A 40 minute ferry ride over the Pentland Firth began our trip to the Orkneys. A little rough but not too bad. Touring the numerous islands with a commentary was so enlightening. We spotted pigs which were so woolly they resembled sheep and the famous hairy cows which wide horns and shaggy red brown coats.
In Kirkwell the capital town of the Orkneys we visited the magnificent red stone Romanesque styled St Magnus Cathedral which took over 300 years to build from 1137 while the Norse Earls ruled Orkney.
The barriers are a series of concrete block bridges which joined many of the islands together and prevented enemy boats from entering the Scapa and surrounding waterways. They were commissioned by Churchhill during WW2 after a German U boat torpedoed the British battleship Royal Oak, resulted in the deaths of more than 800 mainly very young trainee sailors.
Around lunchtime the weather deteriorated dramatically as we walked to Skara Brae, a Stone Age village of at least 10 stone huts all perfectly preserved under the sands. No-one knows what caused the sudden abandonment of the village but it has left us with a collection of vessels, clothing, food etc which enabled archaeologists to gain detailed knowledge of Stone Age people’s lives 5000 years ago in this area. Even though we were soaked through by the driving rain the visit to this site was very special.
Nearby is Skaill house which belonged to the owner of the land and archaeologist who discovered the village. Several other land owners have accidently unearthed either Iron and Bronze Age villages and artefacts, while gardening on the properties, such as the Ness of Brodgar, a ancient temple complex.
Other significant sites we visited were the Standing Stones of Stennes, and the Ring of Brodgar which resembles a mini Stonehenge. And the Bronze Age burial mound of Maes Howe and the Ness. The Italian Chapel stands testament to the ingenuity and creativity of Italian prisoners of war who built and decorated the building from any scraps they could salvage.
Wind power reigns supreme on the Orkneys, they are producing more than they need and can on sell. They are also still working on new ways of harnessing wave and tidal power. Also they are still benefiting and prospering from payments from the North Sea Oil that is refined and shipped out of here.
A fascinating place well worth the visit, even though it was very wild, cold and windy.