View from our window at Skara B&B in Thurso - The Orkneys is the land mass you see.

We arose bright and early because we had booked in for breakfast at 7 am. We walked into the nice little dining room and were greeted by a large selection of fruits, cereals and juices. As we walked in our host asked us what hot breakfast we would like as well. With both of us being body concious we ordered the full scottish breakfast with toast. Again it was amazing, the scots sure can put on a great feed. Nice local bacon again which seems to be a theme and pork sausages with eggs and beans. After the great breakfast we packed the car and headed the short journey to John O’ Groats. It was about a 20 minute drive along the north coast of scotland which was yet another beautiful journey. We arrived nice and early, collected our tickets and spent a little while wandering around the village. There was a really amazing house right on the water which had bizarre murals painted all over it. The ferry left just after 9 and the trip over was smooth and pleasant. We sat on top of the ferry and enjoyed the sights of the outlying islands going past us. The ferry ride was only 40 minutes long and as we arrived there was a bus waiting for us. We all piled on and the driver introduced himself as Stuart and started to tell us about the islands. He was initially an Englishman but had been in Orkney for 27 years so he was now Orcadian as they call themselves. The bus had a strange flag on the front which was the new flag of the Orkney’s, it is the norwegian flag but with yellow around the cross. This is due to the countries strong ties with Norway which was it;s ruler until it was given away 500 years ago to cement a marriage. As we drove along he told us the history of Skapa Flow, which is the huge harbour in the centre of the Orkney’s. In both wars it was used to anchor the entire british fleet. In the first war they sunk old merchant ships to block the entrance to the flow from the North sea. But by the time of WW2 gaps had appeared and 6 weeks into the war a German U-boat got in and sank the Royal Oak, a capital ship. Luckily only days before the rest of the fleet had left or it could have changed the course of the war. Churchill then ordered all the entrances to be permanently blocked so they sunk millions of tons of rock and concrete. These are now roads we drove across to reach the capital of Kirkwall.

Kirkwall is a great little town but we didn’t get to see much of it the first time we were there as we went pretty much straight on to Stromness, the main port of the Orkney’s now and where most of the ferries land. They had the super ship the world there recently, the one that billionaires live on all year round. A local fisherman offered round the world trips in 20 minutes and made a killing apparently. Stromness was great, we visited the local gallery which had a great exhibition by a guy called Jim Lamby, also a photography exhibition of the islands taken 30 years ago. We wandered around Stromness for a while and had some lunch. After this it was a short bus trip to Skara Brae. Mum would have loved this, Skara Brae is a 5000 year old village, only discovered in 1850. It is older then stonehenge and the great pyramids. It is in amazingly good shape as it was buried until a storm uncovered it. It has been very well looked after and it was actually an Australian who did most of the archeological work. There is a museum there as well and a manor house that you can wander through. It is right on the ocean and a fantastic experience. After this it was another short trip to the Ring of Brodgar. This is a huge, and I mean huge ring of standing stones. They think that they were used to tell the time at one stage, not the time of day but of the year, to tell the solstice and such. These were really incredible, so huge and the ring stretched for hundreds of metres. There was a ditch around the outside meaning that it was in fact a henge. It really feels like a spiritual place, so peaceful and amazing. There was another set of standing stones, the Stones of Steness. There were only a few stones in this one but they were far larger then the Brodgar ones. Considering the man hours needed to build them and that the average person only lived till 30 it is a pretty spectacular achievement.

 Stones of Stenness, Orkney Islands.

Stones of Stenness, Orkney Islands.

We went back to Kirkwall where we visited St Magnus Cathedral. Built by the Norwegians in the 1200’s it was very nearly destroyed when the Scottish took over because it was catholic. They let it remain but tore down all the art and all the beautiful decorations. Oliver Cromwell used it to stable his horses for 4 months when he was there. It has been restored now and the stained glass windows in particular are special. They use it for all religious services now regardless of denomination. The last stop on the tour was the italian chapel. To build Churchill’s barriers they dragged thousands of italian prisoners of war all the way to the islands to build them. It took them several years so while they were there they built themselves a church. It was all made by hand and is a sight to see. The painting and craftsmanship is astonishing considering they were prisoners at the time. There is a statue of St george and the dragon outside made entirely of Barbed wire and concrete. We got the bus back to the ferry and said goodbye to an amazing place. On the last trip the guide told us about some local customs, such as the local golf tournament that starts at midnight using glow in the dark balls. In the middle of summer it doesn’t actually get dark but it still gets a bit hard to see. After every hole they have a double shot of whisky and the player who makes it to the 18th hole wins. Sound like the kind of golf I could enjoy. The other sport they play is called called Ba. The entire town of Kirkwall is separated into teams based on where they live. One team has to kick the ball into the ocean, another on a particular wall. Both are about 1 mile from the cathedral. The whole town gets involved and there are no rules. Apparently often they are all charging through random houses, and up to 300 people at once run around wildly. Sound like another thing I would love to do. The ferry back to the mainland was not as enjoyable for Anita. It was very choppy for a while and Anita was looking quite sick for a while. It calmed down though so we went above again to enjoy the view. We landed around 8:00 and decided that we were just going to drive until we got tired. So that is what we did, we drove all the way to Inverness, down the east coast. This drive was just as special the second time. The coast line in northern Scotland is spectacular. We arrived in Inverness around 11 and had time for a quick meal before we found a secluded place to park and slept in the car, which was actually far more comfortable then I though it would be.

Clive

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