Although rain was forecast today we were fortunate to feel only a few flurries as we set out in an easterly direction. Driving on the coastline around Scapa Flow, a natural inlet surrounded by many islands, you could not help but to think of more recent history.
In WW1 seaplanes flew out from Houton where we were staying, predominantly on the look out for German submarines, since a large number of our British fleet of ships were sheltered in the protective waters of Scapa Flow. In fact it was our main naval base for both world wars.
In WW1 no submarines successfully entered the shallow waters but at the end of the war 74 German ships were interned there, which the German Commanding Officer ordered to be scuttled.
To reach the eastern islands we drove over four causeways called The Churchill Barriers, built to protect our fleet in WW2. It was on the first small island that Italian prisoners of war were kept and during their day many built and decorated a chapel made of two nissen huts. Walking into such an unlikely place of worship on this small island leaves you speechless. They must have had a Michelangelo in their midst because the paintings are exquisite – a tribute to their tenacity and a lasting legacy in their memory.
After three more stretches of causeway we reached St Margaret’s Hope where, surprisingly for such a little place, a huge catamaran ferry was docked in the bay. With an extensive search of the village we were able to find somewhere to buy a snack for supper, local pies recommended by the tourist information office in Kirkwall.
After a couple a false starts we found the single track road which should take us to the WW2 defense sites on the cliff tops. Just before this we stumbled upon a little cafe which appeared in the middle of nowhere. Toasties and a coffee revived us before we attempted to walk the coastal path. We never did reach the defenses, -so strong was the wind by this time that we were afraid of being blown off the cliff edge.
At this point, not wishing to be marooned so far east, we headed back to the barriers. With waves spraying over us at times, we were relieved to be back on the Kirkwall side and heading back to our hotel, where we enjoyed the Winter Olympics and our picnic supper.
It was quite sad to leave our friendly hostess, Linda, the following morning. On our drive back to Kirkwall we tried unsuccessfully to locate the buoy marking the spot where the HMS Royal Oak was sunk in 1939, with the loss of over 800 lives. Nevertheless we sat looking over the stormy waters and remembered them.
It was certainly a memorable trip. The Orkneys encompass history through the centuries and we couldn’t help but reflect how, to the present day, oil has provided livelihoods and raised their standard of living in a way which would have been scarcely possible without it. A fascinating place to visit, even in February!