20.09.2016 - 20.09.2016
So the ferry crossing itself was uneventful. I wish the same could be said for my attempt to get from St Margaret's Hope to Kirkwall (all 14 miles of it) without a) crashing, b) falling asleep, or c) ripping the GPS out of my Fiat and running over it!
I often wonder how people can not realise they're driving without their lights on. Stupid people, I think to myself. In the words of Forrest Gump, "Stoopid is as stoopid does", whatever that means.
I made my way to the car deck when we docked, and I could tell the guy directing me was getting a little antsy as I faffed about about with such unnecessary actions as putting my seatbelt on. At this stage I had not put the address into the GPS, but there seemed only one road out of town so I just followed everyone else. It seemed dark, but the dash lights were on, so I didn't take much notice. At least I didn't until multiple cars starting flashing their lights at me. By this stage it was getting on for 8:30 and darkness had pretty much fallen. Normally at this point I'd just turn my lights on, right? Well I would, if I knew where the controls were. The indicator is on the left, which I can manage, but the right is only the wipers, and no matter how many times in my befuddled state i turn that knob, there will be no miraculous transformation into the light controls. Failing that, I could of course just pull over. Well, perhaps not when I'm driving across one of the Churchill barriers, each of which has a sign that says 'No stopping on causeway. Drivers cross at own risk'. It seems barely wide enough for two cars to cross, and I'm now aware that I'm probably almost invisible. At last I spy a parking place and execute a swift manoeuvre that finds me out of harm's way. Locating the light controls done, I decide it's probably time to enter the address in the GPS. Luckily I just need to input the postcode and all will be well. If your definition of all being well is that I was easily directed to my hotel, think again. "You have arrived at your destination" - oh no i haven't, you smarmy voiced misdirector! By this stage I was tired, hungry, without mobile coverage to call the hotel, and wondering which (hopefully) friendly Orcadian's evening I might need to interrupt. After inputting just the street name I finally managed to locate the hotel and was offered something to eat before last orders.
Some of you will know I can become a bit obsessive in the research department when I'm preparing to go away. Searching for suitable, nay perfect, places to stay is one of the joys of travel for me, but I have been known to suffer option paralysis when confronted with an overwhelming number of possibilities. The Lynnfield Hotel looked the goods, and has proven to be so, hitting all the right notes in terms of comfort, friendliness, and a fine selection of whiskies (if you like that sort of thing!).
Breakfast complete (scrambled eggs with Scottish smoked salmon), I made my way to the centre of town where St Magnus Cathedral dominates the skyline. Known as the 'Light of the North', it took over 300 years to build and is the best preserved medieval cathedral in Scotland. It was built in 1137 (yes, 1137!) at a time when Orkney was ruled by the Vikings. A stone minster was founded by Earl Rognvald in memory of his uncle St Magnus who was martyred on the island of Egilsay. His bones were returned to Kirkwall and placed in a shrine.
After my visit with St Magnus it was time to wander the street to marvel at beautiful Orcadian jewellery, something the area is renowned for. After you've seen examples of the various jewellers' work you can visit many of them in their studios out of town. There are so many gorgeous pieces to choose from that I'm not sure I can stop at just one!
After my lunch of cheddar, oatcakes, and red onion chutney, I headed south to see the Churchill Barriers (in daylight this time!), and the Italian chapel.
The barriers were constructed in the 1940s, mainly as a form of naval defence. They now function as causeways linking various parts of Mainland. Much of the labour was provided by over 1300 Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in the desert war in North Africa, and were transported to Orkney from early 1942 onwards. The prisoners were accommodated in three camps, and those at Camp 60 built the ornate Italian Chapel which was my next destination.
The Italians requested a proper place of worship and they were permitted to build a chapel on Lamb Holm. They were given two Nissen huts joined end to end to convert on the condition all work was carried out outside working hours on the barriers. The interior is painted to depict brick walls, carved stone, vaulted ceilings and buttresses. There are frescoes of angelic figures, stained glass windows and an altarpiece, with all the materials for the decoration scavenged from wherever possible. As work progressed inside it was decided to construct a more attractive façade for the front of the huts, which includes pillars, Gothic pinnacles, archway and a bell-tower. There's such a contrast between the front and back of the chapel, and the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the prisoners is evident wherever you look.
It had been a day of contrasts, especially between the grandeur of the cathedral and the humility of the chapel. The next day would see me travel 5000 years back in time. Amazing, just amazing, but more on that tomorrow.