I have never, to my embarrassment, previously visited the Orkney Islands, but I remedied this in late August with a brief flying visit.
There is so much to see and delight in, but also so much to move one. One of my main aims was to see Scapa Flow, a body of water which makes a magnificent anchorage and indeed was home to the Royal Navy home fleet through both wars. Sight of the Churchill Barriers reminded me of the tragic loss of HMS Royal Oak to a daring attack by U-47 and the heavy loss of life. It was there also that the German High Seas fleet was interned in 1918 and then dramatically scuttled in 1919. Another sign of the last war was the beautiful ‘Italian Chapel’ (La Bella Cappella Italiana) built by Italian prisoners of war from two Nissen Huts.
We were staying at the Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall, and to my delight our bedroom looked out onto the harbour and its approaches. For an ex ferry man like myself it was a real pleasure to watch the robust inter-island ferries busily going about their business. The Streamline freighter was also docked discharging and then loading containers, for Aberdeen I presumed. On the slightly more distant deep water berth I spotted Serco Northlink’s freight vessel, chartered in, I think, from Seatruck and the cruise ship Marco Polo – an old favourite of mine.
I also travelled to St Margaret’s Hope to see Pentland Ferries fast catamaran Pentalina which runs from St Margaret’s Hope across the often stormy Pentland Firth to Gills Bay in Caithness. On then to Stromness to watch Serco Northlink’s Hamnavoe arriving from Scrabster. She made a very impressive sight with her dramatic livery; her pristine paintwork was a credit to her onboard team. I also spotted on a layby berth, what looked like one of CalMac’s old streakers, possibly the Saturn.
In my short time in Orkney I saw so much, but it will not be long before I return, as the islands are not only beautiful, but have such a wonderful history, culture, wildlife and so many other attractions. You could spend a considerable time exploring the 13 islands served by dedicated inter-island ferries. These ferries are operated by the Orkney Islands Council. If you have not visited Orkney, get it on your list of ‘must do’ experiences – you will not regret it.
For the thirsty traveller I should mention that Kirkwall is also home to the famous ‘Highland Park’ single malt Scotch whisky. Just the thing at the end of an inspiring, but tiring day.