The Orkney Islands is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of Great Britain. The largest island Mainland is often referred to as “the Mainland”. It has an area of 523 square kilometers, making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative center is Kirkwall. [Source: Wikipedia]
We went to the Orkney Islands during the end of August and decided to have a cycling self-tour in the Mainland of Orkney.
After a short stay in Inverness, we took an early morning coach from Inverness bus station to John O’Groat Pier. We booked the coach and ferry service via John O’Groat Ferry, they provide different types of transfer service as well as day tours, they are one of the trustable and reliable companies for Orkney visitors.
[We still managed to visit the city center and the Inverness Castle.]
Our coach departed at 7 in the morning and it took us nearly 4 hours to John O’Groat Pier. As the ferry arrived a bit late, we had a short break at the Pier after the long bus journey. John O’Groats located at the end of England and Scotland. People mostly come here to catch the ferry or just to see and experience the changing of the crazy weather. There’s a big signpost at the pier indicating the distance to different locations and a small church refurbished into a hotel with a row of colourful houses. We had our breakfast at the pier while waiting for the ferry. The weather was so brutal. Our hands were freezing and could hardly stand straight as it was too windy. We didn’t expect it could be that cold at the end of August.
[The famous signpost]
[Ferry to the Orkney Islands]
Just as we were no longer able to bear the horrible weather, the ferry arrived. After a quick boarding, we immediately fell asleep and slept through another 40 minutes journey to the Orkney Islands. Finally, we arrived at the Burwick Pier at 12 pm. A small van was already there to take us to the main town of Orkney, Kirkwall. In that 15 minutes drive, we had enjoyed the amazing scenic landscape of the east side of the Mainland. We stayed in Jemma’s BnB, booked it via Airbnb. They gave us the entire flat, it’s spacious, clean and very cozy. The check-in was super easy and smooth too!
We started our day after settling in and we planned to explore the Mainland in an eco-friendly way, by cycling. We hired our bikes in one of the local bicycle shops. The rate of bike hire was about £15 per day, pretty affordable! We followed the suggested cycling route on NorthLink Ferry, they provide loads of information about visiting Orkney, definitely worth spending some time to dig into the site while planning your journey to Orkney.
We got started with the 24 miles long east mainland route. Scapa Flow immediately appeared into our eyes after passing the main town and the Highland Park Whisky Distillery.
Scapa Flow is a body of water about 120 square miles in area and with an average depth of 30 to 40 meters. The Orkney Mainland and South Isles encircle Scapa Flow, making it a sheltered harbor with easy access to both the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The name Scapa Flow comes from the Old Norse Skalpaflói, meaning ‘bay of the long isthmus’, which refers to the thin strip of land between Scapa Bay and the town of Kirkwall. [Source: Scapa Flow Historic Wreck Site]
Vikings anchored their longships in Scapa Flow more than a thousand years ago, but it is best known as the site of the United Kingdom’s chief naval base during World War I and World War II. [Source: Wikipedia]
[The spectacular view of the Scapa Flow]
We enjoyed our little break along the coast, and continued to the next stop, the Italian Chapel. The small but elegant Italian Chapel, also known as La Bella Cappella Italiana, was built because of a tragedy that happened in World War II.
It all began when a German U-boat slipped undetected into Scapa Flow in 1939 and launched a torpedo attack on HMS Royal Oak with the loss of 833 crew. This tragedy prompted plans to build giant causeways to seal off approaches to Scapa Flow and Italian prisoners of war, captured during the North African campaign, were shipped into Orkney in 1942 to build what is known today as the Churchill Barriers.
During their stay, the prisoners of Camp 60 on Lamb Holm were given permission to build a place of worship. The transformation of two old Nissen huts into a beautiful chapel was masterminded by Domenico Chiocchetti and is nothing short of remarkable given the limited materials at their disposal. Chiocchetti returned to Orkney in 1960 to assist with restoration work and when he died in 1999 his wife and daughter attended a memorial requiem mass at the Chapel in his honor. [Source: Visit Orkney – The Italian Chapel]
[A quick stop at the Italian Chapel]
Nearly finishing half of our bike trip of the day, we decided to get back a bit earlier as the weather was getting colder, it wasn’t a good sign to continue further under that circumstance. We turned left and all the way back to Kirkwall airport (It’s too small and hard to spot, not until we saw the road sign :P). However, we still managed to see and experience the coastal scenery and beautiful landscape of Orkney Mainland and finished our 24 miles before the sunset.[Not far from Kirkwall Maintown once we passed through the Kirkwall Airport]
We had our late dinner in Judith Glue, a cute and homey cafe (with a shop!) The staff were all very nice, and we reckoned this was a few places opened that late (Actually, it’s just 8:30 in the evening!) in Kirkwall. We ordered a big “ Taste of Orkney” platter to share. It’s a platter full of local seafood, from raw salmon to crab meat, and local farmer products, different kinds of meat and ham, and CHEESE! It’s not a great idea to have a cold meal under the cold weather, but it was indeed delicious and the best way to “taste the Orkney”! Judith Glu also supports many environments and human right related activities. It’s a shame that I didn’t have much time to talk to the staff (they were so busy!) If anyone is going there, definitely need to check it out!
This was the end of our first day! We continued our bike trip to the more challenging route to the west of the Mainland, and it will be posted as a part two!