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Monday 16thJune 2008
Stromness to Kirkwall

The ferry for Aberdeen was due to leave Kirkwall at 11.45pm that night – this would give us ample time to visit the cathedral and maybe also to visit the Italian Chapel to the south of the mainland if the weather held out.  As we left Stromness the weather looked promising but there were one or two heavy looking clouds around.  We soon cycled the 15 miles to Kirkwall with the wind behind us, and sought out a supermarket to buy lunch.  We also needed some new front brake blocks – the old ones had worn to the extent that they were grating on the rims – so a cycle shop was also found.  The weather still looked reasonably promising but as Christine did not have any rain gear, the last thing we wanted to do was to get caught out in a heavy storm.  The Italian Chapel was 8 miles away on Lambs Holm – a small island just to the south of the mainland – and involved crossing a hilly area to the south of Kirkwall.  We decided to risk cycling half way (to the top of the hill) before finally making up our minds on whether to go the whole way.  This we did and as it still looked clear we carried on to the church.  It was built at the end of the war by Italian prisoners who had been brought back from North Africa to help improve the defences of Scapa Flow, building what is known as the Churchill Barriers.  The Italian prisoners asked to have somewhere to worship and were given the use of two Nissen huts which they converted into a catholic church.  All the internal fabric was built from scraps of material that they found on the sea shore or had been discarded such as the Bully Beef tins which were turned into lanterns.  The painting inside gives the effect of three dimensions but is on a flat surface (trompe l’oeil).   The building has been lovingly preserved and is still used as a chapel.

After lunch taken on the quayside at St Mary’s overlooking Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm, we made our way back to Kirkwall, stopping to take photos of the fields filled with spring flowers.  Our next port of call was St Magnus Cathedral in the town.  Magnus had been killed by his cousin (both rulers on the island) and he was buried in a church on Birdsay.  However stories of miraculous cures associated with his burial place eventually resulted in him being declared a saint and the cathedral was built by his nephew Rognvald in the 12th century as a resting place for his relics.  Rognvald’s remains are also in the cathedral.  The cathedral houses the bell and a memorial to the 833 men who lost their lives when the ship “The Royal Oak” was sunk by a German U boat in the Scapa Flow in 1939.  We finished our visit at about 3 – we had left Stromness 6 hours before and there was still over 8 hours to when the ferry would leave!  The rest of the day revolved around taking our time!  A visit to two museums, time spent in the travel office waiting room (somewhere to get warm as there was a cold wind blowing), a prolonged evening meal from 7.00 through to 8.30 and then finally it was time to make our way to the ferry terminal which opened at 9.00 and again would provide us with some warmth.  The boat docked on time and we were on board soon after 11.30 quickly downing a cup of tea before retiring to our berths for the night.  The sea was like a millpond – all there was to keep us awake was the throbbing of the engines.

Mileage 36.8 miles Total 495.0 miles

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