stone walls to provide shelter. These islands have been inhabited since stone age times, with the many relics, remnants of villages, burial cairns and standing stones, having been dated back to c. 3,000 BC, some 5,000 years ago.
Strong winds kept us off the bikes on Wednesday morning, providing an opportunity to look around Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkneys. A magnificent Cathedral is dedicated to St. Magnus a 12th century Danish ruler and is very much in use today, unlike the equally splendid, but now ruined remnants of the Bishop’s and Earl’s palaces.
Lighter afternoon winds encouraged Gavin and me to cycle 10 miles or so to the east coast to see the Churchill Barriers, constructed with the assistance of Italian prisoners of war, to protect the Navy base in the natural harbour at Scapa Flow after a German U boat snuck in sinking HMS Royal Oak, with over 800 lives lost. The barrier now forms a causeway to the tiny island of Lamb Holm, which connects via a further causeway to South Ronaldsay. The Catholic chapel constructed by the POW’s out of two nissan huts is a major tourist attraction and well worth a visit. The three dimensional effect of the painted interior is incredible, as is the wrought-iron screen leading to the alter and intricate biblical scenes painted on the ceiling and back wall. Ironically, just as it was finished, the POW’s were moved to Yorkshire.
Our 120 mile, overnight, ferry journey from Kirkwall to Lerwick on mainland Shetland was over very stormy seas. Only Keith and Phil managed to sleep through the pitching and rolling of the vessel. Sadly this stormy start is forecast to last through our final few days, with heavy rain and winds of around 50 miles an hour. In the interests of safety, not to mention dry feet, we have thrown in the towel, and are having a holiday, opting to hire a car to venture north to explore mainland, Yell and Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in the UK.