Total population of Orkney approximately 20,000. 70 Islands of which 18 are inhabited. North to South, Orkney stretches for 53 miles (85km), East to West, 23 miles (37km).
Total area of land is approx 376 sq miles (974km²).
Position 59º North almost the same latitude as Southern Greenland.
Distance from Orkney to Norway (Bergen) 320 miles (515km).
Distance from Orkney to London 690 miles (1110km)
Weather in Orkney is greatly influenced by the sea. The Gulf Stream passing close to the islands. There is very little variation in mean temperature between summer and winter – under 10º and very little frost and snow. Sea temperature varies only 5º between summer and winter.
Farming is the main industry on the islands with approx 100,000 head of cattle. Traditionally small black cattle, were replaced by larger breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn, and in recent years Charolais and Simmental bulls have become popular to cross with traditional cows. Sheep, most common breeds Cheviot, Suffolks, Texel’s and recently Jacob sheep.
The second industry is tourism, which competes in terms of income with farming.
The third industry is fishing with the Island of Westray the main white fish centre in Orkney, although the fishing has declined in recent years due to the government catch restrictions.
In 1468, when the Norse influence had almost faded, King Christian I of Norway and Denmark pawned Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish Crown until he could raise a dowry for the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the Scots King James III. The dowry was never paid, then as a joke in 1967 Britain reminded Norway of the unpaid debt. Norway pointed out that in theory it could still buy back Orkney and Shetland for
297 pounds of gold.
Oil Terminal, handled its first oil in December 1976, and was designed to handle 500,000 barrels of oil per day. It has a storage capacity of 4.5 million barrels of oil and 200,000 barrels of LPG gas.
Oil comes to the terminal through a 30" diameter pipeline from oil rigs 130 miles out in the North Sea. Until recently, due to loss of contract, Flotta also handled oil from the Foinhaven field to the West, this was brought in by shuttle tanker. Built originally for Occidental, sold to Elf in 1991 and sold again to Talisman Energy in 2000.
ST. MARGARET’S HOPE
The word “hope” comes from the Old Norse for bay or haven. At one time there was a chapel in the village dedicated to Margaret, wife of King Malcolm Canmore.
In the 19th Century, it was a busy herring station.
In August of each year, the “Festival of the Horse and boys ploughing match” takes place. This is the only surviving event of this kind in the Country. Traditionally, it was held in the Spring, but was moved to its present time to suit the weather and visitors.
The “peedie” boys and now also the girls, dress up as horses and parade in the square of the village, along with the ploughmen and are judged. They then proceed to a nearby sandy beach, the Sands of Right, and hold a ploughing match. This is an exact replica of the ploughing matches still popular among farmers today. The miniature ploughs and costumes are often handed down for many generations. The tradition only survives in South Ronaldsay, but there are records of similar events on other islands in the past.
Merchant ships deliberately sunk to block the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow during WWI and at the end of WWII some of the ships were lifted and taken away. On the outbreak of WWII, more merchant ships were sunk.
After the sinking of the battleship “Royal Oak” by the German U-Boat U47 in 1939, the barriers were built. They were built to make a permanent blockade on the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow. Work started in 1940, the main contactor being Balfour Beatty. In 1942, due to a shortage of labour, Balfour Beatty was helped by Italian prisoners of war, held captive here in Orkney. These prisoners were captured in the North African Campaign. Altogether, four barriers were built 66,000 five and ten tonne concrete blocks were used, with rock infill under the road. At the height of construction, thirty blocks per hour were being turned out.
By 1944, it was possible to driver from South Ronaldsay to Orkney mainland, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the barriers were officially opened. Three of the barriers are 2000ft long and the remaining barrier 1400ft long. There are over 580,000 tonnes of loose rock in the barriers covered by 333,000 tonnes of concrete. If the blocks used to build the barriers were set end to end, they would cover a distance of 69 miles.
The tides between the islands, before the building of the barriers could run at between five and fourteen knots.
This is a landlocked natural harbour, covering an area of over 80 sq miles (207km²). It’s average depth is 120 feet (36 metres) and at its deepest is around 180 feet (55 metres). Scapa flow was made famous as the anchorage for the British Fleet during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. It has played a vital part in maritime history for over 200 years. Used in the Napoleonic Wars, as a rendezvous base for merchantmen awaiting naval escort to the Baltic’s.
At the end of the 1st World War it became the resting place for the German High Fleet.
The first successful landing of a plane on a ship took place on 5th August 1917, by Commander Edwin Dunning. He landed his Sopwith Pup aircraft on the deck of HMS Furious. He was killed on his second attempt when his plane went over the side of the ship.
SAINT MAGNUS CATHEDRAL
Founded in 1137 by Earl Rognavald Kolson in memory of his uncle, Magnus Erlendsson. Magnus was murdered on the island or Egilsay in 1115 after being deceived by his cousin Haakon Paulson, with whom he shared the Earldom of Orkney.
The Cathedral took around 300 years to build. In two of the pillars of the choir of the Cathedral are interned the remains of Saint Magnus and Saint Rognavald.
Mis 12th Century palace built for William the Old. Rebuilt in the late 15th Century and restored by Bishop Robert Reid in the mid 16th Century, with the Moosie Tower added at this time. Bishop Reid was founder member of Edinburgh University and the last and greatest of the Medieval Orkney Bishops.
Built by the Scottish Earl Patrick Stewart in 1600 using forced labour. It was completed in 1607. It was briefly occupied by the first owner, the said Earl Patrick Stewart, before it was taken over by the Stewart’s archenemy, Bishop Law. This building went from foundation to ruin in less than 100 years.
Asked for and built by the Italian prisoners of war during World War II. The Chapel is made our of two NISSEN huts placed end to end. The inside is lined with plaster and hand painted. The man responsible for most of the painting was DOMENICO CHIOCHETTI. He stayed on after the war to finish the building and returned in the early 1960’s to restore and repair some of his original work.
Inside the building, over the altar, is the painting of Madonna and Child which was copied from a photograph that Chiochetti carried with him throughout the war. The lampshades are made out of old corned beef tins and the candlesticks from the stair rods of a house.
In front of the Chapel stands the statue of ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON. It is made out of wire and concrete. The base contains a scroll with the names of some of the prisoners. It is all that remains of CAMP 60, which housed 550 prisoners.
HIGHLAND PARK DISTILLERY
Dating from 1798, it is the most northerly distillery in the world. One of the few distilleries still to use malting floors. About 90% of production is shipped away to be blended to make Grouse, Bells and a number of other whiskies. The remaining 10% going out under their own label of Highland Park. It was founded on the site of a house that belonged to Magnus Eunson, a smuggler and illicit distiller by night but who was also a Presbyterian Church Minister by day. He is reputed to have kept his illicit stock in the pulpit.
The City and Royal Burgh of Kirkwall is the capital of Orkney, with a population of approx 7500. Founded in 1035 by EARL ROGNAVALD BRUSASON. The name comes from the old Norse “Kirkjuvager” which means Church bay and refers to a much older church than the present day Cathedral. The older church was built by Earl Rognavald around the year 1040 in memory of King Olaf Haraldsson who later became the Patron Saint of Norway.
ROYAL OAK (stop at the spot overlooking the green buoy)
Sunk in the early hours of the 14th October 1939 with the loss of 833 lives out of a crew of 1400, after being torpedoed by the German U-Boat U47 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Gunther Prien. U47 entered the Flow at high water through Kirk Sound (barrier 1) and left the same way. The Royal Oak took only 15 minutes, after being struck by a torpedo, to roll over and sink.
The Royal Oak was a 29,000 ton “Royal Sovereign Class Battleship” built between 1914 and 1916 at a cost of £250,000. Her main armourment was eight 15” guns. She now lies in around one hundred feet of water and is an official war grave. Inside St Magnus Cathedral is the ships bell and a memorial to the men that were lost on the Royal Oak. The main memorial to these men is in Portsmouth.
Most of the survivors owe their lives to Skipper John Gatt and his crew on the Royal Oaks attendant drifter “Daisy II”, they managed to save 360 lives. Skipper John Gatt, although a civilian, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the rescue. Commander Prien was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross by Hitler personally. Later in the war Commander Prien was lost off Iceland, after being depth charged by HMS Wolverine. Two days after the sinking of the Royal Oak, another ship, the Iron Duke was hit in the stern by a bomb. The ship was run ashore at the Naval Base of Lyness and used as a depot and prison ship.
THE BARREL OF BUTTER (sub-marine shaped island can be seen when going through the village of Orphir)
So named because its owner had to pay the Earl a barrel of butter (as rent) to be able to kill seals there. It looks rather like a submarine and was once shelled by the British Navy.
Second largest town of Orkney. Population >2500. From here Orkney has its main ferry links to the Scottish Mainland. Northlink ferry Hamnavoe crosses to Scrabster, Thurso and the crossing takes around 90 minutes.
In days gone by some of the whaling ships called into Stomness before heading across the Atlantic. A large number of ships that called in belonged to the Hudsons Bay Shipping Company. Other ships that called here belonged to the Franklin Expedition and ships belonging to Captain Cook. At the west end of town is Logins Well where ships took their water from. The old part of town has changed little over the past 300 years with its paved, narrow and winding main street.
A Neolithic village, one of the best preserved in Northern Europe dating from around 3100BC, and used for approx 600 years. The village was covered by a sand storm in 2500BC and uncovered by yet another storm in the 1850s. But it wasn’t until 1920 that Professor Gordon Childe excavated the site. The village has 10 one-roomed houses that vary in size from over 6m² to barely 4m². Passageways connect most of the houses. The walls of the better examples of houses stand to a height or around 3m. Some of the furniture still remains, such as stone dressers and boxbeds.
Next to Skara Brae is “SKAILL HOUSE” a 17th Century mansion. Among the exhibits on display is the dinner service from Captain Cooks ship “Discovery”
RING OF BRODGAR
One of the finest stone circles to be found anywhere. Originally 60 stones stood on the site, set at equal intervals. Now only 27 stone remain standing, varying between 2m and 4m in height. The circle is 103.7m (or 125 megalith yards) in diameter.
Outside the ring is a rock-cut ditch that surrounds the site, with entrances into the circle from the south-east and the north-west. It is more than 9ft deep (3m) and 27ft (9m) wide. Despite the size of the ditch, an estimated 2500m³ there is no sign of a surrounding earthworks. The ring dates back to around 2700BC.
STANDING STONES OF STENNESS
Originally 12 stones stood on this site. Outside the stones are the remains of a rock-cut ditch. It is 6ft (2m) deep, 23ft (7m) wide and 130ft (44m) in diameter. The site is believed to have been used for religious sacrifice and dates back about 5000 years.
Burial tomb dating back to 2700BC. It is one of the best of its kind to be found in Western Europe. In the 12th Century the Vikings broke into the tomb through the roof, as they could not find the entrance. Any treasure inside would have been taken by them. They left behind the largest collection of runic writing to be found anywhere in the world. On the winter solstice the sun lines up with the entrance to the tomb and lights up the interior for a short time.
Possibly named after an Irish soldier, David Phin, who retired here after the Napoleonic Wars. He was only here a short while but in that time he set up an alehouse called “THE TODDY HOLE” now known as The Pomona Inn (cream building on the right hand side).
GERMAN FLEET (Houton Bay)
On the 11th November 1918 the German High Seas Fleet arrived in Scapa Flow after the defeat of Germany. A fleet of 74 warships were interred and remained in the Flow through the winter. The armistice expired on 21st June 1919 with no new of Germany having accepted the terms. Admiral Von Reuter was convinced that war would break out anew and the British would seize his fleet. He therefore gave a pre-arranged signal to scuttle the fleet if he heard nothing from Germany. At 12:16 on 21st June, the first ship sank. 51 followed in the next few hours, the remaining 22 were able to be beached before they sank. When the crews left their ships they had been aboard for 230 days.
After the war the majority of the German Fleet were raised and taken for scrap by ‘Cox and Danks’ and then ‘Metal Industries Ltd’.
Only 7 of the ships remain today, a great source of interest to sports divers.
The second largest island of Orkney. The name ‘Hoy’ means high island. The highest hill on Hoy is Ward Hill, some 1560ft (479m). On the west side of Hoy stands The Old Man of Hoy, a sea stack – 450ft (137m), also St Johns Head, highest vertical sea cliff in Britain, a sheer drop of 1140ft (351m)
BRID O’WAITHE (small 3 arched bridge)
First British civilian air raid casualty of WWII, James Isbister, was killed by bombs dropped during a raid on ships in Scapa Flow in 16th March 1940.
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