Friday, October 05, 2007

We Scapa Flow to the southern islands

Some of the southern Orkney islands are connected to Mainland (that's the main island, not the British mainland) by a series of causeways known as the Churchill Barriers. They were built to protect Scapa Flow, the UK's chief naval base in WWI & II, and now allow you to drive onto Burray and then South Ronaldsay, skipping over a couple of smaller holms.

The iglatinpayesque island names actually derive from Orkney's Norse heritage. You might recognise the -holm for a smaller island from Stockholm. The -ay is Old Norse for island. The widely separated North Ronaldsay and South Ronaldsay are not named for the same person. The latter owes its name to Rognvald, nephew of St Magnus. (North) Ronaldsay is pronounced Rinnelsay, a corruption of Rinansay and Ringan, until we get to the original St Ninian's Isle, Ringan being a nickname for Ninian. The Pig Latin definitely runs out before Swona: 'Swine Island'.

The causeways themselves are probably of little interest to anyone other than a highway engineer, but you do notice some rusted hulls of block ships, sunk during WWII to prevent enemy ships penetrating Scapa Flow.

Most of the labourers on the barrier project were Italian POWs captured in North Africa. Those stationed at Camp 60 built the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm out of two Nissen huts. Artist Domenico Chiocchetti was responsible for much of the elaborate internal decoration, and stayed on to complete the work, also returning in 1960 to help with restorations.

Some of the attractions I was hoping to visit to the south were closed for low season ( such details were missing from their advertising materials ). Some businesses jumped from Summer to Winter seasons on October 1, and others didn't, so it's hard to predict what services are going to be available and at what rates. I looked in a few artist workshops and then continued on to Burwick at the southern tip of South Ronaldsay. From there you look over to the real mainland, and the John o'Groats area.

Bondi draws a crowd in Kirkwall

I dropped into the St Magnus Cathedral Visitor Centre looking for a decent refectory for lunch. That was closed (low season again) but I did talk to a kindly man volunteering at the centre. He put on a DVD for me in their screening room telling the story of the Norse Earls, and how one of them - Magnus - was martyred and the circumstances of his death led to the founding of the cathedral.

Received an email from the owners of Wallsend House, The Old Rectory B&B at Bowness-on-Solway, my final stop on the Hadrian's Wall walk last year. The building & business is for sale for £550,000. It's one of my favourite B&Bs and I hope it is picked up by some loving hands.

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