By Gerald Bailey
It’s been a most interesting two days in Orkney. A place we’d almost no knowledge of has been fascinating. We knew the Shetland Islands further to the north were reputed to be closer to Norway than to Scotland but didn’t have any idea of the close connection that still exists between the Orkney Islands and Norway. Not only were the Orkneys part of Norway for about 700 years but the Union Jack and the Norwegian flags can be seen flying side by side in the cathedral here.
Yesterday was a very full one, with five different places to visit on this island called “Mainland”. The first was a chapel built by Italian prisoners of war who’d been transported here during the Second World War and had fashioned a chapel by joining two Nissen Huts together and decorated the interior in Renaissance style. It overlooks a harbour reputed to be the second best natural harbour after Sydney, and which featured significantly in both World Wars.
From there we bussed to two areas of standing stones – similar to Stonehenge but quite a bit older – and just as mystifying. Then proceeded to a Neolithic chamber formed by incredibly heavy stones that has been unearthed (and which has suffered from Viking graffiti). I guess we’re unlikely ever to discover how prehistoric men moved stones weighing several tonnes for sometimes vast distances. Later we were taken to another equally ancient site on the seafront that was only discovered when a freak storm washed away some of the sand covering it – and then finished with a brief exploration of a much more recent site (only about 2,000 years old).
Only the last visit was affected by rain, but we’ve learned to take our raincoats wherever we go. It’s not been particularly cold here (unless the wind has got up) but rain never seems far away. I can’t imagine that they see the Northern Lights here too often, despite the fact that we’re at the same latitude as Alaska and southern Greenland.