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Published: August 30th 2019
Orkney. Italian Chapel, St Margaret’s.
47miles. 650m ascent.
Breakfast at Pomona again at 8am. Great food and good service. Off into the mist until 11.30 following the coast, although unfortunately we could hardly tell. We had lunch at the Fossil Heritage Centre, Museum and cafe at Burray which I can recommend. As the skies brightened the Italian Chapel came into view across the causeway where luckily there were not many people viewing it. The chapel was built in a Nissan hut from 1941 until 1945 by 500 Italian POW’s captured in N Africa. They lined the inside and covered it with tiles and decorated it to a very high standard with several classic murals. Some of these were then sent to Skipton in Yorkshire before eventual repatriation in Italy. Further south Past the Fossil Heritage Centre we passed over the Churchill Barriers which are causeways built by the POW’s to protect the ships in Scapa Flow. Here are the wrecks of some of the German ships sunk by their own crews after the war. Further along is St Margaret’s, which is a quaint town with old fisherman’s houses and a ferry terminal with couple of shops and a cafe. From here
we headed back north back over the Churchill barriers to St Mary’s which is a bit of a one horse village with pleasant sea views. The journey north back to Kirkwall in the A Road was a bit monotonous, apart from seeing an oil rig stationed off the coast to our left awaiting a further destination. We were into the wind again since it had turned at midday giving us the pleasure of hard riding all day instead of half of it. Kirkwall was bustling with cruise passengers going towards the cathedral and Bishops Palaces like lambs going to the slaughter in a long line. Oh! to go on a cruise. If you really want to see the world, get a bike. Although the three drunk Shetlanders we met on the ferry down to Orkney would not agree.
Overall view of the Northern Isles.
Shetland is quite rugged with some tough hills, although not overly tall, and a large percentage of upland is wild and peety with poor quality grass. The lower elevations have some good grass and barley is grown. Much of the land is grazed by sheep and some dairy and beef stock. We encountered rain
on most mornings of our week there, varying from half a day to short 5 minute squalls. The sky could turn from blue to grey in a matter of minutes. The bird life was quite interesting with Great Skuas, Gannets, Fulmars, Gulls Shags and Curlews. We saw seals and otters.
Orkney being much further south had milder weather and whilst hilly did not have the big hills of Shetland. The quality of grass is much better and there were more crops grown mostly barley and some cabbage. Shetland has some ancient archaeological sites and Viking longhouses etc but not to the extent of those on Orkney with good examples at Scara Brae, Gurness, Ring of Brogdar and Taversoe Tuick. Orkney also has a vast naval vessel history of both the first and second world wars. Mostly around Walls at the south of Hoy and Scapa Flow. 12,000 personnel were employed by the navy during the Second World War, now all gone.
My view us that Orkney is the first place of the two to visit but Shetland comes a close second. Both wonderful, especially on a sunny day. Go there.
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