12 July 2018:
Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland:
The Mainland (of Orkney)

By Corey Sandler

One last small island before we reach the large island that is Britain.

Kirkwall is the capital and largest settlement of Orkney, between the Shetland Islands above and the top of Scotland below.

Our port of call is on the northern coast of the island of Mainland Orkney, with a population of about 10,000.

I went with guests on a tour that included a visit to Scapa Flow, one of the most important pieces of water in the 20th century: the gathering polace of the British fleet in World War I for the Battle of Jutland off Denmark, and later the place where what remained of the German High Fleet was sequestered at the end of the war while the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was worked out. It was here that a German officer ordered the scuttling of about 75 of the ships to prevent them being distributed to the Allies as trophies of war.

Scapa Flow. Photo by Corey Sandler

We also visited the quaint village of Stromness in time to see the arrival of the ferry from Scrabster on the mainland of Scotland.

Stromness. Photos by Corey Sandler

And then we visited the Ring of Brodgar, a 5,000-year-old henge or ring of stones. Its purpose is not fully known–perhaps religious, perhaps ceremonial, or perhaps a means of tracking the skies.

At the heart of the town of Kirkwall is Saint Magnus Cathedral, which was founded in memory of Saint Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney from 1108–1117.

Although the annexation of the earldom by Scotland took place more than five centuries ago in 1472, some locals will identify themselves as Orcadians first and Scots second.

The economy of Orkney is today based on agriculture and fishing, with a growing tourism sector. After a major investment, the town pier has become a lure for cruise ships, and about 85 calls per year are made.

There are about 70 Orkney islands, of which 20 are inhabited.

The largest island is called Mainland or, confusingly, “The Mainland”, while the country that lies below is referred to as “Scotland.”

Mainland is 523 square kilometers or 202 square miles, making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles.

All photos and text by Corey Sandler, Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.