In addition to good food, we were shown great hospitality. Yesterday, Malcolm and Stuart, along with Malcolm’s dog Sam, drove us out to Scapa Flow. A large harbour in between the Orkney islands, it was used as a base for the royal navy in the early twentieth century.
Near Kirkwall is a beach where Stuart takes his metal detector and goes treasure hunting. We hiked along a cliff near the bay, then down a trail to the shore then decided to walk back along the shore. Until we ran out of shore. We could turn around and go back. It was no more than an extra mile out of way. But, as is the way of things, we decided to keep going. Across the slippery seaweed, onto a small ledge of rock, and across to climb the rock wall back to the trail on the cliff.
Whew! We made it.
Today Malcolm drove us — and Sam — to see the barriers and the “Italian Chapel” built by Italian POWs, during WWII, in their spare time. What spare time did they have? Most of their time was spent building “Churchill’s Barrier,” rock wall (cement block walls) in between the islands surrounding Scapa Flow. A massive project, and one I cannot even imagine the work that went into it. Dropping cement blocks into the ocean, where the current might catch the block and drag it seventy feet from where you put it. And at night, or on Sunday mornings, scrounging leftovers or garbage, begging or trading for materials to create a chapel. Photos of it will be
on Flickr in a gallery soon It is a metal shed, painted like a Cathedral, and with handmade wrought iron gates and a stone baptismal font. It is even more amazing than the Barricades.
We continued on along the coast until we came to the Tomb of the Eagles. In the 1950s, a farmer discovered on his land a Neolithic tomb and a bronze age building. Today they are a heritage site, but still on the family’s land. The family runs tours of the area. The tomb is so named for the eagle talons found buried in the tomb. Several bodies were also found in the tomb, along with tools, ornaments, and pottery. The tomb is around 5,000 years old.
Such wonders! The oldest of the old — my favourite things to study. Many things found in the tomb we can only imagine what they were used for. A stone cube, for example. Black stone, smooth, rounded edges, about five inches on a side. Small indents on four of the sides. It remains a mystery.
In between exploring the perimeter of Scapa Flow, we visited the Orkney Wireless Museum, where David taught me about Crystal Radios, transistors, and where I beat him playing Pong. We read the log of Gunther Priest, a U-Boat captain who snuck into the harbour and sank the HMS Royal Oak. It was this action which caused the building of the barriers already mentioned, built by POWs.
One of two places I wanted to make sure I visited on this Orkney trip is Scotland’s northernmost distillery: Highland Park (The other place is a well-preserved Stone Age village called Skara Brae. We’ll get there on Thursday). The distillery opened (legally) in 1798, and early drawings of the site show not much has changed since then. It has expanded, though not in a jarring way. It is still a small/medium distillery by Scottish standards, and it blends the two well-known tastes of whisky in a compromise most people can agree on.
Many island distilleries, most notably, on Islay, add peat smoke to their production, making the resulting whisky taste like campfire. The north-eastern area of mainland Scotland called Speyside makes a much lighter, and often much sweeter whisky. Highland Park takes some peat and some sweetness, making a perfect mix of the two regions. It is not my number one favourite of the whiskies, but it is a close second (more on the number one favourite next week when we visit that distillery).
As this entry is already longer than all the others by half,I will close for now. The past two days have been very busy, and without internet. The next couple days will slow down again, and perhaps will give you time to catch up on all this reading!