June 22d 2016
Cumulative total 1153 miles
The campsite was just next to the terminal of the little pedestrian ferry from John O’Groats to Burwick at the South tip of South Ronaldsey so it was not too hard to be in the queue at 9am for the sailing, clutching a hot cup of coffee . John O’Groats is a tiny settlement, remote, perched on the edge of Britain and it was a lovely morning, sunny and the water calm.
Waiting for the ferry
Trusty bikes strapped to the rails
John O’Groats from the boat
Lighthouse on Stroma
In the campsite, our neighbours were two lads, one of them celebrating a stag event of trying to photograph sunrise at John O’ Groats, and sunset at Lands End, we vaguely heard them depart at 4 am, wonder if they will make it with the Glastonbury queues …
The crossing was 40minutes , really lovely, lots of seabirds and we wished Chris was here to identify them for us. We spent the rest of the day meandering up the 24 miles to Kirkwall enjoying being in this magical place. Gentle scenery, low green hills, soft colours and always the sea.
Rain on its way
Cycling through it gave a feeling of great calmness. It feels rather depopulated with quite a few empty crofthouses and although we passed a thriving school and active churches, there were also a boarded up school and the Church of Scotland has the lovely Old St Mary’s Church at Burwick up for sale. Lots of cows.
Old St Mary’s Church
In the graveyard of Old St Mary’s church
The Orkneys enclose Scapa Flow, a large natural harbour which was still as a lake and very sheltered and which of course has in the past been the opposite of calm having been used as a naval base since the Vikings, but most recently for the British fleet during the two world wars.
The German fleet surrendered at the end of WW1 and was told to go to the sheltered moorings in Scapa Flow, when they arrived they had secretly arranged to scuttle all of the battleships which sank without trace in front of the watching British. They are popular dive sites as the crews escaped, other wrecks where crew died are war graves and diving is banned
After a German sub penetrated throught the Eastern entrances in WW2, they were blocked off, intially by sinking old ships, Blockships , and then in WW2 by buiding causeways (Churchill’s barriers) There were several information boards about all this and parts of various wrecks stick out f the sea, they are now good habitats for widlife and keep human divers amused.
Old blockships still visible
More sunken ships
Italian prisoners of war were brought to help construct the barriers and they built a Catholic chapel, out of Nissan huts and materials they salvaged from the blockships. The British camp commander was sympathetic and the prisoners included artists and sculptors one of whom Domenico Chiocchetti returned in 1960 at the invitation of the Orcadians to help restore it. It is a moving place, especially when you realise the ingenuity they had to use, the chandeliers are made from bully beef cans , the windows painted glass and the frescos copied from a small religious picture Domenicco carried with him . The Italian Chapel is now well maintained and a tourist attraction, a bit incongruous seeing big coaches and flocks of tourists in this quite humble little building.
Inside the Italian Chapel
Painted wall of Italian Chapel (it is all flat)
Looking back over South Ronaldsey
It was lovely weather in the morning, we stopped for a coffee which turned into two when a hard shower arrived, we had watched it blow in over Hoy. It cleared for a bit but then rained hard just as we started to put the tent up, we were not as organisd as usual and managed to end up wet. Fortunately for us, this is the best equipped campsite we have ever stayed in with self catering kitchens, bathrooms and a laudry room, all run by Orkney council. We are now warm and dry, ensconed in the lounge with other campers taking refuge from the elements.
We intend to be tourists for a few days. The ferries to Shetland go from here 3 times a week so we will catch the one leaving at midnight (!) Saturday night, in the meantime we are going to visit the archeological sites and go to Hoy. We will be in Hoy tomorrow night and I am sure we will have no signal, we will blog when connected but will not add our miles to the cumulative Scilly to Shetland total. This feels particularly important as one particularly generous supporter HW has been donating for every 100 miles that we compete- clearly she knows a thing or two about motivation but we cant expect donations whilst we have a little sideways jaunt sightseeing- we have never been to Orkney before and so many people have told us about the amazing Neolithic sights and birds it would be a shame to just pass on by.
Thank you again to everyone who has been supporting us , it really helps keep the pedals turning when going uphill or into the wind and rain. People have contributed an amazing £1192 for Ashgate and £2292 for MSF. We are really chuffed by everyones support for such important causes when the last few weeks have brought out some of the uglier side of British politics and media, heartening indeed.