Land's End to John O'Groats Cycletouring Trip Part 2

Day 48 - Tour of West Mainland

The plan today was to cycle up the West coast of Mainland (The Orkneys), stopping off at all the tourist attractions along the way. I would see Skara Brae, The Kitchener Memorial, Broch of Birsay and Earls palace in Birsay. I wanted to get over to the Broch of Gurness but I ran out of time and this had to wait for another day.

It was not long before I found myself at Skara Brae, an area of sand dune by the Bay of Skail. It was here in 1850 that a wild winter storm lashed the surrounding area and uncovered the ruins of a 5000 year old farming villlage.

This village is incredibly well preserved, and older than Stonehenge. It was built in prehistoric times, when written records were not kept.

It was William Graham Watt, the 7th Laird of the Breckness Estate who discovered Skara Brae after the storm. He lived nearby in Skaill House. This important 17th century mansion house was originally built for Bishop George Graham in 1620 and has been renovated and opened to the public by the present Laird. Inside are the Bishops bed, Captain Cooks dinner service from his ship the Resolution.

William Watts great grandson had the dining room of Skaill House opened as a small museum displaying artifacts discovered at Skara Brae. In 1930, these artifacts were removed and are now kept at the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

I walked round Skara Brae taking a number of photographs. I noticed a woman who I recognised from the Vintage car rally in Kirkwall the other day and I stopped to talk. She came here from Portsmouth a number of years ago when her parents moved house. She thought that the locals tended to keep in their own groups and the 'incomers' as they referred to them kept to their own groups too.

Into Skaill house, and I spoke to a gentleman guide for quite a while. We talked about some of the history and the artifacts of Skara Brae. I also asked about the churches I had seen in Stromness, as there seemed to be quite a number for such a quiet town. He told me that there were 3 of them and that one vicar might cover 4 churches in an area. A church would perhaps only be used once a month as meetings would be rotated around the churches from week to week.

Leaving Skara Brae, my camera battery failed and after making a phone call I returned back to Skara Brae where they had some for sale. I bought 3 as a precaution.

I cycled on to the Kitchener memorial, standing at the top of a cliff on the west coast. There is a somewhat unfortunate story behind this memorial:

Image of Lord Kitchener
Lord Kitchener

On the 5th June 1916, the cruiser HMS Hampshire set off from Scapa Flow bound for Archangel. The minister of war, Lord Kitchener was on board on a morale boosting visit to Russia.

Sometime just before 8am, HMS Hampshire struck a mine laid by the German submarine U75, and within just 15 minutes the ship had sunk.

The crew took to their inflatable liferafts but they were overturned by the heavy sea. Many were drowned, others died from hypothermia and others were smashed onto the rocks of Birsay.

The Stromness lifeboat and the local people were refused permission by the authorities to attempt a rescue of the survivors. They feared that secret documents may be found in the wreckage. This decision cost many lives - out of the ships compliment of 655 men, only 12 survived. Lord Kitchener's body was never recovered.

The Kitchener memorial was built on Marwick Head near the site of the sinking and was paid for by public subscription.

HMS Hampshire is now a war grave and diving on thiw wreck is forbidden.

The propellor and shaft of the HMS Hampshire along with some other artifacts can be seen at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre in Lyness, Hoy (The Orkneys).

From the Kitchener Memorial I cycled on to Birsay where I saw the Earl's Palace and Broch of Birsay. More photos here including the lighthouse. I rested in the shelter provided by some bench seating to heat up a tin of Ravioli.

Time was running out so I turned back and headed for Stromness. Here I recognised the two Germans that I had met in Scourie. We ended the evening down at the pub where we had just a couple of quiet beers!

The distance cycled today was about 28 miles, calculating this from the map.

Photograph of a part of Skara Brae with Skaill House in the background
Skara Brae and Skaill House

Photograph of a part of Skara Brae with the Bay of Skaill in the background
Skara Brae and the Bay of Skaill

Photograph of House 7 at Skara Brae
House 7, Skara Brae, Mainland, The Orkneys

Photograph of part of Skara Brae with Skail House in the distand background
Skara Brae

Photograph of Skaill House
Skaill House, Mainland, The Orkneys

Photograph of the Kitchener Memorial
The Kitchener Memorial, Mainland, The Orkneys

Photograph of nearby cliffs with the Kitchener Memorial at the top
The Kitchener Memorial

Photograph of the view looking southwards from the Kitchener memorial
Looking southwards from the Kitchener memorial

Photograph of the view looking southwards from the Broch of Birsay
Looking southwards from the Broch of Birsay

Photograph of the Earl's Palace at Birsay
The Earl's Palace at Birsay, Mainland, The Orkneys

Photograph of the Broch of Birsay
The Broch of Birsay, Mainland, The Orkneys

Photograph of some birds sat on a telephone line
Birds on a telephone line

© Copyright  Piers Pettman - This page last updated 08 July 2006
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