HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Scapa Flow and the Italian Chapel

After a visit to the Tomb of the Eagles, we got another history lesson – this time from Andy as he was driving us to our next stop.

We heard about the history and the role that the Orkney islands played during WWI and WWII – the most significant being the body of water known as Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow has been used since the Viking times – with 5 major Orcadian islands and several smaller ones sheltering its waters. Besides trade and travel, its protected waters made it ideal to anchor Viking longships and… much later on in history, as a base for the British Royal Navy during World War I and II.

In order to protect Scapa Flow from submarine attacks during WWI, blockships were strategically positioned at many of the entrances to Scapa Flow. There were also nets, artillery and minefields that further strengthened the defences.

Even now, you can still see some of the blockships lying at rest in the waters of Scapa Flow. We pulled over to a little beach, where we got to look out at some of these blockships.

This blockship, I believe, is the SS Reginald.

I believe this one below might be the steamer – Emerald Wings.

Another significant event that happened in Scapa Flow was the scuttling of the German High Seas fleet at the end of WWI. At the end of the war, this fleet of 74 German ships was sent to Orkney to await their fate, which was being decided at the Paris Peace Conference. Thinking that the fleet would be seized by the Allies, the Rear Admiral in charge set into motion plans to scuttle the entire fleet so it would not fall in enemy hands. On June 21, 1919, while most of the British ships and personnel were away on an exercise, the signal was given to scuttle the entire fleet. The British tried to stop the scuttle and successfully beached and saved some of the ships. But by the end of the day, it was reported that 52 of the ships had sunk.

Over the years, some of these ships were lifted from the seabed and salvaged while others lie in their final resting places under the water. The 7 wrecks that remain underwater, along with the various blockships in the Scapa Flow, are very popular with divers today.

Years later, Scapa Flow would again become a base for the British Navy during WWII. Unfortunately, the defences that were in place during the previous war were no longer sufficient in protecting the waters of Scapa Flow. On October 14th, 1939, a German U-boat managed to move into Scapa Flow undetected and fired its torpedoes at the HMS Royal Oak. The Royal Oak sank quickly, resulting in the loss of over 800 men. It is now a designated war grave, with no unauthorised diving allowed.

Following this incident, new defences – including new blockships and mines, were installed to protect the waters of Scapa Flow. Winston Churchill also ordered new permanent barriers to be built to protect Scapa Flow and the naval base there. Gabions and concrete blocks were used to build 4 causeways, helping to close off the channels leading into Scapa Flow. These barriers became known as the Churchill Barriers.

Concrete blocks of the causeways

After the war, these defences became a means of transportation, linking the islands around Scapa Flow. As we drove around the Orkney Islands on these causeways, we were able to appreciate the history behind them.

We drove across one of the causeways, also known as one of the Churchill Barriers, on the right side there.

Crossing another Churchill Barrier to our next destination…

The Churchill Barriers were constructed by Italian POW’s. Besides building these barriers, they also built a chapel – now known as the Italian Chapel. And this was our next destination.

The Italian Chapel is located on Lamb Holm. This chapel was built by and built for the Italian POW’s who were living on this island and constructing the Churchill Barriers.

The war memorial outside the Italian Chapel

The Italian POW’s wanted a place to worship and they were able to convince the camp commandant to grant their request.¬†The chapel was built using very limited, often scavenged and recycled materials. But you would never guess – looking at its beautifully clean facade or the ornate frescoes inside.

The interior was mostly decorated by Domenico Chiocchetti. He was so dedicated that he stayed behind for 2 extra weeks to finish the chapel while the rest of the POW’s left Orkney. Nearly 20 years later, Chiocchetti returned to the Italian Chapel to assist with a restoration project. He write a letter to the people of Orkney upon his departure:

“The chapel is yours – for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality . . .¬†I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart‚ÄĚ. –¬†Domenico Chiocchetti, dated 11th April 1960.

There is a lot of meaning and symbolism in this building. The one that I’m most drawn to is the Madonna and Child, with the Child holding an olive branch. There is a sense of peace and reconciliation here.

When we visited, there was no cost to enter the Italian Chapel. Currently, there is a small fee to enter and they do advise that you book ahead. More information on opening hours and the entrance fee can be found here.

As we stepped out of the Chapel, we were greeted by more of that gorgeous Orcadian sunset.

We also spotted the cows coming home!

Coming home for dinner, it seems!

Driving away from the Italian Chapel, we headed towards Kirkwall. Look what we spotted from the road!

Those distinctive chimneys must mean one thing: a whisky distillery! The chimneys belong to the Highland Park distillery. (Because the bus was moving, I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the gate and sign.) Highland Park is the most northerly distillery in Scotland. Unfortunately we didn’t make a stop at the Highland Park distillery for a visit, but I think if I visit Orkney again, this will be on my list, for sure!

After a very full day of learning, adventures and exploring, we were on our way to our home for the next 2 nights –¬†The Orcades Hostel.

This was definitely one of our favourite hostels on this entire trip. The rooms were clean and spacious with nice bunk beds. It was also a smaller room – sleeping only 6. Our room even had its own ensuite bathroom, with a hair dryer! Oh, those little luxuries! ūüėČ

After freshening up, a group of us followed Andy as he led us to The Shore for spot of dinner at their pub.

And this is where we first came across…¬†Thistly Cross Cider. A most delicious cider, of which we tried at least 3 varieties that night. Our favourites being the elderflower and the whisky cask.

To this day, we still scour our liquor stores, in the hopes that someone would have imported Thistly Cross into Canada by now. (Maybe that’s what we need to do – import it ourselves! Haha!) But alas, we are still waiting for that day to come. For more on our hunt for Thistly Cross Cider here on the westcoast of Canada, check out our next blog post!

After our dinner, music and some more cider, we decided to head back to the hostel for some sleep! Heading back to the hostel was a bit of an adventure… Firstly, it was pitch black, save a couple street lamps. Secondly, it was very windy. Thirdly, we had to cross a pond area (who knows how deep it was… I certainly wasn’t about to find out!) on some narrow footpaths, which didn’t seem nearly as daunting in the daylight. Oh and did I mention it was pitch black outside?? Eventually, with the dim light from our cell phones, we were able to safely navigate our way back to the hostel. ūüė•

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for Day 6 and more exploring around the Orkney islands!

From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

 

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HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Tomb of the Eagles

We started off Day 5 of our Compass Buster tour with a wee walk and a visit to the Duncansby Stacks. Then it was time to get to the ferry terminal and head for the Orkney Islands!

The Orkney Islands are a group of 70 islands to the north of mainland Scotland. Orkney has its own distinctive culture and tradition – being influenced both by Scotland and by its Norwegian settlers during the 8th and 9th centuries. Although many of its islands are uninhabited now, there is evidence that people have lived on some of these islands¬†since 5000BC.¬†The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of Maes Howe, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae and other burial and ceremonial sites in the area.¬†All of these provide a fascinating glimpse into life during the Neolithic era. We would be visiting some of these sites during our visit to Orkney – more on these in our upcoming blog posts! But for now…

We were enjoying a sunny crossing across the Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland to the Orkney Islands. The ferry crossing gives you plenty of time to enjoy the passing scenery and to try spotting some wildlife. (We were told there are always sea birds and sometimes seal and whale sightings – although we didn’t see any on our crossing today.)

As we sailed across the Pentland Firth, we were able to spot the island of Stroma in the distance. We learned that this island is sadly no longer inhabited, with the last of its residents leaving in 1962. You can still see abandoned houses and crofts, although some have lost their roofs and are ruins now. The island is still inhabited by sheep and some cattle – set out there to graze by the island’s current owner.

At the northern tip of Stroma stands its lighthouse, which is now completely automated. It was built to alert boaters of the most dangerous whirlpool, the ‘Swilkie’, in the Pentland Firth.

Although we didn’t spot any seals or whales, I did spot lots of interesting rock formations… (What a nerd! Haha!)

Almost vaguely reminds me of the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway…

On the ferry ride, we heard a little bit about the role that the Orkney islands played during WWII. We could see evidence of this in the gun batteries and defences as we approached our destination.

After we got off the ferry, it was off to the Tomb of the Eagles for a bit of a history lesson and a good hike!

The Tomb of the Eagles is a very popular and family friendly attraction located on the island of South Ronaldsay. This historic site was discovered by a local farmer, Ronnie Simison. In 1958, he noticed some stones that looked a bit… out of place on his farmland. Intrigued, he began digging near the drystone wall. He discovered “a cache of beautiful polished artefacts ‚Äď a mace head, three stone axe heads, a black ‚Äėbutton‚Äô and a small Chert knife”. After more digging, Ronnie then discovered some 30 human skulls in a stone chamber. This site was later confirmed to be a Neolithic tomb, which dates all the way back to 5000BC! Along with human bones, the bones and talons of sea-eagles were also discovered on this site. Thus giving it the name – “Tomb of the Eagles”.

Entrance to the Tomb of the Eagles was already included with our Compass Buster tour price. If you are visiting on your own, you can find the admission fee and all the other details here.

Before heading out to the actual tomb, we got a history and archaeology lesson on a guided tour through the Visitor Centre. We won’t spoil this visit for you but we will say that there were lots of fascinating 5000 year old artifacts that we got to see and touch!

After the tour, we headed outside. It was a bit muddy but we had the beautiful sunshine with us on our 1-mile long cliff-top walk to the actual tomb.


Before reaching the tomb, we stopped to look at the Bronze Age site. This site, a little bit inland from the Tomb of Eagles, is believed to be about 3000 years old. This site here consists of stone trough, water system and hearth. We don’t yet know for certain what this was used for. There are some suggestions that this was used for cooking or perhaps a sauna, with the hearth heating the water.

After this short stop, we continued on our way to the Tomb of the Eagles.

Just this cliff-top walk alone is well worth a visit! What a view!

We were lucky to have visited on a sunny day. I imagine it would be completely different on a windy, blustery Orkney day!

As we were hiking, I spotted this little guy, which looks to be perhaps an inuksuk. The inuksuk is a bit of an unofficial symbol of Canada, so it was really special and cool to find it here in Orkney, Scotland.

Inukshuk, the singular of inuksuit, means “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. They are monuments made of unworked stones that are used by the Inuit for communication and survival. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is “Someone was here” or “You are on the right path.” –¬†Inukshuk Gallery

Inuksuit can be found across the Canadian arctic, as well as Alaska and Greenland. Besides these areas, many monuments and statues in this likeness have been built all over Canada. We also have a well-known inuksuk monument in Vancouver, as well as another famous one in Whistler Рcreated for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Although its use as a symbol of the 2010 Olympics was a bit controversial, I believe it brings forth a message of friendship and welcome.

I’m not sure whether someone had built this to be an Inuksuk intentionally or whether they just happened to build a human figure out of rocks, but I like to think we have a little bit of a connection to it!

In between photo stops, we continued on our way towards the Tomb, following our guide – Andy.

There is always time for a gazing photo!


Finally, we arrived at the Tomb. The space inside the Tomb is small, so we had to take turns going in. It has a rather unique way of entering!

There is a wooden trolley/board on wheels, which you lie on. And using the rope, you are able to pull yourself into or out of the Tomb.

Once inside the tomb, you can see chambers and shelves that was once built to hold a variety of human bones and skulls.

In addition to human bones, the remains of at least 8 sea-eagles were also discovered inside the tomb. It is still not clear what the significance of the sea-eagles was. And were these sea-eagles placed into the tomb by the original builders or were they added over the years? We may never find out, but that adds to the mystery of this tomb.

It was fascinating to see something that was built over 5000 years ago and is still standing today. You really have to admire what these Neolithic people were able to do with the knowledge, materials and resources they had in the New Stone Age. After a couple of minutes inside the Tomb, we headed back out to the sunshine to enjoy the view some more.

Eventually, it was time to head back to the bus. The cliff top walk back to the bus was just as beautiful as our walk out – perhaps even more so with the setting sun as our backdrop!

Before we left the Tomb of the Eagles, I think pretty much everyone in our group bought a little cup of Orkney ice cream from the gift shop to try. Creamy, rich and delicious – it was the perfect post-exploration snack!

After a really interesting visit to the Tomb of the Eagles and the scenic, cliff top hike around the area, we drove towards the sunset!

And what a gorgeous sunset it was!

But our day wasn’t finished just yet! There were two more stops before we headed to our hostel. More on Day 5 to come in our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 5 – Duncansby Head and John O’Groats

After a really fun night out in Inverness, we had an early start on Day 5 of our Compass Buster tour. ¬†We also had some goodbyes to say before we left Inverness ūüėĘ

Day 5 meant the splitting of our group. Some of our group mates were only doing a 5 day tour, so they were heading back to Edinburgh today, while we continued on our 10 day tour with a new group and our new tour guide – Andy. It’s funny how much you get to know someone when you’re travelling and adventuring with them and spending time together pretty much 24/7. This was especially true for our friend V, because we had done our 7 day Shamrocker tour with her as well, prior to this tour of Scotland. Lots of photographs, inside jokes and memories with this one! Since NZ is on our bucket list, we’ll have to drop in on V and ask her to be our personal tour guide for our visit! And of course – we can’t wait to play tour guide to V when she comes to visit us in Vancouver – we’ll be sure to include lots of opportunities for adventures, exploring and gazing! ūüėč

After saying our goodbyes, we loaded our bags onto a new bus – gasp! We are such creatures of habit. ūüėÖ We had only spent 4 days on our first bus and we had already gotten so used to our seats, our view and everything. It was a bit strange getting onto a new bus and finding new seats!

After we were all settled, we headed out of Inverness.

Heading out early does have its perks! We caught a beautiful sunrise – one that made Andy pull over to the side of the road so we could all pile out of the bus and admire it.

It just made me breathe and want to stay in that moment forever.

After a peaceful moment of admiring the sunrise, we were back on the road watching the scenery fly past us. Who knew there were picturesque fields like these in Scotland!?

Eventually we reached the northernmost area of the Scottish and British mainland – the area around John O’Groats.

John O’Groats is considered to be the most north-easterly inhabited point on the British mainland. It is also famous for being part of the Land’s End to John O’Groats journey. Many people will make these “End to End” Journeys – traversing the UK mainland, from the most south-westerly point of Land’s End in Cornwall to this most north-easterly point of John O’Groats.

Instead of stopping at John O’Groats, we continued a couple more kilometers north to our first scheduled stop of the day – Duncansby Head.

Hopping out of the bus, it was nice to stretch our legs with a wee walk. This was one of the many walks that we would go on with Andy. Although this was a short walk, we had plenty of time to explore and take photographs.

Duncansby Head is marked by its lighthouse, which was built in 1924.

Walking past the lighthouse, we headed towards the Duncansby Stacks.

The journey to our destination was almost as beautiful as the Stacks themselves – tranquil yet wild.

You might be wondering… stacks of what?! The Stacks of Duncansby are actually¬†sea stacks – coastal geological landforms that are shaped¬†by the processes of¬†erosion.

Check out the gorgeous scenery – it almost doesn’t look real! Plus, it seemed like this beautiful area is still a little bit off the beaten path and there weren’t throngs of tourists crowding around. We had this beautiful view pretty much all to ourselves!

Geology and landscapes fascinate me! It’s amazing to think about the forces of nature, the power and the time that it took to shape this coastline. I’m no geologist, but a quick google search tells me that crashing waves power their way through the headlands – first creating small cracks, then bigger caves, then all the way through the rock and creating arches. With further erosion by water and by wind, the arch can collapse into the sea, leaving behind these spectacular columns or stacks. Take a look at the next photograph – can you spot the little arch that is beginning to form? (It’s towards the middle of the photograph.) It will be interesting to see if this turns into the another Stack of Duncansby in the years to come!

Duncansby Head also has one other claim to fame. Remember the Land’s End to John O’Groats journey we were talking about earlier? Well, some people actually consider Duncansby Head to be “the end of the road” since it is a couple kilometers down the road past John O’Groats. Thus, technically making it the furthest location by road from Land’s End in Cornwall. So how do you decide where to stop at, on the end of your “End to End” journey?

To make it more simple, we recommend stopping at Duncansby Head for a wee walk to see the sea stacks and also stopping at the village of John O’Groats to take a photograph with this iconic sign post.

We might have to return to John O’Groats and make the journey to Land’s End to take a photograph with the corresponding sign post there! It’s only… 874 miles…

After our photographs with the iconic sign post, we wandered down to the harbour. We caught sight of the restored¬†Inn at John O’Groats.

I love the splashes of colour on those buildings!

And just in case you forget where you are, there is a little reminder down by the harbour.

I didn’t know the stacks had names, or I would’ve addressed them accordingly when we were visiting them!

After exploring the harbour, we popped into some of the shops and had a poke around. I picked up one of my favourite souvenirs of this trip here! It’s a little book called “The Wit and Wisdom of Highland Cows“. And let me tell you – they are very wise indeed! Highly recommended for a bit of thinking and a chuckle¬†ūüėč

Eventually, it was time to head to the ferry terminal. We, and our yellow bus, boarded the ferry¬†and set sail for the Orkney Islands! Stay tuned for our Orcadian adventures in our next few blog posts! There’ll be more wee walks, epic scenery, history, archaeology and, of course, exploring and adventures!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!