Yesterday morning I set off in earnest Orkney bound, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better journey up the road. A 3 hour drive to Gills Bay, to embark upon the Pentland ferry to St Margarets Hope, and a smooth, wave free crossing was on the cards – hurray. I’d visited Orkney back in October last year, and it was amazingly good weather then, however I was not prepared for what awaited me once I’d cautiously disembarked from the ferry, it was absolutely stunning. Orkney has a reputation for capturing people’s hearts, and I can completely see why, instantly I was surrounded by beautiful crystal clear bays, blue skies which seemed to go on for miles, and white cotton-like clouds floating peacefully above.
Orkney has an incredibly rich culture and history, and seeing the wrecks of WW2 ships emerging from the sea bed, rusty and broken, it is a stark reminder of the reality of life the people of Orkney endured during that stressful and violent time. And then sitting atop of a hill is the stunning Italian Chapel on Lambs Holm. Small, but oranately designed, this is testement to the character of the Orkney Islands. Built by 550 Italian prisions of war, brought to Orkney in 1942, they were charged with the task of constructing the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow. The chapel was constructed from very limited materials, joining two Nissen Huts together, using corrugated iron, plasterboard, and painted by a POW Domenico Chiocchetti, the prisoners created a santuary for themselves and their religion. Chiocchetti remained on to finish the chapel, even though his fellow prisoners were released shortly after the war. In 1958 the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of local Orkadians to preserve this beautiful church, and in 1960 Chiocchetti, who had left Orkney sometime after the end of the war, returned to assist in its restoration. It stands now in Lambs Holm for all to take some form of santuary within.
So aside from being distracted by the scenery and history, I did eventually make it to Kirkwall. Easy bit over, now to find the B&B. Now, unless you know anything of my past scottish travels, then you’ll know that I have a terrible ability to find my final destination, no problem getting to the area, but find a specific road, a specific place, be it an art venue, someones home or a B&B, maps and my iphone just don’t seem to do the trick. So I ended up on a car-tour of Kirkwall before I was able to get my bearings, after several 3 point turns and driving past the St. Magnus Cathedral numerous times, eventually I arrived at the Eastbank House.
It was then off back into the town centre, to soak up the rays and enjoy the summertime vibes. What strikes me about Kirkwall is its obious unique character, and this is so prominent along the main drag. Yes, you’ve got the obligatory Boots and newsagents, but other then that the shops here are all independent and definately Orkadian. Something which I think larger towns and cities have lost, their own identities. Two such shops sum up this independent culture, Sheila Fleet, the award winning jewelery designer and Tait and Style, a crafts and needlepunching designer with a reputation for using innovative and unique fabrics. Both are clearly influenced by their natural and cultural surroundings, reflecting the sky, sea and landscape as well as the folklore and traditions of the Orkadian way.
What struck me was the ingenious of Tait and Style’s Wool and Wine idea. What a brilliant way to shop, oh I want that wool, and while I’m kniting I’d like a wee glass of wine – oh I can buy them both in one shop – ace!
After my ramble along winding narrow streets and dodging cars on single track lanes, I found myself inexplicably in a bookshop. The Orkadian Bookshop to be precise. I love books, and i wanted to see if there were any interesting books about the island I was currently a guest off. My word, I hadn’t anticipated the wealth of literature on Orkney, everything from your typical tourists guide, to books on the bird life of the island, to Island writers. I could have spent an age browsing, but then something really unique took my eye: ‘The Mermaid Bride and other Orkney folk tales’ told by Tom Muir. What better way to gain an insight into the nature of this beautiful island, then reading about the folklore and fairytales thought up and told for generations to the children and people of Orkney.
After a much needed cup of tea and a bite to eat, in the Trenebies Bistro, it was back up the road to the Eastbank House. So here I am soaking up more rays while rooks gobble up the bits of leftovers thrown out by the landlord. It’s a far cry from the wet, wild and wintery picture painted of the North over the last few months, and it has revitalised me in a way which was much needed.