Orkney

imageI started a new job last year, quite a step up from my last one, and I’ve finally got my head around it. It takes a while to work out where the pencils live, how the photocopier works, and how to fill in what may be the most complicated time sheet I’ve ever seen.

The job is going to involve quite a bit of travel – in no way is this as exciting as it sounds (think Boots Meal Deal on Scotrail rather than sushi on a BA flight) – although I did find myself on Orkney last week.

I’ve never been to a Scottish island before. Despite being fond of history and scenery they’ve never been on my to-visit list, so I didn’t have any particular assumptions before I went. From the taxi driver who told me his entire life story to the security lady at the tiny airport who joked that my makeup was being “randomly” drugs tested because I was the only woman on my twenty five seater flight, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming everyone was (although my colleagues did laugh and wish me luck when I mentioned being vegetarian while asking for dinner suggestions…)

Despite it being decidedly wet and cold and Februaryish, I found an hour to explore Kirkwall in between meetings while the sun shone. I’m so glad I did. It turns out Orkney’s history is pretty unusual and interesting (and completely new to me, as my degree was in modern history), and still present in the culture of the islands and the beautiful Orcadian accent.

Despite the main site being closed for the winter, I took a quick tour of the outside of the Bishop and Earl’s palaces. Built in the 12th century when Kirkwall was the leading settlement of the Norse northern islands, the Bishop’s palace was the home of the founder of the spectacular St Magnus Cathedral over the road. The Earl’s palace, on an adjoining bit of land, was built in the early 17th century after the then Earl of Orkney decided he wanted something fancier. He was apparently a strong contender for the least pleasant nobleman in Scottish history and a fan of slave labour – but he built a rather spectacular house…

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Over the road from the palaces is the spectacular St Magnus Cathedral, which dates back to 12th Century and is the most Northerly cathedral in Britain. I do love a graveyard – I find the tombstone inscriptions fascinating – and St Magnus’ was a testament to the history of the island with stones dedicated to the memory of young sailors alongside those of more affluent men who left the island for Edinburgh.

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imageNow that I’m back home and thawed out, I’m finding myself more interested in finding out about Orkney – and it’s neighbour Shetland. I hear there there’s an excellent series on the BBC at the moment (although I’m not sure it’s a documentary…)

5 thoughts on “Orkney

    • Gwen says:

      The interior was stunning – simple but such a spectacular roof, especially with the light from the big windows coming through.
      I had high hopes of seeing the Aurora but it was too overcast and stormy unfortunately. Another reason to go back!

  1. Janet says:

    Orkney has been high on my to-visit list since Alex (Odd Socks…) visited and brought back tales of bookshops with cats. I was sold! I’m also fascinated by Orkney’s history, especially the pre-historic sites on the island. Would be v interested to hear how you got on with being veggie there, considering I’m likely to have a vegan in tow if I ever do go!

    • Gwen says:

      In short – go self catering! I had a look at a couple of pub menus and didn’t really find any veggie options other than macaroni cheese or nachos, so I suspect you’d be hard pushed with vegan… but it’d be worth cooking your own dinner for the scenery!

  2. Chiara says:

    It looks like a beautiful place. I’ve never been to any of the Scottish Islands either, the furthest north I’ve been is Wick … I suppose that’s reasonably far nortt – next time I just need to make it across to an island x

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