Orkney, fall in love in the Far North of Scotland

Who I am
Martí Micolau

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

A very nice part of our trip to Scotland? was the Maxi Day Tour of the Orkney Islands. Departure from John O? Groats at 8.45am. Indicative cost 65? per person (I'm talking about adults).

The crossing takes about 45 minutes, on a ferry that we will not forget. We boarded on May 1st, for the Scots in May? already? a month of summer, so the heating was already? off and all the doors were open. Imagine ap? how cold we got, imagine it and then .. multiply it to the nth power !! We were tight in our jackets, all covered and hooded. they were maybe 7/8 degrees and c? it was a cold and icy wind coming from every direction!
Despite the cold, however, we were reckless and even climbed onto the panoramic terrace of the ferry and goodness? of a warm sun, we enjoyed amazing views as we approached the islands.

The Orkney Islands are an archipelago of the Northern Isles of Scotland. They are located 16 km north of the northern coast of Scottish Caithness (famous and rich in Viking artifacts) and include about 70 islands of which 20 are still inhabited. The archipelago? scattered with prehistoric villages and standing stones. Hospitality ? like that of the past and if you stop to talk to some local elders, it will be? happy to tell you stories of when the island was conquered by the Vikings. The Orkney presents spectacular landscapes, only a few miles separate them from the mainland, but the waters of the Pentland Firth are very treacherous as evidenced by numerous wrecks that lie on the seabed and amplify the air of mystery of these islands, often shrouded in fog.

1 day

Having only had 1 day to visit them, we opted for the John O? Groat ferry maxy day tour.

Docked at Burwick Harbor, our bus and guide Michael, a middle-aged man, was waiting for us. with a happy look, two blue eyes like the sky of Scotland and a smile that immediately made us feel welcome. Michael? born, raised and still lives on the Orkney Islands. Did he immediately send me so much serenity? and a lot of joie de vivre. He seemed like a happy man and I thought he was happy because? it could not be otherwise, having grown up immersed in so much beauty and nature. Was it Michael who told us that on the island there are no trees or trees? hens because of the strong winds! Can you imagine waking up one morning many centuries ago and not finding us anymore? nothing or see the hens pirouette in the air? From the flying hens series !!! So the eggs and everything related to these animals take it either from dry land or from indoor farms. Michael? been discreet but, at the same time present, very prepared and not only on curiosities? and the anecdotes that are not found in official guides, but also on the history of the island and its monuments.

The itinerary of the first part of the voyage skirted the Churchill Barriers which are barrages built in 1940, during the Second World War with the aim of beaching enemy submarines in the bay of Scapa Flow, one of the most natural ports. big in the world. Skirting the Churchill Barriers, you can still see the wrecks of submarines and ships that are stranded, motionless and unchanged, like marine giants, dormant forever. About 74 German ships were impounded here! During the war, 55 ships sank and sank, while others were stranded in the shallows. Many were recovered, but others still lie on the seabed and attract divers from all over the world. You can contact Diving cellar or Scapa Scuba, if you are interested in diving!

The barriers created by the barriers connect the 5 islands that are part of it and by booking in advance you can? also do a tour with the boat, which will take you? right there below, to visit them and see them up close, cos? to fully savor their charm and their majesty.

We visited both Stromness and Kirkwall, the two main centers of interest in the Mainland (ie the main island of the archipelago, whose name translated means Mainland, has often given rise to misunderstandings and confusion). Two picturesque, clean and wonderful towns. Walking through their streets you can breathe the air of the sea, peace, a taste of life steeped in peach and tangled nets, warm sun, symphonies of seagulls and vitality.
They remained in our hearts!

Stromness? one of the most? quaint British towns. Strolling through those streets that have little changed since the 18th century, see the fishing villages, the boats moored at the doors of the houses and the numerous stone cottages? it was really hilarious. The city? ? in an excellent state of conservation, everything? taken care of in every detail, will it seem? to walk inside a painting.
A curiosity? ? that during our stay on the island, we did not see dogs on the island, many cats instead and many shops dedicated to this cute little animal.

Stromness? one of the main ports of the Orkney Islands, its name derives from the ancient Norse? straurmness? which means? promontory in the current or in the tide ?. IS? located in the southwestern part of the island of Mainland and overlooking the bay of Hamnavoe one of the most? wide accesses to the bay of Scapa Flow.

We had several hours to visit the city? and eat something, in addition to the ticket of our tour, it also gave us a free entrance to visit the city museum. IS? it was very fun to shoot in absolute tranquility? through those streets and around every corner there was a unique panorama to be immortalized in photos and in the heart! While walking through those streets, I often wondered, how beautiful and different it could have been, to have been born or have lived for a part of my life on that island. Disconnected and also connected to the rest of the world, free to breathe such air every day. pure, which almost seemed different from what I've always been used to. Did people really seem calm and happy, calm? as if to spell it cos? different of the time in that place, made them unaware of the frenetic pace that instead infects all of us.

We continue our journey and arrive in the charming town of Kirkwall, what? the "P? populated of the islands of the Scottish Maindland and the main of the islands of the Orkney archipelago,? the commercial hub and the administrative capital, located in a bay, set back from the sea.

Will Kirkwall kidnap you? literally, if you are lucky like us and you will find a splendid sun you will be able to see it in all its beauty and magnificence. The sky so? as the sea will present 50 shades of blue, cos? like the green of grass and trees.

We had a lot of time to visit it in complet? freedom to wander the winding streets? wynds? and to take a break in the sun for a coffee? and eat a delicious scone, sitting in the town square and enjoying the view of ap? of true island life. The coffee? for? really left a lot to be desired, cos? then we got another hot drink!
Initially we also took a tour of the narrow streets and enjoyed the magnificent view of Scape Flow and we did not fail to see a seal swimming quietly, immersed in a setting of paradise. Really wonderful! I love them, they have a nose like that? funny ? and then we headed to our goals.

The first step ? was the cathedral of St. Magnus, known as? The light in the North? and dating back to 1137, founded by the Viking Regnvald, the nephew of the martyr Count Mangus and? dedicated to Mangus of which it contains the relics. IS? was built with a particular red stone unmistakable from afar. Its interior? wonderful and full of finds with a cemetery attached. St. Magnus Cathedral? a beautiful example of Norman architecture.

Mysticism and air of mystery await you. St. Mugnus? imposing and massive, me? really enjoyed visiting it all and staying for a while? sitting among those benches to think and watch the rays of the sun that slipped between the mosaics of the windows. The municipality of the Orkney Islands spends on average around 120 pounds every year to heat it and at least 100,000 visitors come here every year.
The architecture of the Cathedral? a mixture of Romanesque or Norman and early Gothic. The pi? ancient is located in the area of ​​the choir, the transepts and the eastern nave. The cathedral was enlarged between the 12th and 13th centuries and probably other works were done in the following centuries.

Who was St. Magnus? B ?, Count Magnus inherited? the Norse County of Orkney together with his cousin. The two quarreled and in 1116 there was an attempt at peace. The two decided to meet on the island of Egilsay, but Count Haakon did not respect? the agreement and presented itself? with 8 ships, instead of just one! Haakon didn't kill Count Magnus directly, he ordered. the ship's cook to do it. Was it so? that Count Magnus was martyred to obtain peace in Orkney. Stories and legends about sanctity? of Magnus increased and while Rognvald-Kali fought against Haakon's son in 1120 to conquer the county of Orkney, he sought divine help from his martyr uncle and promised to dedicate a large stone church to him if he succeeded in his intent (here you are: -). Both were made saints and their relics are found among the stones of the Cathedral in the choir part. St. Magnus Cathedral was part of the Norwegian Archdiocese of Trondheim in the years before the Reformation. They then became part of the Scottish Kingdom in 1468 and in 1486 it was given to the citizens of Kirkwall by the Scottish King James III.

The second stage? was the Orkney Museum, a small pearl located in a historic building located near the Cathedral, full of Viking departments and additional sections. There are also stones carved by the Picts.
Other stops? Must do? are the? The Earl? s Palace? and? The Bishop? s Palace ?, facing each other. Just cross the streets and they are close at hand.
The palace ? one of the greatest examples of French Renaissance architecture in Scotland.

For the inhabitants the palace? the memory of one of the most? black history of Orkney and is about the role of Stewart Earls. Between the 16th and 17th centuries Orkney was under the rule of the Stewart. That was a disastrous period: the inhabitants were tortured, forced to work without being paid and suffered all kinds of abuses. Does construction of the building begin? in 1600, with the idea of ​​connecting it to the Bishop? s Palace to make it a single block, without succeeding and putting the coffers in debt. The work stopped in 1607, when Patrick Stewart was arrested and only resumed after his execution in 1615. The palace became the home of the Bishop of Orkney.

The Bishop? S Palace? the pi? old of the two and it too is in the center of Kirkwall, as I have already? said and dates back to the middle? of the 12th century.
In Kirkwall c ?? also the Highland Park Distillery, which unfortunately due to the weather and the obligatory stops of the tour we could not visit, we only saw it passing by, why? for the guided tour we would have had to take time away from the rest ?

So after mooring at the port, visiting Kirkwall, Stromness, Scape Flow, etc .. we now head to Scara Brae, located next to the bay of Skaill on the west coast of the main island of Orkney, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Was Skara Brae already? a thriving village, before Stonehenge was built, before the pyramids of Giza.

Let's step back 5000 years in time to explore the best preserved Neolithic settlement in all of Northern Europe.

Submerged by sediments that concealed it from the human eye, it was discovered after a storm that in 1850 made it re-emerge from the sands of time. Skara Brae? an amazing place to explore! For many years this exceptional discovery was neglected and left to itself, no excavations were made or work, until the University intervened? of Edinburgh, bringing it back to light and making it one of the most archaeological attractions. interesting to visit. Today managed by? Historical Scotland (HS).

What can you see in Scara Brae?

Past the visitor reception center where you can buy the guide to visit the site (if you want), you will go? Back to the past? about 5000 years old. You can walk freely among the remains of houses that have survived the passing of centuries and bad weather, enjoying breathtaking views, with a sea in the background that looks like that of the Caribbean, so blue are the waters and incredible its colors, which will make your visit in Scara Brae even more? magical.

IS? It is impressive to see how many artifacts have been preserved and to imagine how people may have lived in these places, far from time and from the world.
You can visit a replica of a Neolithic house, see its interior, walk around, touch and feel everything. IS? it was rebuilt for visitors on the basis of the original ones found. Come in, explore and imagine yourself living there? ? 5000 years ago, during the age? of the stone!
Then you will follow the external path, surrounded by greenery and the sky overlooking the remains of the ancient buildings brought to light for us. L? they lived their lives farmers, hunters and fishermen, of an? ancient civilization ?.

Prehistoric houses still contain many objects, which thanks to the centuries in which they were buried, have been perfectly preserved. You will see sketches of stone sideboards and sleeping places.
The inhabitants of Skara Brae were also builders and the houses were shelters built using the soil and dug into the ground. The main property? of these houses, in addition to a certain stability? was the quality? thermal, to protect people from the harsh climate of Orkney. On average, the houses measured 40 m? with an oven in the center, necessary for cooking and heating. Since few trees grew on the island, the inhabitants used the remains of storm surges and whale bones, with the addition of turf, to build the roof of their underground houses.
The houses were complete with stone built furniture, including wardrobes, wardrobes, chairs, beds and closets. A sophisticated drainage system within the village allowed the existence of a rough form of bathroom in every house. During the excavations of these houses, fragments of stone and bones were found. Pu? it is possible that these houses were used as a laboratory for the creation of small tools such as bone needles or flint axes.

You can also visit Skaill House, an impressive 17th century building. century, precisely in 1620, for the bishop. IS? adjacent to Skara Bra, visible already? from the excavation site and included in the combined ticket that you will purchase to enter. But if you go with an organized tour, pay attention to the time, otherwise you risk not being able to visit everything!

I can tell you that being there, walking around this archaeological site in the open air, feeling the wind on you and the soft sun that barely warms your bones, are an emotion that you will never leave behind and that will remain there? inside in every cell.

It was a beautiful sunny day when we were lucky enough to visit the excavation, but was there a cold wind coming from the sea? brrrrr?. unforgettable!

Orkney is wonderful, a part of Scotland that I had not imagined wild and unspoiled and which, if possible, me? remained in the heart more? of everything else! A corner of absolute paradise, I felt alive, free, serene and carefree. I was literally infected by the welcome and the sense of peace that the islanders gave me as if I had always been part of those landscapes!

We then headed to visit The Mystical Ring of Brodgar (or Brogar?), Which along with other monuments of prehistoric interest is located in the western Mainland. Along the way to Scara Brae is this large circle of Menhirs some of which are taller. of 5 meters. It is located on a small isthmus of land between Loch Stenness and Harray. The interior of the Ring of Brodgar was never fully excavated, nor was it completely excavated. ? its construction is certain, but it is believed that it was built between 2500 and 2000 BC and therefore almost contemporary at most? famous Stonehenge. Seeing it with your eyes will be? particularly impressive. Built in a real circle, about 104 meters wide, it was originally composed of 60 magaliths of which today only 27 remain standing. No one yet knows how, why? they were erected and what they were intended for; some believe it was a religious sanctuary, others an astronomical observatory for the equinox and the solstice.

A short distance east of the Brodgar ring is ?? the lonely standing stone, known as the comet stone. Today entirely Unesco heritage, due to its historical and geological importance (guided tours of the archaeological Orkney are possible upon reservation). Historical Scotland which today preserves and manages it has decided to use the name Brodgar in its publicity materials, but not? clear how the original word has been changed over the centuries, both for the influence of the Celtic / Gaelic / Viking languages ​​and for the pronunciation of the islanders themselves.

The menhirs of the ring of brodgar stand there imposing and silent, motionless over the centuries even if smoothed by them, under the sky of Scotland and looking at you, like silent giants. We stayed there for a while? to walk, listen to the wind and the birdsong. Soft heather, hard soil, the scent of history, echoes of past lives under a blue sky that enchants just looking away.

Also near the Menhir of Stenness, of the original 12 only 4 remain

The Italian Chapel? was the last stop before taking the bus and pulling to the port, where our boat was waiting for us that would take us back to John O? Groat. The Church is located on the small island of Lamb Holm, which? all there? what remains of a prison camp where many Italians, employed in the construction of the Churchill Barriers, were imprisoned in World War II. In their spare time the inmates of Camp 60 built this chapel, a message of peace for the whole world, using only scrap, scraps and ap? of concrete. The main works are due to Chiocchetti (painter) and Palumbi (skilled blacksmith author of the gate and it is thought of the heart engraved on the ground). Chiocchetti transformed? two shacks in a real church and remained to finish the work even when many prisoners returned home after the war and returned? after about 15 years to carry out restoration work, why? the church although much loved by the inhabitants of the islands was deteriorating. Did Chiocchetti love Orkney so? like its inhabitants and their wonderful hospitality? and after his death his family returned? on the island and a requiem mass was celebrated in his memory.

The chapel ? in an absolutely unique location, it seems to come straight out of a painting. Alone, small but impressive, mystical, charming and romantic, overlooking the Bay and? ap? poignant in the feelings it aroused in me!

Michael, our guide, also told us the story of the heart engraved on the ground, under the iron gate. The story goes that a prisoner who was employed in the construction of the chapel, fell in love? of an island girl. The heart would be a pledge of love to her, a memory that has endured over the years, a pledge forever, which remained even when the prisoner leaves? the island to return to Italy. I don't remember if Michael also told us the name of this man who realized? such a wonder.

Last but not least gem of your trip to Orkney will be the very nice seals, the Atlantic gray seals. You will make many stops on the Atlantic and its coves and if you are patient, you will see our friends swimming, playing or simply dozing, letting themselves be carried confidently and happily by the current. Try to call them, sometimes they turn around .. and their sly and sweet eyes will kidnap you!

What else to add once you've seen you can't help but want to return :-)

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