Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Orkney Islands Tour, Scotland

Yesterday was a long day trip from Inverness up to the Orkney Islands.  About 14 hours long.  But it was definitely worth it.

It was quite a long drive up.  The Highlands were quite nice and we even passed by Dunrobin Castle as we made our way up north.

John O'Groats is a small village of about 300 people and is just about the most northern point on the isle of Great Britain.

John O'Groats is 1,110 km (690 miles) from London, 450 km (280 miles) from Edinburgh and just 3,500 km (2,200 miles) from the North Pole.  The Orkney Islands are only 9.7 km (6 miles) away across the Pentland Firth which takes 40 minutes by ferry.

Once across we had a six-hour guided tour around several of the islands.

Scapa Flow is the body of water linking the five islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy.  It played significant roles in both world wars as it used to be the UK's chief naval base but the facility was closed in 1956.

There are three German battleships and four light cruisers that were scuttled here.  Today the wrecks are quite popular with scuba divers.

The Churchill Barriers are four causeways that run 2.3 km (1.5 miles) which link Mainland with South Ronaldsay, Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.  They were built in the 1940s by, Italian POWs captured in North Africa, as naval defenses but today they are just road links.

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the west coast of Mainland.  The eight clustered houses were occupied from about 3180 BC to 2500 BC.  The site is older than Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China or the Great Pyramids of Egypt.  In 1999, became part of "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney" ans was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The site was discovered only 150 years ago when a severe winter storm unveiled it under sand dunes.

The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument.  It's thought to be the oldest henge site Britain.

Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is another Neolithic henge.  Most henges do not contain stone circles but Brodgar is an exception.

Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Islands.  It's the largest town as well with about 9,300 residents.

Construction on St. Magnus Cathedral began in 1137 and took more than 300 years to complete.  It belongs to the Church of Scotland and is the UK's most northern cathedral.

The Italian Chapel was built during WWII by those Italian POWs who built the Churchill Barriers.  The chapel is on Lamb Holm and was constructed inside barrack huts with only basic materials.

It wasn't actually finished until after the war ended.  It was restored in the 1960s and 1990s.  The inside is lovely.  It's hard to believe that it was built from raw materials inside a prisoner of war camp.

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